Monday, 12 August 2019

Dining With A Long Spoon.

Divided Loyalties: Can the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, be relied upon? That’s what the boys and girls at Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon needed to be reassured about. Because, from the perspective of Washington, it’s looking more and more like Jacinda Ardern and her Labour Party comrades are getting ready to sell their souls for a pile of soybeans (or milk-powder!) and forgetting all about their duty to protect the interests of their “very, very, very good friends” – in the United States and Australia.

AT ROUGHLY the same time as the police presence at Ihumatao was suddenly and inexplicably boosted (5/8/19) New Zealand’s Deputy-Prime Minister, Winston Peters, was sitting down to dinner with the US Secretary of Defence, James Esper. This high-level diplomatic tête-à-tête took place at the Deputy-Prime Minister’s home in the swanky Auckland suburb of St Mary’s Bay. It’s a safe bet that Mr Peters’ American guest talked about mustering coercive forces far greater than those then arriving at Ihumatao.

That Secretary Esper was there at all is, in itself, remarkable. The US Senate’s stamp of approval has barely had time to dry and the politician charged with responsibility for the greatest aggregation of military might in the planet’s history is on his way to Australia and New Zealand. Not to the United Kingdom and Europe, it is worth noting, but to Australasia, the crucial pivot-point of the United States’ brand new “Indo-Pacific Strategy”.

The change of  nomenclature – from “Asia-Pacific” to “Indo-Pacific” is important. It betokens a critical shift in emphasis. From the straightforward projection of American power to the farthest reaches of the Pacific Ocean: a constant of US foreign and military policy since the heady days of Teddy Roosevelt and his “Great White Fleet”; to the vastly more ambitious goal of “containing” the growing power and influence of the Peoples Republic of China by asserting American hegemony over both the Pacific and the Indian Oceans.

To make this work, the United States requires the active support and cooperation of Japan, Australia and India. Together, these nations form what to Chinese eyes must look like a profoundly threatening arc of offensive military capability. Japan stands at the arc’s eastward extremity, India at its western end, while Australia, at the arc’s base, straddles the two great oceans that give the strategy its name. With these three powers holding the perimeter, the other powers of the region: the Philippines, Indo-China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma and Thailand have little option but to go along for the ride.

For the geopoliticians in Washington, New Zealand also has a role to play – albeit a negative one. If Australia is going to fulfil its strategic obligations to the north and west, then it cannot afford to have anyone but a friend protecting its crucial eastern and southern flanks. As far as Washington is concerned – that’s us. Under no circumstances can New Zealand be allowed to fall any further under the influence of China. In the memorable phrase of the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who travelled as far as Australia with Secretary Esper, the nations of the region could either “choose to sell their souls for a pile of soybeans, or protect their country.”

This, I strongly suspect, occupied a large part of the American agenda at St Mary’s Bay. Secretary Esper would have been anxious to know exactly where New Zealand’s loyalties lie: in Washington, or in Beijing?

Not that he entertained the slightest doubt about Mr Peters’ loyalties. His recent speeches, delivered on American soil, have made his feelings about Chinese influence in the South Pacific crystal clear. Nor had it escaped the notice of New Zealand’s ‘Five Eyes’ partners that Mr Peters had retired the outdated formulation “Asia-Pacific” in favour of “Indo-Pacific”. It was great to have New Zealand’s Deputy-Prime Minister and Foreign Minister on board and with the programme.

But what about New Zealand’s Prime Minister? Could she be relied upon? That’s what the boys and girls at Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon needed to be reassured about. Because Secretary Esper may well have suggested to Mr Peters that, from the perspective of Washington, it’s looking more and more like Jacinda Ardern and her Labour Party comrades are getting ready to sell their souls for a pile of soybeans (or milk-powder!) and forgetting all about their duty to protect the interests of their “very, very, very good friends” – in the United States and Australia.

As the desert plates were cleared away at St Mary’s Bay, and the whiskey liberally dispensed, did the US Defence Secretary seek to discover how the Leader of NZ First would react if push came to shove – in Hong Kong, for example – and his coalition partners declined to break-off relations with Beijing? Did the American remind Mr Peters’ that he, uniquely, enjoyed the political privilege of choosing his country’s bosses?

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 9 August 2019.

9 comments:

RRK said...

...“very, very, very good friends” – in the United States and Australia.

