Monday, February 5, 2018

The Hunt for a Witch?

Jian Yang is a New Zealand politican who has recently received a large amount of scrutiny due to the discovery that he failed to declare that he was involved in training spies as part of work he did at a university in China in a citizenship declaration. I followed this story with interest. It occurred to me as worrying and interesting to consider how much such an individual has been involved in government since becoming a citizen of New Zealand.  

Recent documents obtained by The International Column through an Official Information Act request indicate that before the arrival of State Councillor Liu Yandong on an official visit to New Zealand in 2012, Jian Yang received a briefing containing information specific to her and other Chinese officials prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The complete documents contains information about these officials that the public is not privy to according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Further statements from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received as part of the Official Information Act release indicated that individuals like Jian Yang are invited into involvement in official trips, in this case and in others via phone. Hence there is not a paper record of how Jian Yang became involved in several trips to China and visits to New Zealand of Chinese officials. 

Jian Yang responded to claims that his failure to be forthcoming brings his integrity into question by claiming that those who write about him are attacking him because he is Chinese. However, it is worth noting that should Jian Yang and his actions not be brought into question simple because he is of a certain ethnicity or formerly not a New Zealand citizenship is rather silly. Witch hunt or not - the public deserves the opportunity to form their conclusions of Jian Yang based on evidence.  

Friday, January 26, 2018

The World in Transition

Something interesting is currently happening on the Korean Peninsula. Firstly, with the Olympics at hand the North Koreans have been brought to the negotiating table with the interest of more then just participating. Some might claim this represents progress in relations with North Korea for the South, but those more skeptical might point to the fact that a cycle of relations has been renewed with a threatening and increasingly prerogative United States. Something else is happening in Canada at the moment and the Pacific Region in general. Finally (and without the United States) the large free trade agreement which includes most of the Asia-Pacific is now a pending reality. Final talks seem to be left to individual countries to ratify the deal. What has brought about this sudden movement? Has a President of the United States, who has brought into the question the continued existence of the North America Free Trade Agreement, provoked a quick sign? What is really interesting to consider is how the world is playing chess against the United States and weaving the fabric different from that of what the White House intended. 

Transitions often work where ideas replace each other. A classic example could be colonialism which after World War Two was time and time again unwoven as a viable way of doing things. If one wants to claim that the world is currently in transition now, one needs to do two things. State what the difference in ideas is and state how the world is crowding around the idea that will prevail and continue to shape it. Freedom of commerce has long been something important to the world. Countries developing and developed have seen great benefit as a result. Those who claim that protection of companies and commerce at home is now the agenda, fail to acknowledge that companies cannot be forced or bullied into doing what government wants. And yet, with expanding companies like Apple in the United States, and companies like Walmart delivering extra pay for their workers - one could say that 'Trumpism' is working and getting the United States somewhere. If so, do we live in a world in transition towards protectionism?

I don't think so. I think instead that the world is about to vindicate itself into a new era of commerce which the United States will eventually be forced to join but who is missing the chance to broker. The United States cannot lead the world in action, without leading the world in thought. As the United States makes vocal threats to withdraw from free trade agreements, and places tariffs on this and that, it will eventually find itself secluded as it becomes more and more like Iran and Russia in how it drives economic growth - internally and without a focus on trade. That however, isn't the idea, but the means of transition. A world where the United States shuts down the federal government whilst the New Zealanders go to space for the first time. A world where Israel is hailed as an example of secularism by the Vice President of the United States. And a world where the loss of leadership and loss of integrity entails a loss of continuity. That, is the stuff of transition.   

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"Dear Prime Minister" (New Zealand)

Dear Prime Minister,

It puts a smile on my face to write to you with the starter “Dear Prime Minister”. This is the case because I know that this letter is going to be read and that you are a leader open to consider the voice of your constituents. Having said that, the aim of this letter is to commentate with relation to a number of potential problems on the horizon with the aim of helping you in the task of being Prime Minister. I don’t (and am certainly willing to start this letter by saying) that I don’t know everything.

