Q+A: Susan Wood interviews Arthur Loo
Sunday 7th April,
Q+A: Susan Wood interviews Arthur Loo
Auckland Chinese community leader says New Zealand has nothing to fear from Chinese investment:
A highly respected member of the Auckland Chinese community says that if New Zealand is going to have a debate about Chinese investment in the country it should be a debate about all overseas investment.
Auckland Chinese Community Centre chairman Arthur Loo told TV One’s Q+A programme that, for example, all of New Zealand’s major banks are foreign-owned, meaning billions of dollars flow out of the country, and that the percentage of NZ farmland owned by Chinese was tiny in comparison to Australian, American, the UK and the Dutch.
Loo is currently visiting China as part of Prime Minister John Key’s trade delegation. He told Q+A’s Susan Wood that NZ had nothing more to fear from Chinese investment than it did from investment from any other major country.
“It’s a business relationship, so a business relationship, irrespective of who you are contracting with, there are always ups and downs…China is a major power now, a major trading nation, so we’ve got to make the most of our opportunities. You know, New Zealand doesn’t produce enough of its own capital. You know, we don’t supply our own capital. So the only way we’re going to get capital is through trading and doing business with other countries, and one of those other countries has to be China.”
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SUSAN WOOD INTERVIEWS ARTHUR LOO
Arthur Loo is a Chinese Kiwi who’s done well. He’s chairman of the Auckland Chinese Community, partner in Loo and Koo Barristers and Solicitors, Australasia’s largest South-East Asian-focused law firm, and he’s on the Prime Minister’s trade trip to China. Mr Loo is also involved in a lot of community work and has earned the Queen’s Service Medal. Just before he left for China I asked him the significance of the large delegation and the trip to China.
ARTHUR LOO, Auckland Chinese Community Chairperson
I think it’s significant, not only from the Chinese perspective but from the New Zealand perspective. I mean, we Chinese who live in New Zealand are, I think, you know, quite excited that he is going, and it’s a significant event, because he is visiting China at an early stage of the new Chinese leadership.
SUSAN Yes, how important is it for our prime minister to meet this leadership? Because all things being equal, they will be there for some time.
ARTHUR A lot of it is symbolic. Chinese people set great store on face to face meeting, face to face contact. You know, it’s not stuff that you can do over the telephone or now via the internet. So it’s important, I think, that our leadership is there meeting the new Chinese leaders.
SUSAN And a prime minister and we’re talking many ministers on this, they hold a lot of mana, don’t they, in China? It really is an important thing.
ARTHUR Yes. Again, Chinese set great store on status, so having several cabinet ministers there indicates to them that, you know, New Zealand takes the relationship seriously and that we have so many people of status along on the delegation.
SUSAN How do we measure the success of a trip like this? We will no doubt have announcements of this bit of business and that bit of business, but how do we actually measure the success?
ARTHUR I’m not sure that it is immediately measureable. It’ll be through, I guess, the goodwill of the Chinese government towards New Zealand. It’s part of the on-going relationship that New Zealand has developed with China, I think. China has a fairly good benign view of New Zealand, and therefore I think, you know, we’re fortunate to have Prime Minister Key go and visit so soon after President Xi has taken office.
SUSAN How deep, though, how real is that relationship? You look at our relationship with Australia, and we are very close. It’s like cousins. America we’re even very, very good friends with now. But how would you characterise the New Zealand-Chinese relationship?
ARTHUR I think it’s warm. As the previous premier said, it’s probably never been better. So I think it’s a very strong relationship. I don’t think we should underestimate how, I think, well regarded we are by the Chinese and the Chinese government, through some of the things that we’ve done in the past. You know, credit where credit’s due. I think the Helen Clark government did a lot to, I think, encourage that relationship.
SUSAN They like the independent voice of New Zealand, don’t they? They like the fact that we will walk our own path and not necessarily follow the Americans or anybody else.
ARTHUR Yes, I think that’s very true.
SUSAN How much influence does that give us, that independent voice, in the Pacific, when we are poised at the bottom of the region -as we all know, the greatest growth region in the world?
ARTHUR I think it’s important, because China regards New Zealand as being principled and having the spine to adopt a reasonably independent view, independent stance in international politics. Just because we haven’t jumped to, say, the American’s tune necessarily. And so I think China, you know, admires that degree of independence.
SUSAN Five years of FTA with China. The first in the world. Our exports have tripled to nearly $7 billion over that time. But are we doing enough? Are our businesses getting in there, investing and doing enough?
ARTHUR We could certainly do better. I mean, New Zealanders are very innovative. I think we’re easy to get along with. We’re very approachable. So, you can’t measure, I guess, our success just in the immediate terms. I think we could do better in our relationships. New Zealanders, I think, have got to understand that they’ve got to persevere. We’ve got to realise that the whole world is beating a path to the door of China and, you know, people in China do not wake up in the mornings thinking about New Zealand. We have to be persistent. We have to be smarter. We have to play to our strengths. The things that we are good at doing, the products that we are good at producing.
SUSAN Maori. We have a lot of tribal settlements here. Dr Pita Sharples, again, going to China. Do you see some very real relationships developing between Maori, who have money and can do things with it, and Chinese?
ARTHUR Certainly. I know that the minister has already led two delegations to China. But one of the things that I think Maori maybe could look at is to look at doing business with some of the minority groups in China. I mean, the Han people are the majority, but there are 50-odd other minority groups in China, and some of them are quite significant and I think the Chinese leadership would quite like that. I think it’s a nice story that the one indigenous group is doing business with another indigenous group.
SUSAN Why are New Zealanders so afraid of China? I mean, Americans can come and buy our farmland, the Australians can come and buy our farmland, James Cameron can come and buy whatever he wants to by - no one says peep. The Chinese come in and buy Crafar Farms and we are all up in arms about it. Why?
ARTHUR I’m not sure that we could say that all New Zealanders are afraid. I mean, segments of society, I think, maybe get a bit more strident when there is some aspects of Chinese investment. But I think by and large New Zealanders-
SUSAN Should we be worried about Chinese investment?
ARTHUR Well, I don’t think it’s particularly Chinese investment, but if we’re going to have a debate about overseas investment, we should have a debate about all overseas investment. I mean, for example, all our banks are foreign owned, and billions flow out through our banks. You know, the percentage of farmland that Chinese own is tiny in comparison to Australian, American, United Kingdom and Dutch. So, you know, I think the Crafar Farms was an unfortunate point. But, you know, I think we’re going to get over it. I think the Chinese understand that in an open democratic society that somebody can challenge the process, and it doesn’t necessarily represent the view of all New Zealanders.
SUSAN Do we have anything to fear from China?
ARTHUR Not necessarily. I mean, no more than we have to fear from any major country that we do business with. I mean, it’s a business relationship, so a business relationship, irrespective of who you are contracting with, there are always ups and downs. I think, as I said before, China has a fairly benign relationship with us. You know, China is a major power now, a major trading nation, so we’ve got to make the most of our opportunities. You know, New Zealand doesn’t produce enough of its own capital. You know, we don’t supply our own capital. So the only way we’re going to get capital is through trading and doing business with other countries, and one of those other countries has to be China.
SUSAN Arthur Loo, thank you for your time this morning.
ARTHUR You’re very welcome.