Tuesday 6 March 2018

When The Elephants Dance.

Stand Well Clear: The Filipino-American novelist, Tess Uriza Holthe summed-up the dangers confronting small nations caught up in the rivalries of their much larger friends and neighbours in her oft-quoted aphorism: “When the elephants dance, the chickens must be careful.” The primary focus of New Zealand diplomacy should be to make the South Pacific a Pachyderm-Free Zone.

NEW ZEALAND’s relationship with her South Pacific neighbours can no longer be separated diplomatically from her relationship with China. Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, confirmed this last week in a speech delivered to the Sydney-based Lowy Institute. The automatic loyalty of this country’s “Pacific family”, Peters warned, can no longer be taken for granted.

“It has become increasingly obvious that the perception of New Zealand by Pacific leaders is changing. This reflects a new generation of postcolonial Pacific leaders who are increasingly confident, independent, and assertive regionally and internationally. They are more comfortable in courting a range of external partners.”

In plain English, Peters is saying that the Pacific is no longer a British or American lake. South Pacific states now have the luxury of playing off the old imperialist powers of the West against the People’s Republic of China.

The diplomatic challenge confronting both New Zealand and Australia is how to reconcile their historical role as imperialism’s local enforcers, with their present – and growing – economic dependency on the Chinese market.

It’s a challenge which, until last week, New Zealand was managing with a great deal more diplomatic finesse than Australia.

The latter’s response to the rise and rise of the People’s Republic has been to reflexively reassert all the worst aspects of his imperialistic heritage. Unmoved, apparently, by the fact that China has, for some time, been Australia’s largest trading partner, the politically-dominant conservative elements of Australian society have become ever-more strident cheer-leaders for reasserting Western dominance in the Pacific region.

Ever since President Barack Obama’s much-ballyhooed “pivot” towards the Asian-Pacific strategic theatre, Australia has made no secret of its determination to become the leading mid-level power of South-East Asia – i.e. to outstrip the military capability of the Indonesians. Only recently, the Liberal-National Government of Malcolm Turnbull announced its goal of lifting Australia into the ranks of the world’s leading arms exporters.

More significantly, the Australians have not shied-away from the idea of their country becoming the geo-strategic lynchpin of a vast arc of influence extending all the way from the Sea of Japan to the western shores of the Indian Ocean. Linking the USA, Japan, Australia and India, this “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” is aimed directly at China’s much-vaunted “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) geopolitical initiative.

This is where New Zealand steps back into the diplomatic quadrille.

The previous, National Party-led, government responded swiftly and enthusiastically to OBOR. And why not? Years of inaction and underspending – by both major parties – have left the nation’s infrastructure in such a state of disrepair that fixing it up is now well beyond the ideologically acceptable bounds of state intervention. The most willing provider of this urgently-needed foreign investment is China. Though she is well below the belt, and a long way off the road, New Zealand is, nevertheless, determined to get her share of the trillions the Chinese are planning to spend on global infrastructure.

Or, so it seemed, until Peters departed from the prepared text of his Lowy speech to register his dismay at the speed with which the previous New Zealand government had signed up to China’s OBOR initiative. “They couldn’t have known exactly what it all meant”, interpolated the Foreign Minister.

What was he thinking? That Beijing wouldn’t register his unscripted remark? That references to New Zealand’s “strategic anxiety” (vis-à-vis the evolving diplomatic situation in the South Pacific) would not be interpreted by the Chinese foreign ministry as a thinly-disguised appeal for increased American engagement in New Zealand’s “back-yard”?

Or, did Beijing interpret Peters’ remark as a minimal, but necessary, concession to the strength of anti-Chinese feeling among senior Australian politicians, military officers, diplomats and spies? Is Wellington suspected of being too close to Beijing? Is this the reason for Canberra’s rising exasperation at the failure of successive New Zealand governments to re-equip their army, navy and air-force in a manner designed to both complement and hasten Australia’s quest for regional hegemony?

If so, then the Australians are playing a sophisticated (and sinister) geopolitical game. The more New Zealand’s armed forces are reconfigured as an integral part of Australian force projection, the more New Zealand’s capacity for diplomatic manoeuvre is constrained. A New Zealand Defence Force geared-up to support the USA’s, Japan’s, Australia’s and India’s determination to thwart the objectives of OBOR, has every reason to resist any political and/or diplomatic attempt to maximise and preserve New Zealand’s geo-strategic options.

If the Minister of Foreign Affairs is genuine in his desire to “re-set” New Zealand’s diplomatic posture in the South Pacific, then his every effort should be directed towards building relationships that owe as little to Canberra and Washington as they do to Beijing.

