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Iati Iati: China-New Zealand relationship stable in short term

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

Iati Iati, Professo at Victoria University of Wellington

Professor Iati Iati is currently working at Victoria University of Wellington as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics. His research interests focus on New Zealand foreign policy, Pacific geopolitics, governance and development, and land reform policy. His recent research includes The Pacific Island Case of American Samoa: Land Rights and Law in THE Unincorporated Territories of the United States, Line-Noue Memea Kruse (2018), China's Influence on New Zealand's Foreign Policy in the Pacific: The Pacific Reset.

China-New Zealand relationship stable in short term

1.Some media predict that China-New Zealand diplomatic relations will deteriorate in the future. What do you think of the current diplomatic relations and trends between China and New Zealand?

Current relations remain steady. New Zealand has always prided itself on being an independent foreign policymaker, and recent comments by the Minister of Foreign Affairs appear to follow this tradition. Some might interpret recent developments to mean that NZ is drawing closer to its traditional allies, and there could be a case for that as well. For some time now, analysts have predicted that NZ might find itself in a situation where it must choose between its strongest economic partner and its most powerful security ally. Recent developments in China-Aus and China-US relations suggest that this situation might be manifesting, prompting NZ to lean in a particular direction. However, I don't think we've fully reached that situation, although I'd imagine if NZ is leaning more towards its traditional allies, it will now be actively seeking alternative trade arrangement and trying to limit China's influence (and/or strengthen its own) in key strategic areas, especially the South Pacific.

2.In some international hotspot incidents, countries around the world generally have differences of opinion. To what extent do you think differences of opinion can affect the fundamental relationship between the two countries?

Traditionally, differences of opinion have been part and parcel of NZ's relations with other countries, even its closest allies: Australia and the US. New Zealand has not always agreed with them, the breakdown of ANZUS being the best example. However, this is how New Zealand interacts with its Western allies. Whether it would do the same for those outside of the Western camp could be a different story.

3.Compared with other types of news, the media prefer to play up controversial topics, because this can attract more attention, but this also invisibly amplifies hatred in the hearts of the people. Every day we open the websites of mainstream media, we always see these contradictions and quarrels, ignoring peace and friendship. What do you think of the current international public opinion phenomenon?

The mainstream media has a strong hold on peoples thinking and controversy sells. Unfortunately, media representations of events are sometimes more powerful than the facts about those events. Whether media representations about events always match the facts is questionable. In relation to China, there is considerable coverage that is unfavourable. There is talk about debt traps in the Pacific, and the militarization of the region via the use of "dual use" ports etc. Much of this is based on projections and assumptions. Nevertheless, these representations fit into a long held narrative about China in the Pacific, often called the "threat discourse". This discourse is generated less by the Pacific island countries, and more from academics and policy analysts in the metropolitan countries. However, there are some academics in these metropolitan countries who disagree with the threat discourse. Many Pacific island leaders see China as a good development partner, but the threat discourse is starting to catch on in the region. This was shown when the former Tongan PM associated Chinese lending in the Pacific with what happened in Sri Lanka. Again, I must emphasize that this is an ongoing debate, but the threat discourse is gaining momentum.

4.As a native scholar in New Zealand, please talk about the current political dilemma in New Zealand and your views on it.

I'm not sure what this question is getting at. If you're talking about the dilemma New Zealand faces in terms of having to choose between its strongest trading partner and its most powerful security guarantor, that is an issue that has been around for a while. A number of political commentators have covered it, including myself. New Zealand would prefer not to have to choose between the two. It would rather walk the middle road between them. However, geopolitical tensions between China and Western countries, like the United States and Australia, may force New Zealand to choose. And, when I say choose, it does not mean an absolute decision, at least in the short term. Rather, it means leaning more towards one as opposed to the other . We should remember that foreign policy is often done in increments as opposed to absolutes. We're currently seeing New Zealand lean more towards its traditional allies, Australia and the US, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs' emphasis on trade diversity is an important signal in this regard. Please note NZ is looking for new trade partners, but not new security partners. However, not everyone in NZ would support a leaning away from China. The business community probably has a different position, depending on the benefits they're receiving from NZ-China trade. One area that will be critical to New Zealand's position vis-a-vis China and the United States is the Pacific. This is why the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters, launched the Pacific Reset. Note that this was launched around the same time that Australia, the United States, and even the UK put out new policy initiatives for the Pacific: the Step-up, the Pledge, and the Lift respectively. So, we're seeing the Pacific become a central part of the geopolitical dynamics involving New Zealand and the big powers.

Organizer: Yu Zhuohan



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