Call for equal treatment of investors

A top Chinese embassy official has called China's foreign investment footprint the weakest aspect of its trade partnership with New Zealand, citing the prolonged haggling over the successful Chinese bid for the Crafar Farms.

Political counsellor Cheng Lei was frank in his speech on China's role in the Pacific to a Massey University audience in Palmerston North yesterday.

"Compared with the booming trade in goods and services, investment is the least developed area in China-New Zealand economic and trade relations," Mr Cheng said. "The ups and downs of the Crafar farms case and the heated public argument aroused by it fully illustrates the difficulties and obstacles in the development of bilateral investment between our two countries."

Speaking after his address, Mr Cheng would not be drawn on the topic of thinly veiled threats made earlier this year, when he indicated that continued opposition to Chinese-owned Shanghai Pengxin's selection as preferred receiver for the Crafar farms would close the floodgates of Chinese investment.

"I don't want to try to pretend that Chinese investment is always welcome here . . . the Crafar farm issue has evoked very much public debate."

Last week, Maori trusts that had been involved in a prolonged legal challenge over the Chinese purchase confirmed that they had filed an appeal against a Court of Appeal ruling supporting the sale of the 16-farm Crafar estate to Shanghai Pengxin.

"I cannot speak on behalf of the bidder, that is the Shanghai Pengxin group, but I just want to say the Chinese enterprises that want to put a footprint in your country should be treated on equal footing, the same standard, the same criteria," Mr Cheng said.

Mr Cheng said future diplomacy needed to focus on promoting a more nuanced image of China as a foreign investor focusing on sustainable development and with greater emphasis on cultural relations.

The Manawatu Standard