Pansy Speak: Second World moving to be first
Second World moving to be first
At a recent conference for Asian political parties I was left wondering what had happened to the stereotype that Asians go out of their way to be polite and show respect for their hosts.
I could hardly believe it when the Speaker for the Philippine Congress, Jose de Venecia, repeatedly referred to the Republic of South Korea, and the city of Seoul, as being a Second World country and a city moving towards First World status.
These comments were made at the fourth bi-annual International Conference for Asian Political Parties (ICAPP). Ninety political parties were represented from 36 countries across the region.
When ICAPP was held in Beijing in 2004, I made the observation that it was a forum where political alliances and arrangements were at play. The Philippines was the founding country for the forum and, with Thailand, they played an important part in the last conference. This time, Thailand played a relatively low-key role and the current military coup suggests they were pre-occupied with other pressing issues.
Part of the reason for being dismayed at the reference to South Korea being classed as a ‘Second World’ country has to do with the fact that their GDP per capita is US$21,419 while ours is US$23,943.
At a supermarket in central Seoul, I found kiwifruit being sold for NZ$4.50 each and New Zealand wine selling at around NZ$90 per bottle when it retails for $20 here. This caused further discomfort as Korea is currently the 10th largest economic power in the world and their growth is forecast at 4% per annum.
This reminded me how much New Zealand has slid down the OECD rankings if GDP per capita is the comparison. If we consider the following figures we can’t afford to be complacent.
GDP per capita
The high price of kiwifruit and wine alone are good enough reasons to pursue a free-trade agreement. Most of the high price was due to tariffs and not quality, and both consumers and producers are disadvantaged. The other reason is because of free-trade agreements that Korea has with other countries that produce similar products – our exporters suffer because their competitors’ products are sold at a cheaper price without the tariff.
When I put New Zealand’s case for an agreement to the more than 20 Korean politicians present from across the political spectrum, I was politely told that their priority lies with a free-trade agreement with USA. Only one of them expressed open reservations about an agreement with us because of concerns about the impact on Korean farmers. I made extensive use of my four media interviews with major papers in Korea to explain that produce from New Zealand and Korea is not competing, that our seasons are complimentary, and that both of our agricultural sectors already work co-operatively, with the joint venture in kiwifruit being one example.
These comments, and others, generated positive headlines in the Maeil Kyungje (a business paper), Segye Ilbo, Woman Times, and Sisa Journal – the circulation for each of these papers ranges between 500,000 to one million readers.
They carried headlines such as ‘Role model as a successful Asian’, ‘Proud Asian woman in a woman’s paradise,’ and ‘Thanks to the spokeswoman for Asians in New Zealand’. My interview with the Woman Times was a joint one with Dr Myung Ja Kim, who is the longest serving Minister for Environment, at four years.
This shows the volatile nature of Korean politics. Their first woman Prime Minister is the third Prime Minister in three years. I was told that the shortest serving Minister was one for Education who lasted 14 days. Their Cabinet couldn’t be further than ours where nine Ministers are still hanging on while insisting that their follies aren’t barriers to retaining their positions.
Dr Kim was the co-chairperson for ICAPP because the ruling Uri party and the main opposition party, the Grand National party, agreed to host the event together to show their support for this important forum. Dr Kim introduced the first workshop for women politicians where we learnt that the number of female politicians in Korea’s Parliament has doubled from 6% to more than 13% since the last election because of the introduction of a quota system where 30% of candidates for political parties have to be women. Our hearts went out to the women delegates from Iran and Bangladesh for speaking about their difficulties in getting into political power. I was pleased that my motion to make the women’s workshop an ongoing part of the conference made it to the declaration.
This was my second visit to Seoul, and again I was struck by the cleanliness and tidiness of the city. Pedestrians followed the crossings despite traffic jams, and didn’t take shortcuts out of impatience.
This is the country where people queued up to donate their personal wealth during the Asian financial crisis to show their commitment to, and pride in, their country. Korea’s progress since then is visible.
Koreans value relationships and while in Seoul I dined with the former Auckland General Manager for Kookmin Bank. His statement that the bank was the largest bank in Korea was reinforced by the fact that there seems to be a branch on every second street in Seoul.
My trip was constructive and fruitful because I was seen as an MP who looks after their fellow Koreans here in New Zealand. The pace, dense population and the evident competitive nature provide some explanation as to why some Koreans come to New Zealand for a different lifestyle. At the same time, their networks, competitive spirit, work ethic and market knowledge should be valued and utilised to foster trade and other exchanges between our countries.
In the meantime, Asia is buzzing with all sorts of initiatives, including Asian unification or the proposed Asian community. The 10 ASEAN states are trying to unify with China, Japan and South Korea in an East Asian Economic Grouping. In 5 to 10 years’ time the Association of Asian Parliaments for Peace is converting itself into an Asian Parliamentary Assembly, or an Asian Parliament. The ASEAN inter-parliamentary organisation is engaged in similar discussions to convert their organisation into an Asian Parliamentary Council which would be the forerunner of an ASEAN parliament.
These can all be seen as moves towards forming a ‘one Asia’ capable of being an equal with similar communities being born in Europe, Africa and the Americas.
During my time at ICAPP I found myself fielding questions as to why New Zealand is participating in a conference for Asian political parties. My answers were in the opening paragraph of my speech to the forum:
Peace and prosperity in Asia is important to New Zealand because as a country, we have always taken seriously our role of being a responsible citizen state of the world.
New Zealand is part of Asia in geographical terms and increasingly we are intentionally fostering closer ties, albeit sometimes painstakingly. While recent research and studies point to Maori, the first people of New Zealand, coming from Asia, the close ties between the Maori and Pacific peoples have been long- standing. Our links to Britain and its influence has shaped our country for over a century, and without doubt will continue to have an important influence in the medium term future. This puts New Zealand in the ideal position of having access to and ties with Europe, America, Pacific and, increasingly, Asia.
We will endeavour to use our knowledge and influence with these links to foster our role as a responsible state nation, as well as being a good neighbour state in Asia.