Monday, February 26, 2024

Simon O'Connor: Extraordinary blindness

A response to Helen Clark and Don Brash's outdated views on AUKUS, China, and New Zealand.

The recent opinion piece by Helen Clark and Dr Don Brash is extraordinary, and not in a good way (you can read here [paywalled unfortunately]). Like other former leaders writing on the China question, they are living in the past – drawing on old perspectives to address the very real global challenges of today. Yes, China is an important trading partner for New Zealand – our largest and most important, and we must do all we can to nurture this trading relationship. But simultaneously we need to acknowledge the Chinese Communist Party is also a challenge to the rule of law, democracy, and the international order both in the Pacific and here in New Zealand.

Foreign interference in New Zealand is well documented including in recent briefings to ministers; a healthy democracy was crushed by the CCP in Hong Kong; ministers and business people go missing in China when they are perceived to challenge the Communist Party; the Uighur situation is well-documented, as too repression of Tibetans and house Christians among others. And then there are the near daily threats against the people of Taiwan. Yet, complete silence on these matters in Clark and Brash’s writing. Just a focus on trade and money.

After the recent AUKUS discussions by Ministers in Australia, the local Chinese embassy implicitly threatened New Zealand’s trade. Put simply, they suggested that if New Zealand chooses (independently or otherwise) to engage the likes of AUKUS or even question China’s ambitions, then we will be punished via trade restrictions. How on earth is this a positive trading relationship where one side threatens the other? And yet Clark and Brash say nothing. Instead, they focus on and blame the United States for the growing challenges in the Indo-Pacific. They stretch even further to put this blame on former President Trump, despite the strategy preceding him by years and continuing under the Biden administration. It appears a rather cheap way to draw people’s ire of Trump to support their argument.

The most striking irony throughout their entire writing is that in arguing we need to be ‘independent’ from our traditional allies – the US, UK, Australia – New Zealand doesn’t appear to need to be ‘independent’ from China.

And this ultimately strikes at the heart of the very ‘independent foreign policy’ concept. No foreign policy is ever truly independent. If Clark and Brash have one aspect right, it is that New Zealand sits in a nexus of connections between countries and we must balance our wants and theirs. Every foreign policy action is a careful calculation that is everything but independent.

Sadly, the phrase ‘New Zealand’s independent foreign policy’ has often become an excuse to do little or nothing. It is a misplaced belief that ‘independence’ means siding with all or none, which is clearly impossible. Certainly we must put New Zealand’s interests first, but so do all countries. The very nature of foreign policy is how we balance our and others’ interests.

Whether joining the likes of AUKUS Pillar Two (which, for completeness, has nothing to do with nuclear technology) is good for New Zealand or not, is a debate that must be had. However, we need to debate based on the geo-political realities of today. The final extraordinary aspect of Clark and Brash’s writing is quoting Dr Kurt Campbell, the US Assistant Secretary of State in 2012. Yes, 2012! So much has changed since then, including a whole new global approach by China under President Xi. New Zealand will do well to base it’s foreign policy on what is happening here and now, not the mythologised views of an outdated past.

Simon O'Connor is a National MP. This article was first published HERE


DeeM said...

I have a lot of respect for Don Brash and his work at Hobson's Pledge, but I cannot fathom his views on this particular issue. It really is like an ostrich with it's head in the sand hoping for the best.

Less of a fan of Helen Clark, although as Labour PMs go she was a good one. But she has spent over a decade ensconced in UN Land so her grasp on the real world has surely slipped into the realm of woke make-believe. She also largely supports Ardern's stance on misinformation so that's the final straw.

Fortunately, I don't see Peters or Seymour sharing similar views. Chris Luxon, however....well, who knows!

J.lee said...

And of course Brash is on the board of a Ch8nese bank

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

A new multipolar world is emerging in which the principal geopolitical nuclei are the US, Russia and China. The West, especially the US, is antagonising Moscow and forcing them into the open arms of Beijing. NZ needs to seriously consider getting on side with Moscow. There is no threat to NZ from Moscow but there is plenty from Beijing.

Tinman said...

For seventy years (approx) China has had the ablity to wander across the Straight and give Formosa back to the Formosans, who own the place.

They have resisted the urge.

In fact, other than helping out in Korea and Vietnam, China has stayed happily within mainland China. Only their money has travelled and it's been beneficial to many impoverished and developing nations. I haven't forgotten India where the armed clashes have been with sticks and stones (literally).

The writer mentions Hong Kong but makes no mention of the fact that Hong Kong has always been part of China, leased through force by the Poms or that China honoured that lease.

The argument above complains that China threatens sanctions if New Zealand does things China sees as detrimental to it's interests. The Government the writer is part of has ongoing sanctions against Russia for the same thing - double standards?

There are many other similar statements in the above column, all equally wrong or plain silly.

It saddens me that the column comes from a member of the current Government - it's arguments are closer in standard to the output of the previous lot.

Anonymous said...

In the light of two New Zealander citizen's, both former PM's, one would ask who -

- rang who first
- compiled the article for the other to proof read
- instigated the first argument over content?

One thing to add to the article regarding the collaboration - one must remember that -

- Helen Clark had no "love for America" / nor did Ardern - yet
> Clark happily resided in New York whilst being a Chair of A UN Committee
> Ardern has used both the UN for a "place to rise and speak" (topic being misinformation) and embrace the accolades of Harvard University.

One would also ask what did the two Ladies, above, do for the NZ Military establishment whilst PM - I am aware of the the lack there of, by the first,
but - did the second really care?

And as to the comment of - "NZ getting on side with Moscow"- no thanks!

CXH said...

Tinman, your false claims on Hong Kong make the rest of you claims dubious. Hong Kong and Kowloon belonged to the British. The New territories was leased.

China has broken the agreement made at handover with impunity as we turned a blind eye for our pieces of silver.