So here’s a curious thing. A few days ago, Matthew Hooton wrote what can only be described as an obsequiously pro-PRC column for the Herald [this was the ‘Chinese Taipei’ one comparing Taiwanese independence to the Chatham Islands attempting to secede from New Zealand and proclaiming itself the real government of the entire country].
Now, just prior to Todd Muller’s victory over Simon Bridges, Hooton put out a piece which appeared *Suspiciously* similar to Muller’s remarks in his first speech as National’s new Leader.
As it turned out, this was no accident, nor plagiarism – but rather a case of shared authorship. Hooton had been Muller’s sotto-voce comms guy for much of his Leadership campaign. Not that I seem to recall this being openly disclosed by Hooton before he started going in to bat for Muller and/or against Bridges, but not my point. Which is, instead, to note that Hooton has a reasonable degree of influence over what the new National Party leader says in public.
Which may, perhaps, explain why Todd Muller started loudly pushing for New Zealand to re-open the border with the People’s Republic of China, “concurrently” with our working to re-open the border with our closest neighbour, trading partner, and traditional ally of Australia.
Personally, if we were going to be doing this with anyone else other than Australia, I would have thought that it made more sense to be looking at resuming relatively normal-ish interactions with countries that’ve actually demonstrably got the virus completely under control … like Taiwan … but for obvious reasons, I doubt that Hooton would be keen upon pushing for that.
Anyway, to sum up – we can reasonably infer from Hooton’s column that he’s pretty pro-PRC. And seems to think that openly standing up for New Zealand’s interests when the PRC pushes us to, say, *not* have a lockdown etc. … is negative conduct to be castigated and eschewed.
He’s got a point that there’s a potential economic cost associated with such actions, and that Winston’s exchanges with the Chinese Embassy here are, as I put it at the time, a case of playing bull-rush in a China-shop. [Which I don’t necessarily disagree with doing either, but that is another story for another time]
But going out of his way to insistently denigrate Taiwan as “Chinese Taipei” and roll the PRC’s preferred line upon that and other subjects – is going rather further than sensible, pragmatic ‘realpolitik’ considerations. It’s repeating outright propaganda, to the interest of a state other than this one.
And then a few days later, Hooton’s highest-profile local client, the new leader of the National Party, starts pushing a similar line around re-engaging with China by opening the border etc. as a top priority. [And certainly, this would help restore the situation the Chinese embassy was pushing for at the start of the crisis – wherein they vocally opposed our closing of the border to the PRC and other countries in the first place]
We have known for some time now that the PRC has made a considered and cogent effort to get its point of view into our politics, courtesy of Prof Brady’s “Magic Weapons” paper and other such occurrences.
In light of this, I think it is a legitimate question to ask what degree of influence Hooton and his associates had over Muller’s remarks and subsequent (geo)political positioning over the weekend.