One of the Five Eyes has blinked over China — Analysis
New Zealand signed a major new trade agreement with Beijing despite the anger of its Anglosphere friends
China and New Zealand this week completed the ratification of their upgraded free-trade agreement, which will come into force in April. It took a while to reach this agreement, but it increases the range of tariff-free goods New Zealand can export into China. The country’s largest market is also its main source of income.
The agreement comes despite the growing tensions between Beijing, the United States and its allies, with Washington seeking to put the brakes on China’s expanding economic ties with its allies, in a view towards strategic containment.
This has led to claims that New Zealand, a member of the Five Eyes Anglosphere intelligence alliance involving Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, has not been sufficiently ‘loyal’ to their agenda. Jacinda Ardern’s more cautious approach towards Beijing, as opposed to the absolutely relentless hostility to China seen in neighboring Australia, has seen her country mocked as ‘New Xi-land.’
Why is New Zealand reacting differently to Beijing than its other partners? And will the pressure to get it to take America’s side succeed?
New Zealand has a world outlook that is less extreme than the Anglosphere’s other countries. While the other three countries, Australia, Canada and the United States, were once British colonies established through the near total, unapologetic destruction of indigenous inhabitants in the name of Anglo-Protestant settler supremacy, New Zealand was established as more of a compromise between the British and the native Māori population. However, the Maori population was not completely displaced. They remained an important cultural and political component of New Zealand.
In recent years, Maori culture has in fact been on the ascendency in New Zealand and unlike its Anglophone counterparts, the nation’s broader identity has absorbed it. New Zealand’s foreign policy is now less inclined to the same zealous supremacist and imperialist mindset as Washington, Canberra and London.
Wellington’s outlook is much more calm and peaceful than Beijing. As a nation of just five million people which relies significantly on agricultural exports, China’s market of 1.4 billion hungry mouths represents a trade bonanza that is simply not matched anywhere else in the world. What reason should New Zealand follow an anti-China policy in these circumstances?
Yet for all intents and purposes New Zealand does, on paper, effectively take a side as part of the US-led security order in the Pacific, even if it is not considered a leading player or part of concentrated groups such as ‘The Quad’ strategic security grouping of the United States, India, Japan and Australia.
While Australian and British media outlets have been quick to claim that Ardern’s New Zealand is subservient due to trade with China, it can be misleading. You may notice that New Zealand has removed Huawei from its 5G network, but that the country still conducts naval drills against China, such as in the South China Sea. It also names itself to anti-China statements made at the United Nations, elsewhere and other places. Importantly, it does so in a discrete, non-confrontational, non-aggressive manner.
It might be said that Wellington ‘follows’ the US agenda in its own moderate way, but does not attempt to lead or put its head above the pack needlessly. For example, New Zealand has somewhat embraced the Xinjiang-focused human rights discourse, but has notably avoided the ‘genocide’ accusation as pushed by the most aggressive Anglosphere politicians. Ardern declared that subs from Australia would be prohibited from New Zealand waters, as part its anti-nuclear policy, after last year’s AUKUS nuclear submarine deal was announced.
These distinctions remind us that New Zealand’s foreign policy is not ‘pro-China’ as such, but a careful balancing act not to frame itself as an explicit enemy to Beijing in the way Australia has done, a move that resulted in China banning numerous exports from that country throughout 2020 and 2021. New Zealand has a lot more to lose than if it followed Australia’s lead.
But this does not change the fact that Wellington is part an economic order increasingly centered around China and the US-led Security Order. Whilst these conflicting modes of existence have caused more discomfort in Australia, owing to its much stronger sense of Anglophone exceptionalism and historical embrace of ‘yellow peril’ rhetoric, New Zealand seems to be deftly riding out the balance.
The upgraded trade agreement with Beijing illustrates this existence isn’t going to change anytime soon. The 15-member Asia-Pacific Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which also includes China, was also established this year.
While talk of diversification in international trade is often thrown around, this is superficial and easier said than done, for there are no other markets the size of China’s. This is something that the US and some of its closer allies have been unwilling to face: Beijing is and will continue to be the economic heart of an entire region by the realities of size, geography and economics. No amount of denial can change that, however much America wishes it, as set out in its “Indo-Pacific” strategy.
This could be one last distinction that Wellington might make from the other Five Eyes countries. The rest are denialists, hostile to China’s rising power, trying to devise strategies that will work in their favor, but New Zealand is much more practical and realistic. Although it has not changed its allegiances, the country has little hesitation or anxiety about trading and integrating China.
These opinions, statements and thoughts are the sole opinion of the author. They do not necessarily reflect those made by RT.