Forget Brexit

Written By: - Date published: 10:30 am, September 5th, 2019 - 39 comments
Categories: China, Donald Trump, International, uncategorized - Tags:

As Brexit fades our British parent country into a globally forgettable social embarrassment, we should remind ourselves that the only international politics of any impact on us is within Asia. There, as elsewhere, structured relationships are starting to crumble and impact upon us. 

This is because Asia in the past decade has undergone remarkable transformation and taken New Zealand with it. The changes have been incremental and spread over several countries, so few realize that we are entering a new era. It is one that will feature a more assertive yet more internally turbulent China, coupled with a fracturing American alliance system and much more complex trade and military set of influences.
The crisis in Hong Kong and the deterioration of relations between South Korea and Japan are prologue to coming years. The Asian stability and security we’ve had for decades can no longer be taken for granted.


For a start China is no longer China, at least in the way it was known.

The China whose economy filled our Warehouses and KMarts and bought our luxury tours and wines with double digit economic growth, governed and economically orchestrated by a group of faceless and collegial technocrats held in check by strict term limits, has been replaced by a country ruled by a hardened autocrat overseeing an economy growing at only 6 percent.

China is morphing into a more mature system featuring a highly skilled workforce. Chinese President Xi Jinping is preparing the middle class for world power status, characterized by a command of ports and trade routes stretching across Eurasia. But he is also employing an unprecedented array of technology—including facial scans—to monitor and corral his people’s behavior. Xi knows he needs to be the opposite of Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev—tightening political control instead of loosening it—to reform his over-leveraged, export-driven economy while keeping his country politically intact.

Xi’s new China is deploying its rapidly expanding navy throughout the Asian sea lanes, something that will transform the U.S. unipolar maritime security order of the past 75 years in Asia into a multipolar and therefore less stable one.

Some observers have had a tendency to view China’s naval aggression in the South China Sea and East China Sea as individual developments, to be reported on separately, when in fact they are having an effect on U.S. sea control throughout the Western Pacific. China’s latest port development projects in Darwin in northern Australia and near Sihanoukville in Cambodia demonstrate how China is filling up the maritime space at the junction of the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, where it already has a network of ports going back to the previous decade. But it is only in the last few years that China’s new maritime empire has come sharply into focus. The Indo-Pacific is no longer a U.S. naval lake.


China’s increasing naval activities in both the South and East China seas also allow China to further threaten Taiwan. Taiwan is back as a flash point, with China holding military drills off its coast, even as Beijing has gradually refined its ability to launch missiles and engage in cyberwar against the island, while also demanding that the Trump administration cancel its $2.2 billion arms sale to Taiwan. This is what you get from both Xi’s and U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies of nationalistic assertiveness, and it won’t “correct” to pre-Trump.


Then there’s Korea. The unintended consequence of Trump’s somewhat confused commencement of talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is that the latter and South Korea have jump-started a dialogue of their own. That dialogue will have its own logic and trajectory over time, leading in the direction of a Pyongyang-Seoul peace treaty and the eventual removal of more than 23,000 U.S. troops from South Korea. Don’t say it can’t happen. Divided-country scenarios in the 20th century had a tendency to end in unity: North and South Vietnam, West and East Germany, North and South Yemen.U.S. influence retreats with it, and makes it harder to justify U.S. military bases unwanted by Japanese locals.


Japan has been a massive U.S. ally for decades. Japan required a divided Korean Peninsula for its own security, because a Greater Korea uniting the historical memory of Tokyo’s brutal colonization and war from 1910 to 1945 would instinctively be anti-Japanese. The recent dramatic escalation of trade tensions between South Korea and Japan, itself aggravated by wartime Japan’s policy of forced labor and sexual slavery, is but a taste of what political united Korea and Japan. Trump’s incoherent engagement has opened up a Pandora’s box of issues that can set U.S. allies against each other—with China the winner.

Longstanding cultural and economic changes in U.S. society have produced the Trump presidency. And as a great power, the United States’ domestic situation ultimately affects the whole world, just as China’s domestic situation does. That is to say, only China can defeat China.

Hong Kong

With the mainland Chinese government using targeted arrests to gently fade the Hong Kong protests, China will strengthen its absorptive capacity for protest and expand both its military reach and domestic market across the Indo-Pacific and Eurasia. Whereas U.S. emotional commitment to post-World War II alliances fade fast.

In Asia, that translates into Finlandization—an undeclared movement in the direction of the proximate great power. From Japan to Korea to Vietnam and even Taiwan and south to Australia, America’s old Asian allies may gradually move into the orbit of China the way Finland grew closer to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. From trade to investment to political donations, that’s where we appear headed already.