As the Filipino-American novelist, Tess Uriza Holthe put it: “When the elephants dance, the chickens must be careful.” Let’s make the South Pacific a Pachyderm-Free Zone.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 6 March 2018.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

China is the elephant in the room isn't it. Becoming a great power, flexing its muscles, and apparently consistently ignoring the rules of the various treaties that are supposed to moderate capitalism. Therefore giving Trump an excuse to start a trade war, even though only 2% of US steel actually comes from China.
That aside, the problem is of course that nobody knows what to do. Many governments seem to be unwilling to call them on it, except perhaps those which are directly affected – like anyone with a claim to parts of the South China Sea. Partly it seems to me because nobody is actually sure what the hell they want. I suspect that is partly because the Chinese gerontocracy thinks long term, and our politicians tend not to think beyond the next election. I'm not hopeful of anything positive coming from this, I think I may have said before – the best we can expect is to play off the Chinese against the Americans and vice versa and hope we don't get trampled during the dance.
One thing about Peter's speech, he has noticed that China is becoming friendlier with small Pacific nations which is something that seems to have been ignored for a while. I suspect he thinks it's going to end up with them supporting the Chinese in the UN against our interests, while we take their excess population. That'd be interesting. Maybe the Chinese will help by using their expertise in making islands bigger.

Robert said...

One of the basic problems for New Zealand generally and in the defence area we have never been truly sovereign and developed all the arms of a modern state government and bureaucracy. We have always lacked a real diplomatic and foreign policy or the capability for high level defence and transport planning. Our major defence purchases were all due to British, American and Australian pressure and decision.The defence acqusitions of defence clark were not really defence equipment and indicate a basic lack of understanding of the map and military, naval and human reality. An army of 6,000 men is of little use and suffers from conflciting loyalty and as with all 3 NZ services a significant minority of officers and men with no interest in actual combat and an interest only in jobs, training and political power.
In terms of China it is still dependent on Russian tech and design in many key areas particulary nuclear submarines and lacks any true tradition of high level modern naval warfare ad while the rocketry will be high class,outside the missile area it is not a superpower it is still a pretender and there is still a chance its power could be eroded enough in missile exchange followed by a ferocious blockdade. The ultimate threat to the west lies in Russia and later Japan and probably in the 22nd century terrorism and the end of civilisation in the next 20 years the priority threats are China and Iran that is the limit of what can be dealt with and therefore it is essential to decouple and negotiate with Russia and Japan who need to be kept western oriented.

greywarbler said...

I wondered what Paul Buchanan has said recently about us and China, and perhaps about USA and China.

This was a comment from NZ Herald 6 February 2018 starting with a mention of Pres. Trump:
He has rejected support for the UN and multilateralism with his "America First" philosophy, and has increased global tensions with his belligerent posturing vis a vis adversaries and bullying of allies.

Since New Zealand maintains good relations with some US adversaries as well as allies, yet is intimately tied to the US in uniquely significant ways, its ability to maintain the dichotomous approach to an independent foreign policy may now be in jeopardy.

This is particularly true for balancing the US-China relationship, where the "two-track" New Zealand foreign policy is more akin to straddling a barbed wire fence rather than a matter of prudently placing diplomatic eggs in different baskets.

Given the uncertain nature of the current world moment, the Government needs to clarify its foreign policy outlook for domestic and foreign interlocutors alike.

Hopefully Winston can do the clever balance of barbed-wire walking without tripping and tearing his tailoring.

Here is an item from 2 March 2018 about a panel discussion conducted by the NZ China Friendship Society.
" At a special meeting held in Auckland, discussion between panelists Dave Bromwich (NZCFS National President), Fran O'Sullivan (New Zealand Herald columnist), and Paul Buchanan (Security analyst & former academic)" - google.

This is another world at 36th Parallel Assessments, Director Paul G. Buchanan.

Anonymous said...

Your distaste at becomming part of a China-resistant bloc should well be tempered by the Roman invasion of Britain. They were fiercely resisted by the native Celts who had the home ground advantage. Unfortunately the tribes couldn't get on with each other and acted independently.
In Caesar's words. 'They came at us retail, they were slaughtered wholesale"


Polly said...

It is the end of the world as we once knew it.
Both Russia and China are now starting to seriously compete with American dominance of well being to Nations and Military power.
America has been walking backwards in the middle east for sometime now, Syrians now see Russia as the British, French, Australian and New Zealanders once saw America as their saviours in the World War.
Trump was right when he said we need to get friendlier with Russia and China but he has been strangled by a Armanents/Military alliance in the West.
Nobody can predict the future.

peteswriteplace said...

