When elephants dance, the wise mice stick to the wall. - Swahili Proverb.
IT BEGAN so positively: wreathed in smiles and full of promise; a government of kindness and transformation. It hasn’t lasted. In a depressingly short period of time, the poetry of campaigning was replaced by the harsh prose of governing.
It was clear, from the moment David Parker told us that the Labour-NZF-Green Government would be signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, that beneath all the glitter and shine lay the dull gleam of administrative brass. Smiles and Stardust are Jacinda’s brand. Reality is much scarier.
Over the past fortnight New Zealand has played host to gatherings of spies. The first batch arrived from the United Kingdom and the second from the United States. In the midst of these secretive arrivals and departures the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) issued its finding that the Chinese IT giant, Huawei, had failed to pass the “national security” test, and that, as a consequence, its involvement in the roll-out of Spark’s 5G communications network must cease.
Interestingly, the presence of so many foreign spooks was matched by the absence of a select band of journalists. Whisked away to Hawaii by the Orwellian-sounding “Indopacom” (the United States Indo-Pacific Command) they were brought up to speed on what one of the participants described as China’s “expansionist military strategy in the Pacific”.
One of the more accurate and justifiable criticisms of the current Chinese Government is its treatment of its Uighur population. President Xi and his administration have gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent the Muslim Uighurs from embracing the radical Islamicist doctrines so familiar to us now in the West. Human rights groups report that as many as a million Uighurs may have passed through the regime’s “re-education camps”. These are not happy places.
It would seem, however, that the Uighurs are not the only population for whom “re-education” has been deemed necessary. New Zealanders, too, have been singled out for ideological rectification. Seemingly, this country has grown too fond of the Chinese regime and is in urgent need of being re-oriented towards a more reliable combination of “friendly” powers. No less a think tank than the “moderately conservative” Hoover Institution has opined that New Zealand is “particularly vulnerable” to Chinese influence.
Served up as a “test case” in a report bearing the interesting title “Chinese Influence & American Interest”, New Zealand is described as “a small state of 4.5 million people with strong trade ties to China.” These have, according to the report, led us to pursue “closer ties with China than many other nations.”
Too close, apparently, for our largest trading partner, Australia, which has, we were informed by an investment specialist interviewed for TVNZ’s “Q+A” programme, come to the view that New Zealand has allowed itself to stray too far from the accepted anti-Chinese/pro-American path laid down by Canberra.
Jacinda Ardern and her Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, have become something of a problem for the Australians. There is a slippery quality to both of them that irritates New Zealand’s oldest friend and ally. Just when they’re convinced that the Kiwis have stepped over the line – by refusing to condemn the Russians fast enough over the Salisbury chemical attack, for example – they somehow manage to skip back over it with dutiful promises of a “Pacific Re-Set”. Time for Wellington to stop playing silly buggers, says Canberra, and not in a nice way.
Hence the influx of hard men from the UK and America. Hence the sudden rise to prominence of Professor Anne-Marie Brady – New Zealand’s very own “international expert” on the diabolical cleverness of Beijing and its “magic weapons”. No coincidence, surely, that the Hoover Institution’s fortuitously timed warning about Chinese influence draws heavily on Professor Brady’s alarming academic research. Her even more alarming personal experiences, involving burglars and deflated car tyres, lends cinematic emphasis to their concern.
Our re-education, from a nation with delusions of independence, to one which knows its place in the geopolitical scheme of things, will proceed apace, although not as rapidly as with our leaders. The Huawei decision signalled to our Five Eyes partners that from now on it is their preferences, not China’s, which will dictate the shape of New Zealand foreign policy.
The Swahili have a proverb: “When elephants dance, the wise mice stick to the wall.” Or, in our case, scamper back onto the American elephant’s back.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 7 December 2018.