Firstly, the government has recently introduced a hike in student allowance payments which are long overdue. However, one of the key pieces of advice given to the party opposite regarding this issue was that an increase in contributions to students would result in a hike of rents by landlords in accommodation ideal for students. I think the government of the time needs to consider this with the aim of putting money in the hands of students that cannot be handed on to landlords. Perhaps, a food voucher might be welcomed by students who struggle allocating money towards feeding themselves and already resort (in the case of Wellington) to places like the Wellington Free Store to feed themselves. It might be a little late now to put in place, but it might be worth mentioning and opening up for public debate (including students).

Recently the National Party has started advocating for their policies with relation to road building to be considered further by your government. It is a political move that your government has responded to by correctly pointing out that the New Zealand Transport Authority should and does deserve the opportunity to make its own decisions. Projects around rail are also driven with consultations of the public and supported by local councils which entails that the government doesn’t just get to decide what it wants to do. The need to respond here further I think is apparent (at least to me) and doing so might best entail stating what has been implied by current responses.

Finally, I think that the government of the day has had a neat way of setting relationships abroad on a positive foot whilst at the same time containing a lot of anti-American and potentially xenophobic sentiment flouting around at the moment. I love that the government of the time has chosen to do this without stirring the pot and making things worse. It occurred to me that there is an opportunity for New Zealand to demonstrate it is a peace maker within the world. As the United States pulls back and loses focus, New Zealand should look to step in where it can. That might include an envoy to North Korea at some point. It might also include more discussion (and groundwork) around a common area of movement and free trade between Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This week once the United States drops the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Canadians are going to be scrambling and the opportunity to catch a lucky break with a focus on just them might be practical.

I have to admit I am very excited. A little concerned hearing that the government wanted to see the certain ministries cut five percent from their current budget, and a little more concerned seeing that those who have already gone through the tertiary system are not being offered anything whilst new students get a first year free ride (on perhaps, I’ll admit, a slightly selfish note). Focus on health, education that is primary and secondary, and police. These are three areas where the Labour Party stole the conversation during the election and need to continue to make their core. Failure to do so might entail that ground gets stolen down the line by the opposition as they turn their own budget cutting into your (appeared) miss management.

All the best for the coming year

Monday, October 9, 2017


Following current events around the world as they unfold at the moment has become too much like watching two disgruntled neighbours hurdle insults over the fence at each other. Watching the speeches of the North Korean representative to the United Nations and the President of the United States recently isn’t the only case that comes to mind. Whether it is Brexit in Europe, Syria in the Middle East, Qatar and the blockade of it by neighbouring nations – the world seems very stuck. The world seems like it has lost its sense of direction. Whether this comes from competing ideas of what the future should look like or whether it comes from a lack of consideration of what to do about various muddles the world seems to have found itself in – I want to ask an interesting question. Does the current muddling represent a trend, and if so – what is causing it and how can the world move on from it.

It seems like just yesterday the world was in a very different state. We had a revolution in the Middle East to talk about with interest and optimism. We had this interest in what Europe was going to make of itself. A powerhouse of neo-liberal making, engineering peace and engineering a green economy. But with the Greek banking crisis, a chain of events seemed to unfold. Some might say that Brexit could be seen as all about identity. But really a concern for where the wealth is going and more importantly whether it might disappear has grown out of a zero-sum global economy. One could say that neo-liberalism has failed. I think that is an interesting thing to consider reflecting on how the prospect of war has been normalized because the reward of keeping the peace doesn’t entail a flurry of commerce and the trickling in of wealth. Instead those things can be assured with or without the looming prospect of war, the blockade and the exit. The idea that trade entails peace is growing cold because the rewards of peace are no longer present in the plenty. Well's run dry. 

