With the growing assertions by the Chinese government across the eastern Pacific including in Hong Kong and our own repudiation of an extradition treaty, there are now calls to expand the Five Eyes intelligence network to include Japan.
There’s been discussion about this since at least 2018, with an excellent piece for the Japan Times by Arther Herman of the Hudson Institute.
It’s time to accelerate that move. This alliance gives mutual access between members to intelligence activities, as well as promoting further military interoperability, creating powerful ties that the digital age both allows and encourages.
We have to face that China as a rapidly rising giant requires sharper and sharper responses as the heat of its sun rises closer. For its part, China believes there is zero relationship between doing business internationally and how it manages its citizens. China’s Ambassador to New Zealand Wu Xi made this crystal clear last week:
“Instead of trying to change or remodel each other, we respect each other. As comprehensive strategic partners, China and New Zealand should continue to maintain strategic commitment in difficult times and support each other on issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“Pursuing a zero sum game and portraying others as enemies will lead nowhere and will only harm common interests. No matter how the international situation may evolve, China will remain committed to a path of peaceful development.”
That, taken at face value, is a whole bunch more diplomatic than the divisive belligerence of Mr Pompeo the U.S. Secretary of State when he talks about China these days. But then, China always requires silence and neutrality from the weak. The proper word for that silence is: obedience.
So far, New Zealand remains a kite in the wind blown one way and the next, insisting that we can both trade freely and be part of regimes that propose cooperation and containment. It’s our necessary ambiguity.
But even previous Prime Minister Helen Clark’s World Health Organisation investigation into the origin and responses of Covid 19 will likely have major diplomatic blowback from China. This pandemic is the most consequential event in the 21st century and it’s only just begun, and its own geopolitics is growing too.
One may say: New Zealand can continue on this path forever, ignoring winds of trade cooperation, economic contest, and national ideological opposition chopping high like the Wellington harbour tide running out against a southerly. But the Five Eyes or Six Eyes grouping brings that chop into hard focus. The goal must be both containment of China’s force, but also cooperation on all other areas including trade, investment, health and scientific research, food resources, and environmental research. As China continues to grow in power over us, we will need to regularly recalculate and recalibrate this balance.
Super-intelligence, cyer manoeuvering, and soft power messaging are the weapons of now and of the future. All sides are fighting this through the subtle world of cyberattacks and hacking. Sure, the world of warships and militarised islands is important. But China’s strategic goals are no longer achieved through hard power. Instead, as Sun Tsu’s Art of War reminds us constantly, China’s strategic goals are achieved by the non-confrontational means of spying, deceit, and subduing without fighting.
It’s likely that the moderate voices in Beijing will continue their goal of achieving some balancing up against longstanding domination by Western institutions. They’ll protect and slowly expand China’s historic sovereign areas and seek to share with other nations in peace. They’ll cement this in with the concrete-and-steel of the belt-and-road to bind the interests of Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Iran, Malaysia, the Philippines, African states and more into a balancing of U.S. hegemonic influence …
… maybe in the deep long term better convergence of political systems and philosophies rather than conflicts.
But until then it’s in the interests of the strong democracies like Canada and Japan and ourselves to make China see the wisdom of this moderate path rather than the belligerence of the United States current regime or China’s embarrassingly absurd defensiveness exemplified by our Ambassador Wu.
China will keep hectoring and bullying us if we are weak and don’t muscle up our intelligence capacity. God knows after Christchurch and Covid 19 our intelligence and defence agencies are due for the most almighty shakeup. So until we get our intelligence shit together (we won’t), the best curb is the existence of an ever-more watchful ring of “eyes” to match and expose Chinese subterfuge, and to check China’s habit of soothingly saying one thing and ruthlessly doing another.
New Zealand is beset by, in William Shakespeare’s phrase, “overmighty subjects”, which since our very beginning we have resisted by being formally part of far greater alliances. We need partners who are customers to trade into recovery from our current calamity. But we also need, more and more, to sustain and build our defensive intelligence capacity within the massively intensifying digital contests for our health, our banking, our personal data, our identities.
What we and the world need is for China to prosper but not to bully. Now more than ever our economic recovery and revival will be hugely dependent on an early return to healthy Chinese growth.
We also need guardians of power and of data to avoid more disruptions to the delicate balances of today’s network world upon which we utterly depend. Expanding Five Eyes as an alliance is an ideal move to achieve this.