New Zealand welcomed the Teochew International Federation for its successful 20th Convention, with local and international Teochew delegates building ties across culture, trade and business opportunities.

Auckland’s SkyTower was lit in the conference colours of red and blue as delegates enjoyed forums, networking and multicultural entertainment.

New Zealand’s opportunities for trade and business were highlighted, with strong political support and attendance at this ‘business Olympics’.

Putting New Zealand on the map for Teochew

The Convention of the Teochew International Federation unites people of Teochew descent from 110 organisations spread globally. There are more than 80 million people identifying as Teochew - originating from the east of Guangdong Province - some 30 million of whom live outside China. The biennial convention allows local business executives and entrepreneurs to network and build relationships with international delegates, promoting collaboration across trade, culture and social welfare.

Zhi Chen, Vice Chairman of the 20th Convention and Vice Chairman of the Chao Shan General Association of New Zealand, said: “As our people move around the world, we keep our cultural identity. One of our values is to help each other, that’s how we build up these mutual support networks.

“Many of our people have been very successful in the business community. The convention is a chance to not just celebrate the friendship of the Teochew global community, but an opportunity to look at the host city and country and get a feeling about it and see whether there’s a chance to do business there.

“Some of the delegates didn’t know where New Zealand was. It is very new to them. These people are very influential in their own country. So, it’s not just one person coming; when the delegates go back home, they share news about their attendance. It’s about promoting the reputation of New Zealand.”

In New Zealand it is estimated there are 70,000 Teochew people, with over 1000 families members of the Chao Shan General Association. “We feel grateful about living here, it’s a very beautiful country and a very comfortable life,” Chen says. “Our leadership thought this is a good chance to promote New Zealand to the world.”

Superb support

The Chao Shan General Association approached Tourism New Zealand for support to bid for the event. Through its Conference Assistance Programme and working with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) it helped develop and design a bid document translated into the Teochew dialect, including letters of endorsement from previous Prime Minister John Key, and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff. Lobbying activity also included a video call from then-Prime Minister Bill English.

“Tourism New Zealand also helped with a video presentation showing how beautiful New Zealand is to encourage the global community to come here. We had both Raymond Huo MP and the Ambassador of New Zealand in Indonesia supporting us during the bid in Jakarta,” Chen says. “The level of support was excellent.”

New Zealand’s right to host the event has “become something of a legend,” Chen says. Up against a Chaozhou City bid touting a powerful ‘welcome home’ theme, the New Zealand delegation met with a 33/33 split at the deciding vote. The Teochew Chairman said, “Let God decide”, taking the verdict to a coin toss. New Zealand won, and the lucky coin now has pride of place, framed on the wall at the Chao Shan General Association’s Auckland headquarters. “We were very happy,” Chen says.

Manaakitanga - a sense of welcome

New Zealand’s warm welcome - manaakitanga - is world-renowned and was showcased at the convention. The event brought some 1500 delegates from over 100 delegations, with some 500 additional family members also attending and travelling around New Zealand, Chen says.

Delegates were met at Auckland International Airport by signs on advertisement hoardings welcoming them to the convention. VIP groups were met at airport security to help take them through biosecurity and customs in their own language.

With the three-day event taking place at SkyCity Convention Centre in Auckland’s CBD, delegates stayed at the nearby SkyCity Grand, Heritage, Rydges and Crowne Plaza hotels, ensuring everything was within 3-5 minutes’ walking distance.

“We wanted to make people feel like life is easy and for people to enjoy their time in New Zealand,” Chen says.

With the help of ATEED, the convention precinct was festooned with flags representing the conference, with the iconic SkyTower flashing red and blue at night – the colours of the convention.

Volunteer operations set up booths in the conference hotels to assist with check in and information. 

The event attracted some 1200 New Zealand-based attendees and business partners, including 300 volunteers, Chen says.

“We were touched by how hard-working they were. It was not like hiring a person – you can’t buy that type of enthusiasm. You see the community getting stronger and doing this together.”

Entertainment extravaganza

Delegates were welcomed with a first night formal welcome banquet at SkyCity Convention Centre. The entertainment represented the multicultural aspects of Auckland - from Japanese and Korean drumming, to Russian, Middle Eastern and Latin American dance, before presentations by the Chao Shan orchestra and Wushu group.

The next days’ opening ceremony took place on a stage decorated with a giant Māori pou - statue - complete with a traditional Māori pōwhiri (welcoming ceremony) and cultural performance.

“That underlined the New Zealand theme of this convention. These are the things that make it feel different. People thought it was wonderful, a very good experience.”

The flags of New Zealand, China, and Teochew were then brought in for a flag-raising ceremony. Four different forums followed: one on Teochew culture; a Doctors forum pulling together the medical academic community; a youth forum, and an economic development and investment trading forum. This was followed by a banquet celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, with Chinese performances.

The conference food was prepared at SkyCity’s kitchens, but under the watchful eye of a local chef associated with Chao Shan to ensure it was to the delegates’ taste. “We negotiated with the venue to serve the best New Zealand food,” Chen says. “The first banquet was lobster, and the second night was pāua. It was very popular with the guests.”

Political support extended to the event itself, with a who's who of New Zealand politicians attending, including New Zealand’s Trade and Export Minister David Parker, Minister of Building and Construction and Ethnic Communities Jenny Salesa, Minister for Employment Willie Jackson, and Deputy Speaker Anne Tolley. Meng Foon, Race Relations Commissioner, also attended, as did Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, Former PM John Key, The Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand, and the High Commissioner of Samoa.

The hosts decided to embrace technology with their use of translation system - not run by human beings, but by Artificial Intelligence. “It wasn’t perfect given the slight differences in Teochew dialect and accent changes, but it showed how the convention is trying to catch up with the frontline of modern technology,” Chen says.

He adds: “We had a very good goodie bag, and most of our sponsors came from our own people – New Zealand wine, honey, skincare. It made them feel like they were being treated like family, as well as showcasing quality New Zealand products.”

Business success

Chen says the event was very successful. “We achieved more than we expected. People had a good experience in New Zealand, and many travelled to other parts of the country. They enjoyed that and will bring these experiences home to their communities.

“A lot of valuable networking and communication took place. We have heard a number of people are exploring different opportunities, and we have already had enquiries about new business from the education, tourism and health products sectors. The benefits are already happening.”