Yesterday seemed like a very different time. Even when I was abroad watching world events – it didn’t seem chaotic to the extreme it does now. One could reflect on an event and draw a conclusion about what might happen next. What was to be learned from this occurrence was to me at the time a worthwhile question to ask. But as the world falls into a state of disrepair. As the world goes from one extreme to the next and makes me very glad I live in one of the far-flung corners of it, I can’t help but wonder whether the world is waiting to be renewed. Whether something is missing like the oil to keep the engine going and the next chapter on the horizon. Whether it comes down to who is President of the United States seems interesting to consider with a focus on giants of peace in Europe (and elsewhere) doing the job that was often done by the leader of the free world. I guess my question comes without an easy answer. But does that make it any less worth asking: What is going on here world?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Beijing: Relations Are What You Make Them

The People's Republic of China is a country that has recently been closely watched, with western nations keen to see China play along and put pressure on nations like Iran and North Korea. Concern continually floats around the fear that China will see itself as 'the exception of the rule' when it comes to dealing with security destabilizing states. But recently China has been more inclined to play ball as Mark Landler and Steven Lee Myers reported in an editorial article for The New York Times. They noted that China was first in line to call out North Korea with the recent test of missile technology with a rocket to launch a satellite into space. And although more recently China has been inclined to oppose sanctions on nations like Iran, recently China came around to enforce sanctions and also play an active role in nuclear talks. This shows that China's concern about regional security is existent even with the demand for oil in China, and it reflects well on relations with the United States where stability on the Korean Peninsula and Middle East is paramount. Mark Landler and Steven Lee Myers left their article with an open question however: Is China's coming around to sanctions based around getting a better price for oil from Iran? Only time will tell. But having read their article, I found myself finding this picture too rosy reflecting on recent deterioration in relations between the Philippines and China over a territory dispute. Is there still plenty to worry about?

According to recent reports, a Philippine Navy plane spotted several foreign vessels in a lagoon at the disputed area of Scarborough prompting the Philippines to send its biggest warship to have a closer look. The fishing boats turned out to be Chinese when the war ship arrived to conduct an inspection, where it was found the vessel contained large amounts of unlawfully collected corals, clams and live sharks. Jason Miks from The Diplomat had the story, reporting that following the incident, Chinese military vessels were dispatched and positioned themselves between the fishing boats and the Filipino BRD Gregorio del Pilar blocking the sailors from accessing the Chinese boats and make arrests. The incident says something about the inclination of the Chinese to move forcefully when incidents around boarder disputes, rather then as Jason Miks goes on to point out, take the high road and have the disputed islands ownership settled in international court and avoid uncertainty and strategic marshaling in the future. The reason for the reaction comes with strong public sentiment in China in favor of seeing such disputes dealt with harshly. China doesn't want its influence in the region to wain to the advantage of other players, but if their interest is to be sustained such a hard line policy can only force harsher responses by Filipino and the Vietnamese - who also hold claims to ownership of the territory - in the future. With a diplomatic solution out of sight, neither side wants to back away strategically, which leaves room for wondering if China is to be a co-operative neighbor or not?

One couldn't fairly talk about the shape of China in terms of relations without talking about Taiwan. The People's Republic of China has had a strong interest in seeing the island not declare independence not just because of how that reflects on the island being a strong democracy increasingly Americanized, but also because China remains interested in not seeing the independence of Taiwan trigger a flow of separatism in the mainland. Nancy Bernkopf Tucker and Bonnie Glaser discuss Taiwan from the point of view of the United States in an article for The Washington Quarterly called: 'Should the United States Abandon Taiwan'? They discuss the issue in the opposite regard, suggesting that whilst it might seem an idea to appease China and avoid having to look at the island of Taiwan as a potential spark point, that instead: "Indeed [that] sacrifice might promote new appetites and necessitate fresh efforts...[on China's behalf]". But the arguments being made here is again neo-realist where nations are either forced to use power, or suffer in the hands of those who have it and use it. But this leaves the solution of the 'high road' - as Jason Miks talked about it prior -  intact but unused. My argument here isn't that China is more aggressive then others have portrayed it. I think instead there is plenty of room for relations to follow by choice, rather then be suffered as neo-realists might try and convince us.

