Cast your minds back the ‘good old days,’ when New Zealand traded with Britain in a manner that had us almost hog-tied to the point that if Britain swerved in any way, we went along with ‘her.’ Our fortunes were strongly linked with those of Britain. Remember the phrase ; ‘Where Britain goes, we go,’ a position that took us to two World Wars,’ and one that the UK hardly takes into account in our modern day relationship. When the UK took itself into the ‘Common Market and closely aligned itself with Europe, the writing was on the wall and New Zealand rapidly realized that diversifying our trading partners was an essential fact of life in the new world. To a great extent we have succeeded in breaking that old economic partnership and the UK is now one of many trading partners. The relationship is relatively healthy and a two way one.
Other markets have also become important to us and we now trade with a huge number of countries. We produce a wider range of goods for the world, but it must be said that we are still a predominantly primary producer of goods, that thankfully represent choices that the world really needs, like ‘protein.’
With the growth and resurgence of the massive Chinese market, things have taken a different turn for New Zealand; almost one that resembles in some ways the old relationship we had with Britain, minus a few cultural factors and that of shared history. To some in New Zealand this new relationship is fraught with hooks; the main one being perceptions of human rights abuse from the top heavy Chinese Communist Party. New Zealand has for many years put its hand up, albeit a small one, for the rights of individuals and groups to have access to freedom of expression. That is something that is held very highly here, but one that is difficult to export to other societies, where other forces are more values; namely that of the access to food, housing and employment. If the later are delivered, then such lofty ideals that we often espouse, are seen as secondary to the reality of ‘survival.
Given that above statement, New Zealand now has to find a way in which to build on this new trading relationship with the new ‘giant’ in the world’s economic system. We are now heavily dependent on China. They take everything we can grow, produce and then some. Sure there have been some bumps in the road, re food safety, but all of those are resolvable. What is more difficult for us is the gelling of our ‘voice re human rights,’ and that of our own economic survival. Do we have to swallow our ‘voice,’ in order to make our way in the world? When the chips are down, how many New Zealanders would settle for a less strong relationship with China; one that would equate to losing jobs and trading opportunities, all in the name of maintaining NZ’s high reputation on those ideals we have spoken about so often in world forums? The answer, if we could find one that was representative of all New Zealanders, may surprise us.
China is changing, at a rate that bedevils most observers; some say too fast and that a ‘crash is coming; one that could bring about a huge world-wide economic collapse. I don’t know how true that is, but one fact should be apparent---if China falters, we would most certainly be affected. To the growing middle class in China; that can be measured in numbers that far exceed the total population of the UK (that outs things in perspective!) the ability to provide for the family, to put food on the table, to be employed and have adequate housing, health, education and health care; those are the issues that supersede ‘western ideology’ of freedom of expression. I expect that more Chinese will join groups pushing for change and that dissident opinion will grow, but it will be on China’s terms, not those of outside observers. The expanding movement re ‘green issues’ is an example of how China is now looking beyond those of economic growth.
In the meantime, New Zealand must make up its mind about our complex relationship with China. The fact that out Prime Minister is about to meet the Chinese Premier, speaks volumes about our bourgeoning relationship with our massive Asian neighbour. Those who would criticise him for doing that are going against pragmatic survival for most new Zealanders. I am not saying that we should throw away our high ideals but I am saying that we have to tinge those views with the need to look after jobs here—hopefully in a genuine’ trickle down manner; not the ‘rich get richer’ at the expense of the poor model we have witnessed over the last few decades.
www.authorneilcoleman.com (Website is down for a few weeks until the new design and reworking of books is complete)