There wouldn’t be one of China’s billion and a half citizens who thought that Judith Collins’ dinner with the Chinese official who was a “close personal friend” of Collins’ close personal friend Oravida chairman Stone Shi wasn’t about obtaining advantage for Oravida. That’s the way business is done in China – over dinner.
Or at least it was until Xi Jinping became Party Secretary and Head of State. He has cracked down on officials’ dinners, to the point where Beijing restaurants are complaining about lack of business. It’s because those dinner deals have so often been corrupt, and the Party knows that perceptions of corruption are the greatest threat to its continual rule.
Xi’s hardline on corruption dining has won him wide praise and respect across China. Fran O’Sullivan considers that the only thing that has saved Collins was Key’s impending visit to China, where he was to plead the case for recognition of New Zealand’s regulatory control after the Fonterra botulism scare.
I think Key may have gained more favourable recognition in China as well as a better reception from Xi Jinping if he had followed the Chinese leader’s example of taking a hard line on the slightest perception of dinner-table corruption and sacked Collins; more so when the acknowledged perception was as obvious as in Collins’s case.
Key’s now got to argue New Zealand’s case with a very weak hand. Julie Xu’s crude public attempt to plead for a New Zealand Minister to intervene to water down China’s border protection will not have gone down well in China; Collins’ insistence that she cannot reveal the name of the official because of advice from the Prime Minister’s office will not have helped either. It certainly will not have helped that official’s career under the new regime.
Not only is Key’s hand weak, the Chinese will think his behaviour in this instance is weak, as indeed I do.
The only thing that will save us is that the Chinese take a very long view. They view New Zealand as a very good friend and that goes across all governments, so while Key and Collins may have lost face, the same will not be true for New Zealand.