The incremental shift.

In the build up to the Xmas holidays I was interviewed by two mainstream media outlets about the recently released (December 2021) Defence Assessment Report and last week’s 5 Eyes Communique that included New Zealand as a signatory. The common theme in the two documents was the threat, at least as seen through the eyes of NZ’s security community, that the PRC increasingly poses to international and regional peace and stability. But as always happens, what I tried to explain in hour-long conversations with reporters and producers inevitably was whittled down into truncated pronouncements that skirted over some nuances in my thought about the subject. In the interest of clarification, here is a fuller account of what is now being described as a “shift” in NZ’s stance on the PRC.

Indeed, there has been a shift in NZ diplomatic and security approaches when it comes to the PRC, at least when compared to that which operated when he Labour-led coalition took office in 2017. But rather than sudden, the shift has been signalled incrementally, only hardening (if that is the right term) in the last eighteen months. In July 2020, the the wake of the ill-fated Hong Kong uprising, NZ suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, citing the PRC passage of the Security Law for Hong Kong and its negative impact on judicial independence and the “one country, two systems” principle agreed to in the 1997 Joint UK-PRC Declaration on returning Hong Kong to Chinese control. At the same time NZ changed its sensitive export control regime so that military and “dual use” exports to HK are now treated the same as if they were destined for the mainland. 

In November 2020 NZ co-signed a declaration with its 5 Eyes partners condemning further limits on political voice and rights in HK with the postponment of Legislative elections, arrests of opposition leaders and further extension of provisions of the mainland Security Law to HK. The partners also joined in condemnation of the treatment of Uyghurs in Yinjiang province. In April 2021 Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta gave her “Dragon and Taniwha” speech where she tried to use Maori allegories to describe the bilateral relationship and called for NZ to diversify its trade away from overly concentrated partnerships, using the pandemic supply chain problems as an illustration as to why.

She also said that NZ was uncomfortable with using the 5 Eyes intelligence partnership as a public diplomacy tool. I agree completely with that view, as there are plenty of other diplomatic forums and channels through which to express displeasure or criticism. The speech did not go over well in part because NZ business elites reacted viscerally to a large tattooed Maori woman spinning indigenous yarns to a mainly Chinese and Chinese-friendly audience (and other foreign interlocutors further afield). From a “traditional” (meaning: white male colonial) perspective the speech was a bit odd because it was long on fable and imagery and short on “hard” facts, but if one dug deeper there were plenty of realpolitik nuggets within the fairy dust, with the proper context to the speech being that that Labour has an agenda to introduce Maori governance principles, custom and culture into non-traditional policy areas such as foreign policy. So for me it was the balancing act bookended by the trade diversification and 5 Eyes lines that stood out in that korero.

Less than a month later Prime Minister Ardern spoke to a meeting of the China Business Summit in Auckland and noted that “It will not have escaped the attention of anyone here that as China’s role in the world grows and changes, the differences between our systems – and the interests and values that shape those systems – are becoming harder to reconcile.” That hardly sounds like appeasement or submission to the PRC’s will. Even so, Mahuta and Ardern were loudly condemned by rightwingers in NZ, Australia, the UK and US, with some going so far as to say that New Zealand had become “New Xiland” and that it would be kicked out the 5 Eyes for being soft on the Chinese. As I said at the time, there was more than a whiff of misogyny in those critiques.

In May 2021 the Labour-led government joined opposition parties in unanimously condemning the PRC for its abuse of Uyghur human rights. The motion can be found here.

In July 2021 NZ Minister of Intelligence and Security Andrew Little publicly blamed China-based, state-backed cyber-aggressors for a large scale hacking attack on Microsoft software vulnerabilities in NZ targets. He pointed to intolerable behaviour of such actors and the fact that their operations were confirmed by multiple Western intelligence agencies. He returned to the theme in a November 2021 speech given at Victoria University, where he reiterated his concerns about foreign interference and hacking activities without mentioning the PRC by name as part of a broad review of his remit. Rhetorical diplomatic niceties aside, it was quite clear who he was referring to when he spoke of state-backed cyber criminals (Russia is the other main culprit, but certainly not the only one). You can find the speech here

In early December 2021 the Ministry of Defense released its Defense Assessment Report for the first time in six years. In it China is repeatedly mentioned as the major threat to regional and global stability (along with climate change). Again, the issue of incompatible values was noted as part of a surprisingly blunt characterisation of NZ’s threat environment. I should point out that security officials are usually more hawkish than their diplomatic counterparts, and it was the Secretary of Defense, not the Minister who made the strongest statements about China (the Secretary is the senior civil servant in the MoD; the Minister, Peeni Henare, spoke of promoting Maori governance principles based on consensus and respect into the NZDF (“people, infrastructure, Pacifika”), something that may be harder to do than say because of the strictly hierarchical nature of military organisation. At the presser where the Secretary and Minister spoke about the Report, the uniformed brass spoke of “capability building” based on a wish list in the Report. Let’s just say that the wish list is focused on platforms that counter external, mostly maritime, physical threats coming from extra regional actors and factors rather than on matters of internal governance.

