New Zealand's Pacific reset: strategic anxieties about rising China

China’s expanding influence is complicating strategic calculations throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Small states, dependent on maintaining high levels of trade with China to secure their prosperity, are loath to criticise or take actions that Beijing could find objectionable. This is creating a dilemma over how small states can protect their national interests at a time when China’s growing influence threatens the status quo.

New Zealand illustrates this dynamic. It watches China extend its influence into the microstates of the South Pacific, a region where New Zealand (and its ally Australia) have long enjoyed a position of prominent influence.

New Zealand’s Pacific reset
The South Pacific is a geographic region encompassing 16 independent nations (and a number of associate nations and dependencies). The majority of these are microstates that face an array of economic, social and governance challenges and are vulnerable to natural disasters.

The two largest and most prosperous states by a fair margin are Australia and New Zealand. Historically, they have been the most dominant and influential players in the South Pacific.

Earlier this month, Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Winston Peters announced his government would spend an additional NZ$714 million over four years on international aid, with the majority going to South Pacific nations. Mr Peters explained that New Zealand’s interests in the region stem from its common Pacific identity, the desire to forge a path of shared prosperity and to uphold New Zealand’s national security that, he added, “is directly affected by the Pacific’s stability.”

Mr Peters' announcement of increased funding added substance to a speech he delivered to the Lowy Institute in Sydney in early March where he committed New Zealand to “shifting the dial” on its foreign policy approach toward the South Pacific. What went unstated – but was made unmistakably clear in Mr Peters' speech – was the increased role China is playing in the South Pacific and how this is “changing New Zealand’s relative influence.”

Rising China, growing anxieties
Long overdue, the New Zealand government’s renewed push is a soft-power response to a mounting dilemma that small states face in the Asia-Pacific region. In essence, as China’s power grows, it is leading Beijing to extend its influence into virtually every corner of the wider Asia-Pacific region. In the South Pacific, this influence is being secured through aid, loans (creating debt South Pacific states may be unable to pay off) and building projects.

For a region comprised of fragile economies, China’s aid and loans can help bolster economic prospects. Yet, at the same time, China’s engagement is not selfless. A number of strategic interests drive it. As China builds out its blue-water naval capabilities, there are concerns that it may seek a military foothold in the region.

In March, reporting in Australia cited unnamed sources claiming that China was seeking an access agreement to dock its naval ships in Vanuatu in lieu of establishing a permanent military presence. Both China and Vanuatu denied this claim. True or not, reporting such as this taps into a heightened level of strategic anxiety New Zealand and Australian officials are experiencing.

Given China’s continuing militarisation of the South China Sea and Beijing’s rejection of the Hague Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling in July 2016 against China’s expansive nine-dash-line territorial claims, New Zealand officials could be forgiven for raising questions over China’s long-term intentions in the South Pacific.

Dilemma facing New Zealand
The New Zealand government does not seek to exclude China from the South Pacific. In fact, it has looked to collaborate with Beijing where it can. The Tripartite Cook Islands/China/New Zealand Water Project is an example of this but the reset is clear evidence of Wellington’s desire to secure a role in the region as Beijing increases its influence. Yet, at this stage, New Zealand’s decision makers are acting as if there is little they can do beyond responding with soft power in the form of increased aid and appeals to a common identity.

Ultimately, the constraints facing small states like New Zealand stem from their structural position relative to China, defined by an immense discrepancy in material resources. In short, China is an economic behemoth that, except for the US, dwarfs every other country in the Asia-Pacific region.

While China is extremely important to the continued economic growth of small states in the Asia-Pacific, for Beijing these small states are relatively insignificant to its own economic fortunes. This gives China a potent lever to influence, compel and coerce states that draw its ire.

Larger economies such as the US and Japan have more room to manoeuvre vis-à-vis China’s increasing influence. Small states like New Zealand are walking a tightrope, lest they adopt positions Beijing finds regrettable and reduces or interferes with its trade.

For example, in 2010, Beijing froze political ties with Norway for awarding Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize. Negotiations over a free-trade deal restarted only in 2016. South Korean companies were punished when their government agreed to purchase US missile defence systems.

