New Zealand and China in a Fractured World

Michael Powles, retired New Zealand diplomat and a Senior Fellow in the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University, writes at Incline: New Zealand and China in a Fractured World:

There can be no doubt that the international environment in which New Zealand will have to operate in the decades ahead will be enormously more difficult than the environment we’ve been used to. The facts pointing to China’s coming economic preponderance and the political power that will give it, regionally and globally, seem indisputable.

Nevertheless, a few observers seem to believe that if several other countries act together, under US leadership, China’s power could somehow be contained. I believe that they are simply ignoring clear facts. Perhaps there is an element of wishful thinking. “Past policies have been successful – let’s just continue them.”

The effort being put into trying to contain or counter China will be worse than wasted. Logically, it can’t be successful beyond the short term.

…the geopolitical landscape facing New Zealand grows daily more daunting.

On the one hand, we will continue to depend on China for our prosperity. On the other, our traditional security partners, Australia and the United States, seem intent on trying to constrain or restrict China, and reports suggest they may be pressuring New Zealand to join them.

For obvious economic reasons and also some arguments of principle encapsulated in what we call our independent foreign policy and our support for multilateralism, there seems to be a sensible reluctance in New Zealand to join a bloc lining up against China. But what then should we do to prepare ourselves for the coming geopolitical upheaval?

I believe our effort needs to be directed to developing the already strong relationship with China to increase the prospects for New Zealand to have influence with China as it wields increasing regional and global power.

 – – –

In short, the geopolitical earthquakes facing us today mean we need to find ways of doing more to increase our ability to influence Beijing.

The kind of more deliberate discourse between the two governments which I suggest could be acknowledged by the two governments as a valuable, indeed a vital element in our relations. This would give it a higher priority in the relationship.  Possibly it could be institutionalised, so long as that did not lead to frankness being replaced by formality.

These discussions would be valuable both for the bilateral relationship itself and in building public support for the relationship.

Acknowledging the importance of these sensitive topics would make having the discussions easier. As a result, a relationship which is increasingly vital to our future, could be stronger and better able to survive the coming geopolitical earthquakes.


  1. Corky

     /  February 3, 2018

    A toxic mix of bureaucrat and academic. What he’s suggesting is we kowtow. I’m not denigrating him for his views. He does have a point. We are already kowtowing. In fact China is in the process of taking us over right now.

    He forgets two other super powers ripe for closer ties- India and Brazil. We need to think seriously because Russia will be coming along for the ride with China.

    Personally, I’d rather forgo a first class meal and eat KFC if it meant we always controlled our destiny. The trouble is we have become soft and expect a certain standard of living. China is more then prepared to grant our wish…but at a price.

  2. Gezza

     /  February 3, 2018

    I believe our effort needs to be directed to developing the already strong relationship with China to increase the prospects for New Zealand to have influence with China as it wields increasing regional and global power.
    I wonder if Mr Powles should be given a dementia test. 🤔

  3. Blazer

     /  February 3, 2018

    we need to be careful we don’t end up with an M.P that has loyalty to China….in our..Parliament.That would greatly

    • Trevors_elbow

       /  February 3, 2018

      Still hitting the pot ….over that insinuation Blazer?

  4. sorethumb

     /  February 3, 2018

    Tourists pack their bags to depart Haast by helicopter for Wanaka and Queenstown

    Chinese consulate again? They got their people out of Kaikoura in a hurry.

  5. sorethumb

     /  February 3, 2018

    The other day their was a dust up over parking in Queenstown. A Chinese woman and a bus driver were yelling and pointing fingers: “You’re mad ya bitch” “Go back to where you came from”. “I’m a New Zealander!”. “No you’re not!”. Their vehicle was in the wrong place but (particularity) had a trailer and wasn’t in the lane. He was an owner driver facing an uphill battle in the Asian market. The Chinese are very much on the scene driving buses large and small. You cannot help asking “what do we get out of that?” (real wages have fallen about 1/3 in the sector over the last 30 years – coinciding with the great migrations)

    This has been part of a great experiment to create a society where a society is bonded by a great idea. George Bush made a similar mistake when he invaded Iraq.

  6. sorethumb

     /  February 3, 2018

    a liberal society disappears up it’s own backside

  7. PartisanZ

     /  February 3, 2018

    Forget China’s human rights violations … I don’t spose it matters … We’re a nation founded on human rights violations ourselves …We ARE a kind of human rights violation.

    Forget about democracy … They don’t seem to need it anyhow … or a conspicuously capitalist system … to lift millions out of poverty …

    It wasn’t liberals who got us into this situation, it was libertarians. Big difference. Conservative libertarians.

    However, no matter what anyone says, you can’t argue with simply facing up to reality, can you?

    Especially not when you’re constantly arguing that what ‘liberals’ should do is face up to life’s realities …

    He pointedly says, “what we call our independent foreign policy” …

    So much for globalization!!!