Then came the joint 5 Eyes statement last week, once again reaffirming opposition to the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and its gradual absorption into the Chinese State. Throughout this period NZ has raised the issue of the Uyghurs with the PRC in bilateral and multilateral forums, albeit in a quietly diplomatic way.

I am not sure what exactly led to NZ’s shift on the PRC but, rather than a sudden move, there has been a cooling, if not hardening trend during the last eighteen months when it comes to the bilateral relationship. The decision to move away from the PRC’s “embrace” is clear, but I have a feeling that something unpleasant may have occurred in the relationship (spying? influence operations? diplomatic or personal blackmail?) that forced NZ to tighten its ties to Western trade and security networks. The recently announced UK-NZ bilateral FTA is one step in that direction. AUKUS is another (because if its spill-over effect on NZ defense strategy and operations).

What that all means is that the PRC will likely retaliate sometime soon and NZ will have to buckle up for some material hardship during the transition to a more balanced and diversified trade portfolio. In other words, it seems likely that the PRC will respond by shifting its approach and engage diplomatic and economic sanctions of varying degrees of severity on NZ, if nothing else to demonstrate the costs of defying it and as a warning to those similarly inclined. That may not be overly burdensome on the diplomatic and security fronts given NZ’s partnerships in those fields, but for NZ actors deeply vested/invested in China (and that means those involved in producing about 30 percent of NZ’s GDP), there is a phrase that best describes their positions: “at risk.” They should plan accordingly.

Along with the New Year, there is the real possibility that, whether it arrives incrementally or suddenly, foreign policy darkness lies on the horizon.

14 thoughts on “The incremental shift.”

  1. I agree that communism left the CCP a long time ago. But I think that we need to understand the nature of modern authoritarianism in order to figure out the chances of the CCP regime lasting. Unlike ancient dynasties and their modern counterparts like those in the Gulf States, modern authoritarians, especially large technocratic ones such as the CCP, cannot rely on inter-generational family succession in order to perpetuate their rule. In fact, family dynasties tend to succumb to the universal law of genetic decline, whereby successive generations of heirs to a foundational political figure become stupider and more venal with each passing of the torch. Lee Kuan Yew’s family is an example, but if one looks at various European or Asian monarchies or even the Kennedys in the US, that syndrome is clear.

    What this means is that modern authoritarianism needs a mechanism of non-family reproduction. Military authoritarians just impose military hierarchy on civilian bureaucracies and the political process (if it exists). By far the most effective means of inter-generational non-family reproduction is via the one party State. The CCP and other (formerly) communist regimes like the USSR and Cuba are the best examples of such. The Kim regime in North Korea is a hybrid variant but it is, to say the least, balanced on a delicate thread. So is the al-Assad regime in Syria, ad in both cases the support of foreign patrons has been the major reason that they have survived.

    What is crucial for long-term reproduction is that the Party be flexible and adaptable to intrinsic as well as extrinsic conditions. That is, it must respond to internal and external factors via reform-mongering before it enters into crisis. Thus, the PRC abandoned socialism in favor of capitalism once the developmental limits of the former were reached. But it did so under one party control. In contrast, post-Soviet Russia tried to change both its political regime (to democracy) and its economic model (to capitalism)–the so-called “dual transition” phenomenon–which paved the way for kleptocratic oligopolies and the resurrection of authoritarian politics under Putin. As it turns out, the literature on regime transitions suggests that the process of political and economic transition is better done sequentially rather than simultaneously, and that of the sequential models, economic transition under authoritarian control eventually leading to political change is the most likely to succeed.

