Kiwi undiplomacy

“In archaeology, you uncover the unknown. In diplomacy you cover the known,” former United States Ambassador Thomas Pickering famously quipped. And Pickering’s wisdom is still relevant today.

In the aftermath of New Zealand’s free trade agreement upgrade with China, New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O’Connor decided to reprimand its Trans-Tasman neighbour. He believed that Australia should follow New Zealand and “show respect” and “a little more diplomacy” with the Chinese government.

This incident alarmed many senior members of the Australian government and created unnecessary tensions between the two nations.

Cosying up to the Chinese with an upgraded trade agreement is not something government ministers should brag about to the world.

His comment explicitly signals for the first time, that China could just assert pressure on countries such as New Zealand and even divide the Five Eyes security alliance.

Although both the Aussies and the Kiwis are part of the Five Eyes, each has its independent foreign policies. New Zealand took a more ambivalent approach towards China, while the Australians pursued an aggressive and defensive strategy.

Some of O’Connor’s  sentiments are understandable. Smaller powers such as New Zealand and Australia rely on the multilateral international order for its economic interests.

In an anarchic international system, great powers rule supreme.

China is a significant power across the Asia-Pacific. Under President Xi, the ‘Middle Kingdom’ has continued to exert itself across the world stage and expanded its influence across the region.

Therefore, it is vital to conduct foreign policy in a practical and realist manner.

For New Zealand, upgrading the free trade agreement was necessary for the country’s economic recovery, especially considering the global recession caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the short run, the deal itself was the right step for New Zealand, especially considering the United States’ current circumstances. The new Biden Administration must deal with its domestic affairs before even thinking about returning to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement, let alone containing the Chinese.

But O’Connor’s comments were not helpful. Australia is one of New Zealand’s critical western brothers and partners in the Five Eyes alliance. So isolating New Zealand from its security partners is not in its best interests.

In soft power, the less interest you reveal, the more superior you seem. As Pickering said, diplomacy is all about covering the known. Avoiding silly comments in the future would be the best way forward.

Leonard Hong is a Research Assistant at The New Zealand Initiative based in Wellington and a former intern at CIS.

Preserving our values amid growing turbulence

Australia and New Zealand face a geopolitical predicament as a consequence of China’s rise. How do we preserve our Western liberal values in the face of growing concern with our largest trading partner and it’s turbulent relationship with our key ally, the United States?

The 20th century saw the US rise with both economic and strategic dominance, but the 21st century is predicted to become the period of resurgence for China. Henry Kissinger has suggested that we are entering a multipolar world — international power dynamics shifting from West to East. 

Ideological tensions with China were recently highlighted by Australia’s Liberal MP Andrew Hastie and New Zealand’s Canterbury University Professor Anne-Marie Brady. 

After Hastie wrote a critical opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald expressing his concern for China’s human rights violations, comparing Xi’s regime to Hitler’s Nazi Germany, he was banned from entering China

Meanwhile, in her policy paper, Magic Weapons, Brady wrote of the Chinese Communist Party’s soft power coercion across Western nations, pointing to China influencing our democracies through foreign donations and the establishment of Confucius Institutes. Following this, she’s received threats of violence, her car and office vandalised.  

As Samuel Huntington predicted in his 1993 book ‘The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order’, Western liberal democracies like Australia and New Zealand will steadily witness greater civilisational tensions with China’s Confucian authoritarianism. 

And Graham Allison’s Thucydides’s Trap posits with a grim scenario of great power conflict: The rising China threatening the incumbent global power, the United States — Australia and New Zealand could fall victim in an intensive security competition between the United States and China. 

In his forward for Allison’sbook, Destined for War, Andrew Hastie posed the question: Can the political leadership of both countries overcome the historical structural stresses that have brought other great powers to war?”

The goal for both Australia and New Zealand is to protect our liberal democratic principles but to also avoid becoming the modern ‘Melos’ of the Peloponnesian War — the nation that fell mercilessly to Athens in 416 BC — preventing the ‘Thucydides’s Trap’. 

John Mearsheimer and Hugh White’s debate in Canberra is the beginning of an ongoing discussion concerning our strategy regarding the rise of China. Australians and New Zealanders must wake up to the task of solving this difficult challenge. 

It is imperative for both Australia and New Zealand to find a practical foreign policy solution to the ever-increasing turbulence between the United States and China. 

Leonard Hong is a recent graduate at The University of Auckland and a former research intern at the Centre for Independent Studies.

Unintended Consequences of Globalisation

In the past 30 years we’ve witnessed the end of the Soviet Union, the third wave of democratisation and extensive levels of globalisation. Mass flows of capital and mobility have become the norm. Francis Fukuyama predicted the ‘End of History’ with liberal democracies spreading around the planet and market capitalism enriching everyone.

To some extent this became a reality. Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now shows empirical studies of great benefits brought to the world by globalisation. We live in a richer, healthier and more peaceful era than ever before.

However, drastic changes to the global economy and mass migration resulted in a backlash against cosmopolitanism. 9/11, the global financial crisis of 2008, the Euro crisis of 2011, the failures of the Iraq War and the refugee crisis of 2015 cumulatively left Western liberal democracies politically precarious. The rise in domestic inequality, offshoring of low skilled work, and declining trust in political and financial institutions led to worsening social cohesion.

These unexpected circumstances of events led us to a world of increasing populist sentiment evidenced by Brexit and President Trump’s election — the revival of nationalism.

