A weakened Russia is a Russia made more dependent on China. New Zealand is also deeply reliant on China.
I suspect Prime Minister Hipkins is at the realist end of the spectrum of engagement with China. China’s The Global Times certainly thinks so. Its feature on Hipkins’ visit said “New Zealand’s “proactive” diplomacy and actions with respect to China set “an example for other Western countries.”
“Despite the changing international situation, China and New Zealand have continuously promoted the institutionalized construction of their bilateral relationship, laying a solid foundation of political mutual trust,” wrote Qin Sheng, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“Against the backdrop of increasingly fierce great power competition and escalating geopolitical risks, the stable development of China-New Zealand relations has important and exemplary significance in the international community.”
The article certainly noticed that Hipkins declined to join with US President Biden in calling Xi Jinping a dictator
He showed a basic quality that a political leader should have – knowing how to respect other countries.”
In realpolitik land, we just don’t have a choice.
We are going to have to continue to respect governments that we privately loathe. China is our largest trading partner, taking nearly 30% of our exports of goods and services. We are not as reliant on China as we once were on the United Kingdom, but it’s getting up there. We simply could not survive a trade embargo against us from China.
There is no sign that this reliance is decreasing.
Prime Minister Hipkins will meet with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang while in Beijing, and will also attend a World Economic Forum event in Tianjin. Prime Minister Albanese of Australia has an ‘in principle’ invitation but no date yet.
Leading delegations of our traders with others in the world is a basic job of being a Prime Minister, but doubly so as we seek to grind our way out of COVID and climate crises. We need to front up and deal.
The war in Ukraine is in some senses good for China: a Russia bled white by its own aggression will need China to lead Fortress Eurasia. China’s imports from Russia, mostly oil and gas, rose 49% last year to US$76.4 billion.
So we have a common path dependence.
China is the common centre of commercial gravity for both Russia and New Zealand. We both have mercantilist relationships as declining countries to a growing Chinese centre. New Zealand’s pure form of democracy is going to be increasingly an oddity in the rise of a coalition of Eurasian autocracies linked by geographic proximity to one another and geopolitical hostility to the West. And we are going to need them.
Shorn of Ardern’s idealism, Hipkins’ approach is ‘keep our heads down and stay trading’, and that is the realistic choice for us to make.