A Different Address: Mai Chen assesses Auckland’s future.



BY 2040 AUCKLAND’S POPULATION is projected to reach 2.5 million – with half of that number being first generation immigrants. Billions of investment dollars will accompany these new residents, conferring upon them a disproportionate amount of national power and influence. From whatever perspective it is viewed: economic, cultural or political; New Zealand’s future development seems certain to be seriously, and quite possibly dangerously, distorted by immigration.

Public law specialist and author of Transforming Auckland: The Creation of Auckland Council , Mai Chen, seems less concerned about the possible consequences for New Zealand of having so much of its population and economic wealth concentrated in a single city than she does with ensuring the tax dollars of her fellow citizens keeping flowing north:

“Auckland cannot fund its infrastructure, despite its wealth, without Central Government … We need them …Aucklanders just want to get on with it.”

Perhaps, as a Chinese-New Zealander and a former member of the Asia-NZ Foundation, Ms Chen is simply bedazzled by the prospect of Auckland’s future becoming inextricably interwoven with the burgeoning Chinese economy. In the course of a recent newspaper interview, for example, she warned New Zealand’s decision-makers:

“The bureaucrats and officials in the capital have to start understanding Auckland’s problems and the importance of its rich human and social capital, as well as its economic impact ….. Auckland is now the leader and its fast-growing and multicultural population has to be addressed differently from other parts of the country.”

This statement, when unpacked, contains a rather ominous message for the rest of New Zealand.

Essentially, what Ms Chen is saying is that the city of Auckland’s population, made up increasingly of people who were born somewhere else (the explanation, presumably, for the richness of its human and social capital) and whose economic and cultural lives are increasingly disconnected from those of non-Auckland citizens, should, accordingly, be “addressed differently” from other New Zealanders.

Hmmm? For many decades now Auckland has boasted a “fast-growing and multicultural population”, and yet very few public law specialists over that time felt brave enough to argue that the thousands of unskilled labourers imported from the Pacific islands (also “rich” in human and social capital) should be “addressed differently” from Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders.

Could there be a further sub-text hidden within Ms Chen’s demand that Auckland be afforded special treatment by Central Government? Could she also be referencing the fact that within the city’s fast-growing and multicultural population there is an ethnic group that stands out from all the others? A group whose homeland constitutes New Zealand’s largest single trading partner? A group whose investment in the Auckland (as well as the wider New Zealand) economy is rising dramatically? A group whose cultural and financial networks are more than equal to the challenge of transforming Auckland into an outwardly focussed and essentially Asian city?

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Could it be that Ms Chen is telling us that Auckland must be treated differently from the rest of New Zealand because the fastest growing segment of its population hails from China? Is she trying to persuade us that Auckland’s fate, like that of so many other cities in the Asia-Pacific region over the centuries, is to become a Chinese financial enclave and entrepot dominated by local agents of the vast (and globally expanding) Chinese diaspora?

Surely, as a public law specialist, Ms Chen must know that according special recognition to a non-indigenous ethnic group would immediately raise a plethora of fundamental constitutional problems. One has only to think of the enormous constitutional, political and cultural difficulties that have arisen from successive Governments’ attempts to honour the promises made to tangata whenua in the Treaty of Waitangi to get some inkling of the outcry that would accompany any proposal to address Chinese-New Zealanders “differently”.

Not that New Zealanders living in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries raised many objections to the very different treatment then meted out to Chinese immigrants by parliamentarians of every ideological hue.  A century ago, anti-Chinese prejudice was as rife in New Zealand as it was in Australia. Immigration from China was restricted to males who could not vote, were required to pay special taxes and denied the right to send for their wives and families. So great was the xenophobic fear of being “swamped” by the “Yellow Peril” that negative discrimination against the Chinese was not only accepted – it was demanded.

Such prejudice may have been buried by twenty-first century politicians, but only in a very shallow grave. It is, therefore, highly unlikely that Ms Chen anticipates anything so problematic as a positively-framed de jurerecognition of China’s special interests in New Zealand. Indeed, the only message readers of her book should take away with them is the very high probability that Central Government will eventually have no option but to grant an Auckland economy increasingly dependent on the inflow of both Chinese immigrants and Chinese capital de facto special status.

After all, it was no lesser luminary that the former Commonwealth Secretary-General, onetime National Deputy-Prime Minister, and current Chairman of the New Zealand China Council, Sir Don McKinnon, who warmly greeted “New Zealand’s China Century”:

“China is our largest trading partner, our fastest growing source of tourists, our largest source of overseas students, and our greatest source of net migration … Our prosperity, our social cohesiveness, our sense of who we are as a nation is increasingly dependent on how well we integrate this new Chinese dimension into New Zealand’s economic and cultural life.”

