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Cablegate: New Zealand Election 2008 - the Chinese Vote

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DE RUEHWL #0295/01 2560504
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 120504Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON
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C O N F I D E N T I A L WELLINGTON 000295

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/ANP

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/12/2028
TAGS: PGOV KDEM NZ
SUBJECT: NEW ZEALAND ELECTION 2008 - THE CHINESE VOTE

Classified By: Consul General John Desrocher for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d
).

This message was drafted by ConGen Auckland and approved by
Embassy Wellington.

1. (C) Summary. Asians make up nearly 10% of New Zealand's
population, and most of them are Chinese. Chinese are
underrepresented in national politics, with only one member
of parliament. While Asian representation in parliament may
improve this year because parties are diversifying their
lists, New Zealand is likely to have only one more
parliamentarian of Chinese heritage after November's
election. End summary.

-----------------------
Two Chinese Communities
-----------------------

2. (SBU) Asians have surpassed Pacific Islanders to become
New Zealand's third-largest ethnic group, after Pakeha
(Europeans) and Maori. They make up 9.7% of the country's
population, expected to grow to 16% in twenty years.
Two-thirds of New Zealand's Asians live in the Auckland
region; more than half identify themselves as Chinese.

3. (SBU) New Zealand's Chinese can be divided between those
with deep roots in the country and more recent arrivals.
Members of the first group trace their ancestry to the market
gardeners and Otago gold miners that arrived in New Zealand
as far back as the mid-19th century. Their forebears
suffered overt racism and often toiled in poverty on the
margins of society.

4. (SBU) Members of this group to this day often keep a low
political profile. While many enjoy a standard of living
their grandparents could not have dreamed of, they often stay
loyal to the Labour Party. They remember Labour as the
social welfare party that was most ready to help the working
class and as the most racially tolerant party. This loyalty
is weakening as Chinese Kiwis grow wealthier and as the
National Party leaves race-baiting in its past.

5. (C) The 70% of Chinese who arrived in New Zealand after
1991 make up the second group. Auckland University Professor
Manying Ip calls this group "the 1.5 generation." They were
brought to New Zealand as children or young adults or were
born here of recent immigrant parents. Very often they come
from families with means. Many are professionals and live
well. While they too want to settle and raise families, they
are less concerned than the first group with blending in. Ip
describes them as "well-educated...and highly aware of their
rights." It was this group that swelled the pro-China
demonstration in Auckland during the controversy earlier this
year over the Olympic torch relay.

-------------------------------
Few Chinese Faces in Parliament
-------------------------------

6. (SBU) While Asians, and Chinese particularly, are well
represented in local politics, they are poorly represented at
the national level. Only one of New Zealand's 120 members of
parliament is of Chinese heritage. MPs and party leaders
(particularly in the Labour Party) tend to be veterans of the
party going back to their university days who went to
Wellington and starting climbing the party ladder not long
after their studies were finished. Most of New Zealand's
Chinese are recent arrivals who haven't had time to get very
far up the ladder.

7. (SBU) The introduction of proportional representation
(MMP) in parliamentary elections in 1996 increased
politicians' interest in minority communities. That year the
lone current Chinese MP, National's Pansy Wong, was plucked
from Christchurch local politics and put on the National
Party list. Asians were sufficiently emboldened by MMP to
launch a pair of ethnic parties for the 1996 election, but
neither gained significant support. Both quickly disbanded
and no strictly Asian parties have been launched since.

8. (SBU) Wong remains New Zealand's best known Chinese
politician. She will battle for an electorate seat in the
2008 election in the Auckland constituency of Botany. In
2005, Wong failed to unseat Labour MP Judith Tizard from the
Auckland Central electorate. Wong entered parliament as a
list, rather than as an electorate, MP. (No Asian candidate
has ever successfully contested an electorate seat.)
National expects the Botany electorate to prove friendly
ground for Wong. It is a new electorate without an
incumbent, and it has the second-largest Asian population of
any electorate (and 80% of those Asians are Chinese).

9. (C) Until recently, it appeared that both of the major
parties would choose Chinese candidates to contest the Botany
electorate. As noted, National would run Wong, and the
Labour Party was expected to reach beyond its core and tap
lawyer and radio personality Raymond Huo, a Beijing native,
as its candidate for Botany. The ACT Party, New Zealand's
equivalent of a European liberal democratic party, is also
likely to run a Chinese candidate in Botany, former MP
Kenneth Wang. In a last minute switch, however, Labour chose
a little-known Auckland University professor named Koro Tawa
over Huo to contest the Botany electorate.

10. (C) Huo nonetheless remains Labour's most important
Chinese candidate. Despite not getting the nod to run in
Botany, Huo was given a far higher place on the party list
than Tawa. Indeed, Huo placed higher on the list than a
number of veteran Labour MPs. In a meeting with the CG,
Huo's lack of partisan passion was notable. While paying lip
service to Labour policies, his remarks suggested he was
drawn into politics not to support a particular ideology, but
because the Chinese community's voice "was not being heard."
Huo argued that National's Wong "does not connect well" with
most Chinese New Zealanders because she's from Hong Kong and
speaks Cantonese rather than Mandarin.

11. (C) Wang served as a list MP for ACT from 2002 from
2005, but lost his seat when ACT's poor performance in 2005
left it with only two seats. Wang argues that ACT, because
of its emphasis on free market principles, draws well from
the business-oriented Chinese community. Also, like Huo,
Wang told the CG that Wong is "not Chinese enough" and that
Botany's Chinese would prefer a Mandarin speaker like himself
to a Cantonese speaker like Wong.

-------------
Law and Order
-------------

12. (C) Wong's chances will be boosted by a spate of crimes
against Asians in South Auckland. Over the span of a few
days in June, an Indian liquor store owner was shot to death
in his shop, an elderly Chinese woman was murdered in her
home by an intruder, and another Chinese woman was killed
during a purse-snatching. Labour's Huo confirmed that New
Zealand Asians believe themselves to be particularly
vulnerable to crime. Many run small retail businesses and,
added Huo, ethnic stereotypes come into play: criminals
believe that Asians carry lots of cash and will respond
passively if attacked. Huo admitted that Labour's emphasis
on rehabilitation of criminals over punishment goes down
poorly in the Chinese community. New Chinese immigrants come
from cultures - China, Singapore - where criminals are dealt
with much more harshly than in New Zealand, Huo said.

---------------------------------
Comment: A Little More Diversity
---------------------------------

13. (C) Wong's experience and name recognition, National's
momentum, and the Chinese community's concern about crime
will probably win the day for Wong. Certainly, Labour's
decision to run Tawa in Botany instead of Huo suggests Labour
has concluded it can't beat Wong. Thus it will run an
unknown against Wong so that Huo can enter parliament as a
list candidate untainted by a defeat in the Botany
electorate. Botany is likely the only electorate an Asian
will win, but other Asians are likely to enter parliament as

party list candidates. National has put two new Asians
(Indian Kanwal Bakshi and Korean Melissa Lee) high enough on
its list that they will get seats if National performs well.
As noted, Huo has been given a high enough place on Labour's
list to virtually assure his entry to parliament, as has a
new Indian candidate, Rajen Prasad. Current Labour list MP
Ahmed Chaudhry, despite an unimpressive record, has also
maintained a place on the party list high enough to ensure
his return to parliament. So, if the results unfold as
currently expected, the new parliament will have six Asian
members (two Chinese), vice the two Asian MPs in parliament
today. End comment.
McCORMICK

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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