China might be inclined to feel a vulnerable power since its rise has been both resent, and accumulated with so much fear from other nations in the world. But the concern will only remain if China makes itself the 'exception of the rule'. China remains strongly dependent on its economy in order to sustain growth. Impoverished groups still exist in China, but as time moves on China is going to see its relations reflect on its trade and its economy. China's ability to continue to conduct its current method of economic bridging to extinguish independence orientated sentiment, like has been the case with Taiwan, will be drained if China looks to strategic methods more and more in the future. The neo-liberal 'high road' of making economic ties reflect on ones relations with other nations is not simply a high road to be flirted with as one among many ways of doing business. The article by Mark Landler and Steven Lee Myers reflects the want to see China in a different light from seen previously. This is clearly the case when one looks to Taiwan. The situation has changed alot reflecting on how former President Bill Clinton marshaled two U.S. battle groups in 1996 after China conducted a missile exercise in the waters surrounding Taiwan ahead of elections there. The need for power has been clearly undermined with continued economic ties reflecting on relations, with the Taiwanese President kind enough to use the phrase 'one nation, two areas' talking about the relationship with China in the recent visit to Beijing. Such observations can only lead China to becoming more inclined towards neo-liberal thinking. Thinking and the behavior which results is not a condition of the nation-state but instead learned, and thus exercised. The hope can only be that this reflects on the prospect of better relations with nations elsewhere.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

New Zealand's Little Brother Complex

New Zealand is a small country in the South Pacific Ocean, who's geographical size and population is about the same as that of an average state of the United States. New Zealand has more sheep then people - and a military that is compared with many others, tiny - making it easy to look from the outside and ask: What foreign importance can New Zealnd really have? Analysts from Stratfor a defense and intelligence advisor to top U.S. officials was kind enough to bring such sentiment out from the darkness recently, with the help of Wikileaks of course. had the story, saying that: "When it comes to geopolitical importance," Stratfor analyst Chris Farnham wrote to colleague William Hobart in September last year, "it doesn't get much f---ing lower than New Zealand". I couldn't help reflecting on these comments, hearing that New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was in Seoul for a Nuclear Summit with world leaders. John Key echoed Barack Obama in his speech, with the two men's positions mirrored to the extent they were kind enough to mention each other in their speeches. New Zealand looked like the little brother, following keenly the older sibling in hope of gaining something in return - perhaps a free trade deal? But is that really a symptom of being a small nation like New Zealand is? Is New Zealand a little brother to other nations in the world?

First lets start with as New Zealanders refer to it 'just across the ditch' - translation: over the Tasman Sea - with Australia. New Zealand and Australia are linked by foreign policy in a number of ways that could make the relationship seem to be that of a brothership, but only at first glance. New Zealand and Australia are inclined to mirror each other's strategic interests. New Zealand has its written down in its most recent White Paper that New Zealand would enter a conflict if Australia was attacked. The gesture is returned in the most recent Australian White Paper. New Zealand and Australia have however had a more recent separation in directions when it comes to economic pacts of free trade. When Australia was willing to go with the United States not only to Afghanistan but also Iraq, the United States became inclined to respond with a free trade deal, New Zealand who refused to go to Iraq was not so lucky. But normally the protocol with New Zealand and Australia was that New Zealand would go first, and then Australia would follow when it came to free trade deals. In clear defiance, New Zealand secured a free trade deal with the People's Republic of China - the cross Tasman relationship is yet to take on the same dynamic leaving a seperation in both aspirations and trade deals. As the saying goes, when the Australian economy catches a cold, New Zealand gets the flu, but being that New Zealand is increasingly aware of that as the case - New Zealand is looking beyond Australia more and more. The makes New Zealand less aligned with Australia deal wise beyond Oceania, but also less inclined to see its role as to follow Australia around like a lost little brother.

