The National Party yesterday released a discussion document on international affairs, complete with an online survey inviting your views on various questions around aspects of possible National policy. If you want a fairly neutral, perhaps even sympathetic, treatment you could read Sam Sachdeva’s article on Newsroom.
I suppose one should welcome a major Opposition party putting out discussion documents on significant areas of policy – when they speak, voters can learn something both from what politicians say and what they choose not to say. Who knows, but perhaps one day they will have one on the shocking decline in our relative productivity performance, something presided over – or actively delivered – by successive National and Labour led governments.
Reading National’s document you get a pretty strong impression of a party that wants to create an impression that values, human rights etc actually matter to them. It is there on the very first pages, in the introduction from Simon Bridges.
The story of the last century, apparently
From fighting aggression, advancing democracy and human rights, strengthening development, and promoting a more secure and prosperous multilateral rulesbased
system, we have overcome the tyranny of distance to act as a model global citizen.
Not quite clear to me what the “tyranny of distance” has to do such issues. In wars it was mostly a great help – too far away to invade or bomb. But set that to one side, note that reference to “advancing democracy and human rights”.
Bridges goes on
National supports an independent foreign policy that works in the best interests of New Zealand. That means promoting shared values,
Sounds promising. And there is more
We must be bold in our defence of the interests of our country and vigilant in the protection of the values we hold dear.
Our voice internationally means little if it does not authentically articulate our values.
This document outlines a vision from National on how to chart our course in the world, consistent with our core values
Introductions are easy. Anyone with a fluent pen can write one. In fact, National has another one – an introduction from their Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson Todd McClay.
He wants us to believe that he cares about values too.
I’m not going to quibble with much of that. Mostly it sounds quite good.
In fact, there is still more in a similar vein.
“We must always remember that we act on behalf of New Zealanders. Everything we do on the world stage must reflect their interests and values.”
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs
We must use the tools of diplomacy to advance democracy, protect human rights, and promote inclusiveness around the world. First and foremost, foreign policy needs to be used to advance the interests of New Zealand.
We are committed to enhancing New Zealand’s hard won reputation as an honest broker and considered voice and as a proponent of peace and human rights across the world.
All of which was sounding quite good until we got to the next paragraph, under the heading “Defending our values”. Even it begins reasonably enough
Over recent years, there have been many examples of aggressive and violent actions
by state and non-state actors around the world. New Zealand must uphold our values in confronting such aggression.
What did they have in mind? As it happens, they do move from the general to the specific.
The conduct of Russia towards Ukraine and their use of nerve agents in the United Kingdom; recent terror attacks in India and Sri Lanka; and the abhorrent disregard for democracy and human rights in Venezuela are examples that reach the threshold demanding New Zealand’s swift and strong condemnation. To not do so risks creating confusion and uncertainty with our friends and allies.
Spot any important omissions there? A hint? Biggest country in the world, first or second biggest economy, increasingly repressive (across a huge range of dimensions) at home, expansionist abroad, known for intimidating diasporas, for state-sponsored intellectual property theft, and so on.
Why yes, that would be the People’s Republic of China. In fact, in a couple of weeks won’t it be 30 years since the PRC authorities murdered thousands in and around Tiananmen Square, and don’t those same authorities today suppress any hint of a mention of what they did?
“Demanding swift and strong condemnation”? Distancing ourself from such a regime, in honour of the values we (claim to) champion. I’d have thought so, but clearly National doesn’t.
A couple of pages on, National’s document gets into a discussion of specific countries They don’t actually have the gall to suggest that there are shared values with the PRC – curiously, at least in the document, only the United States and the EU are explicitly described as having shared values with New Zealand – but they begin
Our relationships with China and South East Asian countries must be respected and
maintained. In an environment of competing priorities, greater weight must be afforded to those relationships.
Nothing at all about values now, or distinguishing between countries that live something like those values, and those (the PRC most notably) that simply disclaim any such interest. Deal with the PRC if you must – and keep those donations rolling in – but don’t ask voters and citizens – who actually hold those values you talk about – to “respect” your shameful relationship with them.
There is a specific section on China. It is the full kowtow. The strange boasts about
We share many firsts with China – New Zealand was the first country to agree to China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation; the first country to recognise them as a market economy;
Not something I’d be boasting about unless I wanted to keep Madame Wu and the donors onside, the PRC manifestly not being a market economy, and having failed to open its economy in the way in which those who championed WTO-entry argued would happen.
And what about those “values” which appeared so prominently at the front of the document. I’m guessing this was supposed to be the merest hint.
As this relationship has matured we have raised issues responsibly and respectfully with our friends in Beijing.
Only 17 words, and so much to object to. “Issues” – what issues bother you Messrs Bridges and McClay? Wasn’t there lots of talk in the document about a more open and transparent approach to foreign policy, convincing citizens you act for them. “Respectfully” – about people who imprison vast populations (in Xinjiang), brook no domestic criticisms, destroy any vestiges of religious freedom, allow no political freedom, threat a neighbouring free and democratic country, unilaterally seize and militarise the South China Sea, encourage a migrant to New Zealand to lie about his past with PRC military intelligence, threaten and intimidate diasporas, abduct citizens of states with whom we do share values, and so on. And “our friends” – to which all I can say is “speak for yourself”, and “people come to be known by the company they keep”.
