Let’s talk to our panel. First of all, Fran. ‘We want, we want, we want. In it for the long haul. I think the Pacific is big enough for all of us.’ What do we make of what Hillary Clinton’s saying?
FRAN O’SULLIVAN - New Zealand Herald Columnist
Well, it’s very interesting, because if you hark back to when the forum was held here in I think around 2003, post-September 11, in fact, the Assistant Secretary of State for the East Asia Pacific Area from the US, he was sort of on the outskirts of the Donor Forum. Whereas the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister was very much at the table then. The US has to realise that China has filled the vacuum that they had basically left in the last 10 years. So, yes, it is big enough for both, but China, actually, has a bit of an edge at the moment.
It seems also that one of the most bizarre parts that Hillary Clinton says is going to help is with bomb dismantling, because that’s been such a huge issue in the Pacific, and fish patrol, because they, again, have shown a huge interest in that lately. It’s all a bit late, isn’t it, Bryce?
DR BRYCE EDWARDS - Political Scientist
Exactly, and it shows that the US is really entering in and following China. So we do have a looming power struggle here. Lots of diplomacy going on from both China and the USA and New Zealand saying these aren’t big issues, but they are. And I think it’s good that we’re having a bit of a power struggle here, because these Pacific Islands really do need resources and money quickly. And it actually allows them a bit more independence from New Zealand and Australia, because they have been reliant on New Zealand aid and our good will. Whereas they need a bit more independence, they need these resources. So I think it’s good for them. And America hasn’t actually got a flash history in the Pacific, so I think they should be welcoming the Chinese.
Is it a good thing, though, Matt? All of a sudden the big cool kids want to be our mates. Should we be pretty suspicious of this?
MATT McCARTEN - Unite Union
Yes, of course. China has, in Africa and South America, been quite deliberate in their approach. Both have been at. The Americans after the First World War put that influence, but it came with ideology, and they’re still doing it. When they get involved, it’s about regime change, it’s about the new democracy. It’s political. What China’s doing is building police stations, building roads, building new utilities, and they don’t interfere in the local thing, and that’s why they’re going to be more successful.
Having said that, from the Chinese delegation: ‘We are here in this region not to seek any particular influence, still less dominance.’ Believe that, and I’ll sell you a bridge.
But also it is driven by markets and by their need for food for their growing population. Because China is driven by stability, internal stability. They need the food. That’s why we have the Crafar farm thing. It’s all about economics.
It’s more economics.
Essentially, and what we forget is to China, we are also seen as two Pacific islands. And we forget that. You go up to China Foreign Affairs in Beijing, we’re there. We’re part of Oceania. We’re not part of Asia. We are two islands. And the interesting thing is that I think, you know, Hillary Clinton and America, they changed their view to us when they saw this steady parade of Chinese politicians being welcomed here. We have been extraordinarily open to China in the last 10 years.
Can we have a bob each way? Can we get in with the Americans and stay in with the Chinese?
That’s what the government’s trying to do. They try to ride this Pacific pivot thing. And I think, for the moment, they can, but ultimately there’s going to have to be some sort of choice. It’s going to be hard.
But also it’s not going to be one superpower. The problem is for the States, China also holds their debt. That’s why they’re playing nice. This is about economics.
They have no option.
One point I want to get across with the Pacific Islands is what has happened there is there has been, at times, huge local unrest towards Chinese who have come in and who have brought with them corruption, meth labs in Fiji, all of that. So there is an underbelly and triad culture and all of that which I think is not being exposed, but needs to be kept in mind.