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Celebrating 50th Anniversary of PRC recognition

Written By: - Date published: 10:12 pm, December 21st, 2022 - 15 comments
Categories: China, Diplomacy, exports, Free Trade, john key, Peace, poverty - Tags:

“When Joe met Chou, we have opened the door and said hello” captions the photo of the Beijing meeting between New Zealand’s Overseas Trade Minister Joe Walding with Chou EnLai in March 1973. It followed New Zealand’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China on December 22, 1972, an anniversary definitely worth celebrating.

The photo appeared in a Labour Party publication 127 Days, recounting the achievements of the Kirk Labour government. On foreign affairs, the headline read: N.Z. takes new independent stand The first 127 days of Labour government have seen New Zealand set a new course in foreign affairs.

The article begins:

According to the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Kirk, the door has been opened to a new and  more definite policy where direct and continuing objectives are established. The first decisions in foreign affairs saw New Zealand make provision to give aid for the rehabilitation of Indo-China during the next five years, and $5000 to go to the United Nations Trust Fund for Southern Africa.

The country also took a firmer line on nuclear testing in the Pacific in contrast to the lack of initiative shown by the previous government. The first 127 days have also been marked by visits by several leaders from other governments. On the day Cabinet was sworn in, Mr Kirk issued an invitation to Australian Prime Minister Mr Gough Whitlam.

The Labour Government was elected on November 25, 1972. Notable achievements listed included the following:

December 12: The Prime Minister sends a letter to the French government setting out New Zealand’s stand against nuclear testing.

December 22: New Zealand recognises the People’s Republic of China, and also proposes to reactivate the Moscow mission.

December 23: The Prime Minister makes an official protest to President Nixon on the bombing of North Vietnam.

January 17: The Prime Minister sends a letter to the Rugby Union setting out reasons why it would be advisable to abandon the Springbok tour.

Norm Kirk was very strong on the importance of New Zealand developing a forward-looking foreign policy as well as determinedly taking  an independent stand. He said:

Our foreign policy has developed at an incredibly slow pace with the result that the past in retrospect has been regarded as more important than the future in perspective. For the first time in our history we will be playing our full part in world affairs and at the same time retaining our independence.

He was absolutely clear about the future perspective:

The most important future area of interest to New Zealand is Asia – and it is essential that we pursue polices designed to show that we are sincerely interested in this area.

Our future is in association with Asian countries. We must show that we measure our peace and security in the advancement of neighbouring countries, that we have the will to do things that will demonstrate to Asia our sincerity and at the same time capitalise on the extent of goodwill we already enjoy.

The initiative for doing this is a matter for our own attention, and this we are giving. All this relates to the development of regional arrangements for co-operation on a broader scale, but we also ought to look more closely at the sort of partnership that we can establish with individual Asia countries.

He was very clear that New Zealand’s independent policy was based on our ideals as well as our interests.

Our foreign policy should reflect our national ideals as well as our national interests. Perfection cannot be promised, but we will strive to relate what we say and do abroad to the values that govern our policy at home.

Just as we are seeking to create a more just society here in New Zealand, so we are following a more humane approach in international affairs. More emphasis is being put on improving economic and social conditions in other countries.

Norm Kirk’s legacy was writ large at the recent Labour Party conference. His words still resonate today; more importantly even, so do his deeds. So the very early recognition by New Zealand of the Peoples Republic as the government of China acknowledged that New Zealand’s future lies in Asia. The free trade agreement that has contributed so much to our prosperity, that was concluded in the Labour government led by Helen Clark showed what this might mean in practice. And it is only the beginning if we are wise.

As for Norm’s wish to see economic and social conditions improved in other countries, we should all acknowledge that the greatest advance in human history in this area is that  made by the People’s Republic in drawing 800 million people out of poverty, according to World Bank estimates. We are not the world leaders in this area.

One New Zealand leader who is aware of China’s major contribution to poverty reduction is John Key, as evidenced in this recent interview with Andy Boreham, a New Zealander resident in Shanghai who hosts a podcast “Reports on China.” It’s well worth a watch – Key is very well plugged in around the world and also has in my opinion very good insights into the massive opportunities that could lie ahead for New Zealand if we have a positive and respectful approach as to what could be done together with China.

Too often our present leaders seem more focused on letting us know they are telling the Chinese where we differ from them, particularly in relation to our our perspective on what constitutes human rights. In my opinion this would be more credible if we seemed as ready to give the same message to other countries, particularly in the West. When it came to criticism of other countries, Norm Kirk was even-handed. President Nixon got an official protest over the bombing of North Vietnam, but there is not a squeak from us about the unlawful and unwanted US occupation of eastern Syria for example.