In the same section they go on to champion the Belt and Road Initiative, which (we are told)
“presents a real opportunity to build closer ties and demonstrate trust”
I presume they can only mean “demonstrate to Beijing that we are trustworthy vassals”.
They end the section by asking for readers’ views on “how should we deepen our relationship with [several countries including] China”. The idea of not doing so, of pulling back from getting so close and deferential to a regime responsible for so much evil simply never seems to occur to them. It just adds to the sick joke that is the current parliamentary inquiry into foreign interference, chaired by one of National’s senior MPs Nothing to worry about Madame Wu, I’m sure they assure her.
It is an extraordinary document in many respects, and not just for the utter disconnect between all the talk about values and human rights and that about the PRC – perhaps the largest abuser of human rights today, the prominent regime whose values are so alien to those National claims to see as our own. What was also striking was that there was no hint that these people had given any real thought to the geopolitical or strategic environment, even though it is less than two years since they were in governments, and the most recent National Minister of Foreign Affairs is still on their team. There is nothing about what the continued rise of an extremely illiberal PRC means, in Asia, in the Pacific, and in the wider world. Nothing, for example, about the risks of allowing key elements of your telecommunications systems to be provided by a company owned (in effect) and controlled by the PRC regime. It is just unserious stuff in which – for all the fine, but empty, words at the start of the document, only (trade) deals and (party) donations seem to matter. Values, it seems, are relevant when there is no cost. Anywhere else, well it seems thay they must have another set of “values” – “whatever it takes” perhaps being the best summary.
But why would any of this be a surprise (except perhaps the PR fluff designed to suggest they really do have a soul, and haven’t simply sold it all)?
After all, it is only a few months since Todd McClay was defending the PRC internment of probably more than a million Uighurs, running regime propaganda that these were “vocational training centres” and really it was no one’s business but the PRC authorities.
And a few months since Simon Bridges was attacking the government when there was a hint of a suggestion that they might not have been quite deferential enough to the PRC.
National’s party president pops in Beijing from time to time to praise the regime and its leader, and seems to have business dealings in the PRC with National MP Jian Yang.
It is barely two years since Simon Bridges, as a senior minister in the previous government, held the pen in signing an MOU with the PRC on the Belt and Road Initiative, in which he and the PRC expressed an aspiration to a “fusion of civilisations”.
Or a year since Bridges and his then senior MP Jami-Lee Ross were dining with, and arranging donations from/through, a New Zealand citizens with strong and close ties to various regime entities in New Zealand and in the PRC.
And, of course, there is Jian Yang himself, who still sits in National’s caucus. There is no dispute that he was a Communist Party member (experts believe he probably still is, since – they suggest – no one can leave voluntarily), no dispute that he served voluntarily as part of the PRC military intelligence system, no dispute (now, since he acknowledged as much) that he hid his past in applying for New Zealand residency/citizenship, (so he says) on instructions from Beijing, no dispute (apparently) that he is a large fundraiser, no dispute that he has never said anything critical of the regime in all his years in Parliament, no dispute that he associates closely with the PRC embassy and various United Front bodies in New Zealand, and (finally) no dispute that he avoids ever fronting up to the English language media in New Zealand. And Simon Bridges and Todd McClay are apparently just fine with that. If it were otherwise – if National was remotely serious about the values talk – Jian Yang would be out of caucus, if not out of Parliament.
No wonder that in opening the select committee hearing on foreign interference a couple of weeks ago, the chair (National MP Maggie Barry) apparently opened by indicating that she would prefer not to hear names during the submission process. Of course she would.
(Lest it be thought I could find no positives in the document, I agree with National on this
The National Government introduced the Autonomous Sanctions Bill to Parliament. This Bill would empower New Zealand to impose sanctions on countries where we believe they are warranted and outside of the ‘held hostage’ United Nations sanctions regime. This authority should be used sparingly, but is an important tool in New Zealand’s fight against aggression and in support of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
It is just that, even if it were on the statute books I’d have reason to expect National – or Labour for that matter – would do a thing about the PRC. A National Party leadership that was remotely serious about the values talk would, for example, be criticising the government for its utter silence on the PRC abductions of the two Canadians, and it would be speaking out two weeks hence strongly on the anniversary of Tiananmen Square – less perhaps about the past evil, but about the refusal decades on of their “friends in Beijing” to allow discussion, debate, scrutiny of the record etc. But we all know what they will in fact say. Precisely nothing. Because deals and donations seems to be the “values” the matter.)
Finally, late last year Scott Morrison gave an impressive speech about values and foreign policy. I haven’t quoted from it again recently because – like most others – I assumed he would soon be passing into history. But perhaps it is the week to repeat his quote (emphasis added)
Our foreign policy defines what we believe about the world and our place in it.It must speak of our character, our values. What we stand for. What we believe in and, if need be, what we’ll defend. This is what guides our national interest.
I fear foreign policy these days is too often being assessed through a narrow transactional lens. Taking an overly transactional approach to foreign policy and how we define our national interests sells us short.
If we allow such an approach to compromise our beliefs, we let ourselves down, and we stop speaking with an Australian voice.
We are more than the sum of our deals. We are better than that.
Wouldn’t it be great if our politicians really acted as if they believed that, especially in their dealings with the PRC? Sadly, there is no hope of it from National, or Labour.