New Zealand must draw the line with China

In the last week two things have happened that remind me why New Zealand and the world must stand up to China. China’s abuses are happening because western nations lack the gonads to stand up and tell China that this abuse is not acceptable.

The first thing is the introduction of the National Security Law in Hong Kong. This is a draconian piece of legislation that Beijing has spent the last year trying to get passed. If passed – which it did last week – it would enable Chinese secret police to operate in the open; dissent would be a criminal offence and trials in Chinese courts with life sentences would all be permitted. It originally could not do it directly because Hong Kong rose in protest. Then it tried to get it passed through the Hong Kong legislature. That failed too. So a vote went ahead in Beijing to ratify without Hong Kong input.

The second is the resurfacing of the Jian Yang problem. Jian Yang is a National Party Member of Parliament with suspected links to the Chinese Communist Party. Mr Yang denies them, but refuses to talk to the New Zealand media about his past. I wrote about this yesterday.

One should fully expect Beijing to throw a tantrum, something the Chinese Government is prone to doing every time it gets called on its abuses. They will tell us to stay out of their affairs as China stays out of other nations affairs. Which is totally not true. When opposition to Chinese influence developed in Fiji a few years ago, China sent police over to arrest 75 people.

Pro-Beijing supporters here in New Zealand have often confronted dissidents at peaceful demonstrations, and tried to intimidate them into stopping their activities. Some have gone so far as physical confrontation. A New Zealand academic’s house was broken into a few years ago, as was her office just a couple of days apart, following the release of a paper that she had helped author into Chinese Government influence in New Zealand politics.

New Zealand must draw the line on China. New Zealanders have a right to expect that their country will be free from foreign interference in domestic processes.

One might argue that then we are being hypocrites in being involved in China’s domestic affairs. And this is where there needs to be differentiation. The major concerns regarding China’s domestic affairs centre around their attempts to control sovereign states not under their direct control, namely Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Their agreement with Britain over Hong Kong was that it would be under Chinese rule, but maintain a democratic form of governance – One State Two Systems. For 23 years with slowly worsening Chinese influence, this was largely the case. All that changed on 1 July 2020. The introduction of the security law last week effectively ended the One State Two Systems and replaced it with One State One System. In the week since they have arrested over 300 dissidents, forcibly unseated the democratically elected council.

In the case of Taiwan, China views this most successful of all of the Asian nations in terms of fighting COVID19 as a renegade province. Chinese nationalists envisage a day when Taiwan might be taken by force, as it it is too strong and independent to surrender without massive resistance. Taiwan will be significantly harder because taking it by force invites a major military conflict. More likely China will continue to try to intimidate Taiwanese politicians and block its attempts to join world bodies.

We cannot turn a blind eye to Chinese international aggression. We have seen ample examples of what happens when an aggressor is allowed to get away with unjust acts – the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in 1938 and the rest of that country in 1939. Nor can we turn a blind eye as the world did in the 1930’s to China’s affairs when entire ethnic groups are being subjugated in Xinjiang Province and it is here I am reminded of Martin Niemoller’s famous words:

First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist

Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me

China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang are utterly terrifying to read about. A vast network of camps with almost concentration camp like conditions in which Uighur Muslims are being held. Many are being used for slave labour. Among the female prisoners rape is rife; torture and beatings are common. Whereas other parts of the country enable relatively free movement, Xinjiang is like some sort of Orwellian nightmare come true – everywhere closely monitored electronically, visually and otherwise.

It is a shame that such a great nation like China, which has contributed so much over the course of history to this planet is behaving like this. However many people wondered – and probably still do wonder – how Germany came to be an international pariah in the 1930s and 1940’s. History, after all, has its lessons. We would do well to learn them.


Chinese designs on Hong Kong and Taiwan must be checked

For months China has been trying to rein in an increasingly restless Hong Kong protest movement. The movement which sprung up last year was originally intended to stop the Hong Kong legislature passing laws that would enable Beijing to extradite dissidents, instill pro-Beijing views into children and station security forces there. The laws led to a protest movement that caught the attention and respect of much of the free world. They were men and women of all ages who had made home in Hong Kong and were prepared to put their livelihoods and lives on the line for their freedom.

