What about foreign affairs? Keith Locke debates the Prime Minister’s Statement



I want to speak on something that was missing from the Prime Minister’s statement on Tuesday. The printed version of the speech avoided any mention of foreign affairs. This actually fits the National Government’s foreign policy direction, which is well away from having an independent foreign policy for this country, or engaging proactively with solutions to the world’s key problems. I think that was illustrated, again, yesterday when I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully, why he was not calling for the immediate resignation of Hosni Mubarak as Egypt’s President. All of Mr McCully’s replies referred to a “transition” under way in Egypt, by which he meant talks between Mubarak’s new Vice President, Omar Suleiman and some Opposition leaders. Other Opposition leaders, like Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, stayed out on the streets and out of the talks, saying that Mubarak must go. ElBaradei said: “Mubarak is the symbol of an outgoing regime. If he doesn’t leave, the regime will entrench itself and come back with a vengeance.” As if to reinforce this point on TV last night, it showed the officers of a Cairo human rights organisation, whose computers had all been smashed by Mubarak’s goons that very day. In reality, Mr McCully is taking his guidance from the US State Department, which still refused to call for Mubarak to resign now, having propped up his ruthless regime for 30 years. The United States – led so-called transition will be to another pliant ruler who, like Mubarak, it hopes will conspire with Israel against the Palestinians, as Mubarak did. The Egyptian people and their interests do not really come into the equation. In fact, the huge demonstrations in Egypt are essentially viewed as a problem by the Key Government. In John Key’s opening speech this week he elaborated on his written statement to the nation by warning of the “risks that there is a great period of unsettledness in the Middle East”. To the people of Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere mass demonstrations are opening up great opportunities for democratic regime-change, but John Key and for the Mubarak administration they are risks. They see them as risks that democratic Arab Governments might not obey Western dictates the way that the regimes they replaced did.

The second area where the subordination to the United States foreign policy has shown itself recently is in the year-long extension of the SAS mission in Kabul. It is not any secret that the United States was pushing for this, along with the British Government. So at the very time when the rationale for foreign forces staying on in Afghanistan is weaker than ever, the Government is extending the SAS mission. It is reduced to pitiful arguments like “the need to fight terrorism” when everyone knows that Al Qaeda barely exists in Afghanistan. If they are worried about terrorism, there is no better way to make the people in countries around the world angry enough—so that a minority of them end up as terrorists and kill people—than to have foreign forces in a country like Afghanistan killing the locals. That is the way to breed terrorism around the world. That is why it is so wrong that our SAS is in Afghanistan. The sad thing is that the National Government is going more and more into Washington’s corner, just when we need more Western countries to be speaking out independently for peace and democracy. There do not seem to be any Western countries speaking out against the Afghan war or for Mubarak to resign—now.

We should be asserting ourselves with the same sort of pride we did when we became nuclear-free. We did not get applause from the United States Government, the British Government, or the French Government then—they were all nuclear States. We did not get any applause from any single non-nuclear Western Government, either. All of them lacked the courage to stand up to the three Western nuclear States, even though a large bulk of their people were supportive of New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stand. Now the themes of the National Government’s foreign policy seem to be: first, if possible follow America; second, follow Australia, which will probably be following America anyhow; third, if we are dealing with the foreign policy of a big country we trade with, then tone down or eliminate any criticism of that country’s Government.

This last approach applies to China, in particular. New Zealand’s criticisms of China’s human right’ record are so muted as to be barely noticeable. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade claims to bring up human rights with Chinese officials when they have meetings, but behind closed doors. That is probably some official saying to his or her Chinese counterpart: “You’ll be aware I have to bring up human rights? Now that’s done, let’s get on to the real business.” Late last year when the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, New Zealand was virtually the last Western Government to give her positive acknowledgment—about 4 or 5 days later. It seems it did so only because it would have been a little funny if it was the only Western Government not to make such an acknowledgment.

The trouble with being so soft on the abuse of human rights in China, and playing up to the Beijing Government—for example, by having bans on New Zealand Ministers meeting with the Dalai Lama when he visits here—is that the Chinese Government then thinks it can throw its weight around in this country. A good example of that occurred recently, when the Chinese Consul-General in Auckland wrote a letter to all of the Auckland city councillors asking them not to attend a Chinese cultural evening with links to Falun Gong, a movement that the Consul-General, in the letter to the councillors, proudly declared had been banned in China. There was no recognition, at all, that perhaps New Zealand councillors would not be terribly sympathetic to the Government banning a meditative or religious group, or whatever Falun Gong is. New Zealand politicians are now seen as a soft touch, so that the Chinese Consul-General and the Chinese Embassy think they can order us, representatives of the people, around in our own country. There was a letter to MPs from some collaborators of the Chinese Government—supposedly, 29 Chinese organisations based in Auckland—describing Falun Gong as an evil cult and the letter asked me, and presumably all other MPs who probably received that form letter, not to attend the performance of the Shen Yun group, the Falun Gong – aligned group. How can we be proud of being so obsequious to the Chinese Government when it is throwing its weight around in that way? The fact is that the world is crying out for leadership, and it is often up to small countries to provide it. The campaign to achieve a convention to ban cluster bombs, finalised in 2008, was driven by three countries, each with about 4 million people—that is, Norway, Ireland, and New Zealand, to its credit. We have yet to get some of the important countries, like the United States, to sign up but we are well on the way. At least we are sticking to our nuclear-free policy, which is a good example of the way in which small countries can have a global influence for good. But that is probably more because of the pressure of the people, and no party in this Parliament dares to stray from that policy.

To combat such pressure from the people of New Zealand for a strong pro-peace, pro-democracy foreign policy—an independent policy—Governments like this current Government try to keep out of the gaze of New Zealand people the level of their accommodation. That is what the WikiLeaks papers have shown. There are a whole series of examples there of the US keeping quiet about its military relationship with New Zealand, hiding the fact that full intelligence relations were established with New Zealand in August 2009, and mentioning intelligence targets that would cause “political damage” if the New Zealand public knew about them, etc., etc.

Although it might appear that the Greens are having an uphill battle in Parliament to get Governments here to have a more independent, more courageous foreign policy, we do for the most part have the people of New Zealand behind us. Most New Zealanders now watching the Egyptian people on the streets instinctively support their call for the dictator to go immediately and not to allow the regime to stay entrenched in power. About half the New Zealand population, if opinion polls are anything to go by, think our special forces should not stay involved in the interminable war in Afghanistan, and it is no accident that the printed version of the Prime Minister’s statement did not refer to foreign policy. John Key’s subservient foreign policy is at odds with the independent, peace-loving spirit deep in the hearts of the New Zealand people.