Look, I’m no fan of the PRC – but I can’t help but recall how NZ’s previous entanglement in ANZUS worked out.
That is to say – we got pressured into fighting in Vietnam, and then left high and dry over the Rainbow Warrior attack because “France is more important than you”.
I’m not necessarily opposed to a good working relationship with the Americans (or the UK, or the Australians) – in fact, quite the contrary, I’m very much in favour of diversifying both our trade and diplomatic links precisely to avoid the consequences of National’s over-egging of the Chinese-held basket.
It’s also definitely the case that we have good history together with all three powers in both multilateral and bilateral terms.
But at the same time, we’ve seen some pretty unimpressive behavior from all three over the past few decades – and I remain to be convinced that being part of a military alliance with them would avoid being tangled up with more of the same.
I’m not even talking about Australia’s attitude toward sending us 501 and/or ISIS-linked Australians unannounced. I was more thinking about things like the Americans, circa 2003, attempting to put the economic screws on us in order to compel us to join the so-called ‘Coalition of the Willing’ that was to undertake their illegal invasion of Iraq.
We’ve also seen, just this past year, how even through the relatively loose intelligence sharing network that is the Five Eyes, considerable pressure can seemingly be put upon New Zealand to march in absolute lock-step with these other countries .. even where our policy, preferences, and principles don’t exactly agree.
It wasn’t enough for New Zealand to issue separate declamations of purported PRC conduct – we had to sign up to the ‘collective’ statement or risk the wroth of foreigners up in arms about us being “New Xi-land”. And who knows what was waved about behind the scenes.
New Zealand’s foreign policy independence has been a hard-won thing. Both in terms of external factors – yet also, importantly, in terms of convincing our own population that it’s actually a worthwhile thing to have. Once upon a time, after all, “Where She Goes, We Go” was the watchword. And even after we were betrayed by Britain some two decades later, people here still didn’t quite get the message that really … we’re on our own.
It took, as I say, the tangible and irrefutable demonstration of these things over several decades to really get most New Zealanders on board with the notion that NZ foreign policy being run in New Zealand’s interests rather than Washington’s or London’s or even Canberra’s … was the ideal way for us to go.
It’s great that we’ve got improving relations with the US and UK – and I’m vaguely hopeful that maybe, just maybe, those long-dangled trade-deals with each of those spheres might finally start to eventuate … eventually …
But I do resolutely believe that it’s possible for us to continue to strengthen our friendships with them without tying ourselves to their ankles as the proverbial third (or in this case, fourth) wheel in a three-legged race which occasionally seems to lurch cliffward with reckless aplomb.
As for the Australians, as we so often like to say on both sides of the Tasman – “we’re family”. Even if it occasionally feels like they reckon us to be rather more distant cousins than close-relations.
Having a positive and co-operative regard for each others’ interests does not mean we have to be bound into approving of every single thing they might so happen to do.
In terms of our foreign policy – I genuinely believe that we’re far better served by pursuing just exactly that: our foreign policy, not someone else’s.
We recognize that some certain states are both something to be wary of – and an opportunity for useful engagement. As, funnily enough, do the Australians when they are being honest (seriously – check out the sheer size of their trade with China if you don’t believe me).
And we also recognize that merely because one is powerful does not necessarily make one right or wise – as proven, again, via the Americans’ (and UK’s and Australians’) previous enthusiasm for the invasion of Iraq.
By remaining outside the formal ‘tent’ of AUKUS (a name which, I noted earlier, is apparently phonetically equivalent to ‘Orcus’ – perhaps ominously for a figure of Oaths, Pacts, and the Nether Regions) we do not lose the ability to co-operate and engage productively with those who are inside said tent where it would clearly be both principled and of use to do so.
We don’t stop being friends (and/or family) with various of these polities simply because we’ve not chosen to join the group-marriage.
It simply means – we don’t give up our freedom to do the right thing as we perceive it, when we perceive it to be so.
A situation and scenario wherein, both in our own terms and in broader terms than ours, I do suspect that New Zealand’s critical judgement has proven rather more reliable than certain other powers of far greater heft from time to time.