Five Eyes not the right vehicle to challenge China on human rights

The following article was published on the Daily Blog on 25 November 2020.

By Keith Locke

It’s good to see New  Zealand criticising China for undermining democracy in Hong Kong, but we shouldn’t do it via a Five Eyes statement.

It would be much more effective for New Zealand, which has a reasonably good relationship with China, to make any critical statements on its own behalf.

All Five Eyes statements are driven by the United States, which is very hostile to China.

Unlike New Zealand, which sees China as a friend, the US sees China as a “strategic enemy”, in both military and economic terms.

The US is trying to slow the growth of China as a technological superpower by banning the supply of parts to Chinese companies like Huawei. This is economic warfare.

The US promotes the “de-coupling” of Western economies from China, which would be a disaster for New Zealand, given China is our biggest trading partner.

New Zealand promotes global cooperation, whereas the US practices “America First”.  The new US administration will have a less aggressive economic policy than Trump’s, but President Biden will still put the interests of American corporations first, and openly try to “contain” China.

New Zealand’s interests are not served by the American-led Five Eyes, and we won’t have a truly independent foreign policy while we remain a member.

Surely, the aim of any human rights advocacy is to be heard by citizens of the country being criticised, and we won’t be heard if we just tag along with America.

We are better off making our own statements, or joining a much larger group of countries, or using the United Nations as a platform.

In this blog I’ve made a case for the most principled and effective way to China on human rights. But additional to that, it is in New Zealand’s economic self-interest not to be seen as an American lackey.  Without the Chinese  market for our agricultural produce, New Zealand’s economy would be in very bad shape.  In trade terms New Zealand needs China much more than China needs us. If China cut back on imports of dairy, meat and timber we’d be in serious trouble.

There’s no upside to New Zealand remaining subordinate to America in military and intelligence matters. Thirty five years ago, in 1985,  New Zealanders celebrated our independent foreign policy when the US excluded us from the three-nation ANZUS treaty over our anti-nuclear policy.  That seems to have been largely forgotten by our current government. On Monday Jacinda Ardern invited US President-elect Joe Biden to a 50thanniversary commemoration of the same Cold War ANZUS treaty.  Rather than pursue a fully independent foreign policy, the Labour government seem committed to a new Cold War alliance, the Five Eyes, this time directed at China.