Thursday 15 July 2010

Pro Patria

"China has stood up!": Mao Zedong's revolutionary nationalism (masquerading as Marxism) empowered the Chinese people to shrug-off both the European and Japanese imperialists who had subjugated and exploited their country for more than a century. They must find New Zealanders' willingness to sell their most valuable economic resources to foreigners deeply perplexing.

HAS NEW ZEALAND become a "creepily nationalistic" country? Is xenophobia running rampant in the heartland? At what point, exactly, does love of country become a disease?

It’s always struck me as odd that both the extreme Left and the extreme Right have no love of borders. Whether it be Karl Marx’s ringing exhortation for "workers of all lands" to "unite!"; or the proud boast of free marketeers that globalisation has made the nation state "redundant"; poor old Patria has been getting it in the neck for the best part of 150 years.

Fortunately Patria – literally, "the land of our fathers" – has a pretty tough neck.

The Socialist International, in the years leading up to the outbreak of World War One, worked hard to ensure that if the worst happened, and war did break out between the Great Powers, proletarian internationalism would trump the nationalist’s call to arms. "The bayonet", cried the socialists, "is a weapon with a worker at both ends."

But in August 1914, when the mobilisation orders were posted, workers of all lands rushed not to the barricades, but to the railway stations and the recruitment offices. The International’s call to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the workers across the borders was drowned out by the cries of: "La Patrie en danger!"

The bayonet turned out to be what it had always been: a weapon with "Us" at one end – and "Them" at the other.

The clarion call to internationalism rang out once again in August 1991, when actually existing socialism "in one country" (and its satellites) suddenly withered away.

The disintegration of the Soviet Empire, boasted the American neoliberal scholar, Francis Fukuyama, signalled not only "the end of history", but the inevitability of globalisation. The triumph of free market capitalism and liberal democracy, he predicted, would set humanity on course for a borderless world.

Ten years later, nineteen young men – apparently unconvinced by Mr Fukuyama’s thesis – demonstrated that history wasn’t quite dead by flying their hijacked airliners into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

America’s response was instructive. Less than a month after 9/11 the US Congress passed the Patriot Act, and President George W. Bush established the Department of Homeland Security.

Turns out borders mattered after all.

So, is nationalism really as "creepy" as the Auckland business community’s glamorous correspondent, Deborah Hill Cone, suggests? Or, is Patria’s claim to our love and loyalty as strong and as natural as that of our own parents’? And, is being "Pro Patria", or, to set this whole discussion in its proper context, taking a lively interest in who is, and isn’t, permitted to purchase large tracts of New Zealand farmland, really the same as xenophobia?

The short answer, according to Property Council New Zealand’s Chief Executive, Connal Townsend, is "Yes."

Interviewed by Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint programme, Mr Townsend said that "there’s a real danger in pandering to a kind of ignorant, racist and xenophobic anti-foreigner feeling in this country, and not actually thinking sensibly about what’s actually best for our nation."

Ms Hill-Cone is even more explicit: "On the chattering classes dinner party circuit it is acceptable to be downright racist against Chinese interests buying land here".

I suspect the Chinese themselves would greet such statements with a degree of wry amusement – and be genuinely puzzled as to why those who sought to protect New Zealand’s vital economic interests are being pilloried in this way. No Chinese citizen would seriously contend that foreigners be permitted to venture into the heart of their homeland and secure exclusive control of its key resources.

Most Westerners simply don’t appreciate the Chinese people’s intense shame at being humiliated and exploited by European and Japanese imperialism. The Chinese State’s history stretches back through two-and-a-half millennia and no people could be prouder of their nation’s achievements.

When Mao Zedong created the Peoples Republic in 1949, he declared to the world: "China has stood up" – a statement whose full import could only be appreciated by a people who, for more than a century, had been forced to bow their heads to foreign invaders.

No, there’s little New Zealanders could teach the Chinese people about the love of country.

What Ms Hill Cone and Mr Townsend are teaching us, however, is how little they understand the people whose investment in New Zealand they are promoting. The Chinese may be tough negotiators – hard bargainers – but they will not be "put off" by those whose patriotism requires them to fiercely protect their nation’s resources. They would do no less – and they expect the same from their economic partners.

Indeed, I’m confident the only behaviour Chinese citizens would find "creepy" is the willingness of some New Zealanders to sell their country to strangers. Mao’s revolutionary nationalists called such people "compradors" – native-born agents for foreign businesses.

Those who did not flee to Formosa were shot.

This essay was originally published in The Press on Tuesday, 13 July 2010.


Anonymous said...


First time commenter here.

In politics I am generally somewhat right of center though I have occassionally voted labour and horror of horrors even Social Credit under Beetham(sp?). I regularly enjoy reading your point of view though I commonly disagree with parts of it.

By occupation I am a Geologist with 25 years work experience. In addition I am close to graduation with a PhD as a result of a long part-time project in Palaeoclimate and Geomorphology.

I have been watching the evolution of climate science and the AGW issue for many years, along with the attitude of the public towards it. One thing that I have detected over the last year or so is a stready reduction in public support for the alarmist version of the theory (which contains a very strong leftist/environmentalist "we know better than you" streak) and the proposed solutions to this relative non-issue.

You could rewrite your article exchanging "AGW activist" in place of "Labour" and I am sure the result would resonate with thousands of ordinary Kiwis.

Carol said...