Initially they succeeded. The laws were shelved and when elections were held, pro-democracy candidates swept the ballot in one of the most comprehensive routs I can remember. But in doing so, they angered the dragon. They angered Beijing, which resolved to bypass the legislature altogether and simply impose the law, which was done last Friday.

New Zealand has a long relationship with China. In its early days Chinese gold miners worked in harsh central Otago conditions to lay down water races so they could sluice gold, and were the subject of considerable discrimination whilst doing much to enrich the history of the province. It has a tricky balancing act to maintain as China is now our biggest export market and could cause massive damage to the economy if it chose to stop tourists coming here; stop taking our exports.

At the same time, China must learn – and New Zealand must participate in this teaching – that what it is doing in Hong Kong is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to bully other territories into submission simply because they have an alternative thought. Which is why the condemnation yesterday of China’s moves on Hong Kong and the fact that every party in Parliament spoke out against it, is to be applauded.

In 1972 the then United States President Richard Nixon visited China and re-established relations with the Peoples Republic. Following the vision of Deng Xiaoping, Paramount Ruler, China began opening up. It realized that command economics could not work and started developing a market economy. Chinese businesses were encouraged to innovate; Beijing joined the W.T.O. and began to show an interest in helping poor countries develop their natural resources.

But for all of China’s huge economic progress and the improvement of living standards in the worlds most populous nation, the Chinese Communist Party rules the country with an iron fist. Its tolerance for dissenting views of Beijing and in particular for those expressing a desire for democratic reform is quite frankly atrocious. It is not uncommon to have police officers awakening people in the night and taking them down to the local station “for a chat”, which may be more accurately described as a warning to cease and desist. Many a human rights lawyer, journalist, activist has been arrested and put in state run “re-education” camps. Its 1989 Tiananmen Square crack down in which the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army was deployed in huge numbers and killed or wounded 3,000 people

Hong Kong for the most part has been a model of people power and peaceful protest. Some days hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens have been on the streets. Much of the violence seen on television has been the result of security personnel agitating the protesters into committing acts of violence so they can be arrested. The Hong Kong Police Force by contrast have increasingly become a model for how not to deal with protesters. In the last two years the protests and protester movement putting up the protests has increased dramatically following attempts by Beijing to increase its level of control over Hong Kong . The new law change that I have described will no doubt see that distrust increase further.

Similarly China is becoming increasingly annoyed with Taiwan. The island nation that has grown rich and powerful and has been one of the true highlights in the global war against COVID19, is widely seen by Beijing as a renegade province that it wants back. Beijing fails to recognize that Taiwan is an independent nation. Formosa was never been a part of China, prior to becoming Taiwan. Ever since the Nationalists left the mainland to the Communists in 1949, Beijing has been plotting how to take the island nation without triggering a war. Taiwan’s very success and the high level of respect around the world for what it has achieved could be described as inducing Beijing’s envy. The rejection of the “One Nation Two Systems” rule which meant in return for China having control of Taiwan it could maintain its free and democratic governance, has been seen as an affront to Beijing. Although Beijing’s dream of taking Taiwan by force is unlikely – not least because it could a massive U.S. military response – as long as Taiwan is not directly ruled by China, Beijing will have designs on it.

New Zealand, like other nations, must stand firm against them.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 37

Yesterday was DAY 37 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

It has been interesting to look at the news from around the world these last few weeks and observe the hugely varied reactions of politicians and the public to COVID19. The diversity of reactions and responses has been quite profound. From the grim unity of New Zealanders going into lockdown to the increasingly violent division in the United States; from the quiet success of Taiwan to the flat out denialism over taking Brazil and some third world despots, the variation in the reactions and subsequent responses have been startling.

I will not concentrate on New Zealand so much as that is well documented and now receiving high praise from around the world, warranted or not. Instead I will look at some of New Zealand’s major international partners and where those partnership might go in the post-COVID19 environment.

