“REMEMBER WHO YOUR FRIENDS ARE.” Most often this is said in a reassuring way: a reminder that in tough times your friends will always be there for you. Sometimes, however, it is said as a warning, with the word ‘friends’ placed between inverted commas. It would seem New Zealand is rapidly moving into one of those times. With ‘friends’ like our so-called “Five Eyes Partners” New Zealand doesn’t really need enemies.
Consider the view of Major-General Adam Findlay, described as one of Australia’s top military commanders, who warned an audience of Australian Special Forces personnel in April 2020 that Beijing was already engaged in “grey zone” warfare against their country, and that they should proceed on the strong assumption that this will escalate into actual conflict at some point in the [near?] future.
Now, just in case you were thinking of dismissing these daunting observations as the rantings of a bellicose Aussie boofhead, it might pay to consider the comments of “influential public servant”, Michael Pezzullo, who recently warned Australians that “the drums of war are beating”. Seriously? Yes, seriously. When the person saying such things is the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, it would be unwise to ignore them. Especially when Australia’s very own Minister of Defence, Peter Dutton, is telling anyone who will listen that “a war over Taiwan cannot be discounted” and that Australia was “already under attack” from Chinese cyber-warriors.
Remember, these are our ‘friends’ – the people who accused our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of sucking-up to the Chinese and betraying the Five Eyes ‘alliance’.
Frankly, Beijing scares me a whole lot less than these loud-mouthed, Aussie sabre-rattlers! Because, behind all the Washington-sanctioned bombast, one detects the reckless militaristic mindset that allows wars to happen by accident. Because people very like these war-hawks delivered very similar diatribes in London, Paris and St Petersburg; Berlin and Vienna; in the early months of 1914. (And that ended well!)
Thank God our own political, diplomatic and military leadership show no signs of the anti-Beijing distemper currently afflicting Canberra. It is reassuring to know that New Zealand’s ability to discern its own national interest is not degraded by this mania for a new cold war.
Before we pat ourselves too enthusiastically on the back, however, we should turn our eyes from our leaders and focus, instead, on the political campaign to undermine this country’s relationship with China by asking Parliament to condemn Beijing’s alleged “genocide” of the Uighurs of Xinjiang.
Genocide is one of those words that should be used with extreme care. Attempts to define it are fraught with difficulty. Tragically, it is much easier to recognise its effects. When we gaze in horror at the Holocaust’s death camps; or see the swollen corpses of Rwanda; we know that we are looking at genocide. But, when we consider the fact that the Uighur population of Xinjiang has grown from around five million in the 1980s, to more than twelve million today, we can be sure that whatever it is we are looking at, it isn’t genocide.
It is also advisable to look very closely at those who are making these claims. Earlier this week a spokesperson for the Uighurs living in New Zealand, interviewed on RNZ, cited the research of the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy as compelling evidence for their charge of genocide. But who stands behind New Lines? According to the Chinese newspaper, Global Times, New Lines has links to the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks the IIIT was raided by the FBI for suspected terrorist associations.
Given that the ongoing confrontation between Beijing and Xinjiang was originally sparked by the terrorist activities of Uighur Islamists and nationalists, the ultimate identity of those accusing the Chinese government of genocide is, surely, an important detail? So, too, I would have thought, is the fact that Beijing’s aggressive programme of de-radicalisation was inspired by the practices of Western powers engaged in the Global War On Terror.
Before our parliament votes on an Act Party motion, supported by the Greens, to condemn China’s “genocide”, it would, perhaps, be wise to ask itself two questions. In this exercise, are the Uighurs the end – or the means? And: Is this being done at the behest of our friends, or our enemies?
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 7 May 2021.