I have much time for China as a nation. Put aside the geopolitics, the politicians, their territorial ambitions, economic issues, human rights violations and so forth just for a moment. Take off your rose tinted blinkers and you have a nation whose contribution to civilization has been as great as any western power
China has made huge contributions across the course of history to civilization. From being a cradle of civilization 350,000 years ago to having a smorgasbord of ethnicities and dialects, covering one of the largest and most geographically diverse land masses in the world
China discovered gun powder around 1000AD, sometime before the Europeans realized its potential. They invented the first seismograph, which is dragon figure with 8 heads,and each one had a ball with a different weight and density. In an earthquake the strength of the shaking determined which ball would be released. Other notable inventions include the compass, paper and alcohol.
Chinese explorers such as Admiral Zheng He, who commanded expeditionary voyages throughout south and southeast Asia, western Asia and also to parts of eastern Africa. Another explorer Gan Ying may have reached Roman Syria shortly after the death of Christ.
Fast forward to the 21st Century and you have a world super power whose ambitions are as great as they were during their numerous dynasties. In military, economic, social and cultural power you have a nation looking for a suitably large sphere of influence. The difference is that with many fold more people and an established system of nations as opposed to dynasties, the rule of international law as opposed to the whim of the ruling dynasty, achieving that sphere of influence that imperial China might have had in the middle ages is no longer possible, yet the politicians – bent on greatness – try nonetheless.
New Zealand walks a delicate tight rope through the South Pacific. Whilst it is very definitely our sphere of influence, it is one that both the United States and China are keen to exert their own designs on as well.
New Zealand, like other nations, cannot do without Chinese trade. It is worth billions of dollars per annum to New Zealand and an implementation of sanctions because New Zealand upset Beijing over something is a serious matter.
But New Zealand needs to be wary of Chinese Government ambitions. It has stealthily inserted itself into the affairs of nations around the world. The South Pacific has not been spared with a new wharf being funded in Niue, the recent A.P.E.C. meeting in Papua New Guinea. It has been trying to build a naval base in and is propping up the local dictatorships.
Some of China’s actions have been brazen bullying. They have included officials storming into the offices of Papua New Guinea Prime Minister and demanding he make changes to an agreement that had been signed – Police had to be called and threatened to arrest the officials unless they left. Others have been subtle displays of soft power, but with a very definitive edge to them such as building infrastructure that smaller nations cannot afford using Chinese labour and material.
Around the Pacific its influence is spreading. New Zealand has not been an exception, and until today it looked possible that critical communications systems might have Chinese designs. The Huawei telecommunications company has been trying to establish itself as the builder of the 5G and possibly 6G networks, until today’s announcement that Spark had blocked their application. Spark, acting on the advice of the Government Communications Security Bureau, had deemed the the Chinese company to pose an unjust security risk in a time when there are growing concerns about its human rights record, treatment of media and tolerance of dissent.
The future is cloudy. How far will New Zealand go to appease China before it comes to the conclusion that it needs to make a stand for its own good? How far can it go? At some point in the relatively near future, I think New Zealand-Chinese relations might be in for a bit of a reset.