What now for New Zealand?
Recognising New Zealand’s structural position is not to suggest it is powerless in the face of China’s expanding influence in the South Pacific. However, it is all but certain that China’s regional influence will continue to grow at the expense of the influence New Zealand and Australia hold. Decisions will need to be made as to how New Zealand calibrates its foreign policy with this in mind.

One option would be to consider how great New Zealand’s dependence on China truly is. How resilient would New Zealand’s economy be if trade with China were to decrease? According to one report, New Zealand’s economy would be vulnerable but more resilient than others in the region.

The ConversationUltimately, balancing China in the South Pacific will require greater coordination with Australia – still the Pacific’s largest donor – and reaching out to other states. Japan, South Korea and the US share concerns about China chipping away at their relative influence. However, Beijing could interpret increased collaboration with larger powers as a sign of regional containment of its growing influence. New Zealand could find itself punished in such a scenario, but running that risk may eventually become unavoidable.

Reuben Steff is a lecturer in international relations and security studies at the University of Waikato.

He does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. It was not commissioned or paid for by NBR.


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We could always follow the example set by Australia, needlessly provoke China who are now finding that Australian wine exports are being held up at the Chinese border.
The same thing could happen to us, and for good measure we could find that China has substituted our dairy exports for American dairy exports as part of a Trump trade deal to reduce the US trade imbalance.
The Chinese global times news outlet has already suggested that Australian wine and meat exports be substituted for American products to reduce the American trade imbalance. They have even mentioned a figure for how much Australia would lose. Six billion and even possibly Ten billion dollars in trade.
It would be great if we had commentary that actually supported NZ interests rather than sounding like its come from a Five Eyes influence op that is trying to persuade us to shoot ourselves in the foot.

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Fun fact: China used this trick to get our attention in 2013. It happened when ALL NZ meat exports were stuck on ALL Chinese wharves for weeks due to MPIs “new logo not being approved”. Immediately followed JK asking Beijing to accept more NZ meat after our botched handling of DCD milk scare.

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This is our dilemma. To dance with the Dragon, and a very hungry one at that, or to stick to our guns and history and English speaking heritage. It is by far, the most important question of my lifetime as a Kiwi. Do we trade with China and then follow its dictates as is happening today in our universities and media and governmental agencies, or do we stand up for our hard won democracy and right of our free speech. The answer may lie far from here unfortunately. I don't believe for a minute that the Dragon will tolerate us saying what we think about their oppressive and demeaning system of life in China. Why do you think there are a million Chinese living in Australia and a half a million in New Zealand? Anyone with any money and sense is getting out of there as quick as they can. And who can blame them. Run on fear and filth, surely you'd think China must collapse into its own corruption sooner or later. But realistically it probably won't, until the one billion Chinese people who are still poor and working like slaves wake up to the fact that their superiors have been getting fantastically rich by the sweat of their cheap labour, will anything really change. Maybe!

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China doesn't mind us having free speech and saying what we like unless we start criticizing China as part of a Western led China containment strategy.
Then they will defend themselves because they don't want to end up being ostracized and demonized like North Korea or like we used to demonize China before Nixon visited and West buried their animosity.

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The shocking thing about all this is how utterly incompetent and neglectful our political parties have been. They have known for well over two decades what is happening, and they have done nothing whatsoever about it - apart from providing Communist Chinese interests withmore and more access to this country - our farms, our land, our strategic assets, our businesses.

Helen Clark whose agenda has always been thoroughly socialist, deliberately (well, she certainly didn't do it accidentally, did she?) destroyed the combat wing of our Airforce , to the Australians' disgust, with the excuse that she must have known even at the time was not true. that"We live in a incredibly benign environment."

When Dr Anne-Marie Brady, held in immense respect worldwide (because of her deep understanding and knowledge of Chinese tactics and history) tried to alert our politicians to what is happening she got rubbished by Chris Finlayson, who, given his involvement in the SIS should have known better. He dismissed her suggesting but she seemed not to like Chinese. On the contrary she has a Chinese husband and their children.

