Peter Williams: Why is New Zealand offering tax breaks to make Chinese propaganda films?

Opinion 14/11/2019

OPINION: There was much back slapping and congratulating last week when the Prime Minister was in Bangkok as she announced the extension of our free trade agreement with China. 

It will make New Zealand wealthier, as over the next few years, tariffs on our exports like dairy and logs will be done away with when they get to China.

Our trading relationship with China is a key reason for the economic success of this country in the last 15 years. But in that relationship there seems to be an expectation that we will allow China to do things in this country that we, as a nation, do not think are right. 

In other words, we are being bought off.

It happened with the planned AUT event commemorating 30 years since Tiananmen Square back in June. 

A group at the university wanted to hold an event, and of course they should have been allowed to. But the Chinese Embassy got wind of the event, put pressure on the University - and it was cancelled. 

It was an outrageous interference in the internal affairs of New Zealand by a foreign government. In a democracy like New Zealand it should not have been allowed. The New Zealand Government should have summoned the Chinese ambassador to the Beehive and read the riot act - something like, you shall not interfere in the democratic rights of New Zealanders to demonstrate in their own land. 

But of course the New Zealand Government would never do that in a million years because there is far too much money and far too much economic benefit at stake.

Now we have the business of a film partly made in Wellington in 2017 called Wolf Warrior 2 receiving taxpayer funds.

It was, for all intents and purposes, made by the Chinese Government - a group of state-owned Chinese companies. Under our tax laws, any money spent on film production here gives the filmmakers a major tax rebate. 

So China Film Group Corporation and Bona Films - both state owned - spent $1.2 million in New Zealand on this film. 

The money was actually spent at Park Road Post, the production company owned by Peter Jackson's empire out in Miramar. So Park Road Post gets over $1 million from China.

But under our tax laws, we - the New Zealand taxpayer - then give the Chinese film companies, owned by the Chinese state, $243,000 of that money as a rebate on their spend at Park Road Post.  

Now that happens all the time. No matter if the film company is Chinese, American, Mexican or British or any nationality, we give them the tax rebate. We want the business.

We're selling our industry to the world through tax breaks.

However, there are, of course, unintended consequences. In this case the Chinese state, the Chinese government has used our nice little tax break to come here and make propaganda movies to show to the world.

Wolf Warrior 2 contains a line that I think is deeply disturbing, not just to New Zealanders, but to all free people everywhere on the planet.

The tagline for the movie is "Anyone who offends China, no matter how remote, must be exterminated."

Think about that for a moment.

But according to Canterbury University professor Anne Marie Brady, who has been a tireless campaigner against Chinese influence in New Zealand, on occasions to her own detriment, there is now a growing relationship between the New Zealand and Chinese film industries. 

Not only do we give them the tax break so they can make propaganda movies in this country at a cheap price, but New Zealand filmmakers get to show their movies in China to the huge domestic audience there - but on one proviso: they do not offend the Chinese state.

So I guess that rules out any fervent climate change campaigner ever making a documentary about the evils of coal fired power stations and showing it at the Beijing Environmental Film Festival.

Peter Williams is host of Magic Mornings weekdays 9am to noon.