However, one of the key reasons that New Zealand doesn't look to Australia as a big brother, is that New Zealand already has a free trade deal with Australia. But in saying that that says something about countries that New Zealand doesn't have a free trade deal with. Let me give you an example of what I mean with India. A New Zealand news anchor by the name of Paul Henry made fun of the Indian Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on the government television station TVNZ, to the extent that would rather not repeat the remarks here. India was not amused, and within a few days the Indian Minister of Internal Affairs summoned the New Zealand High Commissioner Rupert Holborow. He apologized and made the statement that:“as New Zealand’s High Commissioner to India, I would like to convey my deep regret for the hurt these comments have caused". How much this reflected on existing free trade negotiations between India and New Zealand one can only speculate. However, when New Zealand Prime Minister John Key went to India later on that year, he found the Indian Prime Minister playing hard ball and no free trade. But it's more then that, New Zealand's main export is dairy and meat produce - I have a Chinese friend in Hong Kong who drinks New Zealand milk, it's more expensive she says then other milks, but tastes so much better. Hong Kong seems to exist as a demonstration of what a lack of protectionism looks like: New Zealand milk. But countries like the United States and India are more inclined to want to hold back - they have their own subsidized or noncompetitive farming industries to protect. New Zealand and free trade just doesn't work in many cases, leaving a fiasco to be revealed - particularly when New Zealand considers the dependency it has on free trade, over dealing with its marginal economy at home.

New Zealand currently has a National government focused on fiscal responsibility, which means putting the squeeze on government spending and cutting public sector jobs, as well as services. The sharp reality is that that leaves New Zealand without a plan, and dependent on growth and investment with our trading partners to keep ourselves afloat. A buy of New Zealand farms by Chinese, German and American investors over the last few years are a good demonstration of that. But New Zealand's inclination to look to expanding global markets for their milk and dairy produce are another demonstration - take what has gone on with New Zealand and China since a free trade deal has existed there. A dependency mindset is certainly in existence here, but more then just that - there is a fiasco in the making. If New Zealand hits the brakes and goes into recession - current arguments of fiscal responsibility are going to look like part of the problem, not the solution. That will especially be the case when New Zealanders reflect on tax changes made by their current government. What would likely result? A shake up of internal change, if New Zealand wants growth, it needs to be an innovator - that means new markets and new products - and a focus on investment. For the time being New Zealand has its focus on free trade as its source for growth over investment. There will be less of that in the future with this internal reflection. It might cost New Zealand, but there is always the potentially for it to really pay off. New Zealand for the time being might be a little brother to other countries in the world with the carrot of free trade. But for how much longer? New Zealand cannot sustain its little brother complex with free trade being a wild goose chase.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Making Strategic Thinking Post-Containment

Recently there has been a lot of focus on what to make of strategic thinking as we move into a post-financial crisis world with existing defense challenges. Part of this means the juggling of what to spend more or less on and how to spend on defense to ensure you have your focus in mind. Recently, Jonathan Dowdall wrote an article for which spoke around these points. He suggests there is increasingly a lack of 'strategic logic' with a vocal focus on expanding Washington's commitment to the Asia-Pacific region and putting maritime assets necessary to meet that policy on the "chopping block". The worry in his case is that Washington is saying one thing to the world, but domestic interests are leading to cuts which is ultimately bringing about something else - Dowall doesn't count the deployment of Marines in Australia for much after all. But in him holding that worry, I find myself upon another worry asking what strategic challenges exist currently that warrant a force built more so for a cold war era type confrontation. The big 'hot spots' of the region I would point to as being the Korean Peninsula, and perhaps Taiwan, as well as the Spartan Islands - what are we to expect, focusing on Korea for example. But more then just that, to what extent are the current budget cuts reshaping foreign policy and leading to a post-containment era of thinking.

