I noticed in the Herald’s “Dynamic Business” supplement, associated with the Deloitte Top 200 awards (themselves notably short on successful outward-oriented companies based on anything much other than natural resources), that the former Prime Minister John Key was interviewed about China. It was, to say the least, a bit of a mixed bag. In his first answer this line appeared
“I think Xi Jinping’s going to go down in history as a good leader of China.”
That would be in the history as written by the Chinese Communist Party (assuming it survives that long)? I’d accept “consequential”, “influential”, even (in a bleak way) “pathbreaking”, but “good”? What does John Key possibly see as “good” – a term that usually has some moral connotation to it – about Xi Jinping’s rule? It isn’t even as if the economy has been set on firmer foundations, let alone the seizures of power, seizures of territory, the Xinjiang situation, or whatever. But I suppose the PRC embassy will have taken note, and doors are likely to remain open in Beijing.
Key was then asked about the (straw man) question about balancing China and the United States. I don’t particularly agree with his stance but at least – in contrast to our current Prime Minister – he seems capable of giving a straightforward answer, including recognising where our values, our culture, and our history take us.
…the reality is that our relationship with China is still a very economic relationship…. In the case of the US and our traditional allies – Australia particularly – it’s a much different relationship. They are the people that we culturally feel most at home with. We share such a massive history. Everything lines up much more closely there…..
I think if we turned our back on the Chinese, we’d find a lot more Irish an Dutch dairy products would flow into China and less would flow from New Zealand. It might be a bit mercantile but I think that would be negative for the New Zealand economy, for dairy farmers and for lots of New Zealand businesses – from tourism to education services
I think he is mostly wrong about dairy – it is a globally traded market and as we are seeing in the soybean market at present in time what doesn’t go to one country ends up going to another (if, say, the Irish and Dutch industries had WMP capability, to divert that product to China would involve not selling to the people they are now selling to). But at least Key seems willing and able to give a straight answer – even if it is an amoral one: “never mind the nature of the regime, we should give priority to businesses selling stuff there”.
There was an interesting snippet in the Herald’s (typically rather well-sourced) “Insider” column in which it is noted that
NZ diplomats have been told the long-expected invitation for Jacinda Ardern to go to Beijing won’t come any time soon.
Perhaps that is the explanation for her shameful refusal to front up for the Herald’s longstanding interview request. But if so, she needs to rethink her priorities. Tea at today’s Berchtesgaden beats an open and honest discussion with – and accountability to – her own citizens and voters, confronting concerns about the activity of the regime at home, abroad, and here in New Zealand?
You could read the account on the Chinese Embassy’s website of her meeting with the PRC Premier Li Keqiang and not come away with any sense of any awkwardness at all, with bizarre talk of working together for the “peace and prosperity” of the Asia-Pacific region. We are presumably supposed to accept with a straight face words like these from the Premier
He also encouraged New Zealand companies to expand investment in China and boost technological cooperation with China, saying that China will conduct the cooperation on the basis of strict protection of intellectual property rights.
Surely only that distinctive New Zealand “Yeah right” should greet claims like that?. Perhaps the Prime Minister’s perspective on the meeting would be different, but there is no similar account on the Beehive website (and if MFAT had problems with Beijing’s account, no doubt they have raised those concerns).
Can it really be that deals and donations are all that now matter to her? If she doesn’t care about the citizens of the PRC, or about surrounding states, or even about how closed an economy China is in many respects, is she really not bothered about the PRC activities here? Presumably not. After all, Raymond Huo chairs the Justice committee and sits in her caucus, and Jian Yang sits on the other side, and not a word in heard from the Prime Minister.
There was an interesting post a couple of days ago from Paul Buchanan, the American (but New Zealand resident) former academic and now consultant on issues international. He began by addressing the somewhat extraordinary suggestion (made by David Parker and the Prime Minister) that New Zealand could be some sort of bridge or broker between the US and China. He is simply dismissive of it, and doesn’t think either Beijing or Washington is likely to take it seriously.
For my tastes, Buchanan’s discussion is altogether too cold (then again, perhaps his future isn’t tied to New Zealand?). He suggests
While New Zealand audiences may like it, China and the US are not fooled by the bridge and broker rhetoric. They know that should push come to shove New Zealand will have to make a choice. One involves losing trade revenues, the other involves losing security guarantees. One involves backing a traditional ally, the other breaking with tradition in order to align with a rising power. Neither choice will be pleasant and it behooves foreign policy planners to be doing cost/benefits analysis on each because the moment of decision may be closer than expected.
I’ve disagreed with him in comments here on earlier posts, because I think he grossly overstates the extent of any sort of “economic dependence” of New Zealand on China.
On trade, New Zealand has an addict-like dependency on agricultural commodity and primary good exports, particularly milk solids. Its largest trading partner and importer of those goods is China. Unlike Australia, which can leverage its export of strategic minerals that China needs for its continued economic growth and industrial ambitions under the China 2025 program, New Zealand’s exports are elastic, substitutable by those of competitors and inconsequential to China’s broader strategic planning. This makes New Zealand extremely vulnerable to Chinese economic retaliation for any perceived slight, something that the Chinese have been clear to point out when it comes to subjects such as the South China island-building dispute or Western concerns about the true nature of Chinese developmental aid to Pacific Island Forum countries.