    That is why Western developmentalists bought into the “first markets, then freedom” argument. But instead, in what is now a third transition model, what happened is that the CCP used capitalism to strengthen itself (via such things as military R&D bought off the back of foreign civilian dual use technologies and intellectual property theft) as well as promote rapid development and expansion of public buy-in to the project. As I mentioned in the previous comment, the emerging middle classes are no more “carriers” of democratic values than peasants are innately accepting of revolutionary values or millionaires are of meritocracy. It is all a matter of circumstance, not nature. So long as the Chinese public see their material conditions improve under CCP rule without political reforms, the majority will be content with the status quo and the minority can more easily be suppressed. Add a strong dose of ethnic-centric nationalism and historical revanchism into the mix and what you have is, as Chomsky (?!) wrote, the “manufacture” of mass consent, and I is this basis of consent upon which CCP rule will ultimately stand or fall.

    If the CCP is able to continue to reform-monger both internally and externally, then it should be able to have a long run. But already there are signs that it is not doing so in its internal affairs. The change to the constitution that made Xi Jinping president for life is one such warning sign because the issue of succession is, as one scholar pointed out long ago, the “Achilles heel” of authoritarians. Xi basically canceled the institutional process of leadership succession and has promoted his cronies and lackeys into positions of authority that by meritocratic criteria they should not have been eligible for (including the former Sports Minister who sexually coerced the tennis player). Externally, he is sabre-rattling against a number of adversaries (India, Asian neighbours, the US and West) while attempting to clamp down on various social deviancies that he deems inimical to Han culture (such as the promotion of effeminate behaviour in Chinese male youth by things like K-pop boy bands). This risks over-reach on either or both fronts, which in turn will have his (now quiet) Party rivals sharpening their knives should he stumble and lose face in one or the other arena. After all, how do you think the people who were previously within the CCP line of succession feel about getting sidelined (and in some cases jailed) while adherents to “Xi Jinping Thought” get promoted?

    All of which is to say that I agree, from a different analytic angle, that it is intra-party dynamics that will determine the future of the regime. The precipitant for collapse may be a failure at home or abroad–an ill-fated military attack on a neighbour that generates stronger than anticipated international response, or a domestic crackdown that generates an internal revolt that is difficult to quell)–but any such misstep will test the Party’s ability to crisis manage both the precipitant as well as the internal Party ramifications stemming from it. How it does so will reveal the limits of the “economic without political transition” model.

  2. I agree that communism left the CCP a long time ago. But I think that we need to understand the nature of modern authoritarianism in order to figure out the chances of the CCP regime lasting. Unlike ancient dynasties and their modern counterparts like those in the Gulf States, modern authoritarians, especially large technocratic ones such as the CCP, cannot rely on inter-generational family succession in order to perpetuate their rule. In fact, family dynasties tend to succumb to the universal law of genetic decline, whereby successive generations of heirs to a foundational political figure become stupider and more venal with each passing of the torch. Lee Kuan Yew’s family is an example, but if one looks at various European or Asian monarchies or even the Kennedys in the US, that syndrome is clear.

    What this means is that modern authoritarianism needs a mechanism of non-family reproduction. Military authoritarians just impose military hierarchy on civilian bureaucracies and the political process (if it exists). By far the most effective means of inter-generational non-family reproduction is via the one party State. The CCP and other (formerly) communist regimes like the USSR and Cuba are the best examples of such. The Kim regime in North Korea is a hybrid variant but it is, to say the least, balanced on a delicate thread. So is the al-Assad regime in Syria, ad in both cases the support of foreign patrons has been the major reason that they have survived.

    What is crucial for long-term reproduction is that the Party be flexible and adaptable to intrinsic as well as extrinsic conditions. That is, it must respond to internal and external factors via reform-mongering before it enters into crisis. Thus, the PRC abandoned socialism in favor of capitalism once the developmental limits of the former were reached. But it did so under one party control. In contrast, post-Soviet Russia tried to change both its political regime (to democracy) and its economic model (to capitalism)–the so-called “dual transition” phenomenon–which paved the way for kleptocratic oligopolies and the resurrection of authoritarian politics under Putin. As it turns out, the literature on regime transitions suggests that the process of political and economic transition is better done sequentially rather than simultaneously, and that of the sequential models, economic transition under authoritarian control eventually leading to political change is the most likely to succeed.

