Pentagon Obsession: China, China, China

Pentagon Obsession: China, China, China

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with Strategic Culture) by special agreement with the author)

Chinese nuclear bombers. Chinese hypersonic missiles. Chinese carrier killer missiles. Chinese cyberattacks. Chinese anti-satellite weaponry. Chinese militarization of the South China Sea. Chinese Huawei spying.

So many Chinese “malign intentions”. And we’re not even talking about Russia.

Few people around the world are aware that the Pentagon for the moment is led by a mere “acting” Defense Secretary, Patrick Shanahan.

That did not prevent “acting” Secretary to shine in the red carpet when presenting the Trump administration’s 2020 Pentagon budget proposal – at $718 billion – to the Senate Armed Services Committee: the top US national security threat is, in his own (repeated) words, “China, China, China”.

“Acting” Shanahan has been in charge since Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis – the original butcher of Fallujah in 2004 – resigned last December. His former employer happened to be Boeing. The Pentagon’s inspector general is still investigating whether Shanahan was in fact acting as a no holds barred Boeing commercial asset whenever he met the Pentagon top brass.

That, of course, fits the classic Beltway “revolving door” pattern. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a Washington-based group, actually filed a complaint around the fact that “acting” Shanahan blasted Lockheed Martin, Boeing’s competitor, in every top-level Pentagon meeting.

Shanahan told the Senate, “China is aggressively modernizing its military, systematically stealing science and technology, and seeking military advantage through a strategy of military-civil fusion.”

That includes Beijing’s development of a nuclear-capable long-range bomber that, according to Shanahan, will put it on the same level as the US and Russia as the only global powers controlling air-, sea- and land-based nuclear weapons.

It’s essential to remember that Mattis and Shanahan are the main authors of the National Defense Strategy adopted by the Trump administration which accuses China of striving for “Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global pre-eminence in the future.”

Now compare it with

Col. Larry Wilkerson’s view; the whole Pentagon show is all about offense while Russia and China are always emphasizing defense.

Fighting the Trojan Horse

Even more enlightening is to directly compare the Pentagon approach with the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces under its chief, Gen. Valeriy Gerasimov.

Gerasimov identified “the US and its allies” as engaged in permanent war of all types, including “preparation for ‘global strike’, ‘multi-domain battle’, [and the] use of the technology of ‘color revolutions’ and ‘soft power’. Their goal is the elimination of the statehood of undesirable countries, undermining their sovereignty, changing the legitimately elected public authorities. Thus it was in Iraq, in Libya and in Ukraine. Now similar actions are observed in Venezuela.”

So there it is, graphically explained: Venezuela, geostrategically, is as important to Moscow as Syria and Ukraine.

Gerasimov also detailed how, “the Pentagon has begun to develop a fundamentally new strategy of warfare, which has been dubbed the ‘Trojan Horse’. Its essence lies in the active use of the ‘protest potential of the fifth column’ in order to destabilize the situation with simultaneous strikes by precision-guided weapons on the most important targets.”

Then the clincher; “The Russian Federation is ready to oppose every one of these strategies. In recent years, military scientists, together with the General Staff, have developed conceptual approaches to neutralize the aggressive actions of potential opponents. The field of research of military strategy is armed struggle, its strategic level. With the emergence of new areas of confrontation in modern conflicts, methods of struggle are increasingly shifting towards the integrated application of political, economic, information and other non-military measures, implemented with the support of military force.”

Call it Russia’s response to Made in USA Hybrid War. With the major incentive of being a value for money operation; after all the Russian General Staff, unlike the Pentagon, is not in the business, for all practical purposes, of stealing trillions of dollars from taxpayers for several decades.

There’s no question the Chinese leadership, not exactly adept at state of the art Hybrid War techniques, is studying the Russian military strategies in excruciating detail.

Of course this is all intrinsically linked to Putin’s leadership. Last month, in Moscow, Rostislav Ishchenko, arguably the top Russian analyst of the Ukraine saga, explained it to me in detail:

“Putin does not ‘take over the elites’ or ‘guide the nation.’ His genius lies in an acute intuitive sense of the strategic needs of the nation (which creates a strong feedback and causes absolute trust of the absolute majority of the people), but most importantly, he is a master of political compromise, understanding the importance of maintaining peace between different social, economic, and political groups within the country, to ensure its stability, prosperity, and international authority. Given that foreign policy is always a continuation of domestic policy, we can clearly trace his desire for compromise in Russian international activity.”