If you want to know what that means, just ask Judith Collins and Maurice Williamson.


  1. We have got to have the population discussion, at what point is enough, enough.
    There is not enough infrastructure as it is for Auckland and more people will only make it worse. I suggest that every potential new immigrant take a trip on the Waikato River so they can see where their drinking water will come from. Then there is sewage and stormwater with more and more land covered in concrete.

  2. “Central Government will eventually have no option but to grant an Auckland economy increasingly dependent on the inflow of both Chinese immigrants and Chinese capital de facto special status.”

    As an entrepôt, maybe? Primary products comprise the bulk of exports from New Zealand; this is likely to be the case for the foreseeable future. None of it is produced in Auckland, and I suspect that less and less of it goes offshore through Auckland nowadays. So are those Chinese immigrants going to use their capital to invest in (for instance) products manufactured in Auckland for export? I doubt it…. much more likely they’ll just put their cash into real estate, like they’ve been doing since the late 1980s.

  3. I think Chris is reading between the lines correctly.

    China is now NZs No 1 trading partner and on the basis of the PPP measure the world’s biggest economy.

    China is an emerging imperialist country and NZ is one of its most favoured semi-colonies. When it comes to US vs China influence on NZ, China will win hands down because it trades more freely with NZ and is still growing rapidly while the US economy is protectionist and relatively stagnant.

    While many Chinese individuals are investing in urban property, Chinese corporates are investing in NZs productive base. This is what China is doing right around the world. It sources the raw materials it needs for its own economic expansion from those countries that offer the best deals.

    Its favoured method is to do government to government deals from South Africa to Venezuela in what are referred to as ‘win-win’ deals, where China delivers needed infrastructure such as ports and railways in return for raw materials.

    NZ is a tiny drop in China’s barrel and that drop is milk and other foods to meet an insatiable demand. NZ has gone from being Britain’s farm to China’s farm. So expect that Chinese interests will gobble up more milk producers and any shares that Fonterra puts on the market.

    So the shape of Auckland to come is already predetermined. It will continue to be what semi-colonial cities have always been, flush with wealth derived from production and trade in raw commodities at the big end of town, between the shiny new Viaduct headquarters and Skycity, while the rest of Auckland will be compressed into higher density housing and traffic flows of the service class that looks after the big end of town.

    • “…what are referred to as ‘win-win’ deals, where China delivers needed infrastructure such as ports and railways in return for raw materials.”
      Trans-Tasman Resources, a nominally NZ company, looks likely to get a consent to mine ironsand from the sea-bed in the South Taranaki Bight. There were 4800 submissions at the Environment Protection Agency hearings, over 95% of which were against the proposal. As all the work will be done at sea, with the iron transported by ship directly to China, there will be little or no onshore infrastructure – which could have become a focus for protest action.
      Assurances that effective monitoring at sea will be undertaken by a NZ govt agency just make me go, yeah right.

  4. All those houses they are going to build in Ak for the Chinese immigrants.

    They will have to up the policing too, for the triads. Will they get deported if they break the law of NZ? Or will they buy their way out of it?

    Where will all the kiwi Aucklanders go?

    We must remember that most of these incoming wealthy Chinese, have made their fortune via their sweat-shops, and they will be bringing this mentality into the country with them.

    This situation needs to be stopped. I would like to know if Labour or Greens would put a stop to it.

    If you immigrate to another country, then you must learn to live by that country’s Law.


  5. When I hear people talk like: “People just want to get on with it”, then alarm bells ring in my head!

    That is the same talk we have been getting from John Key for years, and he is one that tries to tie in the public to simply trust the leadership and driving forces to deliver only good and desirable outcomes.

    No, “just getting on with it” is something I do not warm to.

    I believe in careful, sound and risk proof planning and organisation, which is what smart cultures like the Chinese, Germans and Japanese do, same as also many others, like the Scandinavians, Swiss, Dutch, and some other successful economies.

    Simply growing an economy by large scale migration, by boosting the population that way, or even telling people, have lots of babies, that is very primitive economic thinking and planning. That is the recipe of the amateurs, of the witless opportunist, who just wants more workers, more mouths to feed, more consumers, and who does not consider the limitations set by resources, and by the environment.

    I am not going to stay in Auckland City if they continue to grow the population to 2.5 million. That is not what I want, and those that want this, they will destroy the more relaxed culture and society that this country used to be known for.

    Why not move to other big cities elsewhere, those people who want to live in a bustling metropolis?

    We live on a finite planet with finite resources, so nearly doubling the population will not only have positive consequences, for instance where is the water going to come from, do we want to drain the Waikato river to become a small Rio Grande, dry in large parts of the year?

