Conflicted Loyalties: Clearly, the New Zealand Government is of the view that it can run with the Chinese hares, hunt with the American hounds, and neither superpower will think anything of it. China will go on underwriting New Zealand’s economic well-being, and the USA will happily pledge her military might to the maintenance of New Zealand’s national security. Yeah, right.
WHERE DID WINSTON PETERS find him? A Chinese immigrant with years of experience in the Auckland real-estate market and willing to write (in faultless English) a no-holds-barred condemnation of the growing Chinese influence over his adopted country? The only detail lacking was the immigrant’s name.
Until I read the Chinese community’s response to his critique, the author’s decision to express his views anonymously struck me as unfortunate. The fiercely resentful character of his compatriots’ replies, however, provided ample justification for his reticence. (Always assuming he was the author – and a genuine Chinese immigrant!)
As the novelist Eleanor Catton can attest, we New Zealanders do not respond well to criticism – especially from one of our most successful children. The Chinese, it seems, are no different.
But then New Zealand is not a fast-rising global superpower. If we become aggrieved and stamp our diplomatic foot angrily upon the world stage, then most of the international community struggles to contain its mirth. When our oldest “friend” in the Pacific region, Australia, is able to imprison and mistreat New Zealanders with impunity, what further proof is required that Kiwi feelings can be happily ignored by just about everybody?
China, on the other hand, is a fast-rising global superpower, with fast-growing armed forces and an economy the rest of the world simply cannot do without. Had the Chinese government not authorised a truly gigantic domestic stimulus package to off-set the contractionary effects of the 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) then the global economy would almost certainly have ground to a shuddering halt. If we have forgotten, or, more likely, remained in complete ignorance of the crucial role China played, then the memory of the Chinese government is clear.
As clear as the ingratitude of China’s neighbours: Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia; who continue to assert their claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines government even had the temerity to seek an adjudication of its claim at the International Court.
The cold fury with which this decision was received in Beijing is difficult to overstate. The Chinese leaders understood that a third-rate power like the Philippines would never have dared to lodge such a claim without the backing of the United States. It was incontrovertible proof that the spots of the imperialist American leopard had not changed.
When the US economy was teetering on the brink of utter catastrophe, China had offered a steadying hand. But, China’s reaffirmation of its historic hegemony in the seas contiguous to its coasts, rather than eliciting Washington’s forbearance, was met with brute demonstrations of American naval power. In response, China stepped up the pace of its militarisation of strategic rocky outcroppings in the South China Sea. If the Americans mean to have a war – the Chinese were saying – let it begin here.
America was not the only nation the Chinese economy kept afloat during the GFC. Her vast markets absorbed New Zealand’s exports like a sponge, allowing its people to congratulate themselves on how well they, and their acutely vulnerable commodity-based economy, had performed.
The expectation in Beijing was that the quid pro quo for China’s economic support would be New Zealand’s diplomatic acquiescence. On the South China Sea, the very least we could do was keep our head down and our mouth shut. Beijing soon discovered that if the spots of the American leopard hadn’t changed, then neither had its cub’s.
Clearly, the New Zealand Government was of the view that it could run with the Chinese hares, hunt with the American hounds, and neither superpower would think anything of it. China would go on underwriting New Zealand’s economic well-being, and the USA would happily pledge her military might to the maintenance of New Zealand’s national security.
When the Philippines won its case in the International Court, the Chinese foreign ministry cocked its ear in the direction of Wellington. They did not like what they heard. Our Foreign Minister thought his carefully chosen words would appease both the Dragon and the Eagle. He was half right.
And now Winston Peters, a former New Zealand foreign minister, decides to pull an insultingly critical Chinese rabbit out of his “black op” hat. China could be forgiven for assuming New Zealand is relapsing into its traditional Sinophobia. China could be forgiven for bolting her doors until we learn better manners.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 August 2016.