Is Winston Peters playing the PM on foreign policy?

Guest post from Gezza


Interesting Opinion Piece by Patrick Smellie:

US and Chinese officials met in Beijing this week for the first talks since both countries’ presidents agreed a trade war ceasefire at last month’s G-20 summit in Argentina.

By early March, they need a plan that simultaneously softens the impact on China of the US’s new embrace of protectionism while starting to deal with China’s rampant intellectual property theft and subsidies that make its state-backed corporations unfair global competitors.

In doing so, both leaders will be seeking a win for their respective domestic audiences.

Getting there will be no mean feat. The Chinese ‘long view’ of history is a powerful organising principle for the Middle Kingdom’s global ambitions. Unlike Trump, its leadership is capable of thinking long-term.

I don’t know if that’s a fair assessment. Trump is capable of thinking long-term. He just isn’t capable of seeing other viewpoints and considering them, or of understanding what motivates others, or of adapting his negotiation strategies when it’s evident he could approach things differently. Or of concentrating enuf on details to foresee adverse consequences or opposition that could work against him.

He’s a rich kid who’s always done whatever it takes to get what he wants. And that includes lying, going bankrupt, and paying people to arrange for him to then profit from the misery & poverty that’s sometimes caused others. His narcissism works well for him when he’s in total control & surrounded by sycophants who will do his bidding. Or when he can cheat and lie & get away with it because he can bankrupt less wealthy opponents or victims, and for him the ends (getting what he wants) has always justified any means.

But now he’s not in total control. So he’s often chaotically flailing around in pursuit of long-term plans that he might deliver, but might screw up because he’s so flawed he makes people want to get rid of him to stop the chaos and division and wrecking of America’s standing in the world.

The talks also occur against a backdrop of heightened competition for defence and security influence around the world.

There has been questionable co-ordination between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Foreign Minister and deputy Winston Peters over our relationships with China and the US.
The US-led initiative to keep Chinese-built Huawei and ZTE componentry out of Western 5G mobile networks represents the sharp point of intersection in trade and security tensions.

Nations try to pursue security and trade agendas on separate tracks, but one inevitably bleeds into the other in ways. At best, at a global level, these current tensions may be bad for global economic growth. At worst, they could become the catalyst for conflict, which an American president desperately seeking to project strength might embrace.

For New Zealand, this simultaneous escalation of trade and security tensions between our traditional western ally and our largest trading partner is fraught with the risk of becoming collateral damage in the ensuing contest of empires. As a member of the Five Eyes cyber-spying network, New Zealand sits on the US side of the anti-Huawei fence. But it also seeks an upgraded free trade agreement and legitimately worries that Beijing could turn off the tap on agricultural exports, international students, Chinese tourists – or all three.

Australia has already suffered for its more emphatically pro-US stance.

We should never put all our eggs in one basket. Both the US and the Chinese can punish us economically for simply pursuing our own issues-based foreign policy when they want to bully us into siding with them or opting out in disputes between their economic and foreign policy initiatives and engagements.

Wider free trade with as many other nations as possible is clearly desirable, but trade in what? As other countries are forced by Trade Agreements to become more productive and competitive with our major food exports, what else do we have?

Clearly, the New Zealand government needs to pursue any rebalancing in the relationships to the two biggest protagonists in our region with great care.

Just before Christmas, there were worrying signs to suggest such care is, if not absent, then lacking, with questionable co-ordination between Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Foreign Minister and deputy Winston Peters.

The Ardern approach embraces multi-lateralism, ‘progressive’ free trade agreements that do more to protect national sovereignty than in the past, and a new demonstration of leadership on climate change. On the world stage, Ardern has shone as a beacon of optimism and inter-generational leadership change.

That may be how she is portrayed here but apart from US female talk show hosts, who else in the world cares? So she’s a minor celebrity abroad with people who don’t count. What impact will she have on other world leaders? How many other young intergenerational leaders are there who will hearken to her siren song and make the world a kinder place? Isn’t her government rather chaotic and it’s benefits and drawbacks & objectives all rather fuzzy? Could it all just crash and burn? Hope not, but I just don’t know until we know what the werkinggruppes produce for them to make (or justify) policies from – and what they ignore.

Meanwhile, Peters and NZ First Defence Minister Ron Mark have made the running on defence and security policy in ways that are pulling New Zealand much closer to the US.

