The PRC and all that

In recent days, there has been quite a bit of coverage of issues around the New Zealand’s government’s approach to the PRC.

There was, for example, last week’s trailer for the Australian 60 Minutes piece on New Zealand and China, which excited a great deal of scorn (and coverage) for what was, after all, a teaser to get people to watch a longer programme. It wasn’t clear what riled people more – the (not new but) clever play on words suggestion about “New Xi-land”, quotes from Mike Hosking, or what but the “elite” reaction was quite remarkably hostile.

As it turned out the actual 60 Minutes programme (you can watch it here) as something of a damp squib. Sure there was the nauseating spectacle of Michael Barnett, Executive Director of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, talking of being “friends with benefits” with the PRC (complete with the “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” nuance), and openly asserting that whatever the PRC did on the human rights was really its concern only, and not something for anyone else to worry about. Presumably he believes what he is saying, but not the harshest critic of the Jacinda Ardern or Judith Collins would suggest they held that view. And from the Australian perspective, the programme makers seemed to start with the line that the Australian economy was paying a high price for their government’s stand, while New Zealand was prospering…..but with not a shred of evidence examined for those claims. At a macro level, the two economies look very similar right now, with unemployment rates post-Covid now back down not too far from late 2019 levels (Australia possibly a touch closer than New Zealand). And some of the programme even seemed quite sympathetic to the common, but fallacious, view that somehow New Zealand is less able to take a stand, due to size or other unpersuasive reasons. There was, of course, the clip of the 60 Minutes journalist asking Ardern whether she ever held back in making comments on China because of fears about trade. She again claimed that she never did – and surely no one serious in Australia, New Zealand, or China believes her – but 60 Minutes made no effort to unpick that claim either (which, as I noted in a post recently, if true must then mean she is really almost entirely indifferent to, and has feel no serious moral unease about, what China does – and I don’t believe that either). There was nothing about the New Zealand government’s reluctance to call out PRC attempted economic coercion of Australia, nothing about its refusal to criticise the PRC for the arbitrary detention and recent secret trial of an Australian citizen. And, of course, nothing about how weak both main parties here are on issues like political donations or CCP-connected political figures.

Of somewhat more importance was the political theatre in Queenstown yesterday, culminating in a long and wordy communique, in which Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern were falling over themselves to suggest that there was no real difference between them when it came to China. Both had their reasons no doubt.

Here is what they had to say.

First, on “coercion”

37. The Prime Ministers affirmed their strong support for open rules-based trade that is based on market principles. They expressed concern over harmful economic coercion and agreed to work with partners to tackle security and economic challenges.

39. The Prime Ministers reiterated their shared commitment to support an Indo-Pacific region of sovereign, resilient and prosperous states, with robust regional institutions and strong respect for international rules and norms, and where sovereign states can pursue their interests free from coercion.

Those references to coercion were new (weren’t in last year’s communique) but notice how weak they are. The first reference (para 37) is not even in the “Indo-Pacific and Global security” section, and neither reference explicitly names the range of steps the PRC has taken against Australia. Since we can reasonably expect that Australia would have welcomed strong and explicit support, we can only assume that New Zealand wasn’t up for it. That reflects very poorly on the New Zealand government – most especially in a joint communique with the Australians. Senior figures in the US Adminstration have made (much) stronger statements than that, specifically about the Australian situation.

Then there was the South China Sea

42. The Prime Ministers expressed serious concern over developments in the South China Sea, including the continued militarisation of disputed features and an intensification of destabilising activities at sea. The Prime Ministers further underscored the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight. They emphasised that maritime zones must accord with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and called on all parties to respect and implement decisions rendered through UNCLOS dispute settlement mechanisms. The Prime Ministers reiterated the importance of the South China Sea Code of Conduct being consistent with international law, particularly UNCLOS; not prejudicing the rights and interests of third parties; and supporting existing, inclusive regional architecture.

Which seemed quite good. I hadn’t heard Ardern or Mahuta say anything at all about the South China Sea – it certainly wasn’t in the list of issues they mentioned in their respective recent China speeches – but it turns out most of this language was also in the previous communique from 15 months ago, with just a couple of (useful) modifications. And – read it again – note that the PRC is not even named. It is good to see, but you get the impression that it was one of those issues that mattered to the Australians and in putting together communiques there has to be some given and take (I’m assuming Ardern’s side is the one keen on the strange “circular economy” paragraph that also survives from one year to another).

Then we got a paragraph that was not there at all last year

43. The Prime Ministers expressed deep concern over developments that limit the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and undermine the high degree of autonomy China guaranteed Hong Kong until 2047 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The Prime Ministers also expressed grave concerns about the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and called upon China to respect the human rights of the Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities and to grant the United Nations and other independent observers meaningful and unfettered access to the region.

I suppose it is good stuff as far as it goes, which is not very far. On Hong Kong, for example, there is no denunciation of the growing number of political prisoners or – in this week of Tiananmen Square remembrance – of the heavy punishments people of Hong Kong are threatened with if they seek to participate in (long-established) vigils). And as for the Uighur comments, they are less pointed that the recent resolution of the New Zealand Parliament which – if it did not name China – did refer to “severe human rights abuses”.

It is also interesting that in the next two paragraphs the two leaders could call out Myanmar much more directly

They condemned the violence being perpetrated against the people of Myanmar and called on the military regime to exercise restraint, refrain from further violence, release all those arbitrarily detained, and engage in dialogue.

Which is good stuff, but might almost equally be said of China….except the thought would never cross Ardern’s mind (perhaps the Australians would not have been keen either).

And what is missing completely is also interesting – no mention of PRC threats to Taiwan, military incursions etc, and not even (that I could see) a mention of the desirability of Taiwan participating in the WHO.

Oh, and there was also this

41. The Prime Ministers agreed to continue working collaboratively, bilaterally, and with our partners in the Indo-Pacific region, to uphold sovereignty in an era of increasing strategic competition. The Prime Ministers reaffirmed their resolve and shared respective approaches to countering foreign interference and agreed the importance of building resilience across all sectors of society, including in education, infrastructure, research, electoral processes, media and communities.

But that is just boilerplate communique-speak, with no substance whatever. It covers over the fact that the New Zealand government has been reluctant to even speak of foreign interference/influence risks – seen most recently in the belated emergence of news of the secret National/Labour deal to clear about the headline risks around Jian Yang and Raymond Huo, while neither party leader will even front with the public on the issue.

The different stance between New Zealand and the 13 western countries (not the Five Eyes) on the WHO study on Covid origins was also quietly swept under the carpet.

So for all the bonhomie and smooth words, it didn’t really amount to much. As I noted earlier, it suited both sides now to paper over the cracks and pretend to a commonality of view. There is a line afoot that only the PRC itself benefits from divergence between western countries (or specifically New Zealand and Australia) on these issues, but that is an argument for more substantive alignment, not for pretending to a commonality that just doesn’t exist. Read the speeches (Ardern, Mahuta), watch the interviews (eg O’Connor): this is a government that simply has no stomach to seriously call out the PRC. Perhaps Damien O’Connor’s respect was “a mistake” – as he now concedes – but it was a slip of the tongue only in that he shouldn’t have said it publicly, not that the idea had never previously occurred to him and a word he’d never previously thought of slipped out. Or repeated references from senior ministers to “respecting” the PRC. Decent people don’t treat with respect regimes responsible for (at least) “severe human rights abuses”.

The appropriate benchmark here is not what Australia says or does (although the consensus across Australian politics is clearly in a quite different place to that in New Zealand – see the recent speech from the ALP’s Penny Wong) but on what is right and proper. There are areas where Australia itself isn’t as strong as it could be – one could think of parliamentary resolutions, autonomous sanctions regimes, the Winter Olympics, and so on.

But the New Zealand government’s stance continues to fall a long way short. Why will the Prime Minister not explain why her government scrapped the Autonomous Sanctions bill that had sat on Parliament’s order paper for several years, with no replacement? Why does her government continue to claim that she will be guided by the UN on “genocide” declarations re the Uighurs, when she knows that China is a veto-carrying permanent member of the UN Security Council. Why does she never speak openly about the South China Sea (an evolving and worsening situation, currently directly threatening the Philippines)? Why is she never willing to highlight threats to Taiwan? Why will she not front up about the Jian Yang/Raymond Huo deal? Why does her party keep recruiting ethnic Chinese candidates with strong United Front ties? Why will she do nothing serious about reforming electoral donations laws (even as multiple court cases and SFO investigations are underway)? Why was she so loathe to comment at the time of the break-ins to Anne-Marie Brady’s house and office (let alone when other NZ universities sought to have Brady silenced)? Why is she not willing to speak out about the Winter Olympics – does she really think the Olympics should be held in a country responsible for “severe human rights abuses”? Why is she not taking any lead to get PRC/CCP-funded and recruited/screened people out of our schools, instead funding Chinese language learning properly ourselves? And so on.

I was going to include in this post some thoughts on, and responses to, a new article in the Victoria University publications Policy Quarterly by Anne-Marie Brady on the New Zealand government’s approach to the PRC. It is a very generous treatment, about the “significant progress” she claims has been made under the Ardern governments of the last four years. I didn’t find it very convincing at all, but I guess it must have been welcomed in the Beehive and in MFAT.

25 thoughts on “The PRC and all that

  1. China’s actions against Australia have resulted in trade diversion but have had essentially no impact on the broader economy.

    The RBA showed an interesting chart of coal exports by destination in their Statement on Monetary Policy in May, showing the loss of exports to China have been made up for elsewhere, notably Japan and Korea. This is also happening in Wine – mainly to the UK – and Barley. Moreover, Australia’s terms of trade has exploded. My commodity price index – which tracks the official RBA one almost perfectly but is available in real time – is at levels last seen in 2011. The rise in iron ore alone could add $100bn to Australian exports in 2021 against 2020 and we are seeing lifts across the board.

    Some sectors may be hurt, education services and some tourism spring to mind, but they’re being slammed by COVID and I don’t think the marginal effect of China is even a slight blip.

    To date, China’s Wolf Worrier diplomacy has been singularly useless and all its doing is hardening up attitudes across the Tasman. The Aussies are a prickly bunch and don’t like being bossed around…

    Liked by 3 people

    • No wonder Australia can afford to take a hard stance with China, Iron ore exports to China has increased by 29% in spite of any China efforts to smack Australia with trade disruptions.


  2. I have to say, your columns on PRC display a theocratic element quite unlike your economic output. You don’t like PRC? Fair enough, but at least make an effort to contextualise and justify your critique like you do, say, in comparing NZ productivity with the OECD.
    In any such comparison, you’d be laying the crimes of the PRC against those of competing Western governments, at which point the abject hypocrisy of a large volume of the criticism is laid bare.
    China is competing with the West (the US and UK particularly). Let’s look at the media history of other countries that have done the same – we get a straight like through Kuwaiti incubator babies, Saddams WMDs, Gadhhafi’s troops viagra-fueled rapes, Milocevic’s many “crimes” (of which he was posthumously acquitted by the court). We’ve got Skripal/Novichok, Russia invading the Ukraine, Asssad gassing his own people Russiagate, Russian state hacking.. ad nauseum, ad nauseum.
    Every single one of those stories had major holes in it that over time have been ruthlessly shredded if one cares to look. So you reckon the official Uighurs story just happens to be the first time a Western government-led critique of it’s geopolitical competitor has got it right? Lol. I think it accords with your religious inclination and so you’re dispensing with even a modicum of rational critique.
    Taiwan/China? Yeah, that’s an issue – being ruthlessly exploited to demonise China. Would the US tolerate a geopolitical competitor basing armaments as close to the US as Taiwan is to China? How do we spell Cuba to get a feel for it..? You might at least in good faith acknowledge how the Chinese might feel and respond in this situation.
    As for Xinjiang.. I don’t see any mention of the thousands of radicalised Uigur Muslims that have been trained and fighting in Syria alongside Al Queda, and how China might rightly be concerned about the effect of them returning to China? Seems a legitimate concern to me, and similar to that of Russia around Chechnya.. another civil conflict fomented by the West with geopolitical aims.
    Lastly (although unmentioned in your most recent column) is the pearl clutching over China’s “debt diplomacy” with it’s Belt and Road initiative. Which would be far more powerful a critique, had not the IMF virtually invented the tool and operated it mercilessly across the world in previous decades, to the benefit of Western governments.
    Context. Context. Context. Without it, you’re just bloviating about a country you feel a personal animus towards – and in the process amplifying the rhetoric that leads to conflict.
    The PRC and China are justly deserving of criticism, but what we hear via official channels (including the idiocy today from the John and Jacinda show) is just cold-war era propaganda.


    • I won’t attempt a full response except to note that I’m not sure what you are talking about re information from official sources. Much/most of the best work on Xinjiang has been done by independent researchers, and there is nothing secret about the activities in the SCS or threats to Taiwan, a vigorous prosperous independent democracy.

      One of the many things that marks out the PRC/CCP is their active interference in our own political system, and the intimidation of NZ citizens (mostly those of ethnic Chinese descent).

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Much/most of the best work on Xinjiang has been done by independent researchers”

        Lol – a substantial amount of the “research” on Xinjiang has been repetition and amplification of the talking points of Adrian Zenz.
        Zenz is an end-of-times radical Christian who openly says his beef with China is driven by his theology. His stats re Xinjiang are routinely and regularly manipulated. And his content is then regurgitated by credulous (or otherwise motivated) writers.
        The idea that it is independent and therefore credible is sensible.. up to the point you see the extend of the funds that go into NED, VoA, etc. It’s another ideological war, being fought by chequebook, and if you amplify the loudest voices simple because you haven’t checked the counterfactuals, then you are being a tool of power.. nothing less or more


      • Andrew H, I watch Al Jazeera, the 4 Chinese channels that NZ broadcasting offers and I scan the Americans and Canadians on YouTube resident in China and it tells quite a different story from the Western media portrayal of China. I would have to agree with you that the atrocities in Xinjiang are pretty much unsubstantiated by factual and visual evidence. The rhetoric feels more like American CIA/ British MI6 propaganda. But the fact is there have been terrorist shooting and bombing activities in Xinjiang by extremist islamic groups. Any government would be armed to the teeth with army and police checkpoints on key sites knowing that there is potential for violence on your streets.


    • Just to note here that I’m pretty sure you will find few or no references to “debt diplomacy/debt traps” in my posts here. I don’t find the argument, as often articulated, particularly persuasive.


  3. Onto some specifics in your article:
    “There was nothing about the New Zealand government’s reluctance to call out PRC attempted economic coercion of Australia”
    Context: Australia represented itself to China as being a solid trade partner, whilst simultaneously behind the scenes lobbying for military confrontation of China.
    Yeah, it’s insane how those Chinese would be offended by a major trade partner who wanted all the benefits of a trade relationship with China whilst simultaneously playing them for fools and acting substantively against Chinese interest! Economic action in response to hypocrisy and treachery? Totally unacceptable!
    “nothing about its refusal to criticise the PRC for the arbitrary detention and recent secret trial of an Australian citizen”
    Context: And of course, nothing to contextualise this with the arbitrary detention and prosecution of Meng Zhou in Canada. The lovely thing with being a member of 5-eyes is receiving the benefits of the mutual spying whilst never having to pay a cost for the actions of the group..
    “And, of course, nothing about how weak both main parties here are on issues like political donations or CCP-connected political figures.”
    Yes.. we are clearly overrun by Chinese political influence, whilst being utterly unconstrained by US, UK, Australia, EU, 5-eyes etc..
    “Those references to coercion were new (weren’t in last year’s communique) but notice how weak they are”
    Right. China is a major international coercer, whereas the US, who y’know.. militarily invades countries like Iraq and Libya, which is totally not coercion. We should be ANGRY with China. And suck US.. well whatever is asked, really. Coercion is real, and it has yardsticks of measure. Military adventurism on foreign soil is towards the top of the pyramid. The US, the EU and Australia have undoubtably been guilty of this in recent years (NZ less so, thanks very much to Helen Clark). Not Taiwan as a territory of China. Not Chechnya as a territory of Russia. But Iraq. Libya. Syria. As NOT TERRITORIES OF THE US.
    “Then there was the South China Sea”
    There was indeed.. refer my earlier comment vis a vis Cuba
    “there is no denunciation of the growing number of political prisoners or – in this week of Tiananmen Square remembrance”
    Michael – if you’re genuinely unaware of the extent to which even Western diplomats have gone on record admitting the official Tiananmen Square account Did Not Happen, but was a wonderful propaganda coup, please ask and I’ll be more than willing to post online references
    “The different stance between New Zealand and the 13 western countries (not the Five Eyes) on the WHO study on Covid origins was also quietly swept under the carpet.”
    How do you even introduce this topic without noting that Facebook, Twitter et al have literally “disappeared” those saying the SARS-CoV-2 virus was likely engineered for over a year? But now that dam is breaking, there’s only one singular replacement narrative – of course “China dunnit”. QED, Case Closed. The fact the US maintains an array of biological warfare research facilities at multiple countries around the globe is irrelevant! Damn Chinks lying to us all the time.. Or this:
    Fact is, I don’t know and you don’t know, but only one of us is pretending that we know..
    “this is a government that simply has no stomach to seriously call out the PRC.”
    And outside of a Christian fundamentalist predilection, or a desire to ingratiate oneself into a political hierarchy, the question is “why should we?”. Our closest partners are _ beyond shadow of a doubt – guilty of everything we blame China for and more, yet we never criticise them. Your “morality” looks a lot like convenient suck-up-ness. If we can’t hold accountable our allies, what the hell business do we have pontificating to demonise the adversaries of our allies?
    “There are areas where Australia itself isn’t as strong as it could be – one could think of parliamentary resolutions, autonomous sanctions regimes, the Winter Olympics, and so on”
    Australian politics is a fetid sewer of vanity, corruption and self-interest. NZ politics is better to the extend we have less power and are therefore fed less money to corrupt. There is nothing “moral” about either enterprise, and again.. if you truly believe otherwise, you’re being horribly naïve or cynically disingenuous
    There is more, but its probably as pointless to articulate. If you’ve convinced yourself there is any “morality” to your position, you are remarkably capable of rationalisation. If not, then you’re extremely calculating/cynical. Neither holds much room for change of position.


    • Must be some special tea you are drinking there Andrew. Although I did love the “Australian politics is a fetid sewer of vanity, corruption and self-interest” part. The rest I was unable to take in as I used the last of my tinfoil up last week.


    • I’m not sure there is much point in a detailed response to that, in part because much of what you are saying seems anti-US and anti-Aus, and while I agree with some of that and disagree with others, my arguments have been about NZ govts doing what is right and decent, not going along with other countries simply because govts of those countries happen to champion particular causes. (For what it is worth, I was opposed to western interventions in Iraq (03), Libya, Serbia/Kosovo,…..while supporting them in 1939.)

      You attack Adrian Zenz but the broad thrust of his work/conclusions has been accepted by many/most secular liberal experts on such things (and, I would suggest, probably by most NZ politicians, who just take a different view of how NZ should respond to such data. Quite possibly his faith helps motivate his work – that is what faith (any faith) should do, but his work is open to scrutiny.

      I thought it was telling that you would attempt the “what-aboutism” of Meng Wanzhou. I have no particular view on the merits of the case against her but (a) she is in bail, and (b) all hearings have been in open court with consular representation etc. There is no comparison (incl to the Kovrig and Spavor cases).


      • I completely agree with you in terms of the government doing what’s right and decent. As I said, there is certainly scope to criticise China on a variety of fronts. But I’m also very much a believer in the Biblical “first remove the beam from thine own eye” and on virtually all the same fronts as China is critiqued on (environment, human rights, militarism), Australia and the US both have appalling records. The US incarceration rate for instance is far higher than China or Russia, and unpaid prison labour in the US is common. To focus on demonising the competitors of our allies far beyond how we criticise out allies is cowardly and self-serving to my mind.

        Re: Zenz, his work is certainly the most prolifically amplified, presumably because it’s precisely the kind of material that Clowns such as Pompeo like to quote. This article delves into Zenz quite comprehensively:
        I have no problem with Zenz having his faith per se, but the animus behind that faith clearly distorts his ability to be fair and rational on the Uighur issue, given his starting point is to demonise China.


