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Pansy Speak: Chasing the Dragon

Pansy Speak

Chasing the Dragon

The report 'Preparing for a Future with Asia' will no doubt cause intense discussion between academics, some policymakers and businesses, but it won't cause too many ripples in the wider community.

I take heart that the initial report didn't cause a barrage of outrage or negative comments because it uses strong language like 'if we don't adapt, we'll place our future at risk'. In other words, we ignore Asia at our peril.

The positive response so far is because we know that Asia is important to us. Even our Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters, who has previously been the biggest critic of everything Asian, acknowledges the direction our country has to move in.

Mr Peters has become a fierce promoter of 'Asia literacy'. He first coined the term back in March as part of a speech about New Zealand's future with Asia. When I questioned him on what he would be doing to increase our 'Asia literacy', he said he would consider the report's recommendations before taking any course of action. He says decisions about our future with Asia will be made at a summit being held in September. It is most unlike the honourable Mr Peters to be so cautious.

At the recent launch of the Aotearoa Ethnic Network's online journal I met a student who has enrolled to study Chinese language at Victoria University. I was very interested to learn that New Zealand was the fifth country he had studied in and that he was making his way to China via New Zealand. He claimed that government is irrelevant in changing the perspective and culture of citizens. Instead, he said, it comes down to individuals.

I do not agree with that sentiment - I believe the actions of a government and political leadership do matter.

It wasn't so long ago that courageous political leaders like Jim Bolger and Doug Graham confronted critics of the Treaty settlement process at public meetings and stood their ground on their beliefs. Now New Zealand mostly accepts Treaty settlements and the debate has moved from why to when.

Along with this acceptance, we have seen a resurgence of Maori language and culture and the emergence of strong leadership both in and out of the Maori community. This shows strong political leadership effects change.

I think it's important that we realise that Asia would not miss New Zealand as a travel or education destination, a trade partner or business hub. The fact that we rank high on their agenda, and China's with regard to a free trade agreement, is a reflection on historical goodwill that's been developed under strong leadership.

We have to raise our game and make a real attempt to change our attitude towards Asia. Doing this will ensure that our future generations can succeed in a globalised world. We can't afford to ignore the fact that Asia will play an ever-increasing role in worldwide politics and we can't afford to forget that our place on the world's stage only occupies a fraction of the space that Asia does.

The report says New Zealand needs to:

1. Raise knowledge of Asia and its people

· Business needs to place a higher priority on knowledge and skills relevant to Asia.

· Young New Zealanders need to have access to study opportunities in Asian nations.

· Schools need to recognise the importance of knowledge about Asia and Asian languages.

· Media organisations need to increase their knowledge and coverage of Asia and local Asian communities.

· We need to raise participation and profile of Asian artists and performers and to reach Asian audiences.

2. Commit to Asians in New Zealand

3. Connect with Asia

Are you ready to be a part of this change?

Pansy Wong


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