NZ Herald regards NZ and China as allies – but this doesn’t gel with the PM saying our allegiances are with like-minded countries

“Nothing like  a  trip abroad   to  put  a  spring in the  PM’s  step” – or so said the  sub-heading  on  a  report  in  the   NZ  Herald   on  Saturday  of Jacinda  Ardern’s  visit  to  the United  States, a  visit  which  by  most accounts  was  successful  in its  primary   aim of reviving contacts with  both  political  and  business  leaders.

Political editor Claire Trevett put it aptly:

“NZ was looking for new growth in its relationship with the US after the pause of the Trump era”.

New Zealanders, too, were chuffed at  the  success  of  the  PM’s  mission,  her  popularity  with  the  Americans  she met,  and  especially her chat with President  Joe  Biden.  The applause she won for her address at Harvard University in itself  was  remarkable, and   probably  stimulated  Trevett  to  note that:

“The Ardern in the US was a stark contrast to the Ardern we have seen in New Zealand in recent months”.

So, will  we  see Ardern back  at the  top  of  her  form,  now  she  is home  again?

The Labour Party, which has seen its support on a steady  slide in polling, will certainly  hope  so.

The cost-of- living “crisis”  which  Ardern  as  late  as March could  not discern is  persisting, interest rates  are  rising, housing  costs  are  soaring, child  poverty  is  worsening,   and nurses heading  abroad in  search of  higher  wages are leaving behind already  attenuated health  services.

What turned the Ardern mission to the US into something of a personal triumph was the rapport she established  with President  Biden. They had many issues to traverse, clearly,  with the  conversation  running  well over  schedule.

The main focus,  though,  as many foreign policy  experts  saw it,  was on security  and  defence  issues  now  dominant, not  only  in Europe  with  Russia’s  war  against Ukraine,  but  (more ominously) in  the  Pacific where China is pressing to secure  deals with Pacific Island  states.

NZ likes to think it pursues an “independent” foreign policy, but the hard truth is  that  successive  governments  have  spent  as  little  as  possible on  defence  equipment.  The upshot is that both the  Navy   and  the  Air  Force  have to  operate ageing  warships  and  planes.

Even though  the Lange  government forsook   ANZUS membership in  pursuit of its  anti-nuclear  policy,  NZ still liked  to   think  it  could  shelter  under  the US protective umbrella.

Under President Biden,  as  one  foreign policy expert put it,  the  US has done  much  to  resurrect a  leadership  position in  world  politics.

The Biden administration’s  marshalling of  diplomatic, economic and military support for Ukraine  is  impressive.    But the US sees China as a greater threat to the international order.

In her  report  in  the  NZ Herald, Trevett said  Ardern has  gone  closer  and  closer to the  US over the past  months as China’s counter  attempts to  secure deals with Pacific Island  countries  ratchet  up.

“She has  not  said New Zealand sides with  the  US  in  such terms,  but  she has  come  pretty  close  to it, with  her statement that  our  allegiances  are  with ‘like-minded countries’  who  share  NZ  values. NZ may  well have   been like-minded with the US  on aspects of  China’s  actions – but it has  not been like-voiced,  until  now.  The joint statement issued  after the Ardern   and Biden  meeting may  well prove  to be  the  tipping  point”.

Point of Order notes that statements   such as  those issued in the  wake  of the Biden-Ardern meeting  are prepared  well   before  the  actual event by  officials  from   both  sides.

China’s foreign  ministry fired  up  immediately to remind  NZ of  its  long-standing  practice of  following  an  “independent” foreign  policy  rather  than falling in  behind the US.

Was it  this statement  which  sent  a  shiver  down the spine of  whoever  writes  editorials  for  the  NZ  Herald?  For on Monday morning, the newspaper   greeted its  readers  with an opinion under the heading:

“Why NZ and China must  remain allies”.

Good grief.  Which of our governments signed us up to become an ally, a word which implies a military  or defence arrangement rather than a trading relationship?

The editorial said debate over  China’s role in  the Asia-Pacific  region and how  New Zealand  and Australia should  respond to it continued  to  bubble after  the Prime Minister’s visit to  the  United  States.

“During a White  House  appearance, Jacinda Ardern   signed up to a  statement that  nailed  New  Zealand’s colours squarely to the US  mast on security and strategic  concerns.”  

The editorial  continued:

“Since then, has come news that a Chinese fighter jet buzzed an Australian surveillance plane over the South China Sea just days after the country’s election.  China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi also said during his tour of Pacific islands that a reset in the two countries’ interactions required ‘concrete actions’ and that a ‘political force’ in Australia that views Beijing as a rival and threat has caused a deterioration in that relationship.

“On Sunday new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese jetted off to Indonesia, having described it as ’about to be a superpower’ and saying Canberra needed ‘to really strengthen the relationship’ with Indonesia because ‘we live in a region whereby in the future we will have China, India and Indonesia as giants’.  Recent reports have also raised questions over how well the US would handle a conflict with China in the Pacific and over

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, on top of the fallout between China and Australia over the pandemic, the introduction of Aukus, and Beijing’s security pact with the Solomons, have changed the geopolitical outlook in the past two years.  While that has resulted in New Zealand noticeably working closer with traditional allies, particularly over Ukraine, there is still value in the country treading a more careful, independent path on China than Australia does. 

“New Zealand has been able to maintain a good relationship with Beijing and it is best to keep up a constructive dialogue, even with the ongoing need to diversify trade options.

“Competition and rivalry can harden into an entrenched position that’s hard to step back from and can encourage further escalation.  China is not where Russia under President Vladimir Putin is in its dealings with other countries and has maintained a political distance during the Ukraine war. 

“Beijing works on its own interests and development internationally but mostly in a pragmatic and trade-focused way.  It is used to co-operation and deal-making.   It is in part responding to increased security interests by the US in the Asia Pacific. 

“In the now 100-plus days of the Ukraine war, the Kremlin has shown itself capable of aggression without provocation, displacing millions of people, slaughtering civilians and trying to cover up evidence, threatening use of nuclear weapons, cutting off badly needed food supplies to poor countries, allegedly kidnapping thousands of Ukrainians, and reducing towns to rubble.

“The Russian Army is fighting hard in the Donbas as Putin hopes to wear down Ukraine and its Western backers.  Both the long-term dangers of allowing Russia to get out of this war with extra territory and the strategic benefits to the West of having Ukraine in the EU camp should it push its neighbour out have now become clear.  The outside world will have to manage the danger as long as Putin is in power, but better relations with Russia will now have to wait for new leadership.

“That isn’t the situation with China.  Long-term scenarios can be prepared for but regular trade contact and political engagement are the best ways to keep the peace.”

Point of Order  can’t  help  thinking  that this didn’t  work for  Ukraine. Nor do we think President Xi Jinping’s treatment of  the Uighurs  or  of  Hong Kong is  the kind of  action  NZ would favour coming from an “ally”.

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