Upgrade to China Free Trade Agreement

New Zealand and China have upgraded the Free Trade Agreement that exists between the two nations. The Agreement which was originally signed by Prime Minister Helen Clark and Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2008, was presented by the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang today as an agreement that deserved to be upgraded.

All very well. New Zealand has significant trade with China and has a $5.1 billion trade surplus which Mr Keqiang acknowledged in remarks following the announcement of the new deal, for which negotiations were started by the National-led Government of Prime Minister Bill English and concluded by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Concessions appear to have been made by China. In the previous version of the F.T.A. China permitted 98% of New Zealand exports to have preferential access, whereas this time it is 99%. As the last deal was about making sure that New Zealand had a working agreement with China, this was about enabling business to be more easily conducted.

New Zealand maintains the right to regulate for purposes of complying with Te Tiriti O Waitangi, as it also does for purposes of regulating public policy. China has agreed to allow products to enter and not have to be re-certified on entry, which has been a problem for exporters. New Zealand exporters will also be able to self declare their goods as products of New Zealand.

Notably though, the number of New Zealanders who can get visas each year has not changed.

These are however testing times. China’s growing ambition in the Pacific is expressed in military, foreign policy and economic development. It’s growing interest in the South Pacific should be noted by New Zealand and monitored closely. China’s lack of regard for human rights in a part of the world not known for strong human rights policy is of significant concern to human rights N.G.O.’s in New Zealand.



The troubling case of National M.P. Jian Yang

Jian Yang came to New Zealand in the 1990’s after a stint doing a Masters of Arts and Doctorate of Philosophy at Australian National University. In 1999 he joined the University of Auckland as a senior lecturer in Political Studies and got citizenship in 2004.

15 years later, questions are emerging about the truthfulness of his background and whether or not he was a Chinese spook.

I will be honest that I am concerned that New Zealand authorities were not sufficiently thorough in ascertaining the history of Mr Yang. Mr Yang says that he was at Luoyang University of Foreign Language for the whole of a 15 year period, but did not acknowledge the fact that he was also at the Peoples Liberation Army Airforce Engineering Institute.

It might be that Mr Yang is completely innocent and that his earlier statements that all he did whilst was to teach new recruits English are entirely true. If so then there should be no further reason to doubt his activity. Except that there is.

Croaking Cassandra covered Mr Yang’s past in China and Australia in an article a few weeks ago. Some troubling points arose:

  • He covered up – or was made (his claim)to cover up – how long he was really at Luoyang University – he says from 1978 to 1993, but Baidu and Wikipedia say it was only founded in 1980
  • His praise of the Chinese Communist Party and willingness to be seen meeting with Politburo members of a backward regime
  • A notarised certificate has never been explained
  • Chinese military personnel are generally not allowed to emigrate overseas or even have a stand Chinese citizens passport – Mr Yang

And Mr Yang seems to have an aversion to talking to New Zealand media. All Members of Parliament should understand that they will at some point be interviewed for one reason or another by New Zealand media in the course of upholding their fourth estate responsibilities. They should further understand that as citizens of a democratic nation New Zealanders are entitled to ask critical questions, that unless they are about matters of standard privacy, or genuine irrelevance to the public good, should be answered in good faith.

Perhaps more troubling than the Croaking Cassandra allegations, is the thunderous silence that goes with Mr Yang. No talking to English language media – i.e. New Zealand media; no attempts by his boss Leader of the National Party Simon Bridges or National Party President Peter Goodfellow to find out the full truth about Mr Yang. Nor has the Government said anything. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not challenged Mr Bridges in Parliament to explain the status of Mr Yang. Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters has gone quiet too, though that might be best put down to not wanting to displease China or his boss.

In my view Mr Yang is not fit to be in the New Zealand Parliament for the duration it takes him to be totally honest about his past. By this I mean both with the Department of Internal Affairs who gave him citizenship to New Zealand and the State Intelligence Service, who need to know whether this man is a security hazard or not.

I would like to see Messrs Yang, Bridges and Goodfellow justify Mr Yang’s involvement in Parliament if he cannot do this.

US military chief in New Zealand

The United States Secretary of Defense is visiting New Zealand just days after being appointed to the position. Mark Esper, who replaces former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine General James Mattis is on a five nation trip where conversations will most likely centre around Iran and China.

Whilst so early in the set, I cannot imagine Mr Esper immediately wanting concessions from New Zealand, I do not want New Zealand to be involved in another U.S. military misadventure. New Zealand might be – and should be – friends with the United States, but keeping a bit of distance. I am quite sure most New Zealanders want nothing to do with a potential war against Iran that will most likely achieve at best significantly worsening U.S relations with the Muslim world.

