Thursday, August 11, 2022

No issue with China in the Pacific

It is not in New Zealand’s interest to join in any sabre-rattling against China in the Pacific – and certainly not without consulting voters, writes Alan Emerson.
There’s nothing in China’s stated ambitions for the region that give the Alan Emerson pause.

Governments annoy me when they get elected and then introduce major changes that weren’t either raised or discussed during the campaign.

All governments do it. The Key government re-introduced knighthoods from complete left field. No voter had a clue. The cynic in me would suggest that the change did work for Key and English.

We then had John Key authorise Pita Sharples to commit New Zealand to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. There was absolutely no discussion. When the declaration was adopted in September 2007 the then Labour Government under Helen Clark opposed it. We were one of four countries to do so. There were an additional 11 abstentions.

Why was it done surreptitiously and without debate? Again, the cynic in me suggests that it would create angst for future governments. It has.

I accept that life can change but we’re still on missions that were never part of election campaign dialogue.

I believe our reaction to the Ukrainian crisis is concerning. The government has gone too far with its reaction to the conflict. Unbelievably, the National Party doesn’t believe we’ve gone far enough.

Why have we effectively gone to war without any consultation? Why did we make NZ part of the conflict?

I agree with the sentiments of past Labour Party general-secretary Mike Smith who believes NZ could find itself “on the wrong side of history”. He said we were helping prolong a conflict in the interests of waning United States hegemony while risking our own interests in the Asia Pacific region and increasing the risks of a nuclear war.

He believes “the present situation is disastrous because it’s removed any chance of a negotiated peaceful settlement and any chance of a continued independent policy”. I totally agree.

The other concern for me is over our relationship with the US at the expense of that with China.

There isn’t a lot of middle ground either, as China has accused the US of “immorally adding fuel to the fire [in Ukraine] while blaming others”.

We have a free trade agreement with China. We don’t with the US. The Regional Comprehensive Partnership (RCEP) that came into force on January 1 this year has been described as “paving the way for the world’s largest free trade area”. 

The Americans were invited but declined. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently visited the US to try to encourage trade. We wanted them as part of the RCEP. That didn’t happen. Free trade isn’t part of the North American vocabulary. Without free trade NZ would be in dire straits.

The much lauded American-inspired Indo Pacific Economic Framework is a complete waste of time. It won’t achieve anything.

We’ve since signed a Partners in the Blue Pacific initiative with the US, UK, Australia and Japan, which is downright crazy. We used to be proud of our neutrality. Now we’ve joined the strident voices of colonialism from the days of the Raj.

I want more honest dialogue about our place in the world than we’re getting. The government needs to consult more than dictate.

I don’t have an issue with China in the Pacific for several reasons.

The first is that it has been active in the area for years while countries such as Australia and the US showed little interest.

I’ve read the China Pacific Islands Five-Year Action Plan on Common Development and don’t have a problem with it.

They want annual meetings with foreign ministers, they want to co-operate economically, certainly with agriculture, and co-operate on fighting covid.

They’re also concerned about climate change, which is a hot topic in the Pacific. Australia under Scott Morrisson wasn’t. The US, courtesy of recent Supreme Court judgments, will never be. 

Nowhere is the military mentioned.

The Solomons’ relationship with China has created controversy but again I don’t have an issue with it. The Solomons are an independent country and can do what they like. It isn’t any business of the US, Australia or NZ.

The facts are that, yes, the US has the world’s largest economy. In a few years that will be overtaken by China.

We’ve had a free trade agreement with China for almost 50 years. Despite occasional skirmishes we’ve never been close to an FTA with the US.

China has kept its nose pretty clean internationally. I accept their aggression in the South China Sea, but that’s minimal compared to invading Iraq and Afghanistan.

What we need is open honest dialogue and not decisions made on the fly that have the ability to affect us all, both now and long into the future.

I’m pleased that the PM’s stance has appeared to soften in the past week. It needed to. We are a small, independent trading nation and should stick to that and not try to be a part of any feral, sabre-rattling rhetoric that has the ability to start a major war.

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