Friday, 30 November 2018

From A Table By The Window - A Short Story About The Huawei Decision.

“Ever the idealist, dear boy. You surely didn’t expect this government to tell all those lovely people from British Intelligence and the FBI, who just happened to be in town this week, that, in spite of their oh-so-discretely conveyed objections, Spark’s deal with Huawei would be going ahead.”

HOW MANY YEARS has it been, I asked myself, since I climbed these stairs? That the little Wellington café was still in business after more than 40 years struck me as a miracle. And where better to meet the man who could still remember the events of 40 years ago – not least because he was there, in the thick of them?

He was waiting for me at the table window, his fingers moving slowly over the smooth face of his device. Two full glasses of red wine glowed dully in the wet afternoon light. The muted transactions of Willis Street provided a sibilant soundtrack.

“There you are”, he said, sweeping the information from his screen and placing the device carefully on the table. “Sit down, dear boy, sit down. I took the liberty of ordering a very nice Pinot Noir.”

“Perfect,” I replied, draping my damp jacket over the back of my chair. “I suppose that phone of yours hasn’t stopped ringing since the announcement?”

He smiled wanly. “Ringing, dear boy, ringing? Nothing rings anymore. Our devices beep, or chirrup, or play a bar or two of something, but they do not ring – much too indiscrete.”

“Discretion being the word-of-the-day”, I replied. “As in ‘discretion’ being the better part of valour – a quality of which this government appears to be in short supply.”

“Ever the idealist, dear boy. You surely didn’t expect this government to tell all those lovely people from British Intelligence and the FBI, who just happened to be in town this week, that, in spite of their oh-so-discretely conveyed objections, Spark’s deal with Huawei would be going ahead.”

“Forgive me, but I was under the impression that it was the Government of New Zealand’s job to define the parameters of its ‘national security’ – not the FBI’s. Does the continuing economic strength and welfare of the country not fall under the heading of ‘national security’? Or, making sure that the goodwill of the country’s largest trading partner is retained, and maybe even enhanced? I thought that might also be a matter of ‘national security’? Clearly, I was wrong.”

“If that was what you thought, dear boy, then, yes, you were wrong. Very wrong. The idea that one of the Five Eyes might sign up to a deal that could put all the other eyes at risk has absolutely no feathers, dear boy, none at all. It is never going to fly.”

“Ah, yes, the Five Eyes. A vast electronic eavesdropping network dedicated to plucking all manner of classified information out of the air and sending it on, sight unseen, to the United States of America. The Five Eyes. An operation whose sole purpose is to steal other people’s secrets. This is the outfit that’s demanding we jeopardise our economic and diplomatic relationship with the Chinese because the Chinese might use their state-of-the-art 5G technology to do what? Oh, yes, that’s right – to steal other people’s secrets!”

“The most important noun in those impassioned sentences, dear boy, was United States of America. You named the most powerful nation on the planet. Knowing when you did so that what the most powerful nation on the planet wants, the most powerful nation on the planet gets. And, right now, what it wants is to make sure the nation aiming to take its place is not in a position to weaponise ‘The Internet of Things’ against it.”

“You’ve been reading to many thrillers.”

“Actually, dear boy, it’s you who hasn’t been reading enough. Cyber-warfare is the greatest threat we face. Why? Because, in just a few years, the interconnectedness of the world and the breath-taking speed at which information travels will confer upon the technology organising its distribution the power to simply shut down the economic, social and political systems of its owner’s rivals. What would you do if you went to the nearest ATM and discovered that every one of your bank accounts had been deleted? That all your money had gone? Poof! Just disappeared? What if the same thing had happened to everybody else’s bank accounts? How does a government ‘fix’ a problem like that?”

“Okay – suppose I buy into this sci-fi scenario. It still boils down to Lenin’s fundamental question: ‘Who? Whom?’ Someone’s got to be in the omnipotent position you describe. So, what you’re actually telling me is that the omnipotent one cannot under any circumstances be China. Which is just another way of saying that it has to be the United States.”

“It’s not what I’m saying, dear boy, it’s what the United States is saying.”

“Regardless of the consequences for the economic and social welfare of New Zealanders? Do the Americans and their lickspittles in London and Canberra not understand that Beijing will exact a price for being treated so shabbily by Wellington?”

“Of course they do. They just don’t care. Why don’t they care? Because they know that anything Beijing decides to do will take time to manifest itself in a way that impacts upon the ordinary person in the street. Anything they decide to do to punish a maverick New Zealand government, by way of contrast, will take effect almost immediately. With the Australians acting as their proxies, the Americans can make our economy scream a lot faster than the Chinese. What’s more, in its upper echelons, New Zealand society is so stuffed with US “assets” that the political destabilisation of a recalcitrant government would be over in a matter of weeks, not months.”

“So we just have to sit back and take it – or the Yanks will rip our guts out?”

My companion looked out the window for a moment, taking in the hurrying Willis Street crowds, umbrellas raised against the wind-driven rain, and sipped his wine.

