SOUTHLAND District Mayor Gary Tong says his trip to China last week opened his eyes to how the world is leaving New Zealand behind.
Mr Tong also made some new friends, with the most unlikely being a fellow delegate – Tuhoe Maori activist Tame Iti.
The Chinese minister of science and other officials at the Overseas Affairs office in Beijing were among other new friendships formed.
“What hit me was the commitment they have to their people and their environment.”
Mr Tong said he saw how diligent the Chinese people were in trying to clean up their country and in caring for people’s health. Everyone was busy working at something, even if it was just street sweeping.
“I didn’t see one cigarette butt the whole time I was there. I was amazed.”
Members of the China Zhi Gong Party listened to Mr Tong’s views on what New Zealand and the Southland region had to offer.
“While a small percentage of Chinese have passports – about 7 or 8% – the number is increasing. They want somewhere to go and New Zealand is a prime place. The majority understand Auckland as New Zealand because that is where most Chinese live. I told them they need to come to Southland and see it, and I believe they will.”
Mr Tong also met with local officials in Shantou, a coastal city east of Guangzhou.
The port had similarities with Southland, including a thriving aquaculture industry, he said.
Authorities in the town were interested in forming a friendship with Southland.
“I found the discussion quite encouraging. Between the Southland District and their city there is an opportunity to share tourism and aquaculture technology… I hope to progress that friendship in the new year by keeping in contact and working between us to get people over here with a delegation to Southland. I believe it will happen – they were very committed. They travelled two and a half hours by bullet train to meet me.”
Guangzhou was also impressive, he said.
“I was blown away by the size and modernness and cleanliness of that central business district. One building was 100 storeys high. In that building were two wind turbines hich generated electricity for the entire building. At night, electricity left over went into the national grid.”
Mr Tong hoped Southlanders could “take home” some of the same lessons China had taught him.
“To lift that pride in what we have and to be future-focused. The world is passing us by, and not only China. All my life I understood China was over-run with people, that it was dirty and was poor. In fact, New Zealanders need to be embarrassed about the way they look after their infrastructure. People downcry other cultures, but it’s not till you go to other cities and speak to these people you realise we are the ones with the problem.
“I believe we need to get our head out of the sand and stop being a welfare state and get some of these couch potatoes to lift their heads up and get out there and appreciate what they have and work to gain better values.”