We need to work far closer with Australia in facing up to what Communist China is up to - for those of our forebears who fought for us all. We cannot betray them.

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we also need to work closer with the United States, who are our historic ally, and to whom we are indebted for every democratic privilege and freedom that we now seem to take for granted. further, we need to maintain a navy with a lot more than two frigates (and by this I mean bluewater combat platforms, i.e.: frigates and guided-missile destroyers); this is to say nothing of actually having an airforce, as you correctly point out. lastly, we need to respond far more seriously to Chinese meddling and attempts to influence our governance. alignment with that adversarial communist-fascist tyrant state, for whatever gain, is treason, and must be treated as such.

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In the United States after the Cold War there was the rather naive view that History was over, War was over and that China with its huge population, and its apparent sense in breaking with the other Communist power, Russia, would now become a free, peace loving, rule abiding productive Capitalist nation.
To any realist this never seemed likely, since Russia like China had essentially been nothing but a military dictatorship since 1929 and all the leading nations including the United States and the other serious powers in the west had by 1944 had developed economic, social, educational and employment structures dependent on permanent militarisation and with officer classes or naval aristocracies of the sort that have driven most revolutions, nb in Russia, Germany and the US today were Trumps election was a further turn in the post Vietnam revolt of the rejected officer class.
Only in the UK and the NZ has the military model society really been broken. Post War, Churchill in the 1950s changed from being the Royal Navy and Army major proponent to their greatest opponent and always opposed the big carriers, from 1944 on as did almost all serious Tory ministers, the order of CVAOI, the 2nd and 3rd Ark Royal and current QE2 and Prince of Wales were all events and designs never really intended and due to the freak events of 1956, 1964 ( the third Earl) and 1982- all direct descendants of HMS Glorious.and HMS Courageous.Improvised hybrids.

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JR I think like Cassandra's view the idea that NZ can have an independent Navy or Air Force is at least 50 years out of date. The demand of Trump and his so called strategic adviser Bannon, that NATO allies contribute at least 2 percent of GNP on defence has been the call of all.serious US Politicians since EMK

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... and with good reason. why should the American taxpayer have to constantly foot the cost, in lives and expensive equipment, in the thankless task of sorting out the world's problems, of fighting extremism and protecting the vulnerable, and building democracy where there was some despot. I have to side with President Trump on this one (and, his former advisor Stephen K. Bannon for that matter). Nobody implied anything contrary to the principle of collective defence and reasonable contribution.. we have also never had an independent Navy or Air Force anyway; and have only ever augmented the greater Western powers - first England, and then the United States, once the Royal Navy retrenched from the Pacific after the fall of Singapore during WWII.. but my point is that we actually need to bring a credible amount of front-line capability to the mix. Hence we need more frigates, and hence we need an airforce. We also need to heal the rift with the United States, and be doing a better job of looking after that relationship.