“Do you know, dear boy, that it wasn’t so very far from here that Bill Sutch was apprehended. All his life he had struggled to find a way for New Zealand to strike out on its own: to cut herself free from the apron strings of Mother England; to step out from Uncle Sam’s shadow. The problem he was never able to solve was, how? How does a tiny country escape the clutches of an imperial superpower? In the end, the best answer he could come up with was: by enlisting the help of another superpower. Do you remember, dear boy, how that story ended? The same delightful outfit that has been entertaining the boys and girls from MI6, and the FBI were on to poor old Bill in a flash. They put him on trial. Crushed his spirit. Within twelve months he was dead – and so was the government he had tried to help. Not a happy ending, dear boy. And not a course of action I’d recommend – especially not to a government as callow and inexperienced as this one.

Now it was my turn to stare out into the rain. To take in the purposeful haste of the capital city’s busy ants.

“More wine, dear boy, and a plate of the chef’s truly outstanding club sandwiches. In forty years they, at least, haven’t changed.

This short story was posted simultaneously on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road of Friday, 30 November 2018.

11 comments:

Tom Hunter said...

Apron strings? How about ideological ones tied to the 60's....

It would be interesting if some of the Lefty commentators here decided to join the conversations at:

Paul Buchanan: Left Compass Lost

That is why the government response has been weak and the Left reluctance to fully support Anne Marie Brady so disappointing. Because the issue is as much about sovereignty, democratic civility and human rights as it is about anything she wrote or her personal and professional attributes or flaws.

One may understand why the Right wants to cast a blind eye on such mischief because capitalists put profits before people’s rights, and trade with the PRC definitely brings profit to a select few.

But for a Left Centre government and many Left activists to not strongly repudiate criminal harassment of a local academic for any reason, especially economic reasons, is a betrayal of the basic principles upon which the democratic Left is founded upon.


I'd also add that placing too great a proportion of our economic bets with China - say 30%+ - would be a mistake in light of the fact that for all their boasting, together with cheerleading from many in the West, they're going to get old before they get rich. And on that economic front, this article should also invite commentary, <a href="https://croakingcassandra.com/2018/11/29/economic-failure-ccp-style/>Economic failure CCP-style<a/ href>:

<i>Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and Singapore are genuine economic success stories – catch-up and convergence more or less as the textbooks suggested was possible. Cause for celebration in fact. The PRC? Anything but. Being big doesn’t change that – even if it gives geopolitical clout to a lagging middle income country – it just means more people are failed by their rulers (and by those in countries such as ours who give the rulers aid and comfort, pander to them, or simply cower in a corner).</i>

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Come on Chris – nobody says "dear boy" any more, although I suppose that might be the point.
I seem to remember saying once before – at least – on this blog that the best case scenario for New Zealand would be playing China off against the US. But it's not a tightrope I'd want to be personally responsible for walking.

greywarbler said...

I had come to that feeling about Bill Sutch. It is interesting to see it published in real life. It seems he was a man with far-sightedness and a wide world view and understanding. Unfortunately in our southern world position we see the world's bottom, and it is not an enlightening view.

We can find ourselves wrecked as Mexico is by its bellicose neighbour. Bled, and disdained. Australia is showing us how it works down here. Australian people often don't know what the acronym ANZAC stands for. A Chinese photographer has gone missing in that country, uncomfortably soon after Khashoggi. We are uncomfortably distant from the remains of the fabric of the Rights of Man and progressive thinking of Europe; is their cloak getting tattered too.

David Stone said...

I was on a ferry from Bari in Italy to Patras in Greece last week. The barman was happy to discuss political control and expressed the opinion that ultimately no country has an independent government that does not have nuclear arms. I'm afraid he is right.
However countries that do have nuclear arms can offer protection to others that don't. And can do so with whatever attached onerous humiliations and economic compromise they choose to impose. At the moment There is one nuclear power that seems to be extracting a lot more humiliation and compromise from it's "partners " than the others. Esp.the main rival nuclear power.
Who is winning the arms race is less clear than who is winning the PR race.
D J S

Chris Trotter said...

To: Guerilla Surgeon.

Oh yes they do, dear boy. Oh yes they do. Although, you are quite right in assuming that those who do are older rather than younger.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well I must say Chris it wasn't a common phrase even when I was a lad, and I'm considerably older than you I think.:) I think the last time I heard it was at Auckland University sometime around 1969 – one of those professors who used to think it was a good thing to pretend to be an upper-middle-class Englishman. Though I must confess I don't know any of the top bureaucrats, any MPs, or anyone from the intelligence community. :)

Nick J said...

We will have a very narrow window of opportunity to break free. It is the moment when one empire loses ascendancy and another emerges.

Wayne Mapp said...

Chris,

Well, I know a few (connected in the upper echelons as you put it) who use the saying, but only as an amusing genuflection.

But other than for the genuflection for amusement (events dear boy, events) conversation is all in typical kiwi vernacular, albeit that of the well educated, perhaps overlain with an overseas degree or two.