    That is why Western developmentalists bought into the “first markets, then freedom” argument. But instead, in what is now a third transition model, what happened is that the CCP used capitalism to strengthen itself (via such things as military R&D bought off the back of foreign civilian dual use technologies and intellectual property theft) as well as promote rapid development and expansion of public buy-in to the project. As I mentioned in the previous comment, the emerging middle classes are no more “carriers” of democratic values than peasants are innately accepting of revolutionary values or millionaires are of meritocracy. It is all a matter of circumstance, not nature. So long as the Chinese public see their material conditions improve under CCP rule without political reforms, the majority will be content with the status quo and the minority can more easily be suppressed. Add a strong dose of ethnic-centric nationalism and historical revanchism into the mix and what you have is, as Chomsky (?!) wrote, the “manufacture” of mass consent, and I is this basis of consent upon which CCP rule will ultimately stand or fall.

    If the CCP is able to continue to reform-monger both internally and externally, then it should be able to have a long run. But already there are signs that it is not doing so in its internal affairs. The change to the constitution that made Xi Jinping president for life is one such warning sign because the issue of succession is, as one scholar pointed out long ago, the “Achilles heel” of authoritarians. Xi basically canceled the institutional process of leadership succession and has promoted his cronies and lackeys into positions of authority that by meritocratic criteria they should not have been eligible for (including the former Sports Minister who sexually coerced the tennis player). Externally, he is sabre-rattling against a number of adversaries (India, Asian neighbours, the US and West) while attempting to clamp down on various social deviancies that he deems inimical to Han culture (such as the promotion of effeminate behaviour in Chinese male youth by things like K-pop boy bands). This risks over-reach on either or both fronts, which in turn will have his (now quiet) Party rivals sharpening their knives should he stumble and lose face in one or the other arena. After all, how do you think the people who were previously within the CCP line of succession feel about getting sidelined (and in some cases jailed) while adherents to “Xi Jinping Thought” get promoted?

    All of which is to say that I agree, from a different analytic angle, that it is intra-party dynamics that will determine the future of the regime. The precipitant for collapse may be a failure at home or abroad–an ill-fated military attack on a neighbour that generates stronger than anticipated international response, or a domestic crackdown that generates an internal revolt that is difficult to quell)–but any such misstep will test the Party’s ability to crisis manage both the precipitant as well as the internal Party ramifications stemming from it. How it does so will reveal the limits of the “economic without political transition” model.

  3. Worrying developments, Pablo. It’s daunting to think of what the repercussions might be – especially as the pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down yet. I’m thankful that the economic management of the pandemic has been generally very good but if and when the PRC do retaliate it will hurt a lot. Interestingly I’d just started to read a Newsroom article on China & Pakistan becoming close allies when your Kiwipolitico email dropped into my inbox. I wonder what could possibly go wrong?

  4. Happy holidays Di.

    Next year will be one of reckoning on a global level. The pandemic will persist and linger but large and medium sized States will flex their muscles and test each other’s mettle. The big test will come for the Biden administration, as it is clear that it does not have the support and perhaps the resolve to confront a direct challenge from the PRC or Russia. The Ukraine will be an early test but there will be more after that. The fact that the PRC and Russia have also inked a mutual defence agreement is a clear sign that the international system is dividing into two camps, one nominally democratic, the other unabashedly authoritarian. Who will prevail is a matter of conjecture at this point, and NZ foreign policy-makers need to be cognisant of what is on the menu–most of which is unpalatable if NZ is to remain “independent” in its foreign affairs.

  5. Compliments of the season to you and yours, Pablo – and best wishes for a peaceful and healthy 2022. Thank you for all your work keeping us informed about the state of affairs both here and abroad. It will be a very interesting year indeed – and quite likely not in a good way as you say- we are fortunate to be here. I’d much prefer a neutral stance by this government if at all possible but from what you say that looks increasingly more difficult. I hope those who make the decisions for us regarding our alliances are up to the task and can only trust that they listen to good advice and proceed accordingly. In the meantime I wish everyone as pleasant and happy a time with their families and loved ones as possible.

  6. A few months ago I looked at a previous article you had posted on China and contrasted it with one written by NZ economist, Michael Riddell, The spoon is long enough, of which I’ll quote a couple of things from the latter with regard to that “30%”, first in terms of a China recession:

    yes the PRC recently moved a bit ahead of Australia as the country where the most two-way trade is done with, but – as people have noted for decades – one notable thing about New Zealand is that our trade isn’t very concentrated with any single other country/region (much less so than is the case for Australia). Total New Zealand exports to China, pre-Covid, were about 5 per cent of GDP.