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Blue Water frigates and guided missile destroyers are unaffordable for the RNZN and have been since the 1970's. Both the Leander class frigates and Anzac class which in the NZ variant might generously be called a Ocean Patrol Ship ( in David Lange parlance and Vosper Thornycroft catergorisation) completely lacked any actual 'point defence' ability- given that the twin 4.5 manual guns and Seacat missile were useless in an AA role and even a 1943 Improved Dido cruiser, original close in armament of 6 twin 20mm Oerilikons would have been far more useful against Falklands or Korean war type low level attack by a Mirage or A-4. in my view the actual warfare capabilities of an Anzac frigate as ordered by Kim Beazley, is even less than a 1966 Leander in terms, of silencing, vibration and top speed and the hard armament of s low elevation slow firing 127mm gun and a single channel basic point defence Sea Sparrow is next to useless as a Southern Ocean Presence or Trans Pacific escort to LA.
A Holland class OPV built in Holland costs close to $500 million per ship and a minimum blue water frigate given the speed and range to maintain 19 knots from Suva and Honolulu , about 5500 km would probably be $1.2 million given the need for multi channel air defence and comprehensive CIWS with US systems rather than unproved UK systems like Sea Ceptor given most British missiles have failed or taken at least half a decade after introduction to be all effective, not the comprehensive failure of the systems on the RN Type 45 destroyers.
Its seems to me since WW2 only Russia and the US prepared for all military options maintaining stocks for 3 months conventional war as well as full logisitics for tactical and strategtic nuclear war and all combined options. once the first Soviet attack subs were running against the US fleet at speeds of 30k nuclear armed in 1961 most of the serious Nato allies Canada, Netherlands and Australia rapidly lost interest in serious anti submarine warfare and while the RN maintained the pretense its frigates were a second line nuclear deterence force and wired all warships for nuclear war even the Rothesays and Leanders from about 1971, it was really only a gesture and the Orion and helicopter were clearly the only viable means of attacking Soviet subs other than US subs.
Since the Cold War the bulk of not just the old Soviet Navy but also the USN old Ticonderoga and Aerleigh Burke cruisers and destroyers are reaching the age they are no longer viable or reliable, and the fact about a quarter of the US ABM fitted cruisers and destroyers have been knocked out by being rammed in possibly sometimes deliberate ship collisions suggests declining crew standards. The US Navy has at least taken severe disciplinary actions against the officers responsible and relieved and retired some,a ction no other Nato Navy of note would do today. However given that both the USN and Russian navies not prioritise brown water fighting ships like the Littoral Combat vessels, it hardly seems sensible for the RNZN and RAN to continue to develop escort forces for Trans Pacific convoys, considering the Russian and Chinese submarines could probably smash any carrier force with conventional torpedoes and missiles immediately.
The requirement for Australasian defence is to prepare for the defence of their own territory, south pacific and southern ocean. modern war seems to be likely to be a continuation of the island hopping strategies of MacArthur and the RAF 1960s of replacing the RN aircraft carriers with their ineffective Scimitars and Vixens air defence with Island air bases which is of course the option the Chinese has taken building static aircraft carriers through the South China sea taking advantage of the Jong/ Trump talk diversion. At best I would assume Trump, is giving ,North Korean regime should be given a last chance, given that the US Army war plan even during Bill Clintons term believed war with NK would cost, at least a trillion dollars, with a million civilian casualites on the Pennisular ( Quadrant, Australia). given that degree of fire and fury, Trump must feel the obligation to give the NK leadership a last chance and be seen by his critics to do so.

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Our real defence obligation to Australia, US and the West are essentially those outlined in the Radford Collins Agreement in the 1950s that we play a major role in the surveillance and sea control of the Tasman, Southern Ocean below us and South Pacific. Given the range of the Poseidon P8 of the USN, RAAF and essentially soon the RNZAF that extends south to the Ross Sea and 3000km east and north of NZ and considering the likely critical lack of availability of likely ESM equipped tanker support for RNZAF and Australian P8s it is essential NZ have its own fully developed air squadron and fully equipped airfields at Whenupai and.Ohakea. On the surface the RNZN needs at least the equivalent of 8 Holland class Opvs with GP gun 76/100m, CIWS, Te Kaha level surveillance radar and electronic warfare and NH90 helicopter pad and hangar. With the enhanced training and need for far more officers and navigators and probably a minimum coastal defence air strike force half the old A4s and Aermacchi numbers, even on 2 per cent of.GNP defence could afford no more than a mobile marine batallion.and no real artillery

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Hopefully some NZ politician will spell out the importance of the China relationship to New Zealand in a similar vein to this Australian senator.

Steve Martin isn't the most influential player in Canberra. But the former mayor of Devonport turned senator has his nose close to the ground in his home state of Tasmania.

And he used his first speech to the Senate to deliver a stark warning — as our economic reliance on China grows, Australia simply doesn't have the luxury of angering it.

"As China is the biggest overseas market for Tasmanian exports and biggest source of overseas tourism, investment and international students, our economic prospects as a state and a nation are today tied to China, whether we like it or not," he told the Senate.

"Diplomatic cocktail parties in Canberra must feel a long way removed from a mine at Savage River, an arts space in Hobart, a farm in Spreyton or a vineyard in the Tamar Valley.

