Scotty Morrison came to visit this week.
China was at the centre of discussions.
I am sure it was coincidental but last Sunday
the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Australia’s Channel Nine Network aired this particularly stupid take on the New Zealand – Australia – China relationships.
If you want to really question the quality of Australia’s media and want to waste 20 minutes of your life then watch this.
The essence of the documentary’s claims is that unlike Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand has sold its soul to the devil by choosing to continue to trade with China.
Selling stuff, like coal and iron ore, to China is fine and dandy. But continuing to sell milk and meat to China after it gets upset with Australia because it kept picking fights with China over an extended period of time is somehow a bad thing.
The background to the Australia-China spat is easy to recount. As I noted earlier Senior Minister Peter Dutton has questioned China on the origins of Covid and demanded greater transparency. He has accused China of conducting a series of cyber-attacks on Australian targets, stealing intellectual property and muzzling free speech. And more recently the Australian Government cancelled two belt and road agreements that the Victorian Government had made with the Chinese Government.
Then during Anzac Week Dutton and Home affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo talk about the possibility of war with China if it keeps on expanding into the China sea. This is not how you conduct a respectful relationship.
Then they became upset because as part of the Five Eyes alliance New Zealand did not agree to be part of a joint statement condemning China’s human rights records. This attracted some interesting feedback.
Chris Finlayson on Radio New Zealand this week said this:
As the former Minister in charge of the Intelligence Agencies I have to say the Five Eyes Arrangement is an intelligence arrangement and it doesn’t mean to say that we have to adopt the same point of view on all issues as the other members of the Five Eyes and the suggestion that because we are in the Five Eyes we have to adopt abseance to all things that the Australians see or do is simply wrong.
He also said this about Dutton:
I have always found Dutton crass and ignorant and the comments he made about New Zealanders being thrown out of Australia were dreadfully unfair especially bearing in mind that the worst form of trash is the guy who killed fifty people in Christchurch …
Back to the doco, some dude from the impressive Australian Strategic Policy Institute was interviewed and provided grave warnings on where this was leading us. Who are they you may ask and who funds them?
They were founded by the Australian government and are partly funded by the Australian Department of Defence. In addition to domestic funding, the Institute is also funded by foreign governments such as the United States State Department and military contractors. I am not in the slightest surprised that they should take a pro western and anti Chinese line.
ABC Channel 9 documentary descended into pathos when future Australian resident Mike Hosking is interviewed. Did the presenters have no one else they could interview? Although Hosking did say something sensible, if there was a morality clause in trade deals very little trade would be happening.
Should Aotearoa New Zealand follow Australia’s example in how to engage with China? If you review Nanaia Mahuta’s carefully crafted speech on New Zealand’s relationship with China you will see that the Government wants us to work on the relationship in our own way, not abuse a major nation for political jollies.
Tuesday’s Queenstown summit presented some interesting communications.
There were lots of words exchanged but essentially Australia backed down.
From Radio New Zealand:
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says New Zealand’s attitude to China is not harming the Five Eyes relationship.
Morrison and his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern were speaking to media this afternoon, marking his first visit to New Zealand since the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
He said there were some countries who would seek to undermine the Australia-New Zealand relationship and security, but the two nations were working together in many fields and at an international level in the WHO and for trade, for example.
He played down the risk of conflict between China and Australia, saying he wanted to ease tensions and facilitate trade in the Indo-Pacific region.
Ardern this morning denied New Zealand was supporting Australia in a barley trade dispute with China to soothe relations with its Tasman neighbour.
This afternoon she said New Zealand was a committed member of Five Eyes.
Asked if New Zealand was “cosying up” to China, she said New Zealand was maintaining a principled position and there was little difference in the relationship compared to the Australia-China one.
Joining with Australia in a trade dispute is hardly a back down. Morrison saying our stance is not harming the Five Eyes relationship and Ardern gets to say that the relationship with China is similar although slightly different, preserves New Zealand’s position.
This Chinese Global Times article suggests that China does appreciate the subtlety of New Zealand’s position:
The 60 Minutes program was just another attempt from Australia to use its media to pressure New Zealand, but it has caused an unexpected backlash that is huge across the small island country.
The Ardern administration is more peaceful and friendly amid the anti-China clamor in the US and some other Western countries. In fact, it has repeatedly demonstrated its political wisdom and sobriety. Apart from the fact that New Zealand’s positioning and its priority of national interests is different from Australia, the composition and status of its people between the two countries are also different.
New Zealand’s Maori people have a high political status in the country. They enjoy greater rights in the country’s political life. But the majority of the Australian aboriginal population was driven into the reserves and treated unfairly. This has led to strong shades of colonialism, racism and hegemony in Australian politics.
Besides, there is serious competition between New Zealand and Australia’s exports. As a result, New Zealand values its established markets and is unwilling to sacrifice its interests to US hegemony, nor can it afford to do so. By contrast, Australia relies heavily on the US for security and therefore is more subject to Washington.
But in any case, if China-US competition escalates, New Zealand will to some extent be influenced. After all, if the largest two countries in the world are engaged in total confrontation, no other country will have the ability to keep a neutral stance. At that time, everyone will be forced to take a side, especially the countries viewed as allies by the US.
In this context, Wellington prefers to keep the situation stable and prevent it from deteriorating into one where it will have to sacrifice its interests. This is why the NZ government has strived to stay independent and sober-headed.
Australia’s behaviour suggests that political advantage is more important than international relations. New Zealand’s behaviour suggests the complete opposite.