When the Christchurch mosque gunman opened fire on 15 March 2019, the people of New Zealand and the Police were not the only people taken by surprise. Foreign powers took a step backwards and wondered how a nation that is renown for its peaceful outlook, respect of international law and tolerance of diversity could have such an attack. Intelligence officials were shocked and mystified as to how they managed to miss the warning signs.
But as New Zealand tries to move forward after the attack, questions are starting to arise about the effects it will have on our foreign policy. Two of the nations most closely linked to New Zealand with whom we probably have the most to lose – or gain – have significant foreign policy bearing on New Zealand. As global super powers, New Zealand needs both of them onside, at a time when sensitivity around Islam has never been higher.
One of the more difficult questions that we will have to answer concerns the United States. New Zealand and the U.S. have in recent years been working to heal the rift that opened up following the decision of the David Lange led New Zealand Labour Government to ban nuclear armed and powered ships from New Zealand waters. Despite differences over the Iraq War, which led to a temporary cooling the progress has been highlighted by the invitation to participate in U.S. military manoeuvres, and being allowed to dock a Royal New Zealand Navy frigate at Pearl Harbor. In return an American destroyer has visited New Zealand and U.S. Air Force jets have visited for air shows.
Following the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand needs to examine whether American policy towards this country will be of use or a hindrance. American policy towards Muslim nations and Muslims is hostile, with the notable exception of Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent Turkey whose regimes have strong man dictators on which Mr Trump likes to model his Presidential style. Conservative American media, such as – but not limited to – Fox News push the line that Muslim countries hate the United States, hate freedom and want to Islamify the U.S.
It is not just the U.S. though that New Zealand will have to look at. Chinese President Xi Jinping is overseeing a massive purge against Muslim Uighur people in Tibet and Xinjiang Province. It is systemic and includes subtle steps that seek to slip under the radar and are only noticed by people dedicated to monitoring the abuse, as well as more overt measures.
The Uighur people as far as I am aware have no history of militantcy or resisting occupation. Their subjugation is simply part of a much larger clamp down on anyone considered undesirable or a potential threat to Chinese security. Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations are keeping track of the persecutions.
Both of these nations have significant bearing on New Zealand foreign policy. They have significant economic interests in New Zealand, and there is considerable migration from both countries to New Zealand by nationals in search of a better quality of life. A supremacist killer such as the Christchurch mosque gunman will
New Zealand will need to consider whether its security intelligence arrangements are fit for purpose as we share information with Canada, the U.K., Australia and the U.S. But would they accept a change in New Zealand priorities towards ferreting out and discouraging lone wolf attacks?