When in the 1980s local villagers around New Zealand campaigned successfully for a nuclear-free New Zealand, the United States responded by suspending their country from the Australia New Zealand United States (Anzus) military alliance. This move marked the end a relatively coherent, albeit patronage-based 140 plus year diplomatic and economic framework for relating to the wider world. A new framework has been needed for decades, but has yet to be even discussed.
In simple terms, the initial framework involved attachment to imperial and post-imperial British apron-strings for international protection and guaranteed British access for agricultural produce. When Japan took Singapore from the British in World War 2 Uncle Sam was also looked to, leading to the Anzus pact in 1951.
Since 1973 the world, and New Zealand’s situation in it have changed continuously and radically.
On the income side, Britain forsook New Zealand for the European Community and market and the United States has steadfastly maintained highly protectionist barriers against many agricultural imports. On the cost side oil has risen from about $US2 a barrel to fluctuate in recent years between about $US70 and $US100.
There has also been a major, on-going global information and communications revolution, the rise of global corporations, and a major shift of economic power, and with that increasingly also, geo-strategic power from Western to Asian countries. And of course, ecological and resource crises to come to terms with.
Meanwhile, the agenda of pulling together a coherent and potentially effective economic and diplomatic framework or paradigm for international relations has yet to be taken seriously by seemingly almost any person or organization, including politicians, officials, academics, or non governmental organizations.
Meanwhile also, in the absence of national conversations or inspired and truly knowledgeable leadership to adequately define the challenges and opportunities entailed in the changes, problems continue to build up without a clear picture of how to deal with them, or even what they are.
A tangible economic indicator of chronically unresolved problems is how New Zealand’s net foreign earnings have turned from regular surpluses pre-1973 to an accumulated deficit of $180 billion and rising.
A tangible geo-strategic indicator has emerged over naval visits. Having rejected United States nuclear armed or powered ships, New Zealand has nonetheless under both the previous labour and the current national governments begun to accept Chinese naval visits (see Chinese warship stops by on friendly visit and Chinese Navy ships open for public tours)
This Chinese naval visit is leading some to ask, why not United States ships again as well? They are said to have removed their nuclear weapons, after all. That question is being asked in the context an NZ Herald report on study being done that is designed in effect to ramp up NZ- US military cooperation. The NZ Herald report on this is aptly headed NZ gets chance to snuggle up to US.
Which very nicely throws up the question of New Zealand’s identity. Does it accept either Chinese or United States naval visits, or both? Or none?
A crucial question that needs but has yet to be asked here is, what would New Zealand do and how would it fare if a major crisis were to arise between the United States and China, whether gradually or suddenly? They are regional rivals, there are tensions between the two and it can be anticipated that these will increase from time to time.
In a looming or actual crisis, ships from both sides could be quickly re-armed with nuclear-weapons.
One absolute exception to the seeming lack of public academic voices who have anything useful to say that has bearing on this matter is the Auckland university politics lecturer Dr Jian Yang.
He is one of the as yet very, very few who draws attention to New Zealand’s potential to develop as a useful peacebroker between China and the United States.
Two politicians who have also made exceptional practical contributions in this direction have been Helen Clark as prime minister and Winston Peters as her foreign minister in November 2007. Then Mr Peters visited North Korea in a nuclear-free liaison role between North Korea and the United States.
I would strongly contend that a neutral communications-building, solutions-brokering framework is one in which many solutions can be found in lieu of endless, essentially-irresolvable problems.
It is in building up a track record as a valued neutral peacebroker between China and the United States as well as in the Pacific-Asian region generally that New Zealand can best position itself to respectfully ask not to be asked by either side to accept naval ship visits, or even to have them in or near our “neutral zone of peace”. All concerned will equally then have nothing to lose, while being able to benefit from tension-reducing communication where situations could otherwise get very badly out of control and to the detriment of everyone.
In keeping with Village-Connections philosophy developed in Hazel Ashton’s doctorate, this communications-building can most usefully start with a culture of local village level networking between established locals and new ethnic arrivals, enabling all to learn what they are able to offer to one another and thence, also, to both village and national life.
This local networking is more likely than anything else I can think of to provide the international knowledge and connections that the country will need if it is to develop an innovative and successful culture of international diplomatic and economic activity.
Much more effective international connection-building will certainly be needed if New Zealand is to begin to pull itself out of its otherwise continually-deepening economic trough.
Your comments/feedback is most welcome.