Anon @ 6.51pm July 15, I'm a little puzzled by your comment. I can't see "Labour" mentioned at all in the above article by Chris.
Good luck with your PhD. I hope it has included a more vigilant attention to detail.

On the article, I'm not so much into a strong patriotic stance. But it does seem to me that Free Trade benefits the larger and more powerful economies (like China and the US) at the expense of less powerful ones (like NZ). As such, I do think the NZ government should have more protections for the workers and businesses in NZ - that's who they have been elected to represent.

Victor said...


Why do you regard it as fortunate that the workers of the belligerent powers were so happy to rush off and be slaughtered in 1914?

jh said...

"It’s always struck me as odd that both the extreme Left and the extreme Right have no love of borders. "
You might have expected the Green party to see some value in the Kiwi way of life but

Anti-immigration feeling has no place in the Green party Immigration and Population policies released today, Green MP Keith Locke says. He and his supporters have one idea and that is racism rules peoples opinions about migration.

Chris Trotter said...

How on earth did you arrive at that conclusion, Victor?

To describe the historical reality is by no means to endorse it.

Anonymous said...

I think the phobia some have of Chinese ownership is the perception that its growth, once started, will be without end. Once a parcle of productive land has been purchased by Chinese owners it is difficult to imagine it being on-sold back to New Zealand interests. In the most extreme example, we may recall how often land in Israel that has been purchased by Jewish interests is resold back to the Arabs.

I don't see how the Greens can claim the high ground over immigration. They may say they are "not exclusionary" in press releases, but how much effort have they put into campaigning against Labour's and now National's highly exclusionary immigration policy?

Third world countries: give us all your rich, your skilled, your ambitious money rakers. Impoverished masses and the poor need not apply.

Ironically, NZF was the only party that might have put a stop to this unsavoury and very unsocialist practice.

Chris Trotter said...


Victor said...


You write:

'Fortunately Patria – literally, "the land of our fathers" – has a pretty tough neck.'

How are you meant to read the two immediately following paragraphs other than as an exemplification of that allegedly fortunate principle?

I'm not being pedantic for the sake of pedantry. I think there is a huge difference between the internationalism of principle and the globalism of profits.

It's just a Neo-Liberal marketing ploy to have confused the one with the other.

Victor said...

On the whole, ideological Nationalism is a sickness. At best, it's an excuse for feeling smug or self-pitying about yourself. At worst, it's an excuse for murder. In either event, it involves a dilution of our global sense of common humanity.

However, the nation state is the only vehicle we have for asserting democratic authority and control over the community and the economy, including the flows of goods and capital that dominate our lives.

The nation state is also the only possible way of embodying the democratic right of self-determination.

And the nation state may also embody certain principles and traditions that are inherently valuable and worthy of emulation. In New Zealand's case, that includes parliamentary democracy, rule of law, equality before the law, freedom of speech etc.

It's also the case that good citizenship tends to start with the immediate and work outwards.

As Edmund Burke remarked: "To love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections."

More to come......

Victor said...

I remember, when reading Deborah Hill-Cone's article on xenophobia, thinking to myself that it was strangely out of time.

I've lived in New Zealand for 25 years, with the sensitivities of an immigrant and of a card-carrying internationalist, and I've never known a time when the mood was less xenophobic.

I don't think that an advertising agency these days would come up with anything as crass as:"You'll only be a Kiwi if you love if your Wattie's Sauce" and I don't think it would be acceptable if it did so.

Most of us understand that you can be reared on Fettuccine, Boerewors, Dahl or Hainan Chicken and still be a Kiwi.

Meanwhile, even Maori nationalists and their liberal hangers-on have stopped rejecting multiculturalism as an alleged plot to undermine bi-culturalism (a common attitude 20 years ago).

So why are Deborah and her fellow right-wing scribes coming out with this anti-xenophobe line at the moment?

It's just an attempt to shame us into accepting the expatriation of profits and the further reduction of democratic control over our economy.

Victor said...

As to the impact of China on our economy, there are legitimate grounds for anxiety that go beyond the obvious generic concern over the expatriation of profits etc.

So huge is China's current predominance and so weak the export prospects beyond the emerging China-Australia economic axis, that there is a temptation to reshape our economy to fit in wholly with China's perceived needs.

Given China's current circumstances, that means emphasising our role as an exporter of bulk raw materials, primarily milk powder but also timber and such mineral wealth as we possess.

I'm not privy to John Key's thinking but the signs are that our economy is being deliberately re-positioned in that direction.

This, however, has implications for our brand and for our (not always deserved) reputation as a high quality, environmentally-friendly producer, with rigorous standards of food safety, animal welfare etc. And, in turn, this could impact on how we are viewed in more selective markets.

However, given the normal way economies develop, China will very soon itself become a quality market. It will then turn to other suppliers to meet its increasingly sophisticated needs.

In this context, we should remember that China's chief interest in the "Free Trade" agreement with NZ is to have a proto-type to use in forging economic ties with larger and wealthier developed nations.

So any advantages we gain are likely to be short lived and not worth any great sacrifice of principle or of longer term economic interest.

I'm actually not all that concerned about land per se falling outside New Zealand ownership. The land concerned remains our sovereign territory and subject to our laws.

I also take the point that Chinese investors make up a small percentage of those buying up New Zealand land.

But I see warning lights when I read of integrated paddock-to-plate production and distribution systems under Chinese ownership.