The 21st century is the Chinese century. But how do we prepare for that?
That was the topic of the New New Zealand Forum, an event hosted yesterday by Massey University and Westpac.
The keynote speaker was Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World, and we also had a panel representing New Zealand’s various streams of expertise in dealing with China.
A powerful theme I took away from the event was, New Zealand is sitting on a gold mine, but lacks the tools (or the will) to dig!
In fact, we’re probably sitting on multiple gold mines; here are a few:
Polynesian and Maori culture
While western culture sharply contrasts with Chinese culture, Polynesian culture has a lot of connection points.
For example, the wider definition of family, the importance of relationship before commerce, long-term thinking, and the greater importance of the whole (society) vs. the individual.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that these benefits of Polynesian culture are hugely undervalued in our corporate world. We can change this.
Also, us of the pakeha persuasion need not abandon our cultural identity. Individualism, for example, plays a big role in making innovation possible (to innovate you’ve got to be willing to go against the crowd, which is more difficult in a collective society).
By becoming multicultural we all, regardless of background, get to learn more modes of thinking and being so we can be more effective.
Bilingual, bicultural and passionate fans of both Chinese culture and NZ, Chinese people born or raised in NZ will be some of the power-brokers of the future. The same goes for kiwis of any colour who take the time to learn mandarin and Chinese culture fluently.
I 100% agree with Martin Jacques when he says you can’t expect to do business in China long-term if you don’t learn the language. Unless, of course, you want one hand tied behind your back.
English was the universal language of the 20th century, mandarin is definitely a major one for the 21st.
New Zealand’s pure food and authentic tourism experiences
Despite getting a hard time in the overseas press, we are still pretty much bulletproof in comparison with other countries, and particularly compared to China, when it comes to food safety and a pure environment.
Our close political, economical (and increasingly cultural) connection with China
We were the first OECD country to have a Free Trade Agreement with China, we are well-regarded in Beijing (perhaps more than our small size would warrant), and it’s the third part that’s interesting.
Auckland is the most Asian city outside, which is contributing to the melting-pot which makes this one of the best cities to live in. But in other parts of paradise, there’s a bit of a gulf.
Tony Everitt, GM of Tourism NZ in North Asia, told of Queenstown’s early efforts to get China-ready when he was CEO of Destination Queenstown. Although not in the education business, Destination Queenstown had to set up Chinese language lessons for local tourist operators, because there was nothing else available in the area.
If that’s the case for Queenstown, what will the case be for the rest of New Zealand?
How will we fill the gap?
And there’s the key message – we are facing a gap. It’s a very urgent gap that needs to be filled ASAP, but that takes will, both from a government level and also from a local and individual business level.
We – central and local government, academia, established businesses and entrepreneurs – need to fill this gap.
Otherwise the likes of Australia will catch up with us, and do a better job at serving the biggest consumer market in the world. And we know how bad the hangover is when Australia wins. Let’s not let that happen! New Zealand, rise up! Or, as we would say in China, 加油！(Add oil to your engines) … the race is on!
Were you at The New New Zealand Forum, or the New Zealand China Business Summit also held yesterday? What were your enduring themes? And more importantly, what are you going to do about it?