There is a common saying about elephants: When elephants fight the grass gets trampled; When elephants make love the grass gets trampled.
New Zealand politicians need to be realistic about the fact that for all our greatness as a progressive nation with a largely responsible Government, we are a comparative blip on the radar of China and to a lesser extent the United States. They also need to be aware – something that the centre left is perhaps more so than the centre right – that cuddling up too close to one or the other might not necessarily be a good thing.
Although it is true at the end of the day New Zealand and New Zealanders probably more closely identify with the United States than they do the Peoples Republic of China, just as there is with China, America has many facets of its politics and global outlook that we should tread warily around. Among those facets, to some extent U.S. foreign policy is hijacked by corporations that do not care for individual nations, their citizens or the international well being of the world. In order to be elected, U.S. politicians – Bernie Sanders being a notable exception, and Donald Trump having enough money of his own to simply not need their help – often have to agree to concessions to corporations that might not be in the national interest.
We know that the United States is a global power in economic, cultural, political and military influence. That the U.S. has a very powerful military, is no surprise. What might surprise people is the extent to which its aims and objectives, and the technological means it employs to achieve them are controlled by monetary interests. And this is where the nation that Franklin Roosevelt called the “Arsenal of Democracy” falls down somewhat, from being a shining beacon that won the unmitigated admiration of hundreds of millions of people during and immediately after World War 2.
American culture has had a global impact in ways we might never understand the full depth of. Much of it has been good if you consider childrens programmes such as Roadrunner and family ones such as The Simpsons – the U.S. also gave us Coke, jeans, cellphones, cool cars and . Unfortunately more and more monetary interests are seeking to restrict access on the grounds of copyright, potential loss of profit and other grounds – which I suspect are more to do with them simply not being willing to adjust to the digital age.
China has a global economic footprint, as evidenced by it getting substantial coal, wood, dairy and other exports from New Zealand. It gets rare minerals necessary for the huge quantity of electronics that pour from its factories from African nations as well as oil from Nigeria, Sudan and elsewhere. In return for this, China has the unfortunate habit of propping despotic regimes by funding and/or arming them, and turning when requested, a blind eye to substantial human rights abuses.
China also has global power, as evidenced by the fact that the People’s Liberation Army/Navy/Airforce have gone from being a very large, albeit not well equipped military at the end of World War 2, to being one of very few with stealth combat aircraft and frigates. It has missiles that can reach anywhere in the world and a defence budget that grows annually by anywhere between 5-10%, and has done so for the last 20 years.
Like the United States, China has a problem unique to super powers. Its reach is so far and the potential impact of that reach so strong, that even relative minor adjustments can have unwittingly significant impacts. For evidence one needs to look no further than the impact of the tens of thousands of tourists that are expected to stream over to New Zealand every Lunar New Year. For China, a country with a 1.2 billion strong work force, the concession that Mr Key wrangled out last week was probably a pretty minor one the relative size of our economy to it, but the impact here will be substantial.
At some point I suspect New Zealand will have to upset one or the other super power, or craft a third way foreign policy – which I have long advocated – that few seem to know how to or what it would look like. The foreign policy could be to make over the South Pacific in a New Zealand mindset by spending up to 90% of all aid we give around the world in the region, with a focus on law, education and health and a guarantee that if a bigger power threatens, New Zealand will stand up on their behalf.
Because by putting the South Pacific first, we also put New Zealand first.