A few days ago I examined the Australian response to COVID19 and noted that it is doing per head of capita, slightly better than New Zealand. The governments of both countries are talking to each other about how reopening the borders might happen, which is good. However, there are other nations that New Zealand and Australia should start talking to about an extended bubble. Taiwan is one of these nations. The island nation east of China has been one of the true success stories in the global campaign against COVID19. It has had just 429 confirmed cases, of which 324 have recovered with 6 deaths. No new cases have happened since 26 April. New Zealand and Taiwan have good relations and share similar democratic principles. South Korea is another one that could potentially be invited to join the bubble. It has 10772 cases of which 9072 have recovered, with new case rate per day in the single digits.

I now examine the risks posed to our small Pasifika neighbours like Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and our Melanesian neighbours in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. These little island nations might have dodged a bullet by being remote and not having large numbers of tourists arriving like Tonga, Fiji and Samoa do. All of these islands have weak health and social welfare systems, which means a potential outbreak in any of them could be absolutely catastrophic. The last serious pandemic to affect them would have been the 1918-1920 influenza, which was transported around the world by ships carrying soldiers returning from the battlefields of Europe. A ship that was carrying infected New Zealand soldiers was allowed to dock in Apia during that time and 7,000 Samoans or about 1/5 of Samoa’s population then died.

It is not just these small nations that could be devastated. It is also the even smaller territories such as Wallis and Futuna, Niue, the Cook Islands, Tokelau, Kiribati, Palau and other tiny land masses could potentially have their entire populations wiped out. Because of the great risks posed to these nations, no one should be surprised that they were quick to slam their borders shut.

New Zealand and Australia need to take charge of aid to these little nations. They cannot afford the lack of transparency and the potential for agenda setting that goes with Chinese aid. Nor can we rely on American aid any for them any longer in the age of Donald Trump. Given the size of some of the smaller territories like Wallis and Futuna, a sum of say $200,000 directed through the Red Cross would be quite substantial.

New Zealand has no place in Iraq

With the attacks by Iran on U.S. targets in Iraq, it is time to question whether New Zealand should have military assets in the region.

Some people say that we were formally asked to be there. So we were, but that fails to acknowledge the simple fact of the matter that New Zealand has no business in Middle East conflicts unless it is part of a United Nations sanctioned operation.

New Zealand should withdraw its troops from Iraq forthwith. There are better places that they can could go – if they really need to be in the Middle East, they should be part of one of the numerous operations in adjacent countries. Whilst it is noted that Iraq has such a mission itself, it is also noted Iraq has just voted to end the military presence of all foreign troops in the country. New Zealand would do well to recognize that.

When Iraq was invaded, the United States despite claims to the contrary, never had a real plan for putting the country back together. It was well known Iraq was at high risk of falling apart along sectarian lines, which would involve the major Sunni, Shia and Shiite sects fighting among themselves. And fight they did. Those lines in the sand drawn by diplomats with probably little understanding of or care for the ethnic geography of the region in 1916 cut straight across ethnic boundaries, and were brutally enforced by British and French forces.

Iran has also had a turbulent 100 years with both western and Soviet interference, which such large numbers massacred in the 1910’s by the Ottoman Empire. In the years prior to the Iran-Iraq War the Shah was toppled in Iran, which up to that point had been a somewhat forward looking nation. TheĀ  Women were not restricted in what they could wear, do for jobs or for a social life. The Iranian Revolution saw many of those rights lost. It also saw a significant hardening of Iranian U.S. relations, which further deteriorated with the Iranian hostage crisis in Tehran, and was followed by the Iran-Iraq war where it was known that Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iranian targets. Then the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger plane killing all 290 on board, which the U.S. refused to apologize for, though compensation was paid.