Oh, so we are friends again are we? Obviously the USA want something so have rediscovered old friendships. Personally I am not happy with cosying up to either China or the USA.

With the lunatic fringe in control in the White House and ready to launch regime change wars at the drop of a hat and China who is happy to crush any form of dissent at home no matter the cost, I can see no obvious benefit to NZ by being besties with either group of mad men.

If Australia want to go go all-in with the US, the good luck to them. With NZ guaranteeing some sort of Eastern Defence against the yellow peril then all I see is body bags. Lots and lots of body bag, if we are to fulfil our obligations.

Wayne Mapp said...

Hmm, what about the PM? Where does she instinctively sit?

Probably with a foot in both camps, just as her predecessors have done for the last 25 years. I don't see any real evidence that she as PM wants to sharply swing New Zealand out of the US security relationship.

Can this balance still be managed? I would say, yes. Or at very least New Zealand should aim to do so for as long as it can.

I know there is a bipartisan consensus in Washington about the Chinese challenge. But even the US has to manage that relationship. Will future US presidents continue the trade war? In fact will even Trump do so? He must know total victory is impossible, so if he wants a success, both sides have to be seen to be getting something.

So that comes back to the NZ situation. The US doesn't really expect either NZ (or Australia for that matter) to abandon the Chinese market. They simply want to know that the core security relationship remains with the US. In practise what does that mean?

Self evidently operational interoperability and training, that tells China where our core security interests lie. It means Five Eyes. It also means some engagement in US led ventures (Afghanistan for instance). But it doesn't require NZ to take any specific anti-Chinese actions. For instance I don't see any prospect of RNZN ships doing freedom of navigation through the South China Sea. But we will still do FPDA.

I am sure NZ Ministers and officials will get continuing lectures from US officials on all the bad things that China is up to, as indeed has been the case for quite a while. But I would be surprised if they actually ask New Zealand to actually do anything.

So I think Jacinda will act as previous PM's have done. I am sure Helen Clark has had more than a few discussions with her about how to position New Zealand. I can imagine the advice might go like this. No precipitate withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan (these are now very small anyway). Keep up the US security relationship. Keep your distance about engaging in US manoeuvres around Asia. Visit China, and say good things. In short maintain the economic/security juggling act.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Interesting. Given that Britain now takes less than 3% of our exports the US about 10% and China close to 1/4 – who the hell does he expect us to sell our stuff to? Particularly as our exports to China are likely to rise a little now that they're not buying any American agricultural goods. The US is going to buy them or their farmers will scream blue murder. It's not going to be pretty.

peteswriteplace said...

Interesting times. Friends? Australia isn't being very friendly. Any kiwi with 'bad thoughts' might be sent home soon. So for NZ it is friends and trading partners.

Trev1 said...

We have likely never had a Prime Minister more ignorant of history. Her government relies on the extreme Left Greens for support. She appears unable to cope with pressure. There is much to concern friendly countries about our commitment to shared values.

David Stone said...

Both Winston and Jacinda managed to keep a distance from sending home Russian diplomats over the Skripals and condemning Maduro's government in Venezuela. There's hope that they will continue to maintain some integrity.
@ Wayne Mapp ... I would be more concerned that we might be pressed into helping with an engagement against Iran than China. Keeping out of what that scene might produce seems imperative.
D J S

greywarbler said...

Trev1
Keep hoping that the fairy godmother in your dreams saves you. The rest of us won't mind if you don't appreciate us keeping on thinking despite your antipathy to the activity and wishing the rest of us a good day.

John Hurley said...

The view of the Fifth Column is that it doesn't matter who buys up NZ (or who moves here). That is the common humanity world view. Dawkins The Selfish Gene does not concur.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"We have likely never had a Prime Minister more ignorant of history. Her government relies on the extreme Left Greens for support. She appears unable to cope with pressure. There is much to concern friendly countries about our commitment to shared values."

Here we go again with the Bullshit unsupported statements about Arderne. I'm not her greatest fan, but I just like to know what she doesn't know about history? Because I know shitload about it and I'd like to make a judgement.
It would be handy mind you if this site allows you to post YouTube clips of her caving under pressure or something, but even so I suspect you got nothing. Oh, and incidentally the greens are not extreme left, except maybe by US standards. Christ here is me getting angry at ignorance again.