In the last few days it has come to my attention that China has threatened New Zealand with a “trade war” as punishment for making inquiries about imports of Chinese steel, after concerns were raised. As the Government goes into damage control over the fallout from a potentially massive scandal with one of New Zealand’s biggest trading partners, one has to wonder at the appropriateness of the bullying behaviour of the People’s Republic.
The behaviour displayed by China can only be described as an immature hissy fit – throwing a tantrum just because New Zealand officials became concerned about the quantity and quality of the glut of Chinese steel pouring into New Zealand, is irresponsible and stupid. China accuses New Zealand of being part of a suspected United States led drive to target Chinese steel production, an accusation that given the depth and complexity of our current arrangements with China I find frankly incredible.
Yes, we might be the smaller player in this delicate tango between the Kiwi and the Dragon, but given what the steel is being used for – reinforcing in bridges, and other key infrastructure items, being sure that it is up to New Zealand standards is a legal requirement. If this is too much for China to handle, all I can say is stiff cheese. If China wishes to get stroppy over this, New Zealand should exercise its weight in the World Trade Organization. It might hurt, but it is going to hurt a damn sight more if a bridge or other piece of infrastructure fails because the Chinese steel in it could not do the job it was supposed to.
I fail to see how and why other export sectors should suffer just because China could not give us quality steel, thus forcing New Zealand authorities to do the due diligence that they should have done anyway. However, this seems to be the case, with Zespri, which specialises in the sale of kiwi fruit and other companies have been warned by Chinese officials.
This row over steel also reinforces why New Zealand must take the lead in the area of economic development South Pacific. The small nations of Tonga, Fiji and Samoa have seen first hand the consequences of conditional Chinese aid, where the countries have to utilize Chinese labour and resources, which do not benefit their economies. This becomes more urgent given Australia seems to be more interested in cozying up to the United States. These small nations need any help they can get and do not have the resources or political clout to successfully stand up to China. It is within our best interests as well as those of the small island nations who are our closest and in some respects truest neighbours to look after them.