At best a war with Iran will be limited to the United States and Iran. The latter would probably use its considerable special forces to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, and the Iranian backed militias might launch a rocket barrage at Israel. A greater fear is whether Russia decides to become involved or not. Russia could simply move military assets into Iran or Syria without actually using them as a warning to the United States. But Russian military commanders and politicians have at times made ominous references that a war against Iran would be a catastrophe. At worst it could result in a Russian military response against American forces – at which point a nuclear confrontation is not out of the question.

Perhaps more immediately problematic for New Zealand is China’s growing military assertiveness. It has built an artificial island in the Spratley Islands with an airfield and facilities for ships to dock at. China has since stationed military patrol and combat aircraft there. As vital shipping lanes pass through these waters on the way to/from various nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines, the United States has sought to dissuade China from further expansion.

China’s military expansion is dangerous because it is aligned with more subtle moves such as massive investment in countries around the world. Some critics argue China is literally buying up other nations by establishing Government owned companies that then set up operations in other countries and buy their way into major assets – in Westland recently a dairy company was sold to a Chinese Government controlled company.

New Zealand sees this in Fiji and other small Pasifika nations. A few months ago there was a controversy about a resort being built on Fiji and the destruction of large tracts of coral reef to enable boat access to the resort. When locals and New Zealand expatriates living there tried to remonstrate the owners got aggressive and there were scuffles. Other countries such as Tonga have significant debt to China, which has led to concerns about Beijing’s attempts to extract leverage. And in Vanuatu, although both countries denied reports, there were suggestions that China has been looking for a place to establish a military base.

Whilst New Zealand needs to be careful not to anger either the U.S. or China, it needs to be clear that the south Pacific is the chief domain of New Zealand and Australia. More than it does either of them, the well being of these little island nations is paramount to our well being.

New Zealand foreign policy: China, U.S. or a third way?

SOURCE: Kathryn George

So New Zealand. The American and Chinese Governments are having an arm wrestle for influence around the world and New Zealand and the South Pacific that we like to think of as our back yard are not immune from geopolitical rivalries.

We as a nation have a choice to make and one that New Zealanders are not all that well informed about. Our options are:

  1. Do we have a rapidly expanding trade with China at the expense of human rights where Chinese interests may try to start influencing our politics and elected officials, democratic process and be potentially hugely detrimental to the environment?
  2. Or do we go with America, who will look for our assistance in increasingly questionable conflicts that are unlikely to do either country any favours, and whose politicians are beholden to corporate interests that mean the coveted trade deal that enables free trade between the two counties, is permanently unlikely?
  3. Or do we take a truly unique approach and say no thanks to both countries – we will do our own thing, just as we did in 1985 with the French?

Chinese trade interests in New Zealand are not to be underestimated to any extent. In 2018 two trade trade between the Dragon and the Kiwi was worth N.Z.$28 billion and makes China our largest trading partner. Chinese companies such as Huawei have significant interests here, as do New Zealand companies such as dairy giant Fonterra in China. Chinese tourists are a rapidly growing market and two Chinese airlines fly into Christchurch during the summer season.

But there are significant problems with China’s influence. Its reach into the South Pacific potentially destabilizes nations that are essential to New Zealand’s security where they have helped to prop up corrupt governments and lend a legitimacy to Fiji’s dictator Frank Baininarama. China’s Huawei telecommunications company is trying to get the contract to construct New Zealand’s 5G mobile network, which would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to them. Unfortunately we have no way of knowing whether allegations that Huawei is a front for Chinese government spies. And then there is China’s abysmal human rights record – the nation that refuses to acknowledge Tiananmen Square 30 year down the road, and which claims the massive detention of hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims is to protect the security of the state, is also constructing a huge dystopian computerized profiling system that using a set of characteristics against which people are graded, is potentially denying millions of Chinese basic rights and support.

So, that brings us to Uncle Sam in the United States. Good ol’ Uncle Sam came to our rescue in World War 2 by stopping the Japanese advance through the southwest Pacific. After the war we were invited to join the United States and Australia in the now defunct A.N.Z.U.S. alliance, which meant visits from U.S. nuclear powered ships, nuclear tests in the Pacific were something we sent Royal New Zealand Navy ships such as H.M.N.Z.S.’s Otago and Pukaki to observe. But following the disastrous U.S. adventure in Vietnam we began to question why the U.S. seemed to think war to be such an effective foreign policy tool. We began to protest U.S. ship visits and nuclear testing policy leading to the Labour Government of David Lange banning U.S. nuclear armed and powered ships from entering our waters. N.Z.-American relations turned chilly. New Zealand-French relations pretty much stopped for a while after the latter blew up the Rainbow Warrior in the hope of dividing New Zealand.

