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


National’s foreign policy plan is tone deaf

On Monday National released a policy document outlining its foreign policy. A mixture of old well known positions, with a few surprises such as bypassing the United Nations to impose our own sanctions, the document is for the most part, vintage National.

The announcement comes at a time when New Zealand is feeling the squeeze by both the United States and China, both indirectly and directly. Indirectly as both continue a trade war that has had the markets on edge, New Zealand has been exposed to the turbulence as much as other countries. And directly as it tries to find common ground with other nations on dealing with hate and lone wolf terrorism.

Interestingly enough, Mr Bridges also appeared to signal his intent to woo China, by doubling trade with it to N.Z.$60 billion per annum. I assume this would mean substantial growth in Chinese-New Zealand tourism, investment in dairy despite it having clearly peaked, further expansion of Huawei and other technology firms, input into education and property.

To me, this is an incredibly tone deaf foreign policy. It ignores our core role as one of the key players in the South Pacific where we should be investing 80% of all the time, money and resources that go into foreign affairs. These are the nations whose well being most seriously impacts on our national security behind Australia. These are the nations with the biggest geographical and cultural links to New Zealand. The Pacific nations of Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, and to a lesser extent Vanuatu are where we go on holiday in our thousands.

Perhaps Mr Bridges is trying to woo both super powers at once in an attempt to keep them onside. If so it is a risky proposition. For all their supposed friendship, neither the United States or China understands the delicate state of the South Pacific, why it should be New Zealand’s top priority and nor do they care. They might ask why they should, and the answer is fairly simple: as one of the leading nations in the South Pacific and one with a significant Pasifika population these nations are ourĀ  backyard and long time friends, and for us to be well means they must be well.

Perhaps Mr Bridges believes that America is still the same America that won international respect by providing the armaments and large ground forces to help the Allies win World War 2. And that if this is the case, America by default is a force for the good, cannot do any wrong and must be supported at any rate.

It does not change the fact that America is turning itself into something of an international pariah with its belligerent behaviour towards friends and foes alike. Far from trying to wind up the War on Terrorism, Mr Trump has turned it into an exercise of Pax Americana. More strongly left-wing types would use the word hegemony to describe what they believe America is trying to impose, and perhaps that might yet reach a point where it becomes accurate, but there are rays of hope. Moderate Republicans and Democrats alike are becoming exasperated with Mr Trump and realize America risks alienating large tracts of the international community if it continues down this path.

New Zealand needs to be careful with China. It has invested vast sums of money into this country. It competes with others for the rights to build infrastructure and puts significant effort into building ties with political parties, notably National and A.C.T. This is not a red neck screaming “Yellow Peril!” at the top of his lungs. Nor is it an anti China statement to criticize the Chinese Government, but 2 weeks out from the 30th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and with the Great Fire Wall of China as strong as it has ever been, we need to remember China is not a democracy – it is an authoritarian regime that will hang on to its power using whatever means are necessary.

Questions about New Zealand foreign policy following Christchurch terrorist attack

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?