Jekyll on trade, Hyde on defence
Of late, New Zealand has been engaged in a virtual love fest with China. Early last week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was in Wellington with a business delegation in tow.
While Li was here, our government sought to update our free trade agreement with China – which is already our main trading partner and second largest source of inbound tourists.
Moreover, Fonterra sees the emerging middle class in China as its biggest future market, and local firms have begun angling for the business associated with China’s massive $US1 trillion One Belt. One Road land and maritime project.
To cap off this hot and heavy romance, China is now an investment partner, too. In 2015, we joined the China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIIB) and invested $125 million in it. All the more reason then, to be surprised we’re also cooperating in war games alongside Washington and Canberra that rehearse ways to invade China and subjugate it.
On trade and investment issues, we blow air kisses to China at every opportunity - while busily spying on it through the Five Eyes intelligence network, and practising with our former ANZUS allies on how to intimidate it at best, and invade it at worst.
In July for instance, the New Zealand Defence Force will be joining the latest round of Talisman Sabre, a huge training exercise Australia carries out biennially in unison with all four arms of the US military.
Last time around in 2015, New Zealand contributed 650 personnel, 45 vehicles and two of our $771 million dollar fleet of NH90 helicopters to this war game.
What’s strange about this is Talisman Sabre is essentially a rehearsal for an assault on China and on its ability to defend itself. As the Australian journalist John Pilger said last week : ‘‘A principal purpose of Talisman Sabre is to rehearse a blockade of the Malacca Straits and the Lombok Straits - effectively cutting China’s lifelines through the South China Sea and beyond.
Talisman Sabre derives from the US Air/Sea Battle Plan for a war with China. It is wholly provocative. Why is ‘‘independent’’ New Zealand taking part?’’
This split identity – nice Dr Jekyll on trade, nasty Mr Hyde on defence – must look very peculiar indeed from Beijing’s perspective. Yet for now, New Zealand appears content with the contradiction.
In Northland, local
‘‘We blow air kisses to China at every opportunity’’
government is reportedly about to clinch a memo of understanding with Chinese state-owned firms to deliver a $400 million revamp of the state highway south of Whangarei, plus a rail link to Marsden Point.
Currently, the chief obstacle would appear to be Winston Peters. ’’If we think we’re getting a soft job from the Chinese to build a port and rail link, which they want, using cheap Chinese and steel, built by thousands of Chinese workers living in ships parked offshore, while New Zealanders and especially Northland people are crying out for jobs . . . Well, it’s not going to happen,’’ Peters has said.
Clearly, China cope with our contradictory trade and defence policies.
Finding common ground with Peters however, may prove a far more difficult task for Beijing.