    A severe and sustained recession in China would represent a significant (but cyclical) blow to the world economy, and to New Zealand – and would do so whether or not New Zealand firms traded much directly with PRC counterparts. That is also true – as we saw in 2008/09 – of severe US recessions. That sort of shock – and others like them, at home or abroad – is why we have a floating exchange rate and discretionary monetary and fiscal policy.

    But he then applies that to China deliberately squeezing us on trade:

    Whatever the potential disruptions for individual firms – and they are real (for them) – it simply is not credible – given the (smallish) size of our total exports, the commodity nature of most, the share of trade with China – that any sort of conceivable economic coercion would represent a serious sustained threat to the New Zealand economy.

    We’re not quite as weak and exposed to China as we (and perhaps they) think and thus Riddell thinks we can afford to speak up a bit more loudly about Chinese actions we think are wrong.

  7. Thanks Tom and happy holidays to you and yours.

    Although I disagree with Michael on the importance of Chinese trade to the NZ economy (including direct exporters/importers and adjacent/linked supply and service chain industries), I sure do hope that he is right. If the NZ trade diversification trend continues in spite/as a result of the pandemic’s structural impact on the global economy, then it is a double blessing. What is clear is that NZ has clearly signaled which camp it belongs to. Everything else is about finessing the bilateral relationship at a time of increasing great power competition.

    I did not mention it in the post and should have, but NZ was not alone in being mistaken about China. In the 1990s and early 2000s there was a consensus amongst Western business and political elites that bringing the PRC into the community of nations via bi-and multi-lateral trade and admission into international bodies like the WTO and World Bank would promote an opening of Chinese society and political system. In assuming this, these elites ignored the failures of modernisation theory in the 1950s and 1960s, which assumed that the promotion of capitalism in underdeveloped countries would lead to the rise of middle class that, as “carriers” of democratic values, would in turn demand greater political voice in the form of democratic reforms, etc. Instead, because among other things the emergent middle classes had little to no experience with democracy and saw politics as a means to secure preferential treatment for their particular interests (say, light manufacturing versus primary good exporters), the growth of capitalist economies led to a series of struggles over control of national economies that ultimately resulted in the imposition of various types of authoritarian regime rather than democracy. Not surprisingly given their lack of exposure to democratic “values,” it turns out the middle classes are not inherently democratic and will side with non-democratic regime types that favour their material interests. In fact, only the fall of dictators in the 1980s and 90s led to democratisation by default in regions such as Latin America, and even that is now under stress in places like Brazil and most of Central America (leftist regimes like those in Nicaragua and Venezuela gave up any pretense of democracy a while ago and their failures are obvious, so I shall not even try to refer to them as “democracies under stress”).

    Capitalism in China has strengthened the CCP, not undermined it. The Chinese middle classes have grown in numbers but have not grown democratic. As it turns out, the Western assumption about capitalism leading to democracy in China rested on an underlying assumption that PRC leaders would be cut out of the cloth as Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, all progressive modernisers by Chinese standards. But in the hands of a regressive nationalist like Xi Jinping, the very things that pushed the PRC into Great Power status–direct Western investment in China as a commodity export hub and domestic promotion of Western-style consumer preferences, encouragement of Chinese capital flows into foreign markets, creation and promotion of Chinese financial and productive enterprises via infusions of Western capital, Chinese presence on international governing bodies, etc.–have now been used by Xi and his CCP cadre to advance their profoundly anti-democratic, jingoistic neo-imperialist agenda which includes a fair does of internal colonialism to boot).

    Chinese capitalism is state capitalism and Chinese state capitalism is CCP capitalism. The CCP-controlled state grants, confers, denies and withdraws economic opportunities according to its own political agenda, not some modern version of modernisation theory. If anything, it wants its rising middle and upper classes to be as dependent on the State as serfs were on their feudal masters. Mao understood this well.

  8. Yes, I should have said Merry Christmas/Happy New Year!

    In the 1990s and early 2000s there was a consensus amongst Western business and political elites that bringing the PRC into the community of nations via bi-and multi-lateral trade and admission into international bodies like the WTO and World Bank would promote an opening of Chinese society and political system…..

    Count me as one of those. But I don’t think we were being entirely naive since I was basing my expectations (hopes?) on the previous twenty years of development in China from 1980 on. I looked at Tiananmen Square as one of those eruptions that a slowly unravelling totalitarian state deals with (and to), but which does not change the trajectory or even increases it toward liberalism.

    Oh well.