We will continue to support the bully in the playground we can understand.

David Stone said...

Wouldn't it be great if they could all behave as in the Kipling elephant's dance of "Tumai of the Elephants" and all just enjoy a party.

greywarbler said...

That there's fighin' talk Robert. A real man facing the emeny.

Looking at history peace seems to be a lull between wars. And it seems that they are needed to break the chains that we have built to bind us to the Age of Enlightenment ideas that are so much more subtle and diverse than pointing a gun or some weapon and saying give me your money or resources. Or blackmail as in WW2 - I can destroy your prized buildings (Paris) or your prized manhood of the country (Poles).

Really a lot of it is just artificial anger whipped up against people who want to be different from the preferred norm (Communists) or who is weaker or has useful stuff. A lot of it is like highwaymen holding up travellers by land or sea and robbing them of stuff (Britain and Somalia). And then a lot of it is trying to drag others in to help by building apparently friendly alliances and relationships; let's us all keep together and fight that lot.

I don't think Russia can be looked at as the ultimate baddie. It is just one group who use certain methods that to them are pragmatic and protective, and looking at another they are using slightly different ones to the same end. If one puts away the favourite country's insignia and looks objectively a different pattern will emerge.

Perhaps we can be diplomatic and avoid conflict yet got what we want with both sides profiting? What are the other country's weak spots? Perhaps for a while we could play to them until the laser of belligerence from the
bellicose turns to a new target for which another ploy must be used.

And there is money in armaments. Planned obsolesence is the game. Follow the money and control. War is the outlet for the whole seven deadly sins.
And clever buggers of the 21st century celebrate their cerebral accomplishments so self-satisfied while this primitive behaviour feeds off the greed and power desires to the detriment of the world.

I suggest using the link above to Paul G Buchanan - 36th Parallel NZ and the RT channel also to glimpse where current 'thinking' is taking us.

greywarbler said...

Which Caesar said about retail and wholesale? Sounds like some big talking business tutor to me. This is supposed to be a real quote which is possibly relevant now.

It is the custom of the immortal gods to grant temporary prosperity and a fairly long period of impunity to those whom they plan to punish for their crimes, so that they may feel it all the more keenly as a result of the change in their fortunes.
Julius Caesar http://www.azquotes.com/author/2318-Julius_Caesar

Perhaps if we go softly and try not to commit the crime of participation in war, but watch warily and prepare to support peace, then the gods may spare us. Let's do it.

Wayne Mapp said...

A pachyderm free zone? Very difficult to do when the United States has part of its soveriegn territory, American Samoa, in the middle of the South Pacific that is of most interest to New Zealand. They are here to stay.

Similarly virtually all South Pacific nations will also cultivate China. Madness of them not to do so, given the amount of economic largess.

So there is zero prospect of the South Pacific being free from substantial involvement by China and the United States. What we have to is work out how best to harness their involvement so that it is not contrary to New Zealand interests.

Anonymous said...

The Samoan PM calls locals who object to Chinese increasingly taking over businesses racist saying "maybe they are here to help".
It's the same old same old where those at the top benefit and the money and status divorces them from their countrymen.
You have Big China and a population on the ground. They get territory but how many Samoans live in China

Anonymous said...

Samoa: Don’t hate the Chinese, learn from them

we’ve always been accommodating of foreigners and our culture is inclusive in nature, accepting of those with a genuine intent to embrace it.

If the Chinese store opens 24 hours-a-day then yours should too.
So says a Samoan journalist

Those who disagree are racist and brown supremacists?

Same here (NZ)

Victor said...


In essence, I agree with you. China’s purposeful and strategically modulated rise to renewed greatness presents a huge challenge to a small constitutional democracy, which is territorially in the PRC’s shadow and economically dependent on it.

Personally, I’ve long considered this to be one of the most significant challenges facing New Zealand and, all the more so, since last year’s nineteenth conference of the Chinese Communist Party revealed the extent of Beijing’s ambitions.

I also think we should be grateful to Professor Brady for finally bringing this issue to the attention of New Zealand’s normally somnambulant media and public. The points she makes in http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/media/documents/research/Looking-for-points-in-common-while-facing-up-to-differences.pdf , as well as in earlier publications, are, to my mind, obvious and require urgent attention.

BTW I’m not the slightest put-off by the involvement of a NATO-funded programme in the production of this report. As we saw during the Iraq war, NATO is far from being a monolith and there doesn’t, at this point, seem to be an agreed NATO position on relations with China. The view from Brussels, Paris, Ottawa or even London is simply not the same as the view from Washington.

