Eagle Or Dragon? New Zealand’s determination to preserve this close relationship with the US explains the consistent refusal of its political, diplomatic and trade representatives to acknowledge the near-insuperable contradictions at the heart of the TPPA policy. No one is willing to answer the question: “How can New Zealand expect to go on enjoying the benefits of free-trade with China, after joining a US-brokered agreement intended to limit China’s freedom of action?”
EAGLE OR DRAGON? As the United States prepares to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) that’s the choice New Zealand may soon have to make. The TPPA entered this world as a New Zealand initiative: this country’s bold attempt to edge its economy around the stalled Doha Round of trade talks; but that’s not what it is now. In its current guise, the TPPA is both a diplomatic and economic containment measure, configured in the United States and aimed directly at the Peoples Republic of China.
President Obama has quite openly declared that only the TPPA can prevent the Pacific basin from becoming an arena in which “China sets the rules”. Just how determined he is to prevent that from happening may be judged by his willingness to let the TPPA rip apart the unity of his own Democratic Party and wrong-foot the campaign of his putative successor, Hillary Clinton. When it comes to the geo-political objectives of the TPPA, President Obama is taking no prisoners.
Which leaves New Zealand in an extremely invidious position, diplomatically-speaking. Our increasing dependence on the Chinese economy leaves us acutely vulnerable to Beijing’s displeasure. Were the TPPA to become a reality, and if China was looking for a trading partner upon which to visit her extreme displeasure – pour encourager les autres – then New Zealand offers the perfect target. We are small; we are weak; we are non-Asian; and we have made a diplomatic fetish out of being “very, very, very good friends” of the United States.
New Zealand’s determination to preserve this close relationship with the US explains the consistent refusal of its political, diplomatic and trade representatives to acknowledge the near-insuperable contradictions at the heart of the TPPA policy. No one is willing to answer the question: “How can New Zealand expect to go on enjoying the benefits of free-trade with China, after joining a US-brokered agreement intended to limit China’s freedom of action?”
New Zealand’s political leaders are constantly reassuring their people that there is nothing to prevent them from having their cake and eating it too. No reason why their country can’t go on selling its milk-powder to China as well as doing everything possible to reassure the United States of New Zealand’s unswerving loyalty to the US-led security alliance, epitomised by the so-called “Five Eyes” agreement. Indeed, so confident were these politicians that the trading relationship with China was indestructible that they contemplated hacking into the communications of its Auckland Consulate and passing on the information directly to the US National Security Agency!
New Zealand’s blind loyalty to the United States (to the point of alienating its major trading partner) raises the question of whether or not the TPPA should be broad enough in scope to replace, if necessary, the increasingly vulnerable NZ-China Free Trade Agreement. Were the United States to open its borders to all the dairy products New Zealand could send – as China has done – then the economic and diplomatic interests of this most loyal of America’s allies could be brought into alignment.
It’s a outcome that would, almost certainly, make New Zealanders feel more comfortable than they do currently. The many cultural and political differences between the authoritarian, state-capitalist Asian superpower and tiny, liberal-democratic New Zealand argue strongly against the two countries ever being able to develop the sort of ties that bind Kiwis to Americans.
By all accounts, however, the TPPA will not open the American (or the equally lucrative Japanese) market to New Zealand’s dairy exporters. Like all superpowers down the ages, the United States takes for granted the loyalty of its allies and feels no obligation to reward their steadfastness with anything more than sentimental rhetoric. That making the Pacific safe for another American century might entail some small sacrifices on America’s part simply does not occur to US negotiators. It is the interests of their agribusiness giants, not ours, that will prevail – along with those of all the other transnational corporations whose profits are underwritten by American power.
It is entirely possible, therefore, that New Zealand could end up with the worst of both worlds. Bound diplomatically and militarily to the American Eagle, with very little in the way of reciprocal economic benefit, while regarded with mounting suspicion, even hostility, by the Chinese Dragon – upon whose good-will New Zealand’s economic prosperity increasingly depends.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 1 May 2015.