Written By: - Date published: 9:38 pm, January 14th, 2019 - 120 comments
Categories: China, colonialism, defence, Free Trade, jacinda ardern, Japan, military, pasifika, trade, us politics, winston peters - Tags:
Winston Peters went to Washington last December to see VP Mike Pence and invite the US to engage more in the South-West Pacific without informing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Patrick Smellie described this apparent oversight, if that is what it was, as “deeply worrying.” Even more worrying is what Peters said.
Peters’s speech at Georgetown University Center for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies was titled “Pacific Partnerships.” After stating his view that ‘the Asia-Pacific region had reached an ‘inflexion point’ Peters said:
New Zealand and the United States, we believe, have particular responsibilities in the Pacific as two countries which, through their geography, history and people to people connections, are intrinsically part of the region.
He went on to give a history lesson on US engagement with the Pacific, citing President Tyler’s extension of the Monroe Doctrine to Hawai’i in 1842 and “the signing of the “Treaty of Wanxia” which opened up Canton and four other ports to American merchants.”
Students of history will know that the Monroe Doctrine came to assert US hegemony in the whole of the Americas, a right currently being asserted by calls for the overthrow of the democratically elected President of Venezuela. The Treaty of Wanxia was signed two years after the Opium Wars and stands at the start of China’s “century of shame”, humiliated by unequal treaties driven by superior Western cannonry. Coming from our Foreign Minister, China could only interpret this reference as a provocative insult. Xi Jinping is determined that the same thing will not happen in the 21st century.
Peters went on.
At the same time as the ‘Accidental President’ Tyler was extending American interests in Asia and the Pacific, British immigrants had settled colonial New Zealand and signed the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’ between Queen Victoria and the indigenous Maori people. The Treaty created a new society, one that celebrates today an uninterrupted history of democratic elections since responsible government began in the colony in 1854. The Pacific has seen our country’s histories and interests intertwined since these earlier times.
There are significant elisions here, ones that he could only get away with at Georgetown. Not everyone in New Zealand is celebrating a “new society,” and the memory of the land wars is still alive as we still seek some reconciliation.
Peters then went on to talk about New Zealand’s “Pacific Reset.”
The Pacific Reset also reflects New Zealand’s response to the increasingly contested strategic environment in the Pacific in which more external actors are competing for influence. This calls for close cooperation with Pacific Island countries, Australia, the United States, and other partners with historic links in the region–countries such as Japan, the EU, UK and France–to uphold values that we share and want to promote in the region; values like democracy, good governance, greater women’s participation, and above all the rules based systems on which the region relies.
Japan certainly does have historic links with the Pacific – their pilots shot down my uncle flying the obsolete biplane that was all the UK sought fit to provide for the defence of Singapore. Prime Minister Abe would like to change Japan’s constitution to allow it to conduct foreign wars again.
France still has its colony in Nouvelle-Caledonie, and is also the only foreign state that has committed an act of terror in a New Zealand port. America also has its own Samoa, whose people are Americans but not able to become US citizens. So our Pacific history is chequered, and not susceptible to easy analogy. Colonial values are not the only ones seen as important in the Pacific.
Peters went on to discuss China.
New Zealand also acknowledges new actors in the region, like China, and welcomes all partners in the Pacific on terms that take account of the Pacific’s needs, where quality projects are sustainable and delivered transparently. We work with China in the Pacific and will continue to do so on those terms.
China is a new actor in the region? Well it certainly has not been a colonial power, and if the Treaty of Wanxia began US involvement in the Pacific then the Chinese were by definition there first. And Chinese have been in the Pacific as long as anyone else, apart of course from indigenous Pacific Islanders. I recall years ago when visiting Western Samoa having access to the archives of the German and New Zealand colonial administrations in Apia,and reading of the harsh treatment of Chinese indentured labourers by the New Zealand police.
Ironically also Peter’s reference to the Monroe Doctrine makes it harder to argue that the Chinese should not exercise any hegemonic power in their eponymous sea.
So what was the point of it all? It was clearly a speech for American consumption, certainly not one that would go down well if repeated back in the Pacific. Besides all the revisionist colonialism, there was a rather plaintive plea for special treatment by way of economic support for New Zealand, given Trump’s tariff- and sanctions-driven retreat from the rules-based order on which New Zealand depends.
Did Peters want an American base in New Zealand? The US marines are now well established in Darwin, and there is talk of another base on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. With over 800 known military bases around the world, American assistance tends to be defence-biased.
And of course the China subtext. New Zealand has not quite followed the American declaration of war on China, but it is significant the new Zealand 2018 defence review follows the US in only referring to China, Russia and North Korea as threats.
Not mentioned in the speech but undoubtedly in the private discussions with Pence is the fact that a number of Pacific Island nations, including the Cook Islands, have signed up to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure project, which reaches far beyond the Pacific to Eurasia. In contrast to the US, Chinese assistance tends to be infrastructure-biased.
Finally, Peters said this:
As partners, New Zealand and the United States have a long history of answering each other’s calls for help. In 1942, the United States came to the defence of New Zealand in a very direct sense. Since then, New Zealand has regularly answered the call when the United States has mobilised its friends in defence of its interests and international security more broadly.
Well no Winston – we didn’t join the US “coalition of the willing” in 2003 because the invasion of Iraq was not sanctioned by the UN and so was unlawful.
We should keep our independence and not allow ourselves to be drawn into America’s wars again, particularly not against China with whom we have good personal and trade relations.
Perhaps the Pacific nations who have joined the Belt and Road Initiative and more far-sighted than Winston Peters 19th century colonialist approach.