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No need to be afraid of Chinese migration

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 31 May 2013

When New Zealand First leader Winston Peters delivered his ‘Supercity of Sin’ speech last Friday, it was a frontal assault on Chinese migration.

Despite his protestations that he and his party were not anti-China, or even anti-migration, the dog-whistling was all too clear. Mr Peters deliberately put Chinese migration in the context of prostitution, corruption, and drug and people trafficking – as if all of Auckland’s (and New Zealand’s) problems were an imported disease.

It is easy to point out how ridiculous such insinuations are. All it takes is a glimpse at crime statistics, and David Farrar’s Kiwiblog did just that:

What Winston will never tell you is that overall Chinese New Zealanders commit far, far fewer crimes than other New Zealanders … The Asian crime rate is 52 apprehensions per 10,000 population. Caucasians are five times higher at 254, Pacific 10 times higher at 545, and Maori sadly at around 25 times the rate at 1,240.

The picture is the same, not just for the general crime rate, but also for different types of crime: sexual crimes, burglaries, and robberies. Unless Asian criminals are simply better at evading justice, it is clear that they are less, not more, criminally inclined than other New Zealand residents of different ethnicities.

However, there are better reasons to be positive about Chinese migration than Asians just being more law-abiding people. As they say, you can be free of any vices without possessing a single virtue.

As it turns out, there is a lot that is virtuous about the Chinese.

Economic historian Niall Ferguson argues that the Protestant work ethic, which once made the West rich, has migrated eastwards. Asian countries are showing a greater passion for discipline, effort, and achievement than the old, industrialised world.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the education results of Asian migrants. A few years ago, a study published in the American Sociological Review examined the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores of migrant children. It found that Chinese students in New Zealand performed better at maths than students from any other country.

Similar results were reported from other Western countries. Generally speaking, children of Asian descent were better than other migrants, and often also better than the native population, in educational achievement.

Far from demonising Chinese immigration in populist fear campaigns, New Zealand should be celebrating the opportunities and potential that Asian migrants bring to this country.

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