• The Chinese “Message”.

    The indications that China is displeased with New Zealand cannot be mistaken. China is a country where nothing of this kind happens by accident; the government’s reach into every aspect of Chinese life is virtually unlimited. Nothing happens without the government’s say-so.

    There can be little doubt that the Chinese government has decided to send our government a carefully calibrated message – and that message has been to the effect that our hitherto excellent relationship, and particularly our trading relationship, with the new super-power is at risk. The import of that message has potentially serious implications for our economic future and is no doubt intended to arouse considerable anxiety in some circles.

    Nor can there be any real doubt about the reason for sending the message. It seems painfully clear that the Chinese government has reacted adversely to New Zealand’s decision to exclude the Chinese IT giant, Hua Wei, from any involvement in setting up our new 5G network.

    That decision was taken on the grounds that Hua Wei, like many major Chinese companies, is best regarded as an arm of the Chinese government and our government was warned by our security services, the GCSB, that there could be risks to our security if an enterprise with such close links to the Chinese government were allowed a central role in our internet system.

    That advice mirrored of course similar advice tendered to and acted upon by the security services of some of our principal allies who have found themselves embroiled in even more direct retaliatory responses from China. Our government is criticised by its opponents for allowing this situation to develop – with the inevitable corollary, it must be assumed, that we should hastily backtrack and reverse the decision concerning Hua Wei’s role.

    But are we really at fault? And is the Chinese response justified? And should we yield to the threatened reprimand, as some critics seem to suggest?

    The first point to make is that our trading relationship with China, like almost all trading arrangements, is a voluntary one between equals, and is not – nor should it be – one of master and servant. New Zealand and China trade with each other because they each see advantage
    In that trade; the Chinese gain access to goods that they need or at least want, and we earn foreign exchange which helps us to balance our books.

    There is, or should be, no implication that we are being done a favour by the Chinese in deigning to trade with us – a favour that will be withdrawn if we upset them in respect of a completely separate issue. And the Chinese have no one but themselves to blame if their governmental system makes it difficult for us to disregard the fact that a company like Hua Wei is in reality not just another commercial company but is rather an arm of government.

    It is the Chinese, not us, who have introduced, into what should be a straightforward trading relationship, the complexities of security issues and the need to choose between China and the US in an apparent power struggle in the Pacific between the two super-powers – and can anyone really be surprised in the light of our history – in times of both war and peace – that we continue to give priority to our long-standing alliance with the US?

    And when we review our own recent history and the value we have placed on refusing to be bullied – our nuclear-free policy, despite American hostility to it, was a classic instance of our insistence on independence – are we really being enjoined to yield to blackmail in this case?

    Our proper response to the “message” sent by the Chinese is that we regret that they have taken umbrage at our decision on Hua Wei but that we can see no good reason why that should affect our mutually advantageous trade and tourism links and that the remedy that would qualify Hua Wei as a participant in our G5 rollout lies in Chinese hands.

    If we were to follow the advice that we should reverse our decision, we would have cast aside a long-standing and hard-earned reputation as a small country that is not to be pushed around or bullied. Our future relationship with China will be all the stronger once they realise that good trade relations do not depend on one partner’s ability to dictate to the other and are harmed if that claim is made.

    Bryan Gould
    17 February 2019

     

     

     

1 Comment

  1. Barry Baucent says: February 19, 2019 at 8:47 amReply

    I totally agree Bryan. There has been too much fear mongering by political commentators and opinion writers at the ‘Herald” saying that we should do nothing to upset China.
    No doubt there were people to said the same to David Lange when he took on French Nuclear testing in our neighbourhood or when he told the Americans to not bring Nuclear ships into our harbours. “Oh but trade might be effected!” The French did indeed threaten NZ economically, but years later we are doing fine.
    Now it’s China acting like the neighbourhood bully, and any intimidation needs to be stood up to. If they cave and allow Huawei in for 5G, the Chinese will correctly read that as weakness. Cabinet ministers rushing off to Beijing cap in hand, they won’t respect.