A rough few days for New Zealand’s reputation in Chinese social media

ApologyNew Zealand hasn’t exactly been on the charm offensive lately in our relations with our biggest trading partner.

It started last week with Winston Peters and his “Super City of Sin“. That was somewhat predictable, however Henry van der Heyden’s “never ever trust the Chinese” remark really caused.

We should expect nothing different from Mr. Peters, who is playing to form. However he did spark a call on Facebook for a class action defamation lawsuit. 

However, Henry van der Heyden’s remark, which became the only thing people remembered from his speech, caused consternation among netizens. The weibo conversation below sums up the variety of feelings around the issue:


Trouble for NZ on Sina WeiboBevan Chuang started the ball rolling by posting a link to the story as part of her regular TV slot. 

Sammie responded by saying, “A ‘Sir’ and a ‘Right Honorable’ saying these things, that’s a lot of trouble!” 

Bevan came back saying, “New Zealanders and the Chinese community are used to ignoring Winston Peters, but this comment from Henry van der Heyden is hard to believe!”

Then “Manchester United White” (with the Alex Fergusson avatar) forwarded the conversation, adding this gem:

“Yes. Don’t trust the Chinese. Instead, it’d be safer to be isolated among South Pacific nations selling coconut juice to each other. By the way, Australia is also really poor.” 

The news story on Chinese news site SkyKiwi.com attracted a wide range of comments, some similar to those above, while others defended van der Heyden as being misrepresented. That story was read by almost 9000 people, here in New Zealand, and back in China.

New Zealand Inc, it seems the ball is in our court to get better at our communication. 



2 thoughts on “A rough few days for New Zealand’s reputation in Chinese social media

  • Bobby

    It’s so easy for people to jump on van der Heyden’s comments and label them as being racist but the fact is it is absolutely commonplace for foreign companies dealing in China (and a few other Asian countries) to encounter corrupt activities at a level most of the developed world can’t even imagine.

    China prides itself on a reputation of being hard-working, family-oriented etc people – we are often sold these qualities when China is mentioned in terms of NZ’s dealings with them – but China also has an endemic dog-eat-dog culture which make it a testing place to do business with. Devious and unethical behaviour are absolutely commonplace. Ask anyone who’s dealt with Chinese businesses on an ongoing basis and they will have stories of ignored contracts, refusals to pay, attempts to substitute products for inferior versions/material, demands for backhanders etc.

    Mrs Chuang is a regular flag-waver for the Chinese culture and there is a hell of a lot to like about it but it doesn’t alter the fact that people who do business with China encounter dodgy activities at an astonishingly high rate regardless of how welcoming or hospitable it is.

    It’s a rough few days for NZ’s reputation no doubt but, for once, the criticism is based in reality. Pretending it is not the case and pulling out the xenophobia/racism card is taking the PC brigade to the extreme.

    • Simon

      Thanks Bobby for your thoughtful comments.

      It’s worth having a look at the SkyKiwi article mentioned in this post, because the comments from Chinese people in NZ are mostly acknowledging the truth behind van der Heyden’s intent (not his words).

      His words are, unfortunately, racist in my view because they put people in a box. Anything that reduces a complex system such as a state, ethnicity or any other people group to a blanket statement is in my view racist, because it prevents true mutual understanding and, therefore, progress.

      If we want an example of this thinking, we can look at the stereotypes of westerners commonly held by people in China:

      * Individualistic to the point of ignoring societal & family duties
      * Imperialistic, greedy, ambitious and devious in negotiations (read up on your 19th century history to see some evidence of this)
      * Hairy
      * Big nose
      * (about western men) amoral and philandering, with an eye to “conquering” China one woman at a time

      Are these generalisations or stereotypes? Are they xenophobic, racist or cautionary tales? Or are they all of the above…

      My key point is, what do we want to achieve? A good working partnership between our two countries is the goal, how do we make this happen while keeping the important “elephants in the room” alive, in a spirit of cooperation and open communication? It’s possible, and being conscious about the way we communicate is a great first step.


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