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Stephen Hoadley: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a more divisive than unifying effect internationally

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

Stephen Hoadley, Associate Professor of the University of Auckland

Stephen Hoadley is currently an Associate Professor in The School of Politics and International Relations at The University of Auckland and an honorary Captain in The Royal New Zealand Navy. He holds a Ph.D. from The University of California. His current research interests are foreign and security policy in New Zealand, Asia, the United States, Europe and the Middle East. Trade politics and international human rights institutions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a more divisive than unifying effect internationally

1. I note that you service in the US Navy before, and it would seem to lean more towards a naval power theory to you, so why would you stress the importance of aid, cultural exchange, human rights and environmental protection to the diplomatic policy ?

I believe that a navy, and a defence force, are important adjuncts to diplomacy, as the 'muscle' or 'hard power' necessary to command respect from partners and deter potential adversaries.. But new Zealand’s navy and defence force are relatively small and New Zealand has only one alliance, with Australia. Other security cooperation is by way of less formal defence working partnerships or mous or loes with likeminded governments, including not only the United States and Britain but also Singapore and China. The New Zealand government relies more on diplomacy, reason, moral persuasion, trustworthiness, and international cooperation abroad, and setting a good example at home, to make its voice heard and to generate respect. It aspires to achive its interests by exercising 'soft power' and 'smart power' rather than 'hard power'.

2. You wrote in a news commentary in 2017 that Trump had squandered America's political capital and was leading his country from center stage to the wings of international affairs. Now Biden has been in power for six months, how would you evaluate his work?

As you rightly point out, the Biden administration has taken initiatives to move the us back to centre stage internationally. This entails rejoining or restoring funding to a variety of international organizations that trump abandoned. This will restore the respect for the us that trump's policies undermined. But from Beijing’s point of view Biden may prove just as difficult to deal with as trump. I am especially impressed that the Biden administration stresses us revitalisation rather than confrontation with China. The us aim is to 'out-compete' China, not contain or constrain China. The us hopes to prevail by setting a more attractive example of global leadership than China. China has its China dream of national rejuvenation and the us under Biden has a similar dream. New Zealanders hope the two dreams will be compatible and both will advance in a spirit of coexistence so New Zealand will not need to choose allegiance to one to the exclusion of the other, but work with both.

3. With the impact of COVID-19, do you think that is a common security threat for Europe and the world? Would it help to strengthen the unity of the Atlantic Alliance or help to promote the development of international cooperation?

Covid19 has had more of a divisive effect than a unifying effect internationally. Members of the european union and the Atlantic alliance (NATO) have shown divisions over policies of exporting of their vaccines and ppe. The west has differed with China over the origins and reporting of the virus. The rich countries are getting enough vaccines while the poor countries are not. The COVAX scheme is a good start but it competes with vaccine diplomacy practiced by China, India, Britain, the EU, and the us. The image of the who has become politicised and its authority weakened. In my view, the covid19 challenge has illuminated, and intensified, nationalistic trends already in motion, derived from the global financial crisis. Reactions to waves of migrants, and trump's self-serving rhetoric. The threat of covid19 is superficially 'common' but each government views the threat in relation to their own circumstances and reacts individually. So covid19 has not produced the degree of international cooperation that smallpox or malaria or sars or ebola did. The realist paradigm of the state-centred international system has prevailed over the 'common' challenge of covid19, and over the 'liberal' paradigm.

4. The prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand have held their first face-to-face meeting in 15 months in Queenstown, a tourist resort on New Zealand's South Island. And New Zealand, as the host of the upcoming APEC, through this meeting, what are your expectations for the APEC Leaders' Meeting in November?

New Zealand hopes that apec will mandate reduced barriers to trade among its members, particularly agricultural trade barriers. New Zealand hopes that a variety of related issues may be managed by consensus including lieralisation of services, digital commerce, intellectual property protection, environmental sustainability, climate change management, and labour standards. New Zealand hopes to find common ground with China, building on successful past trade patterns, a recently enhanced bilateral free trade agfreement, and participation in the rcep with China. New Zealand’s delegates will try to avoid letting human rights, south China sea, and Taiwan issues derail the potential for economic liberalisation within apec. But domestic groups and media will be lobbying the nz government, and other apec governments such as Australia and the us, to criticise China’s policies publicly. These political and moral pressures will challenge the delegates from all apec member countries. How China responds will be crucial. I hope China’s delegates will accept the criticisms gracefully, as nothing new, and move on, keeping their focus on the mutual economic gains that apec cooperation promises. A China walk-out in response to criticism would be a diplomatic disaster for apec but also for China. The same applies to the United States delegation.

Interviewer: Deng Yuelin

Interview date: June 7, 2021



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