Let me look firstly to the example of North-South Korean case to show you what I mean. The strategic situation that exists on the Korean Peninsula has been a 'hot spot' brought back into the 'lime light' with the death of Kim Jung IL and the uncertainly of what that means for the future, and the possibility of confrontation. Minxin Pei recently wrote an article for The Diplomat called 'How Kim Death Risks China Crisis' expanding that concern to relations between the United States and China with a worst case scenario playing out on the Korean Peninsula. His fear stems from the fact that a reaction by either the United States or China to a situation - like a crisis post a North Korean collapse or aggressive military action by North Korea - could be seen by the other side as "provocative and ill-intentioned". He goes on to suggest that a crisis in North Korea that involves South Korean efforts to restore order beyond the 38th parallel and the loss of North Korea as a 'buffer state' for China could be a frustrating situation for China which might lead to military action in response. I think however that the focus of North Korea as a 'buffer state' speaks to cold war era type thinking. China might for instance have greater interest in seeing a stable Korean Peninsula without the constant worry of a regime crisis causing a North Korean refugee crisis into China. He also makes this point as though having General MacArthur suggest the war against communism should be extended beyond the Korean border with China happened just yesterday - are tensions really that high? China is far from the 'self conscious' state it was at the time of the Cold War, and its also unlikely to involve itself in a war that could hurt its economic development. I think the United States, South Korea and China could avoid conflict with a multilateral agreement to acknowledge both sides sovereignty, but not before a crisis comes about like Minxin Pei suggests, that would just raise suspicion about intentions. A position like mine talks to post-cold war thinking, but what about post-containment thinking?

Just a few days ago Gareth Evans wrote an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer called: 'Foreign Policy isn't About Good and Evil' which argued along what I would call post-containment thinking. He makes two important points, firstly he warns of the risk of limiting our options as a result of casting those world nations that we don't like as "irredeemably evil" - bringing one ultimately to have to use a gun like the case of Iraq to make ones case. This point with relation to North Korea leads me to Kim Jong-un who some consider as a figure more closely related to Kim Il Sung, likely to use military actions to leverage power against the South for aid and increase his political support amongst those in the military in North Korea as Michael J. Green points out in an article for Foreign Affairs. One can get a very different point of view from reading Cheo Sang-Hun's article for the New York Times where the focus is on North Korea's recent call for implementation of an inter-Korean summit to help see investment between the two nations, something that many in both nations believe could lead to less fragile relations. It could also be the first wave in an eventual opening up China style of North Korea's economy. The aim is not to argue to North Korea's innocence. One could argue that Kim Jong-un is a fresh face with a relatively clean past as Cheo Sang-Hun points out, but that leads me to Gareth Evan's second point in asking: Do countries really always have to be evil? Is there not still the potential for a turn around?

Containment is founded on two pillers, the first directly relates to the threat of 'domination' such as was ideological in the cold war. The secound relates to a notion of putting a country in a cage, and waiting. Hedley Bull made a unique point about world relations saying that countries are able to pursue what he talked of as "purposes beyond ourselves". In doing so, a country is able to behave without any direct payoff in sight. This type of thinking doesn't assume that countries don't always behave with their own interests in mind, but instead that countries can behave without their own interests in mind - in doing so, one leaves a unique opportunity to cooperate selflessly - and change the reputation a country like North Korea might be held to. The concern for the Korean Peninsula in the case of China and the United States isn't about domination, its about greater regional stability that won't be had by the strong invention by either side. But the demise of a policy like containment doesn't rest simply on the changed relations between countries like the United States and China since the end of the cold war. Instead post-containment thinking involves leaving the window for a country to change open. The bigger challenge for the region isn't just seeing the behavior of a state like North Korea beyond a 'black and white' psychopathic mask its often given, but instead giving North Korea an opportunity to behave without wearing that mask to the better of its reputation and be outward engaging. If one is to think along lines like these, one is thinking post-containment.