A high-profile New Zealand lawmaker was accused of racism Monday after making what he called a "joke" at the expense of Asians as he railed against Chinese investment in the country's farming sector.
New Zealand First party leader Winston Peters told his campaign launch in Auckland on Sunday that he wanted to tighten restrictions on foreign ownership, telling the audience: "As they say in Beijing, two Wongs don't make a white."
The comment was labelled "disappointing and shameful" by New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy, while the ACT Party accused Peters of inciting hatred against Chinese ahead of a general election on September 20.
"Mr Peters may think it is funny to tell weak racist jokes but it is not funny to New Zealand's Chinese community," ACT Deputy Leader Kenneth Wang said.
"Every time Mr Peters stirs up anti-Chinese feeling he gives racists in the community encouragement to attack Chinese. I have reports of Chinese women being abused in the street (and) young louts going into Chinese shops to abuse shop keepers."
Peters, a long-standing anti-immigration campaigner who in the past has warned about New Zealand becoming an "Asian colony", said his critics were lacking a sense of humour and claimed he was originally told the joke by a Chinese man in Beijing.
"The reality is a Chinese guy thought it was a joke, he told me that and I thought it was funny, so did my colleagues," he said.
"There's nothing racist about it... what we don't need is a few journalists who decide that they're going to be the Nazi politically-correct police of this country."
Peters served as deputy prime minister from 1996 to 1998 under the conservative National-led coalition government, and foreign minister from 2005 to 2008 under a coalition led by centre-left Labour Party.
Prime Minister John Key said the New Zealand First leader was being deliberately provocative in an attempt to gain attention ahead of the election.
"It's like all of those stunts isn't it, he's doing that because he wants you to be outraged, because he wants to get you playing it on breakfast TV because he wants to get his message through," he told TVNZ.
The line "two Wongs don't make a white" was originally attributed to former Australian prime minister Arthur Calwell, a strong supporter of the "White Australia" immigration policy adopted by New Zealand's neighbour, which lasted until the 1970s.
Devoy said people who made such comments in the 21st century "just don't get it".
"Politicians making fun of an entire race of people isn't new but it's disappointing and shameful New Zealand political leaders are still doing it in 2014," she said.
"We're better than this and our political leaders need to realise that."