Forty Years On: New Zealand-China relations then, now and in the years to come, edited by Chris Elder

This book is currently available in selected bookstores.

This slim volume is a skilfully edited digest of the proceedings of two symposia held incv_forty_years_on 2012 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and China. These two symposia were organised by the Victoria University Contemporary China Research Centre, the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. But don’t let those big names put you off! This is a very approachable book.

These symposia (one in Wellington, the other in Beijing) attracted some very high-powered, and knowledgeable, people including the Prime Minister and other political leaders, government officials, academics, business people and journalists. The two days’ deliberations have been, in the words of the preface, “marshalled so far as possible into broad subject areas” which cover a wide range. The establishment of the relationship between the two countries, the current state of relationships, its future challenges, past successes and difficulties, and effects both big and small, are all traversed.

The range of topics covered is enormous – and since the book is just 129 pages some have obviously had summary treatment. But the overall coverage is impressive. As well as the development of closer relationships, and the obvious trade and economic ties the deliberations included the cultural differences, NZ’s Chinese community, and the role of New Zealand and China in the regional (South Pacific) context.

The editor is well placed to tackle the task of summarising these deliberations. Remember Joe Walding? He lead the first mission to make direct contact with China at a ministerial level. He was accompanied by the editor, who at that time was a career diplomat. He returned to China as NZ Ambassador in 1993, and his wealth of experience shows in the way that these deliberations have been organised, and background material added where necessary.

Sections on the history and development of China-New Zealand relationship are valuable in putting the current situation and participants’ thoughts about what might happen in the future into context.

The book is well presented, with a few graphs and (mostly historical) photographs. Frequent asides help fill in the detail. Did you know that NZ is called the “Country of the Four Firsts” in China? That’s an indication of how advanced our relationships with China have been. Most of it is, perhaps surprisingly, easy to read   as the majority of the material is reporting direct speech I guess.

I approached this book with a certain amount of trepidation. I knew little about China-New Zealand relations other than that many things I bought were made in China, and that milk which might be contaminated with botulism is a hard sell. While not every section was equally gripping, I came away feeling much better informed, and I feel much more able to appreciate and understand many things I see in newspapers. One of the speakers refers to the level of ignorance about China in New Zealand being “still quite remarkable”. This book should shed some light into that darkness, and I’m glad I read it.

Reviewed by Gordon Findlay

Forty Years On: New Zealand-China relations then, now and in the years to come
edited by Chris Elder
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739155    

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