John Mearsheimer stated that nationalism is the most powerful ideology on the planet”. Humans are tribal and we are social animals to the core. This explains the zealous dedication people exert towards national causes which seek to advance identity-based policies.

Contemporary populism is a symptom of the problem and not necessarily the solution. We have to defend the liberal world order, but future policy-makers should consider dealing with the side effects of globalisation.

To sustain an interconnected and a peaceful modern world, we must understand the causes of populism and continue to build towards a society where we embrace liberal democratic principles.

Only fiscal discipline will protect us

Former Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan’s valedictory speech hailed the legacy of his stimulus package (but not the subsequent — and growing — government debt).

As everybody knows, debt and recession are often linked — and many speculate that another recession may be around the corner.

It’s been 11 years since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. In the aftermath, many Western governments, including Australia, pushed for fiscal stimuli to expand aggregate demand and boost the economy.

Since then, we have had a higher debt-to-GDP ratio as a result of continuous government spending and deficits by both Labor and the Coalition. On top of this, Australia’s economic performance in the last decade has been ‘lacklustre’ at best, on an average GDP per capita growth of 1.25%.

Although fiscal balance and economic performance aren’t closely related, low government debt provides countries with an optimal position and a better chance of having low interest rates.

Despite the growing debt, in contrast to other countries like Greece, Australia has a moderate debt to GDP ratio of 41.9%, and the Coalition is expected to record a first budget surplus after eleven consecutive budget deficits.

However, it is unlikely that the Australian government will continue to maintain fiscal discipline. The IMF’s Christine Lagarde warns of a global downturn, and it is possible that either side would push for a fiscal stimulus again if such a scenario happens. This leads to increased government deficit and debt.

This would put upward pressure on interest rates and the exchange rate, and crowd out private investment, both of which lead to lower wages and slower economic growth. Australians know that eventually, public debt needs to be paid back by either tax increases or cuts to essential public utilities.

For the Australian economy to prepare for an economic downturn and long term economic stability, we must have fiscal discipline that will make the economy more resilient against shocks.

Take responsibility for your life

Prominent intellectual and speaker Jordan Peterson’s current Australian tour could well be the first time many millennials have heard a message of personal responsibility.

For most of their lives, millennials have been coddled by the narrative of having rights without responsibility. For many millennials, individual accountability was obsolete in western culture, until people like Peterson revived the discussion in a new way for a new generation.

As an unintended consequence of the cultural change in the 1960s, there has been an overemphasis on group identity and intersectionality in our culture.

The most important aspect about an individual has become their group identity — characteristics such as race, gender, cultural background, and sexuality, take primacy over the individual.

This has led to people being classified as belonging to either an oppressor or a victim group. Being a white person meant that you had to forever reimburse the sins of western imperialism and slavery. Because you share the characteristics of those who did wrong in the past, you must pay in the present.

Meanwhile, being a minority victim group meant that you can ‘never be guilty’ or be responsible for any suffering in your own life. If you belong to a victim group, your problems were caused by the oppressors.

Peterson’s message directly counters this narrative. For the first time, many young people are being told they have control over their life. You are not responsible for the sins of your ancestors. Nor are you a victim because of the trials of your ancestors.

Take control of what you can. Start small, slowly build competence, and your life will drastically improve. This is how you build a meaningful life.

As Peterson says in his book, 12 Rules for Life“We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world”.   

We must bring personal responsibility back onto the table.

Leonard Hong is a student at the University of Auckland and a research intern at The Centre for Independent Studies.

Reconciliation requires greater free speech

The Victorian government, having passed legislation to authorise negotiation with Aboriginal Victorians, is advancing towards a formal treaty. Despite the entreaties of activists, the experience of New Zealand suggests a treaty is unlikely to be an end point to the process of reconciliation.

Indeed, though it’s been 179 years since the Treaty of Waitangi was signed —even that amount of time hasn’t reconciled the relations between Maoris and pakeha New Zealanders.

On the contrary it is actually becoming increasingly difficult to have open discussion about the issues surrounding Indigenous communities on both sides of the Tasman.

Recently both Former New Zealand National Party leader Don Brash and Alice Springs Town Councillor Jacinta Price, have been targeted for putting forward their views on Indigenous issues.

Brash and Price have extensive knowledge of the problems and are more than qualified to express their opinions. It is offensive and ludicrous to dismiss their opinions as ‘hate speech’.

Brash gave a speech at Waitangi this week — the first time in 15 years he has spoken there.

At his 2004 appearance, he was pelted with mud by protesters angry about his infamous Orewa speech just weeks before; in which he criticised separatist policies, such as the mandatory levels of Maori representation on district health boards and Māori electorate seats in Parliament.

Last year, Brash was banned from speaking at Massey University due to Vice-Chancellor Jan Thomas’ fear about inciting ‘hate speech’. Brash’s supposed crime is that he has a different opinion. He argues on the basis of committing to the rule of law and to equal treatment for all.

In Australia, Price was criticised for supporting retaining the date of Australia Day. She was accused by her critics of ignoring Australian colonialism in the past. Critics went so far as to suggest that she ‘legitimises racism’. This is nonsense.

Price is not a racist. She simply wants to deal with such issues as rape and domestic violence — which she spotlights as the real threats to Australia’s Indigenous communities.

Free speech and civil discourse are essential for debating controversial issues in order to find sound policy solutions. Genuine change will only come when people start listening and debating the arguments, rather than hurling accusations of bigotry.

No lasting reconciliation can be built by shutting down any uncomfortable debate with accusations of racism.

Leonard Hong is a student at the University of Auckland and a research intern at The Centre for Independent Studies.