The countries listed above constitute most of our trade, most of our support in the world, all of our close military partners, and all of our future.

Forget Brexit

Forget Brexit: for our little Asian nation, China is the geographic, demographic, and economic organizing principle of New Zealand and of the western Pacific.

39 comments on “Forget Brexit ”

  1. Paul Campbell 1

    Yup, besides when the UK joined the EU they screwed us over, our economy took a terrible downturn, chaining ourselves to their economy which is in downturn because of their own silly choices and politics would be a big mistake

    So screw 'em, turn about is fair, we owe them nothing, other than maybe a little bit of revenge

    • Dukeofurl 1.1

      Europe including UK is our 3rd largest trading partner-" $8bn in exports to the EU and $11.5bn worth of imports from Europe."

      That wont change after Brexit , maybe a bit easier for agriculture entry in UK with a 'so called FTA'

      This idea of 'screwing over' is bizarre. Britain had to accept the then Common Market agriculture rules and we were given preferential access and quotas for many years. Britain long had preferential deals with all its 'Old Commonwealth' countries as they were all in Sterling zone, joining the EU meant they all had to go.

    • Nic the NZer 1.2

      Germany is a lot closer to recession than the UK. The implication seems to be that Brexit isn't actually the cause of a large economic downturn despite forecasts claiming this would be caused.

      • Phil 1.2.1

        I haven't looked at the German data, but the key for me from the UK data is the intentions and activity indicators that are typically pretty good barometers.

        Consumer confidence has been barely above zero for two years. Services, Construction, and Manufacturing activity are all at zero or deep into negative territory.

        You're right that there is a global slowdown and all the advanced economies have red warning lights glowing on the dashboard, but my sense is the UK's decline has been a lot sharper than elsewhere.

      • cleangreen 1.2.2

        Yep Nic true 100%

  2. Pat 2

    Dismissing Brexit as unimportant is foolish in the extreme….it is (for the moment at least) a key member of the worlds largest single economy/trade block….should the EU unravel the world loses an alternative (and often) more reasonable voice in world affairs…something needed now more than ever

    • Ad 2.2

      Unimportant to New Zealand compared to its Asia context.

      Brexit is strengthening the remaining EU, not unravelling it.

      • Pat 2.2.1

        Not at all…NZ is a follower and price taker…we are tossed about in the wake of the worlds large economies…no matter their geography (or their direct trade relationship)

        • Ad

          Agre we are certainly a price taker.

          But some parts of the world economy are more important to us, and more violent in the height other seas, than others.

          Brexit is chop; Asia is sea-cycle.

  3. Sanctuary 3

    But we get to watch an utterly unfit to govern British elite tear itself apart in a vicious internecine culture war entirely of it's own creation, what is there to hate?

    • Dukeofurl 3.1

      Unfit to govern elite ? The Brexit vote was 17.5 mill votes in favour.

      The following general election had the two main parties favouring a Brexit with a deal were Conservative, vote up 5.5% and Labour , vote up 9.6%.

      The problem is there isnt a majority in the commons for 'The deal with the NI backstop' ( which ties UK in an EU customs union), as May tried 3 x.

      Whats this elites you talk about, as though there hasnt been 2 forms of public voting for leave!

      The deal isnt a final contract as some have assumed , its a conditional contract subject to it passing by Parliament

      • soddenleaf 3.1.1

        Labour missed opportunity to go to the electorate? or just leave the hot potato where it is, let the referendum Tories suck more on it.

        Labour have assiduously avoided pickingup the hot potato. As Tories crumble amongst themselves. Why so many voted for brexit, stuff elites, are Tories stuffed!

        Notably Britian has been putting off the day of reckoning, not just exit, but confirmation of brexit, no second referendum. The Tories see wasting time, exasperate everyone into taking whatever Boris comes up with, thankful its over.

        Everything to date has been timing to waste time. Nothing has change, nothing solid about the form of brexit is in written down. It's all muddle.

        As anyone in nz knows more trade, more trading partners, more diversification, is good, and then there's the problem us China are forcing many to repurpose their trading patterns. It's an opportunity, or a crisis, but it does matter to nz.

      • The Al1en 3.1.2

        Of course you'll point to where the British people agreed and voted for a no deal Brexit.

        Another problem is there isn’t a majority in the commons for a hard Brexit, as Boris just found out.

        Only way forward, Boris’ schemes for prorogation or early election and default no deal exit, is an agreed withdrawal or a second referendum.

