Dunne Speaks: On Five Eyes And China

Credit: Original article can be found here

The government is right to resist attempts to turn the
Five Eyes Intelligence sharing agreement into a wider
political alliance. However, given the growing disposition
of some its partners, it is going to become increasingly
difficult for it to continue to do so.

The United
States, Britain and their ever-trusty pet Australia are
becoming more and more focused on what a rapidly developing
China is likely to mean for future Pacific and ultimately
global security. More benign Five Eyes partners like New
Zealand and Canada are being pressured to join their
increasingly activist stance against the resurgent China,
and to make the Five Eyes agreement more of an alliance than
an intelligence sharing arrangement.

The significant
extension of the role of the Five Eyes agreement such a move
would entail goes beyond the scope of the original UKUSA
agreement for the sharing of joint signals intelligence that
gave rise to it in the first place. That agreement had its
origins in the Allied Second World War code-breaking
operations at the now famous Bletchley Park in
Buckinghamshire. When it was formalised in the Cold War
environment of the early 1950s it was effectively the
intelligence component of the regional collective security
agreements like NATO, SEATO and ANZUS. Other parties to the
original UKUSA agreement included Norway, Denmark and West
Germany, but they did not become members of the Five Eyes
“club”.

Over the years New Zealand has been a
valuable provider of signals intelligence to the Five Eyes
partners. Our geographic location assists our interception
capabilities considerably, which explains our value to the
other partners. It is also the reason why, despite the
somewhat bullying talk being directed our way at present,
New Zealand is unlikely to be expelled from the arrangement,
even if we do not comply with the current demands to broaden
its scope.

But that does not make the issue of China
and how to deal with it any less difficult for us. The
prevailing Western view, heightened considerably during the
Trump years, that China is now less a force for stability
than a potential enemy poses real problems for a country
like ours, now so dependent on
China for our economic
prosperity. Since the conclusion of the China-New Zealand
Free Trade Agreement in 2008 China has become our largest
trading partner in goods and second largest trading partner
overall. No New Zealand government is going to deliberately
put that arrangement at risk, given the wider implications
for our way of life.

It was easier for New Zealand to
resist the “for us or against us” stance on China during
the belligerence of the Trump Administration, because it was
so extreme. However, it is likely to become more difficult
if, as the early signs suggest, the more benign Biden
Administration maintains the same broad
stance.

Unfortunately, the government’s current
attempts to explain its position look clumsy and inept.
Telling other countries to treat China with more respect, as
the Trade Minister has done, makes us look like grovelling
sycophants. Using similes like the taniwha and the dragon to
characterise the current relationship between New Zealand
and China as our Foreign Minister did recently, looks like
meaningless waffle, even to those skilled in the art of
diplomatic double-speak.

As an independent nation, New
Zealand has every right to form its own views about its
relationship with China, and to progress those as best we
see fit. We do need to be careful though that in doing so we
do not turn a blind eye to everything China does. Its
treatment of its Uighur minority is a case in point. There
appear to be obvious breaches of human rights occurring
here, and New Zealand’s continued silence, given our
overall approach to upholding international human rights is
simply not credible. Similarly with Taiwan – another
important New Zealand trade partner. As a fellow small
nation in the shadow of a big neighbour, New Zealand could
be expected to uphold the rights of small nations to
self-determination, in the event of any moves by China to
invade Taiwan at a future point.

The current anxiety
amongst other Five Eyes partners about New Zealand is not so
much that we are pursuing our own national interests in
respect of China – most countries understand that and do
likewise – but that we are allowing ourselves to become
seen as a vocal, uncritical supporter of China. Every
statement the government makes on the relationship seems to
be supportive of China’s position and unaccepting of any
criticism of it. Naïve, inexperienced, foolish – call it
what you may – that is not helping to advance New
Zealand’s position in any way in the eyes of other
longer-term friends and allies.

New Zealand can still
continue to play its part as a member of the Five Eyes
agreement and progress its wider relationship with China, if
it wants, but it just needs to stop appearing so loudly
partisan about it. There will inevitably be challenges to
our position – that is the nature of the course of
international relations – but our primary role should be
working to reduce those challenges, not aggravating them by
continually drawing attention to our increasing dependence
on China the way we are at present. Quiet diplomacy rather
than loud-hailer virtue signalling is the far preferable
course to follow here.

Right now, New Zealand should
just be getting on with pursuing its interests quietly,
determinedly, and unobtrusively. The resort to
finger-wagging warnings about international conduct, and
obfuscating references to ancient symbols we have seen of
late are not signs of independence. They simply make our
government look like international “babes in arms”, that
much easier to laugh at and
discount.

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