    • Take your comparison of Chinese behavior in the South China Sea to the USA and Cuba. You are sort of right, China is acting like Russia. Building military bases in places it shouldn’t, then threatening those that push back. All the while protesting their innocence to the world.

      As for Tiananmen Square, you are rather obtuse in your comment, are you claiming it never happened? If so, no wonder there is a tinfoil shortage.


  4. Yeah, it’s insane how those Chinese would be offended by a major trade partner who wanted all the benefits of a trade relationship with China whilst simultaneously playing them for fools and acting substantively against Chinese interest!

    Clearly you’ve never studied trade and actually how it works. The free exchange of goods (or services) between two or more parties, for mutual benefit. I don’t recall that we need to be friends to trade?

    As for the rest, it’s clear you’re in a high horse about all of this. I could go back to you on United Front activity in New Zealand, how the NZ Government would respond if the University of Auckland set up a ‘Ben Franklin Institute” in Auckland, funded by the CIA etc…

    Please keep going with this as you’re making a fool of yourself.


    • The 2 way trade between NZ and China is only marginally in NZ favour with around $16 billion exported to China compared with $14 billion imported from China. If China bans NZ exports, NZ can just as easily ban China Imports. The Chinese banks in NZ operates as little mice banks compared with our Australian Tiger banks which pretty much dominates our banking and financial sector.

      The only reason China has made inroads into selling product in NZ is primarily because our RBNZ has been far too hawkish in interest rate rises decimating our local producers with aggressive interest rate increases. What our RBNZ has failed to understand is that our local producers are debt and interest rate reliant because our equities market and small business investment funding is non existent.

      Hawkish interest rate increases has made us Cheap China import reliant. Blame that on the RBNZ.


  5. “Clearly you’ve never studied trade and actually how it works. The free exchange of goods (or services) between two or more parties, for mutual benefit. I don’t recall that we need to be friends to trade?”

    And clearly you’ve never stepped outside a (Western) academic classroom to understand that the first rule of trade is to understand your counterparty. Humiliating them to a global audience by trying to play them for a fool? Demands a public response. Australia asked for and got it.. boo hoo.


  6. Looks like the “wolf warriors” have discovered your columns Michael. But the latest news according to Bloomberg is that Xi now wants China to be regarded as “lovable”. Perhaps their communications with Beijing are down at the moment?


    • Did you bother to read either the article I posted or the one you did before you posted?

      My article is by a NY Post bureau head who was present at the time of events, and lists specifically what did and did not happen. Specifically, he doesn’t deny that a bunch of people of were killed by the Chinese authorities, but that it wasn’t the students in Tiananmen Square in the mythical narrative that has been endlessly retold.

      OTOH, your posted article deals with absolutely no specifics, and works solely at the level of emotional rhetoric.

      You’re welcome to cling stubbornly to whatever myths you choose, just don’t expect rational people to run away screaming when you post troll-food.


  7. Nice try Andrew H, but with every announcement you convey a picture of yourself tapping away at your key board at the Chinese Embassy somewhere.( My greetings to Madam Wu). I guess you offer balance to the picture, but try to restrain the self righteous indignation,.. it doesn’t go down well with Kiwis.

    America has faults for sure, but at least they can take criticism. China (and it’s mouthpieces Andrew) are increasingly looking like a country that becomes enraged by criticism. That’s dangerous and worrying for other countries. Because inflated egos and a need to react to insult and criticisms is the way foolish wars begin.


    • Not too sure why we are worried about our comrades in China. We have our very own draconian censureship courtesy of an idiot for a Justice Minister, Kris Fa afoi, who is prepared to make hate speech law which he himself is not able to demonstrate the boundaries and instead is prepared to offload decisions to the Police and turn NZ into a Police state that is judge and jury to the definition of what Hate Speech is. Stupidity or just the latest NZ communist government in action.


      • Perhaps I am too harsh with Kris Fa afoi as an overpaid idiot for a Justice Minister. It is more than likely this Hate Speech law is driven by our very own communist dictator, Jacinda Ardern.


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