I get tired of the way that the media is accentuating National’s attacks on the Government without showing any understanding of what is really happening.
This week Gerry Brownlee managed to get some air time with allegations that Nanaia Mahuta and the Government were asleep at the wheel and had let China make inroads in the Pacific.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta needs to front up and explain what she’ll be doing to salvage New Zealand’s relationship with the Pacific, National’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee says.
“Last week, we heard that China is seeking a sweeping agreement with ten Pacific Island countries, covering everything from national security to climate change and education. Three countries have already signed up or indicated their support; the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Samoa.
“Since this news, the US’ top official for the Indo-Pacific has been on the phone to the Fijian Prime Minister, and the Australian Foreign Minister flew to Fiji within days of her appointment to reiterate Australia’s position as a ready and willing partner.
“While our traditional partners are out engaging with the region and demonstrating their ability to meet all the needs of the Pacific, Minister Mahuta and this Government have gone radio silent. No media, no visible engagement, not even a tweet.
The subtext, that Mahuta was lazy, was easy to spot. The fact that she is very hard working and very effective does not matter. And there has not been extensive travelling in the Pacific for the past couple of years because of Covid and the desire to keep many Pacific Islands Covid free.
And the suggestion, that Western hot shots just need to get on a plane and visit and the Pacific will then comply is insulting to the Pacific and displays a complete lack of understanding of how proud and independent the Pacific Island nations are.
National apologist Josie Pagani chose to reinforce National’s message.
She criticised Jacinda Ardern for not mentioning China in the Beehive press release following Ardern’s meeting with Biden and hinted darkly at some sort of cover up because in the joint communique China was referred to but this did not occur in the Beehive press statement.
Pagani’s criticism is not warranted. The Joint Communique does refer to China but two of those references relate to opposition to claims to the South China sea. The third referred to the Solomon Islands and stated that
the United States and New Zealand share a concern that the establishment of a persistent military presence in the Pacific by a state that does not share our values or security interests would fundamentally alter the strategic balance of the region and pose national-security concerns to both our countries.
Pagani needs to read more. On May 25 this year the Government announced an extension to the deployment of the New Zealand Defence Force deployment to the Solomon Islands as well as a commitment to supporting security in Solomon Islands and promoting a peaceful, prosperous and resilient Pacific region. On March 29 Mahuta said:
Solomon Islands’ proposed agreement with China, while within Solomon Islands’ sovereign rights, risks destabilising the current institutions and arrangements that have long ensured the Pacific region’s security. Given this would not benefit New Zealand or our Pacific neighbours we will continue to raise our strong condemnation of such agreement directly with the countries involved
And the May 25 announcement was foreshadowed by this announcement made on January 3. Clearly a lot of attention has been paid to what is happening in the Solomon Islands.
Brownlee has tried to contrast Mahuta’s response to that of new Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong who immediately after her appointment jumped on a plane and visited many Pacific nations. Wong’s response is appropriate and warranted. Australia’s relationship with the Pacific is terrible. Successive conservative Prime Ministers and their response to climate change has placed them in direct conflict with Pacifica’s aims and aspirations.
This Labour Government, through its large well networked Pacific caucus, has a depth and reach of relationships with the Pacific that no other western nation can match. To suggest that the Government has gone to sleep on relations with our Pacific neighbours is as ludicrous as it is insulting.
Critics display little understanding of how the Pacific works or the importance of shared goals and long term respectful relations that members of Labour’s caucus have with the Pacific. As said by Aupito William Sio in this facebook post:
When working in the Pacific – having strong, caring and trusting relationship is the foundational pillar for working with a proud group of people who have a long memory of history in the region. Strong, caring and trusting relationships can only occur when we recognise the mana, dignity and worth of the people of the Pacific and their right to self-determination – they are our family, members of our extended whanauga. Our collective ambition is to ensure we secure the ocean and marine assets of the Blue Pacific continent so that its sustained through future years and our children and their children can use it to thrive and prosper throughout future dispensations of time.
An meanwhile the Pacific on its own terms responded to the recent charm offensive conducted by China in a way that suggests that the situation was always under control.
From the Guardian:
Pacific countries have declined to sign up to a sweeping regional economic and security deal proposed by China, after a crucial meeting of Pacific foreign ministers and their Chinese counterpart on Monday.
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi is in the middle of a marathon tour of the region, visiting eight countries in 10 days, a trip that security experts have said represents a dramatic “uptick in tempo” of China’s push for influence in the region.
On Monday, Wang held a virtual summit in Fiji with foreign ministers from Pacific countries at which the region-wide deal was discussed. Several invited nations want to defer action on the draft communique or have it amended, an official from one Pacific country told Reuters.
Wang urged the Pacific region not to be “too anxious” about his country’s aims after the meeting was unable to agree on the pact.
China’s offer of aid is no doubt welcome and attractive but has strings attached. Loans for development have to be paid back. The Pacific’s clear preference is grants so that they can maintain their independence and develop on their own terms.
This is why the Foreign Aid budgets of New Zealand and Australia are so important. And guess what, under this Labour Government the amounts have increased significantly and is projected to increase further over the next few years.
It should be remembered that when National was in power there was a preference that aid be used to follow financial imperatives and there was the interesting use of Government aid funding to expand the resort owned by a major National Party donor.
National’s criticism is superficial and shows a complete lack of understanding of that is happening. And being lectured by them about how to maintain relations with the Pacific is jarring and underlines how monocultural their caucus is.