Few know of the extensive military and foreign policy contacts. Hence when Prof. David Shambaugh, of George Washington University, an authority on China and international security and politics of the Asia-Pacific region, visited New Zealand to address the annual Otago University Foreign Policy School in June, “he was astonished by New Zealand’s naiveté about its relationship with China.” He commented that while academic interest in China is strong in New Zealand, “it has no real strategic direction.”
He believes certain strategic assets should be off-limits to foreign ownership. New Zealand ought to consider the possibility of China demanding access to extract minerals. New Zealand has not, he says, properly considered that China might ask to formally call on Kiwi ports with its naval ships.
However this already occurs. The destroyer Haerbin accompanied by its supply ship Hongzehu called at Wellington and other ports in October 2007, after been involved with exercises with Australian and New Zealand ships. At the same time the New Zealand frigate Te Kaha was berthed at the People’s Liberation Army Navy wharf in Shanghai. Te Kaha was to undertake an exercise with a similar sized Chinese ship. Te Kaha’s commander Andy Grant stated, “Such exercises were important to the military relationship.” He stated, “The level of engagement is quite high both ways.” Commander Grant continued:
New Zealanders in general are not aware of what their military forces are doing. It’s not a big part of the New Zealand psyche.
We get a lot of delegations from the Chinese armed forces coming to New Zealand, but I don’t think that’s generally well known.
New Zealand Maritime Component Commander, Commodore David Anson, stationed in Shanghai, stated: “There’s no doubt that New Zealand is wishing to grow its relationship with China – there’s no doubt in all facets. Military is just one of those building blocs.”
Prof. Shambaugh’s visit prompted one of the few features on China in a major newspaper dealing with matters other than the strictly economic. Yet here too the focus was primarily on how inexorable our relationship is with China and any opposition is called, in Prime Minster John Key’s words “xenophobia.” Hence, even here, the insights that Prof. Shambaugh might have been able to give received but scant notice.
What The Dominion Post article did provide however were four numbered points to summarize prime facets of the Sino-New Zealand relationship that the pleb readers might be able to quickly comprehend. Among the four were:
3. Diplomacy. New Zealand enjoys a strong relationship with the United States and China considers its relationship with the U.S. a high priority. China thinks that New Zealand can play a positive role in bridging its gap with the U.S..
4. Geopolitical. China wants to secure good relations with as many countries in the South Pacific as possible. It wants to secure Taiwan, and Taiwan enjoys good friendships with many of the small island countries. New Zealand has influence over those nations, so closer ties could improve China’s relations with them.
Those couple of points are about a near to reality as New Zealanders are likely to read anywhere in the mainstream media. The USA decided decades ago to allow the Pacific region to become China’s spheres of influence. Since the geopolitical situation of the Cold War era has not fundamentally altered, there is no reason to believe that U.S. policy towards this region vis-à-vis China has changed, and it makes sense from a geopolitical perspective to have China continue expanding in the region to “contain Russia” as in the Soviet days of the Cold War.
New Zealand thereby serves as China’s proxy in the South Pacific, and would more likely be looked on as a big brother than a fire breathing, all-consuming dragon. The importance of this region has been indicated by a White Paper issued by China on October 17, 2000 that demarcates “first and second lines of island defence” in the Pacific. The first line of defence runs from Taiwan through the Spratly Islands to Singapore. The first island-chains describe the sphere of influence that China expects to achieve in the Pacific Ocean.
On October 19, 2002 NewsMax reported that according to the White Paper China plans to upgrade its navy to permit it to control “what its military calls ‘the first island-chain’ by 2010 and to the second island-chain’ by 2040.” “The first island-chain includes Japan, Okinawa, Taiwan, the Philippines and Brunei. The second island-chain extends to Australia’s doorsteps.”
The NewsMax report cites Shen Dingli, an expert on the Chinese military at Fudan University, Shanghai, as stating: “Once the Taiwan front is closed, we may turn to the South China Sea,” [Beyond the South China Sea], “we have a third issue to resolve, namely to take the Diaoyutai Islands from Japan.”
China is continually expanding its presence in the Pacific region by bribes of aid and trade with the small island nations to fulfil these plans. Chinese influence has been bought in Tonga, Fiji, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu in the Polynesian and Melanesian areas. In New Zealand, of particular note among the Chinese investments, Li Ka Shing’s Cheung Kong Infrastructure bought Vector, the Wellington power grid, in 2008. Vector was sold to Li Ka on the advice of Goldman Sachs,  which itself is one of those global movers-and-shakers who has had a relationship with China since the 1970s, and in 2004 became the first international bank to be permitted to arrange equity and bond deals in China. Goldman Sachs is also associated with Mr Li’s Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. The importance of Li is not that he is China’s richest businessman, but that he is an operative for the Chinese military, and specialises in buying up strategic assets throughout the world. Hutchison Whampoa Limited operationally controls the Panama Canal, and has built the largest container port in the world at Freeport, Bahamas. Li is a board member of the China International Trust and Investment Corporation, used as a front by China’s military to acquire technology for weapons development. When Li buys an asset he is therefore doing so with a lot more in mind than merely profit.
As I have related elsewhere, the entire Asia-Pacific region is fraught with potential crisis scenarios, especially involving climatic changes, drought, flooding, erosion, pollution, and the struggle for the control of water resources, with China having conflicting interests with India, Russia and virtually the whole of South East Asia. If such tensions – to say the least – should arise, this pitiful country with its obsession with China’s export market stands to be in a precarious situation.
When the U.S. was still preoccupied with the USSR, New Zealand and Australia were explicitly warned that the ANZAC countries should not assume U.S. assistance in regional conflicts. This could only mean that the U.S. would not be drawn into assisting against any threats from China. During the period of the Cold War when the USSR became the “evil empire”, Dr Desmond Ball of Australian National University, warned New Zealand that military assistance from the U.S. “would depend on the specific identity of the ‘national adversary and the relationship of the U.S. to the aggressor.” The same year no less than Paul Wolfowitz, then U.S. Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs stated that China’s increasing presence in the region was a welcome and stabilizing development.
Have geopolitical issues fundamentally changed in relation to China, Russia and the U.S., since the Cold War or are they the same but in different guises? From the New Zealand position, as a powerless state that tries to posture on the world stage through the rhetoric of moral righteousness and on the coat tails of the U.N., should the process of trade relations, upon which New Zealand bases its foreign policy, become unstuck through a number of crisis scenarios, New Zealand’s position as a lick-spittle whore for China’s interests in the South Pacific will see the country well out of its depth.