  4. Stuart Munro. 4

    I wonder who benefits from destabilizing the EU. And having done so, what's their next target. It's interesting that you disparage Gorbachov, he put Russia on a positive path, as he had Primorye, so naturally certain interests could not allow that to happen. China has taken a turn towards the dark side since Hu Jintao, which goes some way to explaining their funding the infinitely economically fungible Gnats.

    A surveillance state that is jealous of its powers is inevitably going to cause concerns for neighbours or trading partners who pretend to progressive values. This will be reflected in a cooling of relations, much as the hebephrenic buffoon 45 and displaced polar bear Boris discourage enthusiastic cooperation with their polities. The season is thus one for NZ to cultivate more equal partners, similarly appalled by the excesses of stupidity of the self-styled global influencers. These might include Korea, Mexico, Chile, Malaysia and Canada.

    • Dukeofurl 4.1

      LOL. Destablising EU . !!
      Its unstable of its own construction.

      Have you been asleep over the past 8 years. Austerity mandated by the Euro bankers. Currency crisis. Migration crisis. Greece deflation crisis.

      Riots in the streets of Paris, Germany without a government for nearly 4 months after an election….thats only in the last year. Polish courts crisis.

      Things that once happened in only Italy ….are regular all over Europe. Deutsche Bank is essentially insolvent
      ( thats what creating a €74 bill 'bad bank ' means)

    • Dukeofurl 4.2

      Still one trick up BoJos sleeve . call for a vote of no confidence, which doesnt require a 2/3 of all Mps- the commons as a whole- just a simple majority of those present.

      Those 288 that did not vote today ( a few would have been truly absent , like Sinn Fein always is) wont be able to stymie the numbers

    • Mark 4.3

      “It’s interesting that you disparage Gorbachov, he put Russia on a positive path…”

      Really? It seems most Russians would disagree with you. Even the Western media acknowledges this pathetic traitor is widely reviled in Russia. Gorbachev is a wretched shit, and it seems many Russians long for his demise:

      It is actually Joseph Stalin who Russians most admire (70% say he played a positive role in history). A true hero, not just for Russians of course, but for all of humanity:

      Without the October Revolution and Lenin and Stalin, there would have been no Peoples Republic of China. The Chinese communist party represents a political movement that has perhaps achieved more for human health, wealth, and happiness than any other in the history of the world.

      ” Xi knows he needs to be the opposite of Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev”

      Well of course he should want to be the opposite of Gorbachev – he does not want to go down in history hated and despised by his own people as Gorbachev is by his.

      • Ad 4.3.1

        Can anyone really tell whether Xi Jinping is hated, or loved, or not even rated?

        Not under a thought-controlled autocracy, of course not.

      • Stuart Munro. 4.3.2

        "Really? It seems most Russians would disagree with you. Even the Western media acknowledges this pathetic traitor is widely reviled in Russia. Gorbachev is a wretched shit, and it seems many Russians long for his demise: "

        Interesting that you think you know what most Russians think, and of course it was vital to the oligarchs to so depict him. The comfortable corruption of the Party was no part of the modern Russia he was building, so there was a coup d'état by the forces of that corruption, which displaced Gorbachev even as it pretended to defend his government.

        Oh Xi will be hated and despised, make no mistake – but not in his lifetime. He'll murder any critics to make sure of that, just like Putin does. And that habit will ultimately prove uncomfortable for countries like New Zealand, for whom such naked oppression is not yet normal and approved.

        • Mark

          "Interesting that you think you know what most Russians think"

          This article was from 2 years ago:

          Now Stalin is up to 70% popularity as more and more of the truth of his contributions is appreciated.

          • Stuart Munro.

            Yeah – you're drawing, or your source is drawing some mighty dubious conclusions there.

            Stalin's popularity is rising as people with first hand experience of his rule die off. And it suits Russia's contemporary rulers to paint him as a patriotic defender rather than the murderously inept collaborator with Hitler that he was.

            • The Al1en

              Look at who you're reasoning with, someone who celebrates the a murderer of 9 million people. Is it really worth your time dealing with such a [deleted]?

              • The Al1en

                If it were someone championing Adolf's legacy they'd be fucked off from here in a heartbeat.

                • Mark

                  Coz Stalin did not murder 9 million people you [deleted] (moderator AI1en started it)

                  Real mass murderers are the likes of Truman who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of women and children at Hiroshima and Nagasaki so that US troops did not have to fight.

                  That's analogous to two guys duking it out, and then one of them doesn't want to fight so goes and kills the opponents wife instead to take out his opponent. Pathetic, cowardly and evil.

                  • Stuart Munro.

