This year, New Zealand completes 40 years of its trade relationship with the Asian dragon – China, and keeping with the tradition, New Zealand politicians will be celebrating the Chinese New Year in the parliament.
The Wellington event to bring in the Chinese Year of the Dragon will be hosted by the new Minister for Ethnic Affairs, Judith Collins, on on 8 February.
The dragon is considered to be the mightiest of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs and Prime Minister John Key expected to join 200 guests at the function.
They will witness the traditional lion dance, in which Key will place a red envelope in the lion’s mouth as a symbol of good luck, prosperity and to dispel evil spirits.
Celebrating cultural festivals such as Chinese New Year reflects New Zealand’s strong and positive relationship with its ethnic communities, says the director of the Office of Ethnic Affairs, Mervin Singham.
Collins says the Chinese community adds strength to the New Zealand economy through its entrepreneurial spirit and its links back to the economic power house of the Asia Pacific region.
“The traits associated with this year of the Dragon include being innovative, enterprising, flexible, self-assured, brave, and passionate. These are exactly the traits that all of us need to build a bright and prosperous future.”
Also celebrating the New Year in Wellington will be the Chinese community with a festival planned for the weekend of Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 February, where a performing arts group from Xiamen will be the headline act. With generous support from the Xiamen Association, Wellington City Council and Asia New Zealand Foundation the celebration marks the 25th anniversary of Wellington’s sister-city relationship with Xiamen. Wellington’s night sky will light in a dazzling display of fiery fireworks on Saturday 11 February.
Similarly Auckland will mark its celebrations with Auckland Lantern Festival from 3 February to 5 February from 5pm onwards at Albert Park.
In its 13th year, the festival offers dozens of delicious Asian food stalls and picnic on the grass amidst hundreds of beautiful lanterns specially imported from China. Non-stop entertainment includes a dragon and lion dance group from Shanghai, a reggae band Chinese-style from Beijing, an opera and modern dance group from Taizhou and a capella group from Hong Kong.
Auckland and Christchurch festivals are organised by Asia:NZ Foundation which has gradually built up a large collection of lanterns since 2000. Visitors to this year’s Auckland festival would be unlikely to recognise it as the same one as began 12 years ago, which was pieced together from secondhand lanterns from the Jurong Gardens in Singapore.
“My input into the lantern festival has been that I wanted it to be quite a nostalgic event – so that Chinese might remember what it was like back in China in the old days, maybe when they were children,” says Asia:NZ culture director Jennifer King. “The lantern festivals in China have become quite commercial these days, with a lot of corporate sponsors and Hello Kitty and cartoon lanterns.”
In 2010, New Zealand became the first western nation to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with Beijing.
However, trade between New Zealand and China has not yet reached its potential.
New Zealanders are viewed positively but are not seen as strong business partners and are felt to lack business basics and a proactive attitude, according to a 2007 research by Nielsen Company commissioned by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.
“This is attributed to New Zealand’s “island attitude” i.e., a parochial outlook, businesses are conservative and risk averse, and the focus is lifestyle, not international business.
“The perception is that New Zealand businesses can’t be bothered making the effort to do business in Asia or learning to play by the “global rules”.”