June 08, 2022
Time for NZ to follow our own diplomatic path
Stop criticising the alleged naivety of our Pacific and Melanesian whānau as they enter into possible trade agreements with China, it’s none of our business.
This is a masterclass in diplomacy as the Chinese do not arrive in battleships, guns blazing conducting brief, forceful conversations. They are not known in our area of the world as expansionists by the way of military colonisation.
What the Chinese have done is treated each Pacific and Melanesian nation as a sovereign nation and entered into arrangements with them, not as second class citizens like we do, but as counterparts.
I’m talking about the way the United States, Australia and New Zealand treat our Pasifika neighbours.
In any diplomacy you have to have mana on both sides of the covenant. This is clearly evident between us and China given they are our largest trading partner with 32 per cent of New Zealand’s exports going there. Our free trade agreement with China has been the most successful trade agreement in our history, derived from high quality goods, demand and a mutually respectful relationships.
Aotearoa is well ahead in trade exports and earning two-thirds of what we project by value. In 2021 we transported $5 billion more to China in exports than we did imports, so our balance of trade is well in advance and in our favour. The Chinese free trade agreement we have had since 2008 will never be mirrored by America or Australia because they won’t agree to lowering their tariffs on our products. Guess who is cutting the better deals around the globe, that’s right, the Chinese are.
Our so called “mates” in the Five Eyes never even identified there was a looming issue that we should have been competitive with. So just to beat up on the Chinese for doing business with sovereign nations is just racism. It can’t be anything else.
The fact is no Asian man or woman has ever been racist to me, the only people who have been are white folk. The Chinese are respectful and the trade they do with us is outstanding.
The Australian economy is dependent on exports to China with 40 percent of their foreign earnings derived from China. If it wasn’t for the Chinese the Ozzies would have some major problems. As would we. But why do we blackguard this country? The narrative is almost always the nasty Chinese and the nice Yanks and Ozzies. The evidence doesn’t stack up.
We saw the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meeting with Pacific leaders from eight nations negotiating different agreements that include infrastructure, tourism, trade, technological advancement, climate change, economic recovery and ongoing COVID19 relief.
These deals have given China access to hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of ocean space. Our Pacific whānau makes them the most powerful in the whole of the Southern Hemisphere, solely because of their exclusive economic zone 200 miles out from each island. That is another master stroke of these agreements, the access China now has to fishing stocks. So overnight a major trading partner of ours had dialogue with sovereign Pacific and Melanesian nations and honoured them. And now we’re siding with the United States and Australia, collectively upset at this despite knowing that for the last 20 years China have practised chequebook diplomacy.
I just don’t like the stilted narrative that China is always the bad guy and I don’t buy it because I don’t see the evidence in it.
I’ll lower myself for a moment to acknowledge the media reports that China is allegedly buying voting support from the Pacific with military and security intentions in their backyard. None of that matters because any sovereign nation has a right to determine their own foreign policy and their own destiny. Meanwhile they have been taken for granted and mistreated by the rest of us.
When was the last time the Americans, Australians and Kiwi’s entered into trade agreements with our Pacific neighbours? When you treat people as second class citizens in your so-called area of interest, why is it so bizarre that they enter into their own trade relationships like we did in 2008. Why is it that those eight Pacific nations are currently being “manipulated” yet we weren’t? So it’s okay for the US, Australian and Aotearoa to engage in free trade agreements with China but it’s not okay for the Pacific and Melanesian nations?
Finally Aotearoa cannot be drafted without our sovereign consent into any play by Australia or the USA. The Australians buying nuclear powered American submarines demonstrates that they may as well be the 51st State of the USA. Gone is the ANZAC brotherhood, it is a myth.
It is about time we shaped our own foreign policy rather than being dragged along by others.
John Tamihere is a former Labour Cabinet Minister and Chief Executive of Whānau Ora and West Auckland Urban Māori organisation Te Whānau o Waipareira.