October 1st is the National Day of the People’s Republic of China.
They like to make it a big day, bigger than the United States’ July 4th. It’s called Golden Week because they all really holiday and reconnect across the country. They shop like lock forwards pack down. It’s massive.
As the 70th event, it will be a big gig. It’s on the site of the first public parade of the People’s Liberation Army with an address by Chairman Mao Zedong declaring the Republic of China formally established: Tianenmen Square.
That day is increasingly important to the rhythmic ordering of China’s dynamism. To reassert the national narrative in its full orchestrated form. Get its groove back.
Given China’s importance to us as an economy and as a people, it’s a day for us to take stock about our relationship to China as well.
The really useful thing about the Hong Kong protests that have occurred over the last three months is that they underscore that China is not some monolithic bland machine of governance and executive authority; instead it has provinces and political fault lines which need constant management (Same as us).
Another ground for constant management is Taiwan. Over the past two months, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati have reduced the number of countries formally recognizing Taiwan as a sovereign independent state down from 17 to 15. That’s a huge diplomatic win for Independence Day.
Same with the leadership. Very stable now, but … Just as we see the horizon of Putin’s rule in Russia sets up a period of instability, so too should we expect instability when Xi Jinping faces his own mortality.
There’s nothing immutable about China, no matter how forbidding it appears.
If we look back on how New Zealand’s relationship to China has changed since 1949, we trace essentially most of the modern history of New Zealand. (For a summary of the advances in Chinese society, see Linda Benson’s “China Since 1949”, to get the sweep of it).
In the late 1970s we both went through accelerated usbanisation. We came out of our shell about the same time they did in the early 1980s. In the same decade we both swiftly deregulated our economies.
As far as the eye can see, China will be the sun around which our orbit revolves. Who knows whether it’s overall good, but it’s not possible to decelerate.
Prime Minister Ardern inherits a strong diplomatic relationship whose depth and strength is tested and in doing so continues to get stronger and more mature. Fonterra’s decline, for example, simply reveals and underscores the multiplicity of our commercial, civic, diplomatic, and social engagements.
Through New Zealand’s single entity containing one third of our population and economy, Auckland is the key lens with which New Zealand engages with China.
With 7.5% of the Auckland population, ethnic Chinese bring a strong set of relationships directly from China to New Zealand’s commercial and social powerhouse. Chinese New Year, for example, is celebrated in Auckland with at least as much passion and force as Waitangi Day if not more.
For first time Chinese travelers, New Zealand ranks as highly as France, only underneath Canada and Australia as Bucket List place. China is now our most important trading partner. They take as much of our dairy, wood, meat, and seafood as we can spare.
Arguably it’s our most important diplomatic partnership, because of the way Chinese diplomacy in New Zealand successfully integrates government and local government partnerships tightly together.
Yet from 1949, to 1972 when we recognized them, they were one big Communist enemy.
China, together with Vietnam, Korea, and others, were poor nations we sent aid to. Through the 1990s, those countries have risen in wealth and power like few could have imagined. Led by China, this rise is an historic turning point in the development of humanity and has completely tilted our place in it.
After 3 years of negotiation New Zealand’s relationship really deepened with the signing of the Free Trade Agreement in April 2008. We’re one a decade into that and China grows more and more important to us, every day.
It’s Independence Day for China.
Codependence Day for New Zealand.