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Pansy Speak: Learning lessons from tragedy

Pansy Speak

Learning lessons from tragedy

The speed with which arrests were made in the murder of Chinese student Wan Biao will no doubt be of relief to his family, as well as international education providers. This sector is once again facing the effects that uninformed negative publicity bring – they are left to battle against the tide on their own in situations like this because of the Government’s indifferent attitude towards international education.

Since the discovery of Wan Biao’s body I have read much about this tragic loss of life. Baseless comments about the murder being a ‘Triad hit’ has reduced a very sad situation to tabloid fodder. Police have said there is no evidence of gang connections, but this didn’t stop the usual lines being drawn between Asian crime and triad gangs.

I expect I will receive mail from people asking me to take responsibility for this crime committed by ‘my people’. Amazingly, writers like these believe New Zealand had no crime until Asian people arrived. The sad thing is that the victims of Asian crime are almost all Asian, and the Asian community is therefore very anxious about putting a stop to it.

The flatmate of the late Wan Biao has been quoted as saying “I just don’t want people to think all Chinese people are killers, murderers. Sometimes it’s very hard for us. We didn’t do anything but people think we do something bad”. This person is an international student who has been in New Zealand for only a short time and has already developed a defensive attitude of expecting the worst. It is time for us to reflect on how foreign youngsters are being treated here.

Many messages have been posted on local Chinese language websites lamenting the loss of a young life, with many cursing the accused, society and a lax justice system. There are also explicit comments warning potential students about the risks of studying in New Zealand. Throw in baseless comments about gang connections, and these messages take on a more sinister meaning.

We live in a global world where information is shared in seconds, and where rumours and malicious gossip can be taken as gospel. The only way to counteract these ‘Chinese whispers’ is for authorities to release timely and accurate information to allow people to make their own conclusions.

In this case, I acknowledge this is what the Police did. What is needed now is for them to extend this communication to our ethnic media, particularly when speakers of another language are involved. This kind of information would ensure that any reports are based on accurate information. I know that some Chinese websites have had to gather their information second-hand from English sources during the investigation.

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says ‘”A tiger becomes real when three people say it”. During the past few days some of our newspapers have trotted out the usual line that Asians don’t like to report crime, along with undue speculation about gang-related killings (probably spurred on by comments made by various MPs). In this case, the parents of Wan Biao contacted Police in China immediately about the ransom demand, and the Police have dismissed gang connections.

These kinds of comments don’t do the Asian community any good or help comfort the grieving family. Making stereotypical statements that Asians don’t like to report crime only leads them to being targeted by criminals. The truth is that I regularly hear from people who have reported crimes (especially burglary) only for their cases to be seemingly ignored by the Police. This also happens in other organisations – a group of driving instructors complained to the Land Transport New Zealand about the drivers’ license scam a couple of years ago but their concerns fell on deaf ears.

Last year, I tabled in the House a copy of advertisements that were published in Chinese newspapers guaranteeing that those sitting their drivers’ licence test would pass on the first go and could choose their testing officer. The Minister and his department said they would begin monitoring ethnic newspapers for these ads. Well, I have news for them – these ads are still being placed and the company involved hands out business cards promising that people can choose their own testing officers. It is clear that complaints made by Asians aren’t taken seriously.

What we need to understand is that in certain circumstances people don’t report crime because they fear their lives will be put at risk because they don’t have confidence their situation will be taken seriously. Language barriers, accessibility, and respect for the authorities, and vice versa, all play a part in this.

I am hopeful that our new Police Commissioner, Howard Broad, will help turn this situation around, because he was instrumental in putting together the Asian Police strategy in Auckland in 2000. In the case of Wan Biao, good work by the police and information coming in from Chinese international students were important factors in the early arrests. I am hopeful that this level of co-operation will set a benchmark for any future cases.

Pansy Wong



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