"But it is these places which feel the pain if relations go bad, and we simply cannot afford it."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-23/china-australia-relationship-strai...

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Short answer is deal with it now before it becomes to big to deal with at all.
Cut back on Aunty Helen's game plan before China swamps us with even more rubbish.
A good example...stainless steel out of China that rust in a matter of weeks.
So called food grade that rusts yeh right.
We would not tolerate it from anywhere else so why are forced to accept crap from Chins like we owe them something.
Wake up and get real.

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Aunty Helen's? Try National too - unwilling to answer basic questions on Jian Yang's history and representations to Immigration, while overseeing the grand sell-off of NZ into foreign ownership.

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Don't know what China has done wrong really. It's all innuendo and racial fear mongering, that's what I've seen.

No regime in history has raised the living standards of so many people in such a short time. They at least deserve credit for that.

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I agree with your comment regarding the numbers of people dragged out of poverty but this was done through accessing Western markets. China has thus benefitted from the international rules based order but its behaviours in the south china sea are a massive rejection of the very system that enabled them to grow so rapidly .. China needs to change course... I am no Trump fan but confronting China on trade and IP theft is actually in our interests.

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You are ALL forgetting one player, France. Unlike Britain that put its tail between its legs and fled the South Pacific in the years following the Second World War, France has remained and fortunately for us and Australia, it remains entrenched in highly strategic New Caledonia, New Zealand's nearest neighbour. France's presence there prevents China's involvement in the country and more importantly, it stops China from establishing military bases on the island. France is an integral part of the EU and has a permanent seat on the Security Council, two factors which are of vital long-term strategic importance to the South Pacific.

Australia and New Zealand need to reset and re establish our relationship with France out of our mutual security interests and needs in this part of the world.

In order to counter the alliance between Australia and the United States and the establishment of the new US military base in Darwin, China has a clear strategic goal of establishing a military base of its own in the Western South Pacific to cut the supply lines between the US and Australia in the event of a war. New Zealand needs to understand this real fast and re-engage fully with our historic and long-standing friends, allies and family within the region. Doing defence on the cheap and nasty and shamefully bludging off Australia and the United States is no longer an option New Zealand. It's time you fronted fully to your responsibilities, otherwise what some Chinese have indicated to me over the years as to what is their long-term goal for New Zealand may come to pass. They want it for food production and they don't consider that white people have any particular valid or special claim to it.

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Only at the theoretical and theological level. At the time of the Anzac ship debate, one could certainly make a theoretical arugment that a combination of say 3 A-69 A/S corvettes, 3 Floreal OPVs and 12 Super Entendads gave some sort of relevant and effective NZ local and regional capability, given that the most likely submarien attack on trade would be in the Bass straight off Melbounre where conventional diesel subs were useful and diesel kilos and tangos would have found prey and trade in volume- however the French option would have satisfied none of the political and institutional needs on NZ or Australian or its services given the Navies total RN Origins and still predominant orientation despite the US alliance. but France is still only a minor power if in reality with Japan the US only serious and reliable ally bringing significant naval ships and capability and the political and service discipline for the USN to have the trust and respect to work with compared with the Blair and Merkel lightweight Sunday school regimes.
In New Zealand reality the warships have to serve certain social needs like a nod to training and using a minimum number of ordinary number of people which is why the RN Castle and Island class OPVs while full scale RN designs designed by RCN constructors with there small crews and lack of any real armament were politically ridiculous.
From time to time serious proposals have been made for French reequipment. Many favoured the RNZAF reeequip with Mirage fighters in the 1960s even former NZ CDS, but the problem was not only uSAF/ USN compatibility but possibly like the F-4 Phantom and F-16 the servicing and tech required to maintain them threatened the acceptable purpose of the RNZAF to many, and over that the boat has to be rocked, as the defence theology of Rupert Murdoch and Lt Bannon probably only results in support for the Italian Five Star, one should restudy the interview with Mr Bannon on CNN on Queens birthday, Monday.

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