                    "Real mass murders are the likes of Truman…"

                    Who at some considerable political risk recalled McArthur who wanted to nuke and conquer China.

                    The US didn't understand Japan very well, and were not sure how to persuade it to surrender. But there were hawks like Curtis LeMay and of course the whole A Bomb development operation. If they'd been culturally competent they'd've recognized Japan was pinning its hopes on a conditional surrender to Russia, which rendered the nukes moot in terms of achieving the surrender – if bombing could have induced surrender it would have come after the March bombing of Tokyo, which caused more deaths.

                    None of which excuses Stalin, whose insistence on counterattacks by ill-led and marginally equipped troops probably caused three quarters of Russian WWII casualties before we even get to his gulags and genocides. Whatever potential might have come from the communist experiment was extinguished when Stalin took power.

                  • The Al1en

                    Like I wrote – You're a bit of a Stalin fanboy. Lucky the world doesn't rely on Russians or student communists to preserve history. The deaths of those millions of victims will always be laid at his feet.

              • Stuart Munro.

                I still have a few Chinese friends – the Party doesn't encourage them to develop a broad education in the classical western sense, which leaves them vulnerable to its pronouncements. I'd hope that a little skepticism of Stalin revanchism would develop over time.

                But then I had a Saudi student who told me (innocently yet seriously) that Hitler was a good leader – I did get him ready to question that, and managed to explain to him that saying that publicly in western countries would destroy his friendships and professional relationships pdq. He wasn't a bad guy – just questioning accepted wisdom and not knowing enough of the facts.

                • The Al1en

                  Well, fair play to you for your willingness to give the benefit of the doubt to the misguided, though to be fair, Mark has a history here of Stalin fanboyism, and it doesn't seem like they're getting the message.

            • Mark

              “Stalin’s popularity is rising as people with first hand experience of his rule die off.”

              Bollocks…..if Stalin was such an evil prick people would have learned this growing up and from their parents and grandparents. Historical memories are a huge part of informing public sentiment.

              And they do have living memory of Gorbachev—and know that he brought them to the brink of ruin.

              “murderously inept collaborator with Hitler that he was …”

              Bullshit. The Molotov Ribbentrop pact was simply to buy time for the inevitable conflict —before that the Soviets had begged the Western powers for an alliance against Hitler, only to be rebuffed by Britain and France.


              For actual collaboration – refer Chamberlain's shameful selling out of Czechoslovakia for 'peace in our time'

              It was the Soviet Union led by Stalin who were consistent all along in their opposition to fascism (refer Spanish civil war), and it was the Soviet Union who made huge sacrifices in defeating Nazi Germany (not to deny the contribution of all the other countries, including New Zealand). And in the Asian theatre it was the Chinese who did the heavy lifting, starting from 1937, thereby ensuring the freedoms we take for granted today. Never forget it.

              • Stuart Munro.

                Stalin turned the international communist movement into a vehicle for Russian nationalist imperialism.

                Yes, he sacrificed a lot of people fighting Germany. Russia, like China had a tradition of conscript armies and only a cursory understanding of tactics, much less strategy. He fought Hitler, not on principle, but because he was attacked. He was cut from the same cloth and would have cheerfully occupied Europe the way the Third Reich did given the opportunity.

                "the Chinese did the heavy lifting"

                Nope. They took plenty of casualties though.

      • Mc 4.3.3

        How many millions of people did Gorbachev execute?

  5. AB 5

    We're interested in Brexit as an example of what is politically possible/impossible in a country that is similar culturally and in terms of its parliamentary system. We are always looking for models/ideas that might work here, or conversely would be a disaster. That the direct economic implications may be minor is a trivial thing in comparison. Power is more interesting than money.

    • Ad 5.1

      That's best comment of the day.

      To me however parliamentary power is as weak as it has ever been, but the power of money remains in the ascendency over parliamentary power.

      Our parliamentary and democratic system is the best British legacy we still have. But what Britain is doing with it takes it into a universe of less and less relevance to anything we are likely to attempt here. Their model is a distorted feedback loop with no recognizable melody or syntax to our own.

      What is politically possible in Britain is less and less relevant to what is possible within the Asian – particularly Chinese – strategic trade and military context.

      That's why New Zealand's Asian context matters more than what happens in Britain.

  6. waltzzz 6

    Yes, China is big. What if the China USA conflict heats up? I think that would be an imperialist war, like WW1 . We'd be under pressure to support the USA, Australia would. The anti-war movement would flare up in all countries, and there would be a cry (somewhere) to turn imperialist war into civil war for socialism. Workers of the world unite.

    What do you think?

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