    I am also not “rich human and social capital”, first of all, I like to be a HUMAN being, an individual, that has human qualities, desires and needs, and abilities of course.

    Do we all want to be “productive” and “consumerist” units, I ask?

  6. “Surely, as a public law specialist, Ms Chen must know that according special recognition to a non-indigenous ethnic group would immediately raise a plethora of fundamental constitutional problems. One has only to think of the enormous constitutional, political and cultural difficulties that have arisen from successive Governments’ attempts to honour the promises made to tangata whenua in the Treaty of Waitangi to get some inkling of the outcry that would accompany any proposal to address Chinese-New Zealanders “differently”.

    Well, I sense a kind of “elitist” sentiment or view that Mai Chen has adopted, which may well have been nurtured through her upbringing. I have met a fair few Chinese, here and elsewhere, and many of them (the real newcomers) are tending to see themselves as somehow a bit ‘better’ than most other individuals – or groups – of different cultural or ethnic backgrounds.

    A culture of strong efforts, high achievement and high aspirations, which Mai Chen was taught, as I read in an article she wrote somewhere else, combined with feeling the need to cope with extra challenges as a migrant child belonging to a minority, that has shaped her thinking, I suspect.

    So that may explain that she has a special sympathy with other migrants from not only her native Taiwan, but Mainland China also.

    How would New Zealanders feel having so many Japanese or Germans come here, I wonder, or how would they feel having so many Saudi Arabians, Kuwaitis or other well to do, business minded, well skilled Arabs come and live here?

    Is it perhaps not the inherited sense of guilt towards the New Zealand born Chinese, who were once severely discriminated against, that the Chinese migrants already get a rather generous treatment by the governments we have had over the last ten or so years? It seems almost a bit similar to how modern day Germans behave towards people of Jewish descent, and how they express rather uncritical support towards Israel.

    Is New Zealand going to give Chinese migrants special treatment, above all other groups, that also migrate here? That would be foolish, I think, and one must consider the cultural and other dimensions, and how this country will be changed. There is no comparable country that has allowed such high numbers of migrants into its country (on a per capita percentage basis) as New Zealand. Since more New Zealanders stay here, and more come back from Australia, perhaps a rethink on migration is justified?

  7. One anticipates the cries of “Racism” from some quarters. Actually immigration policy is perhaps the one are where it is inapplicable. Any country can select its immigrants as they please. It is only the will of the population which counts in this instance. If China or Japan or indeed any country chooses to select on the basis age, sex, education, language height, skills or any other criterion that is their right. It is also their right to allow no immigration at all if they so desire. Personally I quite like the larger numbers of people of Indian and East Asian origin around the place, but I can easily see how the number arriving could overwhelm and transform the nature of New Zealand if we are not able to integrate them effectively. Whether that transformation is to be welcomed or resisted is a legitimate decision for the population.

  8. I am finding this topic very disturbing. Is anyone else?

    150,000 Chinese immigrating to NZ, and before they even get here Mai Chen is trying to have special law arrangements set up for them.
    It’s just not right.

    Australia must be on some buddy system with China too – they are planning to increase their population by 4 million over the next 2 years, while they have all the boat people locked up in Nauru – which has become like a death camp.

    Things are not as they should be.

    It’s not their race that is bothering me, it’s the loss of NZ in the future that’s bothering me – with thoughts like, how can another nation (any nation) bulk ship their people off to another land just because they have money. Who said they could come? Who said they could leave their homeland in such large numbers?

    It’s just not right.

    I realise in the past a war had to be declared and then won before this kind of situation could arise. But this has been done on the sly. I do not like this at all.

    I believe NZ government have truly sold us out.

    Is this treason? I think so.

    If it’s not treason, then we need to invent another word for it – this not consulting the nation that is about to be invaded by all these foreigners. There will be a major change in our entire makeup once this happens. And once the TPPA is signed (very soon), the Chinese will be able to sue our very own government if we don’t let them do what they want with it, or delay any developments, or cause them any financial loss. It’s just not right!

    They could bankrupt our country, and then it will be called New China.

    It’s all very wrong!

    Why doesn’t someone stop it from happening?
    What is the Governor General doing?

    Idiots are everywhere. Greedy stupid selfish idiots!!! Everywhere!!!

    Phew. Glad I got that off my chest!

    Opinion and belief.

  9. Interesting!

    Up until now I haven’t noticed much in the way of xenophobia from the Left but recently I’ve seen it creeping in.

    Of course, the Chinese are different from us:

    They drink less.
    Their kids do their homework.
    They’re less likely to bludge off the state.
    They commit less crime.

    So we shouldn’t let any more in – or it will undermine the kiwi ‘culture’…

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