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Panel Discussions - In response to MURRAY McCULLY interview

Q+A 2013 Episode 12 26/05/2013
Panel Discussions

Panel Discussions
hosted By Susan Wood

In response to MURRAY McCULLY interview

Time now to welcome the panel. Good morning to you, Dr Jon Johansson from Victoria University; Helen Kelly from the CTU; and Charles Finny, and Charles is a former diplomat and trade negotiator and now a lobbyist, which is quite a mouthful. Well, Jon Johansson, I think that was a fairly clear steer there from Murray McCully. No, he will not be sitting on the UN Security Council if we are to get a seat at some point, representing us.

JON JOHANSSON - Political Scientist
We can now see in the future of the minister that UN is not part of that future, but who knows where he might end up. Um, one thing I’d say is, you know, I think the US relationship and NZ is about as good as it’s ever going to be. And when I was over there last year talking to state department people, they were very interested in this. And I think we’d had, in many respects, a perfect alignment that this government and this minister have done a good job building on the efforts of the Clark Government and, indeed, Winston’s time there as minister as well. And on the US side, one - time has passed, so a lot of that memory has faded, the intensity of the feeling that was once held, but also with Obama as president, perception-wise, New Zealanders are much more welcoming of American motives in a way that they were not when George W Bush was president. So at the moment, it’s the perfect alignment. My concern about the future in terms of the relationship, noting this tension with China, is in fact, how do we deal with a potential future conflict and how do we say no? Because, you know, if there’s one area of US policy that has been inconsistent in the 20th and 21st centuries, it’s been its foreign policy.

SUSAN Let me bring Charles Finny in here. Do you agree, first up, that the American-NZ relationship is as good as it gets?

CHARLES FINNY - Former Diplomat
It wasn’t as good as it used to be, but I think it’s in a very good state, and it’s fantastic to see it now in this normal state of relations, and I think, as Jon said, it’s the result of both the previous government’s and the current government’s good work. I can’t see it progressing politically much further in any direction, but obviously we do have some work still to do on the trade front, and we need to land TPP because we are hurting in that market in some areas because our competitors have access and we don’t.

SUSAN Interesting the position NZ finds itself in. We’re, as we know, a tiny country, but we are now between these two superpowers. As Murray McCully was saying, is it something we are going to negotiate, be able to get through, confidently issue by issue, respectfully, was the word he used?

CHARLES I’m not too worried about our position. In fact, I think it’s a very good position to be in. I know that there are some Americans who are perhaps a little bit concerned about our relationship with China, and there are some Chinese perhaps a little bit concerned about the relationship with the US, but most mainstream thinking in both countries is actually seeing NZ as a bit of an honest broker in the region, a country they can learn from. I know that there are some very serious thinkers in the United States who are fascinated by the way we have been able to get our relationship with China so close. I don’t see the relationship as binary at all. I don’t think it’s a zero-sum thing. I think that we can have good relations with both, and if there is tension between the two, actually, our role becomes more important.

I think New Zealanders see ourselves as very vulnerable in both of these relationships and open to exploitation, and I think the big gap between, you know, the big boys discussing all of this in the States and in China is how people in all these countries feel about all these relationships. And in my view, New Zealanders are very concerned about the TPP, the lack of engagement about their issues, and concerned that we’re actually vulnerable to an agreement that’s not in our interest. And I think, actually, John Key declared in China which side we’ll back if there’s a confrontation between the two countries, so I’m not sure why everybody’s speculating on that. He was very clear, on Chinese land, that we would back the Americans.

SUSAN Oh, he clarified that.

HELEN Well, he might have clarified it, but his immediate instinct wasn’t just to go back to first principles. But I do think that there’s a big issue being missed out in these conversations which is how people feel about the relationship with these two countries and on what basis the population want this engagement.

SUSAN Charles, interesting that because we just heard Murray McCully say, when he’s talking about the UN Security Council, we’re little guys, we’re getting squeezed out of that. So does Helen Kelly have a point that we are vulnerable to some extent because we are so small?

CHARLES Look, we have got the most incredible growth in our exports to China going on right now. We have a good political relationship with China. The Chinese really respect us. They don’t look at us- I think if you’re looking at the world in Chinese eyes, the fact that we’re four million people and Australia is 20 million people isn’t actually too different. And I don’t think they see us as small as perhaps we sometimes think we are. I think the United States, likewise, even though we’re small, really values our assistance on a lot of issues.

JON But I think there’s a point there, too. If economically, you know, noting that we’re exporting more to China than Australia, that if we have too much of our economic eggs in the Chinese basket, well, then, yes, we are actually putting ourselves under more tension than if we have a very diversified economy exporting all around the world, which takes, actually, some of that pressure off.

SUSAN And that is a risk, because we’re seeing that with Australia, aren’t we? We’re seeing the slowdown in Australia directly related to their exports to China.

CHARLES Well, this is why TTP is important and why the government’s wider trade policy agenda is important.

JON And has been active.

CHARLES And very active and very successful, and this is continuing the good work-

HELEN But missing big bits of the world. Missing its relationship with Europe. In my view, that’s on the downward spiral in terms of any effort there. Missing Africa altogether in terms of growing economy. So we are fixated with either Asia or the States, and a lot of it is tied up with sort of military, strategic engagement, rather than actually building this broader platform.

SUSAN Are we, Charles?

CHARLES I don’t agree at all on Europe. I think we would jump at the opportunity to do a free-trade agreement with Europe. It’s Europe that has the concern about our competiveness in agriculture and is reluctant. There is work that Murray is leading on this framework agreement with Europe which will be mainly political, not trade focused. It may be a step in that direction. And on Africa, watch this space.

HELEN Yeah, but we’re taking resources out of Europe, aren’t we? And in the MFAT restructuring, that is one of the areas where there are questions about where we retain diplomatic relations. So, you know, there’s still a hell of a lot of trade and money in Europe and also a much more moderate approach to foreign affairs as well. So I think building up our relationships across the globe is in our strategic interest.

SUSAN But we can’t be everywhere, can we, Charles? We’re a small country. Surely we’ve got to focus.

CHARLES We’ve got to prioritise, absolutely. I think that the government has pretty much resolved the European footprint, and it’s larger than perhaps people were speculating on. Europe is very important to NZ. We have to have diversification markets away from China, and Africa is too.

JON The other question I would pose too into the future is what does it mean, post-reproachment with the US, having an independent foreign policy? Does it mean the same in the 21st century as it meant in the 1980s? And I think there’s actually a genuine political debate to be had about what that means. Because, like, for instance, you know, peacekeeping is all fine and good, and I think New Zealanders are very comfortable with their military engaged all around the planet as peacekeepers. But, let’s face it, the most sought after part of our military is the SAS. What do we do if we get asked to send the SAS to Yemen because America thinks that that is the next port of call?

SUSAN We will hold that thought. Thank you, panel.


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