New Zealand and American relations began to thaw in the 1990’s. President Bill Clinton offered a trade deal if we let U.S. nuclear warships back in. We said no. Following 11 September 2001, New Zealand committed the S.A.S. to Afghanistan, where it performed with distinction in the early part of the conflict. During the 2008-2017 National-led Government of John Key, relations warmed further, though concerns continued to rise about America’s propensity for starting or – in this case – continuing wars that had no foreseeable outcome. A skirmish in Bamiyan Province in 2010 that left several soldiers dead was followed by another where S.A.S. forces are alleged to have shot dead several civilians, which potentially being war crimes would have dirtied New Zealand’s very clean record in war. During the same period we became entangled in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement which was a massive so called Free Trade Agreement that 12 countries would be party to, but which potentially called for compromises in the independence of individual nations sovereignty. Regrettably New Zealand, along with China and the U.S. signed this into being.

So that leaves with the options of turn left towards China, or right towards the U.S. But does it have to be like that? SHOULD it be like that?

Not necessarily. New Zealand gained international respect in 1985 when it departed from the U.S. nuclear umbrella and struck out on its own. It was not, contrary to the assertions of politicians at the time a cop out to the U.S.S.R., though their politicians might have looked on approvingly. It was a point blank protest at the prospect of nuclear war, at the prospect that the next war might be the last thing humanity does.

We can do the same again. We can say “thank you very much for your interest, but we want to do our own thing – the South Pacific nations need our help and that is what we are going to do”. We can draw a line under relations with both by setting down a minimum level of protection for human rights, by saying the more you exceed that minimum level, the better your prospects will become. But most of all we can start looking after NEW ZEALAND interests, and if that means keeping the Dragon and the Eagle at arms length so a plucky Kiwi can do its business, so be it.

The need to hold China accountable for Tiananmen Square

Who can forget the sight of a lone man standing in front of a column of tanks near Tiananmen Square on the morning of 04 June 1989. The tanks – hundreds of them along with hundreds of armoured personnel carriers (A.P.C.’s)and thousands of troops – were in the late stages of shutting down a massive demonstration that had lasted for weeks in central Beijing. On the night of 03-04 June 1989 the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army was given orders to clear the square by force and impose martial law. Hundreds were known to have died (3,000 is the most widely accepted death toll)and thousands were being made to go missing by the Chinese Government, furious that its ruthless brutality had been caught on video and cassette by media around the world.

Fast forward 30 years since “tank man” bravely stood before those tanks and the Chinese Government is still determined to shut down any and all efforts to commemorate the massacre, and remember those that died in an attempt to gain democracy. To the Chinese Government any mention of Tiananmen Square is taboo – they would much rather the world forgot about it.

But we cannot. And nor should we. There was nothing wrong with what those many brave people were trying to do. They were standing up for their human rights, standing up for their rights to freedom of assembly, of speech, of peaceful protest. To ignore this would be to acknowledge totalitarianism as an acceptable state of governance. When a Government is so scared of the people it is meant to be governing that it has to deploy the military with orders to use live ammunition, there is something fundamentally wrong with that Government.

But it was not just the massacre that made the world recoil in disgust. In the coming weeks thousands – some estimates are as high as 30,000 – of Chinese who were thought to be undesirable or suspected of being complicit in the organization of the protests were made to disappear by their Government. Whilst many were eventually released, some have never been heard from again.

Over the years China has fought to rid itself of the stain of Tiananmen Square. It promised in return for the 2008 Beijing Olympics that it would significantly improve its human rights record which has also included mobile execution squads. Currently a large (on going)crackdown against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province; re-education camps, harassment of human rights activists including indefinite detention and surveillance and a massive dystopian profiling project are in progress.

Many politicians around the world want to promote economic trade with China, but are loathe to acknowledge the cost to human rights, communities and the environment that goes with it. To them the spectre of Tiananmen Square and the ongoing assault on human rights is a nuisance that they try to distance themselves from. Whilst not getting involved militarily China has spent billions of dollars arming regimes in countries with large mineral resources, especially valuable commodities such as oil, gold and rare earth minerals to make electronics with. In return China gets easy access to those resources.

Tank man and the many other brave people who made a statement on that horrible night or in the days before might be people Chinese Government officials desperately want us to forget about and move on from. But we will not. They did not do this for the laughs. They did this for China. For freedom. For humanity. We should remember that.

190531 C2A letter – Tiananmen