Besides, a career academic, by definition, puts herself up for critical review by her peers. So it’s in Prof. Brady’s interests to get her facts straight and keep her assessments on the safe side of sober.

Having said which, I think we should exercise extreme caution over becoming enmeshed in a policy of military encirclement of China. This is partially because of our obvious interest in maintaining the best of possible economic ties with the PRC and partially because such an encirclement might provoke precisely the type of conflict that it’s ostensibly designed to prevent, with little ol’ us in the eye of the storm.

But I’m also cautious of extended military ties because they represent an unsophisticated approach to confronting a highly sophisticated challenge and because they threaten our reputation for an independent approach to foreign policy, on which much of the sliver of “soft power” we enjoy depends . Moreover, a more palpable re-absorption into a US-led block would, rightly or wrongly, stick in the craw of a great many Kiwis and thus be unsustainable.

.....more to come

Victor said...

Concluding previous post....

So, apart from Prof. Brady’s suggestions, what can we do?

Firstly, we can extent our trading ties, so that we’re less dependent on China. And we can and should do this without making ourselves more dependent on the US, which has, anyhow, long been over-sold to us as a potential Nirvana for exporters.

That’s why, whatever my doubts about substance, I’ve welcomed our adhesion to whatever the TPPA is called these days. And, yes, I know, America may yet join, once Trump has shuffled off the stage of history. But that’s still probably a few years away and a lot can happen twixt now and then.

More importantly, we need to conclude our (pro-environment, pro-labour standards and pro-consumer protection)trade deal with the EU27 (the world’s largest affluent market) as quickly as possible. And there might also be room for Winston’s pet deal, with the CIS, but only on condition that it doesn’t jeopardise our negotiations with the EU. The same will be true of any deal that might be possible with an economically-depleted post-Brexit UK. And there may also be similar opportunities with emerging markets, such as South Africa, India or Brazil.

With a diversification and proliferation of such ties should come enhanced global recognition of New Zealand as a valued member of the international community. If push ever comes to shove, it will be all the harder to describe us, as Neville Chamberlain once infamously described Czechoslovakia, as “a far off country of which we know nothing”.

And then there’s our status as founder member of the Commonwealth. A major change may come about in this strange, toothless but far from irrelevant body when its current head passes away. This is a role that, with considerable skill, QE2 carved out for herself and there is absolutely no precedent suggesting, let alone demanding, that her heir as monarch (of wherever he becomes monarch)should also be HoC.

I would suggest that, when the time is appropriate, New Zealand makes itself part of the process of championing an HoC from a developing or newly emergent country and then puts some heft into boosting the Commonwealth’s global role. What’s at stake for us there? Soft power, status and, above all, friendship.

And, finally but most importantly, there’s the UN, its Charter and nexus of International Law of which that document is part. Ultimately, these are the only guarantees of our continued existence as an independent country and we should uphold them wherever and whenever they are threatened (but not just because someone more powerful than us tells us there's a threat thereto).

I could rabbit on about the Pacific and what my mate in Suva thinks of the way we've ratted on the most important nation in its region ....but it's time for a cuppa!

Victor said...

Wayne Mapp

As a justly respected pillar of the National Party, could you please confirm or deny that the said organisation has had recurrent Party-to-Party exchanges with the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China.

If so, how would these differ from the similarly described exchanges that, for example, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union used to have with, for example, the Socialist Unity Party of the then DDR or the Ethiopian Dergue?

Just curious......

Victor said...

I found this interesting, particularly as it's come from a source that I would have expected to be talking up our economic links with the PRC:


Unknown said...

Wayne Mapp
What we have to is work out how best to harness their involvement so that it is not contrary to New Zealand interests.
My friend is looking for a house. Every open home people movers full of Chinese gabling in mandarin show up. Where is the benefit to NZ of these people?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Hey Victor – I'd love to read your link to Prof Brady's lecture/article, but all I get is 404 error.:)

Victor said...


Sorry about that. See if this works:


If not, try googling. Her longer item on 'magic weapons' is also available online

And you might also find this item of interest:


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Sorted. Thanks Victor.

sumsuch said...

Wayne Mapp, as a justly respected National Party pillar? I didne know til I saw him on last day's tv politics show as a participant. I'd only entirely discounted him here under 'disproved'. He did shout (at Laila Harre), a sure sign of being disproved.

The main problem in the democracies is the 'spirit' has died. Ideals and cynicism are the partners in the human project. What is right would reduce us to rabbits?