China certainly has interfered in New Zealand politics, most notably by the offer of a free trade deal which delivered huge benefits to our economy. Party and government officials all stressed to us that they were grateful for New Zealand’s support for their accession to the World Trade Organisation, the rule-based trade body. The US and Australia in contrast want to build a military base on Manus Island north of Papua.
China’s rise in the 21st century world is built on trade. The US response to the threat they perceive to their past dominance is overwhelmingly military, as indicated by the 2017 National Security Strategy. China’s Belt and Road initiative is massively investing in infrastructure, ports, road and rail along both its pathways to the benefit of its locations. America is busy building military bases, with new ones springing up in Australia even before the latest Manus Island proposal.
The US is pulling out of the rule-based organisations such as the International Criminal Court, the JCPOA arrangement with Iran, the Paris Climate accord, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Weapons Treaty. Bullying has become the order of the day, with neocon Mike Pompeo calling for China and Iran to behave like a “normal” country. And the people of Manus Island say nobody asked them about building another military base there.
The Vice-President Mike Pence, mocked the Belt and Road Initiative calling it “a constricting belt and a one-way road.”. But the US have come very late to the Pacific party, offer much less money for peaceful infrastructure, and India is decidedly cool on the US/Australia definition of our part of the world as the “Indo-Pacific” not Asia-Pacific.
Pundits here are already saying New Zealand will have to take sides, shift its traditional unaligned position, and choose between the elephants in the room. Some have pointed to indications that our small foreign policy establishment is tilting towards a more US-friendly stance, although one could argue that is their default position except when Labour is in government. Simon Tisdall writing in the Guardian today opines that while China is winning the war of influence in the Pacific, New Zealand will have no option in the end but to side with the US.
Whether it was Kirk, Lange or Clark, Labour in government has never been frightened to stand up for peaceful and free trade, and against war, nuclear or otherwise, that was not sanctioned by international rules. I think it is again time for a real debate about whether we support the trade party or the war party in our region. I know where I stand.