What Does the CCP Want From New Zealand?
In a recent opinion piece, Asian Studies lecturer Catherine Churchman of Wellington’s Victoria University of Wellington examined possible reasons why China has given New Zealand special treatment compared to other nations voicing criticism of the communist regime.
From New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s Dragon and Taniwha speech to the New Zealand Parliament’s Xinjiang human rights vote, how does the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) benefits from the New Zealand-China relationship?
“To answer this question, we have to look beyond the New Zealand Government’s longstanding political spin on the ‘maturity’ and ‘predictability’ of the relationship, or its recent self-congratulation about what a deft approach it has had in handling the sensitivities of the Chinese Communist Party government,” Ms Churchman writes.
“To understand what China wants out of the relationship, we need to pay much closer attention to how the PRC treats New Zealand in contrast to other countries, and look for possible reasons as to why it does so.”
Ms Churchman observes New Zealand has only received verbal backlash from Chinese diplomats for their 20 critical statements against China since May 2020. These criticisms were issued in partnership both with other nations and independently, raising issues like the CCP’s human rights abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, attack on democratic freedoms in Hong Kong and excluding Taiwan from the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) World Health Assembly.
The CCP’s response to New Zealand’s criticism is a mere gentle slap on the hand compared to the regime’s vicious actions against other nations which oppose its interests, like Australia, Canada and Japan. These attacks have included fabricating food import issues, social media hate and boycott campaigns through the regime’s international 50 Cent Army, and abducting foreign nationals.
The CCP’s propaganda news outlets also frame New Zealand as a country refusing to side against China despite mounting pressure from the US and other nations. Zhao Lijian, the Chinese Foreign Minister and China’s most famous “wolf warrior,” even praised New Zealand for its supposedly successful relationship with China. Various other media outlets worldwide also take this position, like 60 Minutes, which aired a documentary about Beijing pulling the New Zealand Government’s puppet strings.
“The [CCP’s] messaging is carefully orchestrated to make us feel that New Zealand is on the right path, while the rest of its partners and especially its sole ally (Australia) have made a wrong turn,” said Ms Churchman.
However, the Victoria University professor states the ambiguity of New Zealand-China relations has more to do with the CCP’s long-term strategic goals than any “clever” New Zealand Government plans.
“For the PRC, New Zealand has never been more than a pawn in a much bigger, longer, strategic game, and despite recent shifts in the framing of the bilateral relationship from Ardern and Mahuta, the Chinese leadership still appears to see potential to fulfil its ambitions in New Zealand that might be put in jeopardy were it to adopt a more forceful diplomatic approach,” writes Ms Churchman.
New Zealand’s elites seem to believe the nation has a trade dependence on China, despite 70 per cent of New Zealand’s export trade partners being with countries other than China. According to Ms Churchman, Beijing does not place much economic importance on its trade links with New Zealand. However, the connections are strategically significant in controlling the CCP-compromised New Zealand business and political elite to act for the CCP’s economic gain.
Furthermore, the CCP’s coercion of Australia also intimidates New Zealand political elites into believing the certainty of a future world order dominated by China.
“One local academic even recently recommended that the New Zealand Government should follow a ‘smart appeasement’ strategy in its foreign policy with China and other great powers,” Ms Churchman stated.
“Without a list of demands like the one dished out to Australia last year, we can only extrapolate what further gains the PRC would see in a model relationship with New Zealand by observing recent events in other small countries over which the PRC has leverage.”
According to the Victoria University lecturer, one possibility is New Zealand becoming the CCP’s showpiece of good bilateral relations to convince Chinese citizens that their President-for-life Xi Jinping’s foreign policy strategy is correct. Another benefit could be to use New Zealand to further the communist regime’s expansion into the Pacific or Antarctic.
New Zealand’s political elites could also become stronger cooperative partners with the CCP leadership by accepting and praising communist, totalitarian systems as a suitable alternative to democratic systems. Cambodia, Hungary and Serbia are examples of nations that have followed this route.
Ms Churchman says that to avoid these possible disastrous scenarios, New Zealand should openly join other countries to halt the activities of Xi Jinping’s totalitarian state.
“Rest assured, once the PRC is in a position to force New Zealand into silence or worse still, into vociferous support of its activities at home and abroad, it will use its power to do so, and that will be the end of New Zealand’s proclaimed ‘independent foreign policy’,” Ms Churchman concluded.
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