New Zealand does not have to settle for being small, quiet, and weak.
Back when the 2011 Arab Spring was a thing, there were protests seeking to overturn governments in Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and all over the place.
Now, not so much.
Syria is a total mess with the same tyrannical family installed. Tunisia has a barely functioning government. Egypt went down hill fast in 2018 and 2019. Libya is simply broken in all respects other than oil is sometimes flowing. Yemen turned into a sticky mess.
Arab Spring may have looked like a thing that highly democratised states wanted to support, but now they are propped up by Saudi Arabia or Iran or Russia or the United States and sometimes many of them together in barely veiled war.
Russia is now being courted by the current Ukrainian President Zelynsky proposing pretty much what Russia wanted in the first place: Ukrainian neutrality and a question over whether some part of Donbass stays a part of Ukraine.
It sounds like open societies are increasingly accepting that there is an inevitable global expansion of authoritarian rule.
Except. On March 12th 2021 the Quad countries of Australia, India, Japan and the United States said that they would form a defence pact essentially to ringfence China’s aggressive expansion into the South China Sea with multiple military bases:
Together, we commit to promoting a free, open rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. We support the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity. We commit to work together and with a range of partners.”
Quad Leaders’ Joint Statement: “The Spirit of the Quad” | The White House
China has responded with a secret agreement deep into the South Pacific in the Solomon Islands.
In November last year Australia sent more than 100 police and defence force personnel
to the Solomon Islands to help quell unrest, but found itself in competition with China which also agreed to send its own police.
New Zealand also sent Police assistance.
There has currently been no response from the Pacific Forum to this latest move.
Sovereign states can do what they want. But what kind of sovereign states we want around us, and how can we make that happen? What do we stand for? Is just the maintenance of law and order enough? It certainly wasn’t enough the last time the Solomon Islands broke down, which happens regularly.
The view from the Solomon Islands perspective of what the Japanese invasion of the Solomons threatened to do to Australia and New Zealand is clear: cut us off.
The Japanese presence in the Solomons, especially the airfield they built on Guadalcanal, threatened to cut communication and shipping between Australia and the United States, isolating Australia and rendering her exposed to a possible Japanese invasion.”
Perhaps China will form a presence and simply never leave, like the French. But at least French Pacific allies and protectorates get to vote, and often. They are in some respects colonised but they are also now free, open, and democratic societies.
Is 2022 the moment that developed democracies like ours accept that democracy is in retreat and with it the results of gains in the Pacific achieved from World War 2, the United Nations, aid from Australia and the EU and New Zealand and the World Bank, decolonisation, and the Cold War?
Back in May 2020 our government made sure to distance ourselves from other 5 Eyes members in response to the massive anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong.
Maybe, finally, this is the moment we issue a joint statement and not a differentiated one.
Maybe we need to re-align ourselves before it is done for us. ANZAC Day would be a start to speak this out loud.
Maybe we are about to be asked pretty similar questions to those asked of the members of the European Union just this very month.
We don’t have to settle for being small, quiet, and weak.