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Gordon Campbell On Our Fearless PM's Foray Into China

Gordon Campbell On Our Fearless PM's Foray Into China

Don't mention the South China Sea dispute. Oh, but he will! Earlier this week, the image of dauntless Prime Minister John Key not backing down in the face of alleged Chinese intimidation would have done him no harm at all with the voters back home. Here was the plucky Kiwi guy, heroically standing up to the superpower bully. Actually, it was nothing of the sort. We have never hesitated to re-assure China that we won’t cause trouble for them over the South China Sea dispute. As Key also said yesterday: “New Zealand’s position on the South China Sea hasn’t changed, and we consistently raise that message with the Chinese leadership.” Plus, Key added, New Zealand is “less aggressive” on this issue that some other countries.

You betcha. We’ve been conducting a charm offensive with China on this point for quite some time. In a speech he delivered in China last September, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee painted China as posing no military threat - not now, and not in the future: “We do not expect the South Pacific will face an external military threat.” Brownlee also called China a “strategic partner” and lavishly praised our “Five Year Engagement Plan with the Peoples’ Liberation Army”. In that speech, Brownlee tiptoed around the South China Sea issue, calling on “all claimant states to take steps to reduce tensions” within the framework of international law. No blame being levelled there. Interestingly, Brownlee also said: “We do not see our defence relationships with the United States and China as mutually exclusive.” Wowzah.

Calling on all sides to show restraint and to abide by international law isn’t exactly a brave and bold stance. It is the kind of ‘no blame’ position the Chinese have been looking for. This week, they were seeking re-assurance that New Zealand hasn’t changed its position and suddenly adopted the sort of adversarial position outlined recently in Australia’s new Defence White Paper. In that document, the Australians not only committed to a massive $A195 billion military buildup over the next ten years but – without naming China – they also clearly implied that Beijing (and North Korea, but for different reasons) was the main military concern facing the Asia–Pacific region.

That’s where the South China Sea dispute comes in. To some observers, China’s virtual annexation of a few contested islands in the South China Sea is a sign of its burgeoning military aggression along sea lanes that carry an estimated $US4 trillion in international trade, annually. US presidential contender Donald Trump has accused China of building “a military fortress the likes of which the world has never seen” on those rocky outcrops. In fact, something considerably less than the Death Star is under construction. While China’s actions have been provocative, they seem to be driven by economic motives – ie, to exploit any underwater energy reserves adjacent to these rocky islets – rather than by a desire to use them to extend China’s military force projection.

That’s what the Chinese were curious about. Had New Zealand changed tack since Gerry Brownlee embraced our defence ties with China so fulsomely last September? Is New Zealand going to stand with its closest defence partner (Australia) or with its major trading partner (China)? While he’s in China this week, Key has been reassuring China that nothing has changed about our stance on this South China Sea bizzo, so lets get on with retro-fitting the China/NZ free trade deal. Next week, after Anzac Day - and after we issue our own Defence White Paper shortly - we’ll probably be trying just as hard to tell Canberra a somewhat different story. Or the same story, but with Anzac Cove trimmings. Whatever you call this exercise in diplomatic double speak, ‘heroic’ isn’t the first word that comes to mind.

Justin Trudeau, God-Like Being

In case, you’ve missed the way that Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau has become the Ryan Gosling of global politics… a tiny recap. Trudeau isn’t merely ridiculously good looking, he’s fashioned a Cabinet that is gender balanced, and seemingly appointed on merit. Plus, he’s kept a campaign promise to suspend Canada’s air strikes in Syria, and is conducting a relatively thorough process of public consultation on the Trans Pacific Partnership. The other day, he famously fielded a jokey question from the media about quantum computing by… giving a pretty decent explanation of quantum computing, entirely off the cuff. If you haven’t seen this clip – or have seen it only once – it is kind of remarkable. Pretty and smart.

Songs By The Shy Guys

Popular music has a lot of time for alpha male behaviour – give or take a few zillion guys with a beard, a guitar and a story to tell. (Sensitivity can also be a power play.) So this morning, I’ve chosen to focus on shyness. Judging by this somewhat creepy Nat King Cole video, being shy can also (apparently) be a turn-on for the ladies:

Moving on to the mid-1950s, here’s the far more obscure Shy Guy Douglas, who was also known as the Little Shy Guy. He was born in Tennessee, and by the early 1960s was performing with Etta James. Any genuine insecurities seem well hidden behind his mean blues harp playing. These are the A and B sides of a fine 1956 single.

Then there’s Morrissey. Can’t mention debilitating self-criticism without calling upon the Smiths. “How Soon Is Now” was a shyness epic, and so was this one:

Finally… Radiohead’s “Creep” is arguably the signature tune of all of those shy guys out there, looking for love….but only from a beautiful woman, of course. “You’re just like an angel/your skin makes me cry…”??? Run, girl, run.

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