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Speech by Bill Willmott at Friendship Forum

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Speech by Bill Willmott at the Friendship Forum, Nanchang - 11 September 2010.
Speech by Bill Willmott at the Friendship Forum, Nanchang - 11 September 2010.


The following speech was delivered by Bill Willmott, Head of the NZCFS Delegation at the Friendship Forum, Nanchang – on the 11th September, 2010.

Haere mai, Haere mai i te hui rata ne, Tena Koutou Katoa

Pengyoumen, Nushimen, Xianshengmen, Shangwu hao

Your Royal Highess Princess Pilolevu Tuita,

Vice-President of Youxie, Mme. Li Xiaolin,

Our dear friends old and new in Youxie,

Fellow delegates to the Fourth Friendship Forum,

I bring you warm greetings from Eric Livingstone, president of the New Zealand China Friendship Society, from our national executive, and from our members, all of whom are ever appreciative of the enormous contribution the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries makes to our common cause: friendship between our two peoples.

In particular, my delegation is grateful for your invitation to visit Jiangxi and the opportunity to meet friends of China from so many different countries. We know that this forum will provide us with new ideas and new inspiration for the work we all enjoy doing. And we are looking forward to learning about your great province after the forum.

A major aim of this forum is for all of us to learn from each other. To that end, I would like to outline some of the activities of our organisation in New Zealand. My delegation looks forward to hearing what others are doing. And if you want more information on us, you can visit our website, www.nzchinasociety.org.nz

The New Zealand China Friendship Society was founded in 1952, and today we have 13 branches with about 700 members across the country. Each branch organises its own programme, and they vary greatly, but most have monthly meetings, as we see education as our key task. After all, knowledge overcomes ignorance and prejudice. And the most effective knowledge, of course, comes from personal contact, so we are keen for people to come to China to meet Chinese themselves. We organise China tours every year for that purpose.

In all our work, we receive wonderful support from the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, and we try to reciprocate by inviting them to visit New Zealand as often as possible. Now we are delighted that Madam Li Xiaolin has agreed to join the advisory board of the Asia New Zealand Foundation, a Quango that seeks to educate New Zealanders about Asia; now Madam Li will be visiting us at least once a year. And we are developing good relations with several provincial Youxie as well.

Rewi Alley was a founding member of our Society, although he lived in China most of his life. His life-long commitment to building co-operatives and the institutions to educate co-op leaders has inspired our Society to support his work, which continues long after he has gone. These include the Gung Ho co-operative movement, very active today building small-scale democratic co-ops and providing advice to government and private enterprises interested in developing co-operative structures. It is led by the ICCIC, and we have a member on its executive, our Vice-President David Bromwich, who does a lot of work in China and keeps our Society in the picture. He has helped in Shandan, where there are now 31 Gung Ho co-operatives, another 14 in neighbouring counties.

Rewi Alley also founded the Shandan Bailie School in an oasis town on the Gobi Desert. It contributes educated and skilled young people to that impoverished region. We recruit Kiwi teachers for the school, and our Silk Road Tours make regular visits to keep in touch.

For some years we have also been involved in projects to alleviate rural poverty in Guangxi Province, where we work with the Women’s Federation to organise training sessions for rural women in such topics as health and maternity issues, legal rights, preventing STDs, growing sunflowers and farming rabbits. We have also supported farmers to build a better road so they can market their dragon fruit more efficiently.

In response to the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, we initiated several reconstruction projects, two in Shaanxi and two in Sichuan. In Shaanxi, we helped rebuild a health clinic that serves 6,000 people in Feng County, and we helped farmers in Luoyang County to grow walnuts on their hill fields. In Sichuan, the projects were rebuilding irrigation channels and establishing tea and vegetable co-operatives in Pengzhou.

To keep these projects alive in our minds, the NZCFS organises an annual tour to visit some of them. These project tours have proved very popular with our members, because they go to out-of-the-way places and focus on the worthwhile things we are doing in China.

Until now, all our aid projects have attracted generous subsidies through a government programme to encourage NGO involvement in international aid. The NZ$25,000 we raised as a Society (not inconsiderable for a small organisation like ours) was augmented to NZ$125,000, well over half a million RMB. Unfortunately, our current government has cancelled this scheme, and we are therefore unlikely to be able to sustain our aid programme at quite the same level. Nevertheless, we shall continue to offer expertise and whatever substantive aid as we can–and we shall continue to send tours to these areas to keep our connections alive.

Some of our members have their own projects in China, independent of our organisation. Here in Nanchang, for example, our Tauranga Branch member John Hodgson has established the Tauranga Nanchang Friendship Trust, a fund that will bring young students at the Jiangxi Fenglin College to Tauranga to learn English and experience our family life and culture.

Another national programme of our Society is a scholarship to train poor rural students to become public health nurses. We call it the He Mingqing Scholarship, using the Chinese name of Kathleen Hall, a heroic New Zealand nurse who worked in an impoverished village in the Taihang Mountains and smuggled medical supplies to Norman Bethune and the 8th Route Army until the Japanese deported her and burned down her clinic. Two of our He Mingqing scholars have just graduated, and both will return to their home counties, Wei Yunjie to northeastern Guangxi, and Shen Qianqian to southern Hebei. We are now supporting two others: Shi Hongli comes from a poor county next door to Shandan and is beginning her second year, while Wang Shuizhen, who comes from close to our health clinic project in Shaanxi, is just starting her training this month.

The He Mingqing Scholarship has enthusiastic support from most of our branches, who organise fund-raising events such as banquets, sales and raffles so that we can support each annual scholarship at RMB 8,000 yuan, which covers most of their tuition and other expenses. We also make sure that our Project Tours meet them regularly to keep up the personal relationships..

Within New Zealand, we are involved in various kinds of activities. We encourage the study of Chinese language by organising prize-giving ceremonies and speech contests and by working with the three Confucius Institutes newly established in our country. We develop close relations with the local Chinese associations in our city and reciprocally attend each other’s events. And we seek Chinese friends whenever and wherever.

Our Auckland Branch president, George Andrew, has produced two DVDs for us, both of which are now showing in the New Zealand Pavilion at Expo. My favourite is one showing groups of Kiwis, including Chinese, singing Moli Hua, a popular Chinese song, with iconic backgrounds like our parliament buildings and the Auckland skyline. I hope you all have a chance to see it–and hear it!

We will be celebrating our 60th anniversary in 2012, when we’ll hold a special event at our annual conference. Sixty years of worthwhile and enjoyable efforts to build friendly relations between our small country and the great civilisation that is China, between Kiwis and Chinese wherever they are. We can’t invite all of you, alas, but it would be wonderful if some of you could join our celebrations.

No reira, Haere, Haere ra, Tena Koutou katoa

Bill Willmott at the Friendship Forum in Nanchang
Bill Willmott at the Friendship Forum in Nanchang