WELL, THANK YOU, JACINDA! In just five years, you and your government have turned New Zealanders decisively against their country’s most important trading partner. According to research released today (22/6/22) by the Asia New Zealand Foundation, the number of Kiwis who view China as a “friend” has fallen from 62 percent in 2017, to just 13 percent today. Meanwhile, the number viewing the People’s Republic as a “threat” has risen from 18 to 58 percent, over the same period.
That dramatic rise (40 percentage points!) in the “threat” perception, is the entirely predictable result of a relentless, American-led, campaign to demonise, isolate and “contain” China. New Zealand’s “Five Eyes” partners, heedless of the economic consequences for New Zealand, have cajoled and bullied its political class into becoming Sinophobes. They simply do not care that close to 40 percent of this country’s trade is with China. None of them are willing to make good its loss by opening their markets to New Zealand exports. As far as Washington, London, Ottawa and Canberra are concerned, Wellington is simply paying the price of putting all its milk powder in one basket.
It is difficult to grasp the precise cause of the West’s falling-out of love with China. Since the late-1970s, the leading industrial powers have been falling over themselves to invest in the Chinese economic miracle. Without compunction, or compassion, they relocated Western industrial production to an authoritarian state where labour costs were low and unions docile, eliminating in the process the factories that had kept millions of their own workers gainfully employed. There were no complaints then about China’s lack of democracy, indeed, its absence was pretty much the whole point!
Ask them, today, what they were thinking, and they’ll spin you the usual yarn about how certain they were that this new, mutually beneficial, economic relationship would lead to the gradual liberalisation of the Chinese regime. Just as it had in the Soviet Union, democracy was coming to the PRC. You are invited to imagine their surprise and horror when Beijing opted, instead, to combine the Chinese people’s economic prowess with the Communist Party of China’s authoritarian political impulses. Western investment hadn’t created a friend, it had produced a monster!
To which we are all entitled to call “Bullshit!”.
Let’s just consider the counterfactual that China had, indeed, embraced democracy, or something approaching it – a la Singapore. According to the West’s own theories, the country would have become even more powerful, economically and culturally. It’s people, freed from the tutelage of the Communist Party, would have grown even more confident and productive. In other words, China’s inexorable rise to global economic dominance would have happened faster under democracy than it did under authoritarianism.
It is simply implausible to argue that the United States would have behaved any differently when faced with a democratic Chinese hegemon than it has in relation to the real-world’s authoritarian China. What can be asserted, however, is that if China had adopted democracy, then the United States would have found it a great deal easier to destabilise and dominate.
That’s the great attraction of democratic political systems to powers like the United States, they are just so pathetically easy to subvert. Pick a colour – any colour – and Uncle Sam will organise a “revolution” in no time. Don’t believe me? Go ask Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine. Or, dig out Time of 15 July 1996, and read the Cover Story: “Yanks to the Rescue: The Secret Story of How American Advisers Helped Yeltsin Win.”
There are, of course, many ways to destabilise and break-up a rival nation. If its authoritarian political system makes the organisation of a “colour revolution” impossible, then a global superpower can always stir up ethnic and religious communities in border regions with sympathetic neighbours. Arms can be smuggled across mountain and desert frontiers. Jihadists can be schooled in terror. Bombs can go off in crowded marketplaces. Innocent people can die. The Chinese have watched and learned, and in Xinjiang they have applied the lessons.
Once again it helps to examine the counterfactual. Imagine a China whose leaders were unwilling to take the measures necessary to suppress an Islamist insurgency. Very quickly, Xinjiang would have come to resemble Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Terrorist atrocities would have become commonplace. Beijing would have been forced to field substantial military and intelligence resources to its autonomous region. Communal hatreds would have grown and spread. Hundreds-of-thousands of the native Uighur population would have fled, or been interned. How different, in terms of repression, suffering and death, would it be from the present situation?
Not that these sort of questions are ever posed by the political classes of the Five Eyes powers and their Asian allies. Roughly six years ago, America’s strategic thinkers finally abandoned their dream of a democratic China that the USA could control, and began to intensify its parallel policy of containment. An important part of that effort was the co-ordination of elite opinion across the Indo-Pacific.
It is necessary, now, for earlier narratives of co-operation and friendship with the Chinese – of which New Zealand was a leading exponent – to be abandoned in favour of Washington’s new narrative of a dangerous and expansionist China, hellbent on establishing, first, regional hegemony, and then, full global dominance.
How easily that change of narrative was achieved by Washington should prompt New Zealanders to query the robustness of their own democratic institutions. That there has been no significant divergence of opinion concerning New Zealand’s pivot away from its largest trading partner – with all that entails for the health of New Zealand’s economy and society – should, surely, give us pause. This country’s much vaunted “independent foreign policy” stands revealed as rhetoric – not reality.
Uncle Sam has informed us that New Zealand is at war with Eurasia: that New Zealand has always been at war with Eurasia. Dutifully, our politicians, academics and journalists all contribute lustily to the compulsory “Five Minute Hate” against the People’s Republic. The “friend” that made us rich, has become a “threat” to be contained.
When the export orders dry up – and they will if China decides we’ve become her enemy – then we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. Oh, and our “very, very, very good friends” – the Americans.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 23rd June 2022.