It is easy to over simplify the complex web of geopolitical relations in the Middle East. Because of that, the simplistic idea that New Zealand is working to help the U.S. ensure terrorism ends in the Middle East ignores for example the various militant groups that are active – al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Houthi’s, the Iranian Republican Guard Corps, Islamic State among others. It ignores who is funding/arming them and what those nations are trying to get out of doing so. It ignores the ambitions of groups like the Kurds who were promised statehood at some point in the past only for it to be reversed. It ignores the wider U.S.-Russian rivalry where proxies in the region fight wars on their behalf.

Also, given the influences that the U.S. agenda of ending terrorism has been highly suspect for some time now, which New Zealand should recognize, it is also a moral question of whether we should be there.

I say not.


Challenges facing New Zealand in the 2020’s

As we enter the 2020’s with bush fire smoke descending on New Zealand from our Australian neighbours and the world watches U.S.-Iranian relations deteriorate further (more on that tomorrow), it is important to note our own considerable challenges. They cover a broad smorgasbord of issues that without significant action in the near future, have the potential to cause significant grief in years and decades to come. I briefly look at what I consider to be the major challenges here:

CONSTITUTION: Whilst our current framework gives New Zealand flexibility that an entrenched constitution such as that of the United States does not, the latter has some features that we should consider adding. The framework which consists of seven significant Acts of Parliament includes the Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Human Rights Act 1986 and the Constitution Act

There have been challenges in Parliament in recent years to the framework that need to be addressed before one renders it useless. They include incidents where Parliament has voted to remove a Commissioner without doing due diligence; legislation passed that directly undermines the legal right in the Human Rights Act 1986 to peaceful assembly . Such steps are not only highly improper, they pass into grey areas of New Zealand law and potentially set a dangerous precedent.

ECONOMY: Since 2016 the economy of New Zealand has been stuttering along, partially caused by global uncertainty as the situation in the Middle East continues to deteriorate; uncertainty over Britain and Brexit and the U.S.-Chinese trade war. But we cannot blame it all on international concerns.

Long standing concerns about the lack of diversity in the economy and a lack of emphasis in terms of investment in science research and technology still exist. New Zealand will not become one of the higher wage earning nations in the west until they are.

EDUCATION: Whilst this Government is on the right track having another look at Tomorrow’s Schools, I am concerned that the students are missing some very basic teaching in the rush to embrace digital technology. Many students struggle to show mathematical working on paper; construct basic sentences and that not enough is being done to embrace books. Whether the Minister will address this remains to be seen.

The tertiary education sector also faces a number of challenges. They include the sector reforms announced by Chris Hipkins, who has embarked on what I consider to be an overly radical reform whereby all of the institutions are merged into a mega institute. The push back is understandable, though some of the smaller institutes that are vulnerable to failure should be closed before they implode.

ENVIRONMENT: Since Labour came to office there has been a welcome escalation in the war on waste. To the Government’s credit it has banned plastic bags, announced a phase out of fossil fuels and acknowledged that water quality is a major issue. This is one somewhat brighter area despite the many and considerable challenges facing the natural environment.

But the Government must step up the tempo. The review of the Resource Management Act, whilst a good idea is in danger of just adding to the confused 800 page beast it already is. It needs to announce how it is going to tackle the phase out of fossil fuels in conjunction with economic and social leaders, and the war on waste is really only just beginning.

FOREIGN POLICY: New Zealand foreign policy is largely correct in my book, with four significant exceptions. Two are super powers competing for our attention and support. The third is the willingness to continue to put New Zealand first by taking a third way as opposed to a Chinese way or an American way.

It is the fourth that should concern us the most as we need to do more to help our Pasifika neighbours. The Samoan medical emergency caused by measles has shown it does not have the ability to cope with this all on its own. They also need to be reassured that New Zealand takes their environmental concerns seriously and will push them at the United Nations.

POVERTY: This is really a combination of social, background, medical and education factors working (or not working) together. Neither National or Labour have really tried to acknowledge this. Nor have they tried to address the neoliberal economic model that favours a small select group of people and ignores the rest. Trickle down economics is a myth perpetuated to make people believe that market economics work for all. They do not and poverty is a significant consequence of it.