Not in New Zealand’s interest to contain China for US
Published: Jun 26, 2023 07:22 PM
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins (left) and New Zealand Ambassador to China Grahame Morton get off the airplane in Beijing on June 25, 2023. Photo: VCG

New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins (left) and New Zealand Ambassador to China Grahame Morton get off the airplane in Beijing on June 25, 2023. Photo: VCG

Editor's Note: 
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is paying a visit to China from Sunday to Friday with a trade delegation. As a member of Five Eyes Alliance, New Zealand's attitude toward China is clearly different from other member countries amid China-US tensions. What makes the difference? How the people in the New Zealand have been affected by the tensions? Bryce Edwards (Edwards), University lecturer of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, shared his views with Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Zixuan, as well as his expectations for China-New Zealand relations.

GT: New Zealand is a member of Five Eyes Alliance, but its attitude toward China is different from other member countries, what's your take on the difference? 

Edwards: I'm very happy to talk to you about the China-New Zealand relationship at the moment, like everywhere in the world, tensions are sort of heating up and it is more of a Cold War mentality. This is also true in New Zealand, regarding sensitivity, tensions in geopolitics.

New Zealand is historically a colony of Britain, and we have close historic ties with America and Australia. But over time, things have changed. New Zealand wants to have relationships with both the East and West, and to have a strong relationship with China, especially a strong trading relationship. The New Zealand public is very aware of how New Zealand benefits from being friends with China.

It's a balancing act for New Zealand, but there's uncertainty about how easy it will continue that relationship in the long turn. In my view, Washington, Canberra and London will put more pressure on New Zealand to distance themselves from China, and the New Zealand government has to try to satisfy both politicians in the West and in Beijing. It's a very difficult role. 

The New Zealand government capitulates too much to Washington, especially in terms of the Five Eyes Alliance and other defense alliances like AUKUS. New Zealand is not willing to be involved, and it's not New Zealand's interests. It's not in the public interest. 

For example, AUKUS is a military alliance that involves a lot of spending. New Zealand is a developed country. but we're not so wealthy that we can just spend lots of money on military equipment. It will come at the expense of health care, education and welfare, it will also bring New Zealand more into the possibilities of war in the future, and New Zealanders don't want wars. So I don't think the public have much interest in getting closer into military defense alliances with the West, but the politicians don't. So there's a bit of a disconnect. 

Bryce Edwards Photo: Courtesy of Edwards

Bryce Edwards Photo: Courtesy of Edwards

GT: As you said, the tensions are heating up, especially between China and the US, what misunderstandings the US or the West may have about China?

Edwards: The problem is that in countries like New Zealand, we are dominated by a lot of pro-Washington voices and pro-Washington propaganda. I think it's good to have debate and different perspectives. But recently, it's more one-sided. We only hear more about the American view of things, and we don't hear other perspectives. A clash of different views can help people to make up their own minds, but the New Zealand public isn't really getting that.
The news media, the politicians, it's kind of hegemonic. They put forward a very Western view of things. There's not a lot of critical thinking, so we just get a lot of Western narratives on China. It's unfortunate.

GT: Some countries are creating divisions and "small cliques" in the world, do you think it is in line with the development of these countries and well-being of their people? How the people in New Zealand have been affected by such cliques and camps between countries?

Edwards: At the moment, the biggest issue is the need to deescalate tensions and the increasing shift toward military conflict in the world. That's what I think is in the interests of the global public, but also the New Zealand public and the Chinese public. We need lots of dialogue, debate and exchanges between countries. It's not good for New Zealand to be pushed into the Western camp against China. It's not good for the public. 

New Zealand officially has an independent foreign policy. So we're supposed to not follow what Washington or London tells us to do. Sometimes I think that's not the reality, New Zealand does get told what to do by London and Washington. But I think the public really wants to have an independent foreign policy and hope that what's the New Zealand government to make decisions about geopolitics are good for the New Zealanders. That's not to join them to wars, and not to join them to defense alliances. So the public is very aware that New Zealand benefits from trading with lots of other countries. If we couldn't do that, we will be a much poorer country. They are aware that they don't want governments to jeopardize that for some sort of ideological purposes. I think there's some awareness that the common New Zealanders will suffer if we lose trade with China.

People are having trouble affording to pay for everyday costs. The main issues are inequality and poverty, housing affordability, and the cost of living, they want politicians to give answers to that. I don't think there's anyone really talking about wanting a stronger military or for New Zealand to be more closely aligned to the United States. No one, there's no sort of desire for that. New Zealanders are currently focused on bread and butter issues.

In some ways, I think we need a lot more debates, because sometimes when there isn't public debate, the politicians just make the decisions and there's not much scrutiny. My own view is that the media and politics that are more of the pro-Washington side are dominating the debate, and there're not enough contrary views or critical thinking. 

GT: China has put forward Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative and Global Civilization Initiative. What do you think of China's role for global governance? 

Edwards: I'm not sure I'm very qualified to talk about this. I do believe China has a role to play in the world. All nations have to be part of a global community. Development is vitally important for the world, so China has much to offer, just as other countries do. This is especially the case in the Asia Pacific.

I think we should welcome that involvement. But at the moment, the scrutiny is really one-sided that it's all about China. There's a skepticism that China is doing something wrong when it wants to have relationship with a country like the Solomon Islands. Whereas when the US creates an alliance or becomes much more embedded in a place like Papua New Guinea, there's not much criticism of it. To me, it's very hypocritical. Because it's assumed that the US is benign, and they're helping these Pacific islanders. But if China comes in, it's seen as doing something wrong. It's not a fair view of the world.

GT: New Zealand Prime Minister is paying a visit to China this week, we've kept the friendship for a long time, do you have any expectation for China-New Zealand relations in the near future? 

Edwards: Relations are very complex at the moment, and it is very difficult for New Zealand. Like I said, Washington and London, I think, put pressure on New Zealand, to condemn China to distance themselves from China. When Western countries do that, they're not thinking about what's best for New Zealand. They are thinking about their own geopolitical interests, or at least of their governments. 

It's always good to have diplomacy, it's also good if there are actually tangible increases in that relationship, especially in terms of trade or some way that China and New Zealand can actually work closer together. Then New Zealand will be very interested in that, and they'll be very positive toward the prime minister if the prime minister has negotiated something that benefits New Zealand.