    I have to say that I don’t take any notice of the “communist” aspect of the CCP nowadays or the “State Capitalism” critique. My take now is that the Chinese government is simply another giant, heavily centralised, technocratic state in a 3000 year old history of such dynasties. A sort of peace reigns and the people prosper. Until it all falls apart into feudal civil wars and such.

    Perhaps I’m being too deterministic but I’m convinced this will happen to China again and the only question I have is the speed at which it will happen. Those old dynasties often lasted for hundreds of years and could again, but since everything about our world seems to be spinning faster….????

  9. I agree that communism left the CCP a long time ago. But I think that we need to understand the nature of modern authoritarianism in order to figure out the chances of the CCP regime lasting. Unlike ancient dynasties and their modern counterparts like those in the Gulf States, modern authoritarians, especially large technocratic ones such as the CCP, cannot rely on inter-generational family succession in order to perpetuate their rule. In fact, family dynasties tend to succumb to the universal law of genetic decline, whereby successive generations of heirs to a foundational political figure become stupider and more venal with each passing of the torch. Lee Kuan Yew’s family is an example, but if one looks at various European or Asian monarchies or even the Kennedys in the US, that syndrome is clear.

    What this means is that modern authoritarianism needs a mechanism of non-family reproduction. Military authoritarians just impose military hierarchy on civilian bureaucracies and the political process (if it exists). By far the most effective means of inter-generational non-family reproduction is via the one party State. The CCP and other (formerly) communist regimes like the USSR and Cuba are the best examples of such. The Kim regime in North Korea is a hybrid variant but it is, to say the least, balanced on a delicate thread. So is the al-Assad regime in Syria, and in both cases the support of foreign patrons has been the major reason that they have survived.

    What is crucial for long-term reproduction is that the Party be flexible and adaptable to intrinsic as well as extrinsic conditions. That is, it must respond to internal and external factors via reform-mongering before it enters into crisis. Thus, the PRC abandoned socialism in favor of capitalism once the developmental limits of the former were reached. But it did so under one party control. In contrast, post-Soviet Russia tried to change both its political regime (to democracy) and its economic model (to capitalism)–the so-called “dual transition” phenomenon–which paved the way for kleptocratic oligopolies and the resurrection of authoritarian politics under Putin. As it turns out, the literature on regime transitions suggests that the process of political and economic transition is better done sequentially rather than simultaneously, and that of the sequential models, economic transition under authoritarian control eventually leading to political change is the most likely to succeed.

    That is why Western developmentalists bought into the “first markets, then freedom” argument. But instead, in what is now a third transition model, what happened is that the CCP used capitalism to strengthen itself (via such things as military R&D bought off the back of foreign civilian dual use technologies and intellectual property theft) as well as promote rapid development and expansion of public buy-in to the project. As I mentioned in the previous comment, the emerging middle classes are no more “carriers” of democratic values than peasants are innately accepting of revolutionary values or millionaires are of meritocracy. It is all a matter of circumstance, not nature. So long as the Chinese public see their material conditions improve under CCP rule without political reforms, the majority will be content with the status quo and the minority can more easily be suppressed. Add a strong dose of ethnic-centric nationalism and historical revanchism into the mix and what you have is, as Chomsky (?!) wrote, the “manufacture” of mass consent, and it is this basis of consent upon which CCP rule will ultimately stand or fall.

    If the CCP is able to continue to reform-monger both internally and externally, then it should be able to have a long run. But already there are signs that it is not doing so in its internal affairs. The change to the constitution that made Xi Jinping president for life is one such warning sign because the issue of succession is, as one scholar pointed out long ago, the “Achilles heel” of authoritarians. Xi basically canceled the institutional process of leadership succession and has promoted his cronies and lackeys into positions of authority that by meritocratic criteria they should not have been eligible for (including the former Sports Minister who sexually coerced the tennis player). Externally, he is sabre-rattling against a number of adversaries (India, Asian neighbours, the US and West) while attempting to clamp down on various social deviancies that he deems inimical to Han culture (such as the promotion of effeminate behaviour in Chinese male youth by things like K-pop boy bands). This risks over-reach on either or both fronts, which in turn will have his (now quiet) Party rivals sharpening their knives should he stumble and lose face in one or the other arena. After all, how do you think the people who were previously within the CCP line of succession feel about getting sidelined (and in some cases jailed) while adherents to “Xi Jinping Thought” get promoted?