China consistently says that its foreign policy objective is to seek co-operation for mutual development of all of the people, and they have certainly delivered that in China. The US seeks competition for the sake of its advantage, and has recently embarked on economic warfare with China by massively sanctioning its access to chip technology. The United States Congress is bi-partisan in its confrontation with China; it would be great if the New Zealand Parliament was equally bi-partisan in its recognition of the benefits of co-operation with China.

Perhaps the last word should rest with Chou EnLai, who famously uttered the five principles of peaceful co-existence in 1953:

These principles are: mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.

The door to China is wide open for us, and if we are wise enough to walk through and say hello again, we will be welcomed with open arms.

15 comments on “Celebrating 50th Anniversary of PRC recognition ”

  1. Tony Veitch 1

    I wonder if the Uyghur people, or the Tibetans, share your rosy picture of a benign and benevolent China?

  2. Ad 2

    Very timely post with the Australian Foreign Affairs Minister in Beijing right now. Trying to unwind the damage of the Liberal government in attitude and trade and diplomatic hostility.

    Anyone who has seen footage of Whitlam making his big Foreign affairs moves will see how threatening he was against US hegemonic control. Independence is really possible.

    For me Ardern has performed powerfully in Foreign affairs, in fact done that the best of anything she's done. She'd be a useful future US Ambassador.

    Notable that Rudd last week was appointed US ambassador despite mastery of Mandarin and deep insight into Xi.

    But no one beats Clark on China.

    • RedLogix 2.1

      Yes it looks like Xi Xinping may have finally realised the wolf warrior diplomacy was deeply counterproductive and has switched tack.

      “We agreed to maintain high-level engagement and to commence or restart dialogue in areas including bilateral relations, consular affairs, trade and economic issues, climate change, defence, and regional and international issues,” Senator Wong said.

      A good re-start, but trust has been dented badly and there remain a bunch of contentious issues on the table. From Solomon Is, Taiwan, South China Sea and stable trade.

    • RedLogix 2.2

      ABC article now up.

      Foreign Minister Penny Wong has said Australia seeks a more "structured dialogue" in its relationship with China, but also raised trade "blockages", human rights, and consular access to detained Australians during a meeting with her Chinese counterpart on Wednesday.

  3. Gosman 3

    The only reason hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in China is because they adopted a range of free market policies starting in 1978. Up until then the Chinese communists had failed miserably at making all but the party elite lives better.


    • Mike Smith 3.1

      China's literacy programme which began in the 1950's under Mao has been described by one expert as "Perhaps the single greatest educational achievement in human history." https://www.languagemagazine.com/the-single-greatest-educational-effort-in-human-history/

      • RedLogix 3.1.1


        The obvious point is that the first two decades of communist rule under Mao Zedong were an unmitigated disaster – leaving China substantially worse off than it was even in 1949.

        Well and good to point to their outstanding growth since the 70's when they finally abandoned ideological communism and the US invited them to progressively join global trade – but it was from a very, very low base. Few nations in history were quite as dirt poor, dysfunctional and grossly unequal as China in 1970.

        • Gosman

          Exactly. China managed to pull hundreds of millions out of poverty not through any State directed actions but by allowing people the ability to do so for themselves.

        • millsy

          Dirt poor?

          A coal miner in China had access to better health care and housing in 1976 than a Kentucky coalminer in the same year.

      • Gosman 3.1.2

        Nonsense. He then undid any good work by destroying any vestiges of independent thinking during the cultural revolution of the late 1960's. The Red guards who carried out that cultural vandalism were the ones who supposedly benefitted from the literacy programmes of the 1950's. China's economic development post 1978 was not driven by having an educated workforce but a cheap one.

    • millsy 3.2

      Chinese workers/citizens had access to education, housing, welfare, pensions, guaranteed employment, and free healthcare prior to the Dengists coming to power, which they all chopped.

  4. Stephen D 4

    China is in an interesting position. The Mandate of Heaven currently held by the CCP in the shape of Xi Jinping is probably in flux right now.

    Over the millennia the Mandate changes hands when the general populace has had enough, which leads to some sort of uprising. The strongest leader then becomes Emperor.

    With the covid debacle going on, is now such a time?

  5. Adrian Thornton 5

    Great piece Mike, thanks for offering Standard readers an actual progressive Left Wing geo-political world view, and for reminding us what a strong and independent NZ Labour used to look like.

    Keep up the good work..independent, sane voices like yours are vital at this dangerous moment in human history, when the traditional corners of reason have been co-opted into nothing more than voices of the war machine and hatred

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