But even if there is some potential for short-term disruption to some sectors or firms, countries largely make their own medium-term fortunes. That was true of us in the past, is today, and will be still in the future. Policymakers here have been very unwise in continuing to encourage stronger trade links with China, even as they recognise the sorts of threats and disuptions China has proved capable of in other countries, and the more aggressive approach China is taking internationally across a range of fronts. No serious and free country, none with any integrity whatever, ever prioritises (for any length of time) the interests of a few of its export firms, over the values of its people. In the medium to longer-term values and interests amount to the same thing.
And it is not as if other countries in years past have not faced these sorts of tensions. Denmark and the Netherlands had Germany as a major trading partner in the late 1930s, but they didn’t simply roll over and invite Hitler in.
Perhaps more importantly, and a reason why I think the US vs China framing is a distraction, is that whatever the US is or isn’t doing, we face the interference activities of the PRC in our own country. Simply taking a stand there – clearing Jian Yang and Raymond Huo out of Parliament, standing up for Anne-Marie Brady and for those ethnic Chinese New Zealanders facing regime pressure and threats, being more open and serious about the cyber-security threats, shunning people with recognised United Front connections (not honouring Yikun Zhang), protecting and promoting an independent Chinese language media here. These are the sorts of things a minimally decent government would be doing, even if it said not a word about abuses in China or China’s near-abroad. But not our government: faced with the choice not between China and the US, but between decency on the one hand, and deals and donations on the other, they seem to side with the deals and donations. And the National Party provides them cover to do so.
On the topic of cyber-security, the Australian papers this week had several stories about PRC cyber-attacks on Australia. There were two classes of attack in the stories I saw – one about a resurgence in direct cyber attacks on Australian companies, in violation of some deal Malcolm Turnbull and the PRC had done a couple of years ago. The other built on this academic article, in which the authors report the results of a study showing how the PRC appeared to get round a similar deal between Barack Obama and the PRC in 2015, by using China Telecom to route selected international internet traffic through China – where presumably the PRC could spy on it, copy it or whatever – rather than following the standard (shortest distance) protocols. The authors provided evidence to the Australian media strongly suggesting a specific such attack involving Australia last year.
But here is the thing that interested me. In the newspaper articles I read we saw senior government officials confirming “a constant, significant effort to steal our intellectual property”, and even a senior Cabinet minister expressing concern about the number and severity of such attacks.
By contrast, what do we get here, but blather from the Prime Minister about needing to keep an eye on cyber-security, and otherwise silence – “national security” don’t you know, providing cover for anything ministers and officials don’t want to talk about. I did see a Radio New Zealand article quoting a PWC person saying there was no evidence New Zealand had been caught up in the first class of attacks described above. It would be nice to hear it from official sources, but even if it is true in the specific case, how likely is that the PRC approach to New Zealand is very much different than that to Australia – take what they want, and can get at? Occasionally, I make glib remarks about how perhaps New Zealand has nothing much advanced to steal, and when I do I get firmly put in my place, with links to various advanced university departments (for example). Surely we might reasonably expect the Prime Minister or the Minister for the Intelligence Services to front up on this sort of issue, at least to give us reason to believe (confidently) that they aren’t living in some fool’s paradise, convinced they are uniquely immune from the efforts of the Ministry for State Security?
And finally, I was sent yesterday a copy of a statement by a group called the New Zealand Values Alliance, which appears to be a group of ethnic Chinese people living in New Zealand who are concerned about the intrusion of the PRC into New Zealand. (There is a similar, more prominent group in Australia, called the Australian Values Alliance.) This was the statement
We, New Zealand Values Alliance(NZVA) , hereby issue the following declaration:
It is learned from media that the prominent China researcher Anne-Marie Brady has encountered on-going harassment which has recently widened to include a vehicle sabotage of her private car, which “absolutely posed a risk to her life”. We hereby express our concern and condemnation on the matter.
To our knowledge, similar harassments and threats sometimes happen to people who criticize CCP. Such harassments include text intimidation, tracking, stalking and a variety of harassment activities which has now escalated to sabotaging private vehicle to seriously threaten life safety.
We are very concerned about the personal safety of people who publicly criticize CCP. We earnestly appeal to the NZ government and police to pay close attention to the safety of those human rights activists and researchers against dictatorships and give more attention to the rampant activities related to foreign political infiltration. Meanwhile an investigation into foreign interference should be started ASAP and relevant laws be established for deterrence and punishment against related activities from agents with foreign interests.
Hard to disagree (the Values Alliance had an earlier statement about Jian Yang, reported here). The organiser, a relatively recent migrant from China, Freeman Yu, has noted on his Twitter feed his own experience of what he talks of
Does this sort of thing bother our politicians at all?
You might have hoped that New Zealand political leaders would be speaking out (let alone New Zealand academics working on China and/or international relations). Former Prime Ministers, former Opposition leaders, former foreign ministers? People like Don McKinnon, Jenny Shipley, Don Brash, Murray McCully, Helen Clark, Phil Goff, Geoffrey Palmer, Jim McLay, Jim Bolger or Mike Moore. But, it appears, not a word from any of them, let alone Bill English or John Key. A sad commentary, that rather tends to make the point Anne-Marie Brady was making in her paper about how too many of our elites have been persuaded that keeping quiet and going along is somehow in the best interests of New Zealand. In fact, it largely just serves Beijing’s interests.