    All of which is to say that I agree, from a different analytic angle, that it is intra-party dynamics that will determine the future of the regime. The precipitant for collapse may be a failure at home or abroad–an ill-fated military attack on a neighbour that generates stronger than anticipated international response, or a domestic crackdown that generates an internal revolt that is difficult to quell)–but any such misstep will test the Party’s ability to crisis manage both the precipitant as well as the internal Party ramifications stemming from it. How it does so will reveal the limits of the “economic without political transition” model.

  10. Festive greetings and a Happy New Year Pablo and family. Thanks for keeping us in the loop all year. I sound more optimistic than I feel! Saw a very scary programme re the megaverse. Luckily my former colleagues and contempoaries will have left this mortal coil before it is run by bots and avatars.
    Facebook morphing into Meta?? Is this actually MAGA? Nicole Matejic, re information warfare more scary stuff. My wish is that everything calms down a bit in 2022 and we stay in our little South Pacific bubble quietly going about our business. Impossible dream?

  11. Thanks Barbara,

    And all the best to you and yours for the New Year. When I first moved to NZ in 1997 I used to say that nuclear armageddon would just be a green glow on the Northern horizon. Now I see NZ as a type of socio-biological oxygen tent in which we get to live more or less normally in an otherwise contaminated world. But that will not be the case if the authorities continue to classify DJs as “critical workers” in order to grant them border exemptions based on the supposed “economic benefits” and “specialist skills” that they bring to NZ. That was the same argument used to justify bringing in America’s Cup team cooks and administrative aides as “critical workers” as well, and we now know that the expected economic benefits of the regatta were negligible once it ended. And since taxpayer dollars help fund things like yacht races and music festivals, we wind up helping pay for the pleasure of being exposed to a lethal pandemic by exempted foreigners who flaunted the quarantine rules (a few AC crew members wound up getting Covid during the event, and now we have DJ Ormicron). Win!

  12. Hola Pablo y Feliz Año Nuevo!

    Why does our government always follow our partners
    in the 5 eyes alliance?

    I don’t understand why

    As mentioned in your podcasts with Selwyn Manning, New Zealand suffers from the tyranny of distance. We are far away, small and insignificant

    Surely, maintaining neutrality would suit our country better?

    Because we can easily be ‘ kicked into touch ‘

    From where I am standing that is easier done than said.
    I am involved in import / export / maritime shipping. All China needs to do is withdraw shipping services of their two companies Cosco and OOCL and the problems really start

  13. Felices Fiestas Eduardo, y Prospero Ano Nuevo.

    5 Eyes is a WW2/Cold War post-colonial Anglophone creation that grouped white-dominant setter states with the UK motherland in a anti-Soviet/Communist signals sharing partnership. During the early days of the partnership (1940s-1960s) the utility of the two Southern Hemisphere states derived from their geographic location, since technologies of the time could not engage in “over the horizon” or anything other than short range underwater intercepts, much less space-based monitoring. Since the formalisation of the Echelon agreement in the 1960s, along with the technological push driven by Cold War competition, 5 Eyes was a full spectrum intercept and analysis partnership.

    NZ gets value in return for its participation, but it is also a target of the adversaries of its partners. I would estimate that for every piece of data or informations NZ sends along to its partners it receives dozens of raw intelligence and analytic reports. How the 5 Eyes choses its targets and what it’s division of labor is is a secret, but suffice it to say that the US takes the lead on that (via the NSA), with the UK being second equal, Oz the third equal and Canada and NZ serving as junior partners (of sorts, since they share all the same technologies etc.). Each country can assign targets as it sees fit so long as they do not run contrary to the overall thrust of the collective focus.

    Over the years this has shifted from the Soviets to the Chinese, to Middle Eastern conflicts, to European squabbles, to Asian and global trade matters–as I said, it is a full spectrum “take” outfit in regard to both its subjects as well as themes by which intelligence is collected. Heck, NZ even helped listen in to Argentine military communications during the Falklands/Malvinas War!

    Thanks to the work of Nicky Hager, Edward Snowden and others we now now that NZ has spied on Russia, Japan, its island neighbours and insurgents in Central Asia and Mesopotamia. Think of the 5 eyes outreach as a latticework of overlapping technical and signals capabilities, which now includes very advanced computing systems and space platforms.

    As the years have gone by the partnership is now a core of Western intelligence networks and has arrangements with a host of partners that they exchange both raw and “polished” intelligence with such as Singapore, Israel, France, Japan, South Korea and Germany. In turn, the signals intelligence agencies of these partners interact with the parallel world of human intelligence collection (think CIA, SIS or MI6), where 5 Eyes provides a broad technical support and logistics function to human intelligence operations, both tactical and strategic (including battlefield Command, Control, Communication, Intelligence and Computing (C3IC)) operations).

