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Labor Party leader Jacinda Ardern (front), the incumbent prime minister, addresses a press conference in Auckland, New Zealand, on Oct. 18, 2020. (Xinhua/Guo Lei)
The Australian media outlet News.com.au reported on Saturday that, “There are concerns from New Zealand Five Eyes’ allies that it may be the weak link in dealing with China as the Ardern Government, again, failed to call out Beijing.”
This is not the sole article delivering grievances regarding New Zealand’s China policy. There seems to be many of them that harangue Wellington when it does not join in chorus with Washington, London, Ottawa and Canberra to browbeat and belittle China. The conservative US news website Washington Examiner published an article on January 11 entitled, “Appeasing China, New Zealand abandons the Five Eyes.”
Indeed, Wellington’s policy toward Beijing does differ from its allies in the Five Eyes, especially Washington and Canberra. The following reasons lead to it. For one, New Zealand’s economy is comparatively small in the global marketplace, and heavily depends on international trade, especially the Chinese market. At the end of 2019, China was New Zealand’s largest goods market, largest source of international students, and second largest source of tourists. It was also a significant foreign investor.
Most exports from New Zealand resemble those from the US and Australia. In this context, Wellington has attached great importance to maintain close and friendly relations with markets it has opened, such as China. The two countries on January 26 signed a deal upgrading their existing free trade pact, which gives exports from New Zealand greater access to China.
For another reason, in comparison to the US and Australia, where the white mainly determines their foreign policy, the Maori today have occupied a considerable position in politics. Therefore, Wellington’s policy focuses more on domestic affairs and tends to be more pragmatic.
The US persuaded 13 other countries to released a joint statement on March 30 expressing so-called “shared concerns regarding the recent WHO-convened study in China.” Except for New Zealand, four other members of the Five Eyes were among the group. In regard to this event, the News.com.au article remarked that the administration of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been “dubbed the ‘soft underbelly’ of the Five Eyes.”
Such narrative reflects the mindset of some Australian elite politicians. They have seen their country as a hegemonic force in South Pacific, second only to the US. This makes them believe New Zealand should also follow Australia’s lead. However, it is wishful thinking. Wellington has long remained independent with its national interests, and has been reluctant to obey orders from Washington and Canberra.
For example, in 1984 New Zealand passed legislation that made the entire country a nuclear-free zone, which effectively barred US warships from docking in their ports. As a consequence, the US froze New Zealand out of the Australia-New Zealand-US military alliance, and downgraded their diplomatic status from a close ally to a friend.
Even under US pressure, New Zealand is still a nuclear-free zone.
Four other allies of the Five Eyes are anticipated to pile pressure on New Zealand hoping to put more pressure on China. Yet judging from historical experience, Wellington will not easily yield to pressure.
As a matter of fact, the Five Eyes is an alliance for interests only. It does not do so for the pursuit of the share values of democracy and freedom, which is a disguise. Just as late UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “We have no lasting friends, no lasting enemies, only lasting interests.” This can be illustrated by the fact that the US in 1812 declared war against Britain and Canada.
In the post-Brexit era, the UK may temporarily maintain close ties with the US. As a neighbor of the US, Canada appears to be not bold enough to deviate from Washington’s stronghold. For many years, Australia has relied on the US to pursue its regional hegemony in South Pacific.
Against this backdrop, China is supposed to do its own thing well. And Beijing will patiently counter their potential moves.
The author is chief research fellow at the research center for Pacific island countries of Liaocheng University in East China’s Shandong Province. email@example.com