As for the NZ position on the China/US contest, China fully understands the New Zealand alliance connections and generally does not take too great an offence about its implications. However in the new era, where they are more emboldened, would they go out of their way to "punish" NZ, as the weakest link? Well, they might, particularly if NZ got no cover from allies and partners. But then such punishment will cause NZ to reduce its exposure to China, and look for other markets. Suddenly UK post Brexit starts to look like a new/old opportunity, even if not the value of China.

Perhaps more than anything the current situation shows the risk of relying too much on one market. I would note that Australia is actually more dependent on China than New Zealand, yet Australia is more forthright in challenging China.

greywarbler said...

If we are in a transition period, is it like when a ship sinks and you have to row away quickly so as not to get dragged down in the vinal slip? Who are we to ally with. One of the BRIC group? Go forward in a new language? English doesn't seem to convey anything of nobility about it any more.

But Brazil has gone Right, UK has gone off, Russia is into pharamaceuticals not of the therapeutic kind, USA does have sort of therapeutic pharma, but mostly to repair the illnesses arising from their control-free business operations. China is trying to hasten the speed of progress, till it goes off the rails and they can put it together again in a different paradigm.
India perhaps could develop an exotic yet practical way of guiding us through the political and economic morass. They know the importance of pageantry to stir the peeps.
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXAG0nyh2DI

sam bdb said...

My boy Sanders is engineering a secound run at the White House so I'm like go for global growth. Emerging markets are flat. But globally annual growth targets are on track around the world. So this should boost growth and offset retail risk from the trade wars.

In New Zealand the policy response is being received well bar a tinny sector of New Zealand with in finance in the case of ANZ business confidence surveys which isn't worrying. But increasing risk adjustments is one to watch out for on our end, dairy, primary industry ect. How ever there's no room for complacency as volatility is set to increase as regional funding boosts grinds down the rust so the bar is being raised significantly.

We need to line up with both China and America because they're a mix of good and bad news. The Brazilian outcome opens the way for concern and the Mexico boarder feud is concerning.

In China trade fears have dented there growth dynamics and policy is prioritising growth. Still no word on the Former Interpol chief lost in China so this is what we are seeing when growth turns and certain policies bloom, and BREXIT concerns match these turbulent times.

China has big leavers. America has big leavers but the biggest leaver is the FED and what's going on with monetary policy and Friday Chairman Pal updated some comments and people took those over the weekend and Chinese U.S relations are doing a it better. If the FEDs got policy we in New Zealand should be relaxed.

When all the talking heads start saying everything's fine, never been better. That's when we should be concerned.

Geoff Fischer said...

Tom Hunter wrote: It would be interesting if some of the Lefty commentators here decided to join the conversations at: Paul Buchanan: Left Compass Lost
I don't call myself a "Lefty", but I did post the following comment on Paul's blog in response to his call for general condemnation of the PRC's alleged crimes of burglary and vehicle tampering.
I wrote on Kiwipolitico: "It seems to me that all you have done is propose a motive for the Chinese state to have burgled Brady’s home and tampered with her vehicle.
Yet where is the evidence? Or do you not need evidence?
Most reasonable minded people, whether from the left or the right, will not condemn China on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations."
I acknowledge that my comment was blunt and on reflection I could have worded it less provocatively.
However Paul responded:
"I have no interest in indulging trolls so gave this a**wipe the boot. I indulge Geoff only this once because he is a known entity, but the “give me evidence” line is fatuous given a) the silence of the cops and b) the alternative possibilities I drew out in the post. And whatever the evidence, ole Geoff tacitly joins the troll in the “she deserved it” crowd. I guess he and and the skidmark fellow believe that the allegations are all made up and just done to smear the good folk leading the PRC. In fact, that is pretty much what skidmark said, so Geoff just lowered himself into that ethical long drop.
As it stands Geoff is another moral relativist in the one-eyed anti-imperialist category I outlined in the post. He sees all evil in the West and sees no evil in the East. I say, ask the Uighurs about that or any of the PRC neighbours adjoining the South China Sea. Because it turns out evil has many languages and a dominant one these days is Mandarin.
If proof comes out that it was a false flag op or Brady did it to herself, then I will issue a public apology for reading things wrong. But if the story substantiates what I suspect, I expect Geoff to publicly recognise his error."
(The final sentence of Buchanan's response contained a crude and offensive phrase which he has now wisely edited to read "publicly recognise his error").
This exchange demonstrates the problems in trying to conduct a civil dialogue with Brady's protagonists, and the Intelligence Community in general. My call for evidence was met with a general assault on my philosophical and political opinions (which Paul misrepresents) and my thoughts on the Brady case in particular (which he also misrepresents) and evasion or outright denial of the key requirement for evidence before we come to judgement.
So it is difficult to constructively engage with many of those people who support Professor Brady or have close relations with the security services of the New Zealand state. Even if my call for evidence was stated somewhat provocatively, the reaction of these particular members of the "Intelligence Community" was over the top, and does nothing to allay my concerns about the security services determination to direct government policy on China.