Peters leads NZ away from trying to balance relations with US and China

A seismic shift is under way in NZ’s geopolitical relationships. Led by Foreign Minister Winston Peters, the Coalition government has eased away from the previous National government’s ready accommodation with China and the presumption that NZ could easily balance United States and China relations to a more hard-nosed approach.  Several elements have contributed.

First, a powerful pro-Beijing faction in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has lost influence.

Second, the present government is more attuned to current geopolitical shifts in NZ’s immediate north-west. Now there is a new, sharper understanding of the implications of a move by China into contacts with NZ’s immediate Pacific environment such as the Cook Islands.

This may be the “red flag” which defines future policy.  It underscores Peters’ latest  request for a boost in NZ’s overseas development assistance for what he terms “NZ’s neighbourhood”.

Many New Zealanders   who cherish  their  country’s  “independent” foreign policy  have  little   idea   of  how  active   China has been  in  spreading its influence  into  this region.  Even  within  the  Labour and  Green  parliamentary  elements of the  government, where anti-Trump  feeling is dominant,  the  realignment of  NZ towards the stance  of    its  long-time closest  partners  may not  yet be fully understood.

The government’s recent defence policy statements signalled the shift: a recognition that China, as it spreads its influence from beyond the South China Seas into the south west Pacific, poses a fresh challenge.

There is a new appreciation in Wellington that NZ’s defence interests are more than ever identified with those  of  Australia and US. The government’s investment in Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrollers to replace the aged Orions, reflects the shift, along with the ramping-up of NZ-US military activities, particularly  including US Marine Corps tactical exercises  across the South Island.

Almost certainly,  the  Defence  Minister  Ron Mark   will be  building the case  for another big  defence  investment decision  on replacement of  the  RNZAF’s  ancient Hercules.

Then, the current government appears much more concerned  at the intrusion into NZ by China across a broad spectrum not just of the economy, but  also cultural, scientific and academic affairs.

NZ has heard little of the  active political debate being played out  in Australia over China’s disruptive role in regional security, its industrial-scale use of cyber and human intelligence to steal intellectual property and the active promotion of  front organisations and political donations to ‘influence’ local politics.  But it is   clear  Winston Peters   has been  instrumental  in the policy  revision  in Wellington, moving   NZ  in its attitude  to Beijing back towards that of  its closest  partners.

What  may  surprise   many of those  unfamiliar with  how Peters operates  are the   lines  of communication  he enjoys  to  high levels  in the administrations in  both  Washington and  Canberra.  It is  expected  the  forthcoming  APEC  meetings  in  Port  Moresby  (and possibly a   visit  to  Washington   in December)  will  offer  Peters   the opportunity to  demonstrate  the impact of  his diplomacy to those  who  have been indifferent to the evolution in recent  months of  NZ  policy.

The intelligence community is relieved by the government’s attitude. Before the general election, the National government seemed unwilling to accept or acknowledge the extent of Chinese penetration despite the growing indications of influence in NZ Chinese media and the apparent interventions of Chinese agents in NZ academic circles.

Increasing attention is also being paid to China’s burgeoning interest in the Antarctic in terms of its strategic and economic prospects.

4 thoughts on “Peters leads NZ away from trying to balance relations with US and China

  1. Good commentary. It’s time for a wake-up call. China has an appalling human rights record which is getting worse under Xi. The incarceration of a million Uighurs in “vocational training centres”, the same description the Nazis gave their concentration camps in their early development, should alarm all New Zealanders and draw strong protests from the government. Unfortunately much of the political establishment in Wellington remains pro-Beijing and our institutions including political parties have been penetrated. We have been on a dangerous track.


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