- Date published:
5:39 pm, November 21st, 2022 - 4 comments
Categories: benefits, China, culture, Diplomacy, economy, exports, Free Trade, human rights, jacinda ardern, overseas investment, Pacific, Peace, poverty - Tags:
Trudeau got a 10-minute stand-up with Xi followed by a public shirt-fronting, Albanese got a 32-minute sit-down, and Jacinda Ardern a 50-minute formal bilateral. In the carefully calibrated world of the diplomatic dance-card, that says something. New Zealand would be foolish not to take advantage of what is on offer from China for the long term.
The Chinese readout of the meeting with Jacinda Ardern stated that China valued New Zealand’s independent foreign policy. That independence hasn’t always been in evidence this year. New Zealand participated in the NATO meeting in Spain that announced its shift to China containment, but here are more recent signs however that the benefits of independence are becoming more appreciated.
When speaking of encounters with China’s leaders, Jacinda Ardern follows a familiar mantra she describes as predictable, “nothing in private that wasn’t said in public.” So the Chinese know that they are going to get another dressing-down about Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
I believe there are increasing signs, when their offer is co-operation and development for the benefit of all our peoples, that the Chinese are perhaps getting a tiny bit sick of this missionary approach to diplomacy.
A diplomatic hint of this came in the speech of the Chinese ambassador Wang Xiaolong to the NZIIA last Monday. Wang explicitly addressed the issue of values, noted that they came from each country’s history and cultures, and so may be different in their emphases if not in their significance to each country and culture.
A values-led foreign policy has been at the forefront of our latest government’s foreign policy from day one, led first by Minister Nanaia Mahuta in a speech to the assembled diplomatic cohort at Waitangi and later in a speech addressing Maori and Pacific values in the relationship between the taniwha and the dragon.
Whether you think China’s culture is 5000 or 2000 years old, it should come as no surprise to us that it may have some significant differences to ours, either those of liberal individual pakeha or whanau-based Maori. This emphatically does not mean that they are of any less worth, or that they preclude working towards shared goals of peace and prosperity.
Ambassador Wang Xiaolong noted these different value systems. His conclusion was interesting:
China’s choice for values, social system, and path to modernity are made by our own people based on our own history, culture, and realities. And these choices have been proven to be suitable and effective to solve China’s problems and meet the needs of the Chinese people. There is no reason whatsoever why we should not adhere to them unswervingly down the road.
By the same token, China respects the choices made by other peoples based on their national conditions and will never attempt to use our values as a yardstick to judge or change others, much less to impose on them. China stands ready to conduct dialogues and exchanges on the basis of mutual respect and non-interference in each others’ internal affairs to promote mutual understanding and mutual learning.
We reject, however, finger-pointing or lecturing, or attempts by anyone to impose their values and systems upon us.
There are many lessons here. Chinese leaders over millennia have understood the mandate of heaven and the importance of delivering prosperity and peace to all their people. In contrast, the US-led ‘democracy vs autocracy’ meme has been a total failure, given the gap between democracy and such delivery in so many Western countries. Jacinda Ardern acknowledged this complexity in a speech to the Lowy Institute earlier this year. She prefers the moral high ground of universal human rights to the democracy meme.
But there are problems here too. The moral high ground collapses quickly when hypocrisy enters the scene. And it is not hard to find examples of such.
We are deeply concerned about militarisation of the Pacific without consultation with the Pacific Forum. Our current target is the Solomons, who have had the audacity to conclude a formal policing agreement with China on their own. Concern about Pacific militarisation however does not apparently extend to the recent announcement that Tindall Airbase in northern Australia will become the permanent host for B-52 strategic nuclear bombers, removed from Guam to take them out of range of China’s medium-range missiles. These are by definition offensive weapons and compared with the Solomons the basing in this case is real declared intent.
We are rightly concerned about Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. We don’t seem however to have any issues with the United States’ illegal occupation of Syria east of the Euphrates, where they are stealing its oil and stopping its grain from feeding the starving peoples to the west of the river. Those Syrians are individuals, and they have a right to life too, as they also suffer from the horror of generalised sanctions.
Going for the positive, I believe what is on offer for us from China is comparable in its significance to that made in the free-trade agreement which has powered our prosperity. The facts are as clear as they are stark. From the MFAT website:
China is now New Zealand’s largest trading partner in goods and second largest overall including trade in services. Since 2007, two way trade has increased from NZ$10 billion to NZ$30 billion. China is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and its vast population and growing middle class represent huge potential. China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner in goods and second largest overall including trade in services.
China deliberately chose us as the first country to develope a free trade agreement with, emphaising their gratitude for our support for their application to join the WTO. Guanxi met manaakitanga.
We are approaching the 50th anniversary of New Zealand’s diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China as China’s government in 1972, one of the first acts of the Kirk Labour government. I have a picture from the Labour Party paper of the time showing a photo of Joe Walding meeting Zhao Enlai with the caption “When Joe met Zhao, we just dropped in to say hello.”
China and its people have made massive advancements over these fifty years. I would love it if the Prime Minister started with the positive as Xi did and gave China our congratulations on eradicating extreme poverty, a target they actively organised to meet down to the last person left, and left the chiding to the end. It would help to generate a positive impression in Aotearoa/New Zealand of Chinese people in general.
Perhaps the last word should remain with Chairman Xi, as he invoked the spirit of Rewi Alley’s co-operative movement in the Chinese readout of his meeting with our Prime Minister:
It is important to preserve and carry forward Rewi Alley’s spirit, support stronger dialogue and exchanges at subnational levels, between the general public and among the younger generation, so as to strengthen their people-to-people friendship. Both China and New Zealand are advocates and beneficiaries of multilateralism and free trade. Efforts should be made to keep to the right direction of economic globalization, promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, and jointly tackle climate change and other global challenges.
Peace is China’s most unremitting pursuit. China has never sought hegemony in history; it is not doing that now, and will never do that in the future. China’s policy toward the Pacific Island countries is always aimed at pursuing peace, development and cooperation. China will work closely with New Zealand to promote peace, stability, development and prosperity in the Pacific Island region.
That sounds like a good programme to me.