    The systems of each 5 Eyes partner are so deeply integrated and intertwined with those of the others, it is impossible to realistically opt out of the arrangement. As I have said before, it is like trying to get out of the Mafia once you are “made.”

    Moreover, the same core values that underpinned the original alliance, now rephrased as “liberal democratic values” rather than “anti-communist values,” continue to serve as the filter through which the partners see the world and the glue that binds them together. The PRC, Russia, Iran, Taliban, ISIS, DPRK, Cuba, Syria, Venezuela are all anti-“Western” authoritarian states, so the shift in focus from Cold War to post-Cold War targets has been relatively seamless and easy (I shall refrain from debating whether Iran and Venezuela are more democratic than say, Saudi Arabia, but suffice it to say that pro-Western authoritarians are considered to be useful to the partnership and are monitored in any event).

    The 2000s have brought two new challenges to the 5 Eyes: non-state, ideologically-driven irregular warfare groups; and cyber warfare/crime pursued by both state and non-state actors, with a dangerous overlap or nexus in between some of them. Plus, all of this is moving into near earth orbits in the form of nano-satellites as well as their bigger counterparts. Needless to say 5 Eyes has been all over this like a rash.

    The PRC is now the “new” man adversary of the 5 Eyes, so a day of reckoning appears to be coming for little ole NZ. It may not have been wise, in retrospect, to have signed that bilateral FTA with the PRC in 2008. But as my back and forth with Tom Hunter alludes to, there was a belief in the West that bring the PRC into the Western centric “community of nations” via such things as FTAs and inclusion in multilateral bodies would help steer the PRC on the path to prosperity and democracy. The first did in act happen, at least for many Chinese. The second is further away today than it was in 2008.

    That, I am afraid, is why NZ will stick with the 5 Eyes even if the PRC starts yanking its leash when it comes to trade in order to get it to heel when it comes to PRC dictates. At that point, the diplomatic fence-sitting by NZ under the the guise of an “independent” foreign policy may well come to an end. Or, as I note in this post, it may have done so already, albeit incrementally.

  14. The nature of NZ intelligence and defence relationship with the USA seems ambivalent and unclear to the public and media, and deliberately obscured by MFAT and recent governments, with favour the trade relationship and potential tourist and educational market from China and which criticism of Chinese denial of free speech, liberty and HR violations and illegal expansion of territorial waters on the basis of the historic, nine dash line and threat to invade Taiwan, are met only with diplomatic gestures and clearly, prompted and solo statements against the Chinese jackboot, by government servants, government MPs, Ministers and employees of University Depts with a operational mutual understanding with MFAT.
    NZ is largely a suitable piece of real estate for Five Eyes and I would assume less than 1 percent of its electronic targets are NZ selections. Obviously the Five Eyes information is useful to customs and police, but my view is the lure of five eyes to the local centred politicians, only relates to the odd issue, and stuff they can use against personal enemies. The actual perception of a defence threat is beyond then. The current domestic intelligence structure is a mystery if it really exists beyond Ms Kipplewhite and Mr Evans. Both Heather Roy and Police Commander Coster seem to envisage there own power base expanding with the establishment of a new integrated intelligence service of the various small units of the armed forces, but in reality would mean the Maori Army and Police becoming the intelligence service, a terrifying thought, given the current police bosses describing their mission as protecting the working class interest ( not the middle class or liberal establishment).
    The precise nature of our defence alliances is even more obscure. When Anzus was signed in 1951, the UA made clear in the actual document, that it should be expanded to include Japan and Philiphines as well as the US and Australia and John Foster Dulles or Atcheson the Sec of State of the time told the senate that Anzus incorporated NZ and Australia into the US Sphere of influence and placed Wellington and Canberra under the Monroe Doctrine. The ‘ common danger’ ref to in Anzus is Russian and Chinese military aggression in the Pacific. My reading of the ‘Wellington declaration’ by Sec of State, Hillary Clinton was it was some sort of post Anzus settlement. However many New Zealanders may soon want to appeal to the US to save them from Asia, China orocerty or their own government and as Anzus, the Monroe Doctrine and US sphere of influence was undoubtedly permanent to John Foster Dulles, Alfred Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt, some great white fleet might belatedly emerge rather too late to rescue, NZ.

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