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An Insight into Chinese Politics

NZCFS Wellington Branch President Michael Powles and guest speaker Mr Carl Worker, former New Zealand Ambassador to China.

About 100 members and friends of the New Zealand China Friendship Society’s Wellington Branch were treated to a fascinating talk on China at the Wellington Branch’s August 2016 meeting by Mr Carl Worker who gave some interesting opinions of the present political position of China today. Mr Worker spoke of his experiences as a New Zealand diplomat in China, and his opinions on how China will develop in future, in particular, its relationship with the outside world.

Responding to a question from the floor, Mr Worker was asked about China’s recent actions in the South China Sea, and if New Zealand’s relationship with the United States could be a source of future problems with China.  Mr Worker felt that China’s actions could partly be explained by the leadership’s need to appear strong in matters of national security, especially while trying to remove members of the Chinese national security establishment who were opposed to further market reforms.  He also felt that since China has only recently regained major power status after a break of two hundred years, it does not fully appreciate how its actions are perceived by the rest of the world.

He is firmly of the opinion that having decided to embark on free market reforms in the 1980’s, the Chinese have consistently followed a policy of “peaceful development”, and that despite some misgivings as a result of the 2008 financial crash, they are still committed to this.  His experience of China covers the start of the reform period initiated by Deng Xiaoping up until nearly the present day and the one characteristic that Mr Worker detected in the behaviour of the Chinese leadership has been this consistency. 

He also believes that the recent anti-corruption drive by Xi Jinping is partly being driven by the need to remove some individuals who are opposed to further free market reforms.

As for the relationship between China and New Zealand, Mr Worker believes that there is something of a “special relationship” between the two countries.  As evidence, he cited the free trade agreements that were signed between the two countries, and New Zealand’s providing of assistance and training to the Chinese in the early stages of their reforms.  He also stated that the Chinese felt that New Zealanders were more likely to give China a fairer appraisal of what it is trying to achieve and why, than most other countries.

In response to a second question about New Zealand’s relationship with the US, Mr Worker did not feel there were likely to be major difficulties, as the Chinese have a quite hard-headed appreciation of New Zealand’s relationship with the United States and fully understand its implications for China-NZ relations.  He also felt that the relationship with the United States is beneficial to New Zealand, as it leads to China giving its relationship with New Zealand a higher priority than it would otherwise.

Mr Worker was originally posted to Beijing in the 1980s and remained there until the 1990s.   He then became New Zealand’s Consul General in Hong Kong from 1994 to 1998, before finally becoming New Zealand’s Ambassador to China from 2009 to 2015.

The August Branch meeting was jointly hosted with the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, and NZCFS welcomed the attendance of their members and members of the New Zealand China Trade Association.

Based on a report by NZCFS Wellington Branch member Gerard Coyle.