What do I know about China
I remember an excellent BBC documentary series about China’s and its rich history and culture over thousands of years with the recent period of communism being only a very thin veneer. I still have Mao’s little red book from 1966 in my library not that I ever really read it. I read the 2006 Jung Chang/Jon Halliday biography of Mao and learned about the revolution, civil war, the “long march”, great famine and horror of the cultural revolution. And of course who does not love the Dalai Lama and has taken the side of Tibet.
Over recent months I have been learning and thinking more about China. From a book about German Imperialism, which luckily lasted only for thirty years, I learned how imperial Germany conducted itself as a colonial power in China. I knew about Kaiser Wilhelm’s infamous “Hun” speech to the troops embarking on the expedition to the German enclave of Tsingtao not to take prisoners. But I did know little about that bloody even bloodthirsty campaign of America, Germany, Britain and other European powers to put down the so called “Boxer Rebellion” and ransack Beijing.
This was only one of a long list of humiliations China suffered at the hand of Western powers at a time when it was weak. We are most familiar with the earlier Opium Wars when Britain forced China to open its ports to the import of British (Indian) opium.
How do Chinese feel today ?
My local Cafe is run by a Chinese immigrant with whom I often talk about things Chinese. I remember well his reply when I confronted him with Mao’s personal failings and cruel policies, which costs tens of millions of his countrymen their lives when he pursued the development of nuclear weapons at all costs. He would always be revered as “Chairman Mao” who not only defeated the Japanese occupiers but had made China strong to never again be humiliated by any foreign power. After centuries of weakness that must be feeling really good.
China is a military/nuclear super-power. It recently achieved a first in space landing a craft on the far side of the moon. It most of all is the biggest economic power behind only the USA. My friend pointed out that unlike for instance Russia’s and America’s economies still mainly based on commodities from sunset industries like coal & steel, oil & gas China has a plan for the future based on high tech, Artificial Intelligence (AI), modern infrastructure with bullet trains, giant dams and bridges. Underpinning all is an education system producing a million engineers every year.
As a result hundreds of millions of of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty. A growing middle class now can buy New Zealand products and travel to our country bringing in the major chunk of our export earnings.
All this I know without being an expert in Chinese affairs. One would expect the people in Wellington responsible for our China policies to know at least as much.
New Zealand – Chinese Relationship
Historically New Zealand and China never had a reason to have an angry word with each other. It should not come as a surprise that New Zealand scored the first bilateral trade agreement. After all we tend to portray ourselves internationally as an independent nation not beholden to any foreign puppet master.We gave the world a shining example with our nuclear free policy.
Now it appears that this image like the “clean green New Zealand” is shattered. We are found out as a “Five Eyes” spy-network partner obediently following Trump/US orders. We are banning the Chinese tech giant Huawei from building the next generation 5G network. The “concerns” of our GCSB spy-masters about “security” are such laughable bullshit that it would take another blog to rebut. Concerns about industrial espionage are the peak of hypocrisy as the “Five Eyes” have for decades done just that not just to our cold war enemies but our friends and allies for instance in NATO. The audacity to raise such “concerns” with a straight face beggars belief.
To ban any Chinese company from doing business in New Zealand on such flimsy pretences breaches our bilateral trade agreement we are so proud of. This might have been just the final straw.
We started in cold war style by naming China as a potential enemy in a defence paper citing the South China Sea. Then our foreign minister in a speech in Washington asked Trump America for help to push back Chinese influence in the South Pacific. Now we idly stand by when our “Five Eyes” partner and British defence secretary Gavin Williamson talks about Britain strengthening her global presence and enhance her lethality and sending the next generation Aircraft carrier, the Queen Elisabeth, into the South China Sea. Can’t we see how China must feel about that.
However the elephant in the room remains Huawei.
I watched the prime minister last night on Q+A trying to distance her government from its own spy agency by emphasising it’s independence and a new law it operates under. This is plainly absurd to seriously suggest that government can openly outsource policy decisions of this magnitude to the “Deep State”, the spooks suspected to wield the real power anyway. Our GCSB as all spy agencies is of course by nature totally unaccountable to the public. Zero transparency. They always claim to know “secret” things we don’t and will never know because as the secrecy argument goes “If we tell you we have to kill you“.
It might be the first sign of back-paddling to reverse the Huawei decision when the prime minister says that New Zealand will act independently and she trusts the “process”, which allegedly is underway. Or she is totally naive. The point of “Five Eyes” is that spy agencies do not act independently. There is no process one can trust if it is shrouded in secrecy.
It does not wash with Huawei and/or China and it should not wash with the public of a Western democracy.
New Zealand cannot afford to take sides in the trade war between the USA and China because that is all it is.