Mark’s defence strategy paper saw New Zealand explicitly criticise China’s expansionism in the South China Sea for the first time and his announcement of a multi-billion dollar upgrade of air force surveillance capability to include potential for anti-submarine weaponry were highly significant nods to Washington DC.

Peters took that a step further last month. In a speech to an elite US audience on the Pacific region shortly before meetings with deputy vice-president Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Peters said: “We unashamedly ask the United States to engage more and we think it is in your vital interests to do so.”

Time was “of the essence” as “larger players are renewing their interest in the Pacific with an attendant level of strategic competition”. These and other parts of the speech represented serious new lines in the sand for New Zealand foreign policy.

We probably should want the US to engage more in the South Pacific. China’s interest is self-interest. And the degrading of American influence & power is vital to that. But do we want to engage more with the US under Trump? Really? Trump’s interest is American self-interest. Hopefully when Trump is gone – which may be by 2020 – sanity and a more careful, thoughtful President will make them take more of an interest in promoting & protecting the interests of free speech democracies in the South Pacific on both moral & shared interests grounds.

But when asked whether she had read the speech prior to delivery, let alone whether the Cabinet had discussed it, Ardern gave an almost breezy dismissal.

That is deeply worrying.

Regardless of whether Peters is articulating a revised foreign policy stance that the whole coalition government agrees with, such revisions require the active engagement of both the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

Failing to insist on that fuels the narrative that Peters is successfully playing Ardern not only on domestic policy issues, but on foreign policy as well, leveraging his party’s impacts far beyond the mandate implied by its 5 per cent support at the 2017 election.

Ok. Maybe. So what? Is National likely to have any more of a coherent foreign policy or to do anything different?

https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/109828977/is-winston-peters-playing-the-pm-on-foreign-policy

Robertson ‘best case’, Joyce ‘worst case’

It looks like the fiscal hole issue will continue to get a hammering today. Patrick Smellie says that it is a conflict between best case and worst case scenarios, with reality likely to be somewhere in between.

It has highlighted more than a hint of desperation in the National campaign, which is being led by Steven Joyce, but also shows that Grant Robertson doesn’t have a lot of money to play with.

Pattrick Smellie: It’s arithmetic, stupid!

Election campaigns mixed with forecasts of the future are a dangerous combination.

Now that the dust is settling, a somewhat banal conclusion is emerging: they’re both wrong, and the truth is likely to be somewhere in the middle.

Labour’s numbers are nothing like as compromised or wrong as Joyce claimed, but it requires some heroic assumptions about Labour’s ability to control all spending outside health and education to believe the numbers it’s published.

In other words, Joyce has claimed a worst case scenario. Robertson is claiming best case.

On that basis, it’s entirely reasonable to split the difference in the interests of trying to explain what’s at stake here, and to conclude that Labour’s forecasts will turn out to be anything between $4b and $6b short of its published fiscal plan, should it form a government after September 23.

If Labour turns out to be a spendthrift government, then Joyce’s alleged $11.7b miscalculation could prove to be too little.

Alternatively, if Labour turns out to be an unexpectedly tight-fisted government in a time of endless forecast Budget surpluses, its spending under-estimation might be far less than my punt of a $4b to $6b shortfall.

However, it is hardly unreasonable to expect Labour to end up spending more than forecast to stop the ship of state from springing politically unpalatable leaks. Public sector wage pressure, demographic demands on other public services and even the small amounts of inflation still pulsing through the economy will severely test the fiscal track that Labour has outlined.

That’s still a long way short of what Joyce claimed, but a problem for Labour’s fiscal credibility nonetheless.

So it looks like Joyce has sacrificed his own economic credibility, deliberately or not, in order to put the spotlight on Labour’s money manipulations.

However, it’s also likely to be a problem that a returned National-led government would face. National has already pledged about $400 million a year of the $1.8b a year it has available for new initiatives in each of the next four years, and on Joyce’s own admission, health and education routinely take the “lion’s share” of those new spending buckets.

In other words, National has probably just about run out of extra money to spend too.

That’s only a real problem for national if they want to keep throwing around election bribes. If they had stuck to ‘steady as we go’ they would be on stronger ground, relatively.

If Joyce now comes out and concedes he over-egged Labour’s fiscal pudding he could reduce the damage on National, leaving the spotlight on Robertson’s fiscal tightrope.

But if Joyce quadruples down he may drag National down with him.

Here is Joyce explaining his claims on RNZ yesterday: