HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

China has no strategy for winning the hearts and minds of ordinary Cook Islanders
China needs to re-assess its strategy in relation to fostering good relations with the people of the Cook Islands.
Whereas it was clear at the beginning of the relationship some 15 years ago, through the wording of the one China document signed between our two governments, that China had adopted a dual strategy in dealing with the Cook Islands, one in relation to government and another in relation to the Cook Islands people, today the Chinese are putting more emphasis on their “political” strategy at the expense of their “people” strategy which appears to have expired.
A recent example of this is the trip by Chinese officials to Aitutaki accompanied by some of our Cabinet Ministers and officials. No information was released by government or the Chinese to the general public prior to the event, concerning the purpose of the trip, the objectives and the outcomes. Ordinary Cook Islanders were left once again to ponder over the Chinese presence in their country.
Previously, China courted Pacific journalists with trips to China and once there, briefings from senior government officials on China’s strategy in the Pacific. This was much appreciated by Pacific media companies. There was travel to Chinese villages and companies and provision of television programmes and books on Chinese culture. However, as the politically related projects were going up, the courthouse, police station and indoor sports centre, China began to focus more on the political strategy.
When the projects drew public anger over certain failings related to construction, it became clear China had no media strategy for countering rising public concerns. There were no efforts through the media to dispel public concerns.
When the Pacific Mini Games took place, China sent trainers to assist our sports teams to prepare. This was much appreciated but was not ongoing. China has begun sending a team of cultural performers /dancers to participate in Te Maeva Nui celebrations but more should be done to showcase Chinese culture.
Fostering good relations with politicians is one thing, but winning over the people, is quite another. China will realize from the recent controversy for example over the alleged taking of shark fins by one Chinese fishing company, that it cannot rely on our government alone to ease public concerns. A single strategy based on bettering relations with government will not work in the Cook Islands because in the Cook Islands people are often critical of their government and the media is not controlled by government. Had the Chinese government issued a media release to the effect that their government would mount a full investigation into the shark fin allegations and take strong measures if vessels were found in breach of the law, this would have created a good impression among Cook Islands people.
If China wants its good, intentions made known to the people, it must come up with a public relations and communication strategy that is specific to improving relations with the Cook Islands people and it needs to convey this directly to the people through local media not local politicians and certainly not through a single strategy incorporating politicians.
Winning over our government is only part of the challenge. The end game is about winning over the hearts and minds of Cook Islanders.
The recently announced project to improve water quality, will go some way to endearing China to the local people.
What strategy can China develop to improve relations with ordinary Cook Islanders? It can look to promote goodwill through sport. Cook Islanders love sport. China built our indoor sports stadium so why hasn’t China sent any sports teams here? Local people would love to see top gymnasts, table tennis and martial arts. Real Chinese boxing not some Hollywood Gung Fu. Why not send the Chinese 7’s rugby team? Dragon Boat racers to Vaka Eiva?
Ordinary Cook islanders knew that the recent media conference called by the Chinese delegation for 10pm at their hotel and timed just before US Secretary of State Clinton’s arrival, was political grandstanding. The Chinese could have held this media conference when they first arrived in the country. It demonstrated that China had a strategy for scoring political points but no media strategy aimed at enhancing their relations with Cook Islands people. If the Chinese had conducted the media conference at a time to suit local TV, Radio and print media, they would have made more impact on Cook Islanders. Although some local media representatives did attend, that is not at issue. At issue is that the Chinese expected local media to fall into line along with the overseas media present to cover the Pacific Forum meeting. That indicates a dis-respect and loss of face for local media who are the host media. While in our country, the Chinese should endeavor to work with not dictate to, our local media. The Chinese officials missed the opportunity to appear on local television news and the local radio news which is broadcast to all the outer islands.
It was a serious public relations blunder.
As mentioned above, winning over the hearts and minds of the local people is the key.
If the Chinese were wondering why Clinton was welcomed like a pop star, it’s because the Americans have already won over the hearts and minds of Cook Islanders. They did this during the second world war. During this period, whenever the Americans flew from Penrhyn to their base in Aitutaki, they would air drop goods for the locals of Pukapuka. Items such as cigarettes, chocolates, soft drinks and even panties and bras for the women.
Cook Islanders appreciate financial help from foreigners with projects that improve the quality of life but this is balanced with the desire by local people for openness, transparency, honesty and absence of secrecy. -Charles Pitt

Herald Issue 608 21 March
- Terms of one China Policy document should be reviewed
- Pacific Media Assistance Scheme Seeks Innovation
- Successful NZ visit by PM
- Rerekura Teaurere New Climate Change Coordinator
- News Briefs

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