“Putin, Ishchenko added, “does not try to suppress the opponents even in those cases when Russia is unconditionally stronger and the result of the confrontation will clearly be in her favor. Putin understands that both the loser and the winner lose in the confrontation. Therefore, he always offers a compromise for a long time, almost to the last opportunity, even to those who clearly do not deserve it, moving to other solutions only after the opponent has clearly crossed all possible red lines and can pose a threat to the vital interests of Russia. An agreement based on consideration of each other’s interests is always stronger than any short-term ‘victories’, which tomorrow will result in the need to reaffirm their status of the winner again and again. It seems to me that Putin understands this well. Hence the effectiveness of his actions. You can also take a look at his team. These are professionals who adhere to a variety of ideological views (or do not adhere to any). The main thing is that they perform their work qualitatively. The ability to manage such a team is another of its undoubted advantages. After all, these are all ambitious people who are aware of their professionalism and are able to defend their opinion, which is not always the same for everyone. Nevertheless, they work as a single mechanism and achieve really great results.”

Watch out for Yoda’s hordes

To expect the same from the US industrial-military-surveillance complex would be idle.

In fact, “acting” Shanahan’s deputy, Under Secretary David Trachtenberg, doubled down when addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee; he said that Washington will not relinquish its self-attributed right for a nuclear first strike.

In his own words; “A ‘no-first use’ policy would erode US allies’ belief that they are protected.” As if all US allies were begging in unison to be “defended” by US nuclear bombs. In true “war is peace” mode, this Orwellian state of affairs is justified under the Pentagonese notion of “constructive ambiguity”.

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) exhibits a long list of causes that may detonate a US nuclear first strike – including a worryingly vague attack on “allied or partner civilian infrastructure”. Even a clumsy false flag, for instance in the South China Sea, could lead to such a stand off.

All of the above is in fact directly linked to the death of Yoda.

Yoda is of course RAND asset Andrew Marshall, who was the director of the nefarious Office of Net Assessment at the Pentagon from 1973 to 2015.

Predictably, scores of Atlanticist think tanks are celebrating Yoda as the winner in devising the new rollback US “strategy” against China.

Yoda did groom scores of analysts across the whole spectrum of the industrial-military-surveilance complex – including think tanks, universities and mainstream media.

So in the end Yoda did body-slam Bismarckian Henry Kissinger – who remains alive, sort of (if Marshall was Yoda, would Kissinger be Darth Vader?) Kissinger always advised containment in relation to China, disguised as what he termed “co-evolution”.

Yoda finished off not only Kissinger but also the Obama administration’s wobbly and ill-defined “pivot to Asia”. Yoda preached hardcore confrontation with China. There’s no question that even beyond the grave, he’ll continue to rule over his warmongering Beltway hordes.

The EU bows to ‘systemic rival’ China

ٍSourceThe EU bows to ‘systemic rival’ China

March 28, 2019

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with Consortium News) by special agreement with the author)

Let’s start with the essential background for the meeting in Paris on Tuesday between Chinese President Xi Jinping and three EU heavyweights – French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the European Commission (EC) Jean-Claude Juncker.

As imperfect as these figures may be, economic growth for the past 10 years after the 2008 financial crisis – which was a made in the West phenomenon – do tell an enlightening story.

China’s growth: 139%. India’s growth: 96%. the US’ growth: 34%. EU growth: a negative 2%.

French mainstream media, controlled by a rarified group of oligarchs, spun a risible narrative that Macron “imposed” this four-way meeting on Xi to press on him the new EC strategy aiming to “clarify” Chinese ambiguity in relation to the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

As I previously reported, the EC now brands China a “systemic rival,” and seems to have realized that Beijing is an “economic competitor in search of technological leadership.” And that may translate as a threat to European values and norms.

Xi had just come from Rome – where the populist, eurosceptic Lega, Five Stars coalition government became the first G7 nation to sign a partnership with the BRI, igniting massive sparks of Atlanticist fear.

So in the end, what did we get from Chancellor Angela Merkel as the EU faced a process French elites describe as Sino-globalization?

We had realpolitik. Merkel stressed the BRI was an “important” project: “We, as Europeans, want to play an active part and that must lead to certain reciprocity and we are still wrangling over that a bit.” She added: “We are seeing the project as a good visualization of interaction, interrelation and interdependence.”

Merkel was essentially relaying the position of German business elites – as a trade powerhouse, the future of Germany lies in turbo-charging business with Asia, especially China.

So, instead of demonizing Rome, in practice Berlin will eventually embark on the same path. After all, Duisburg, in the Ruhr valley, is already the de facto top BRI terminal in northern Europe.

Xi and his EU partners did not fail to emphasize multilateralism. There could not be a more glaring contrast to the Trump administration’s narrative that China is a threat and the BRI is all about Chinese “vanity.” Juncker even tried to defuse the “systemic” tension: “We understand that China does not like the expression ‘rivals,’ but it is a compliment describing our shared ambitions.”

Add to it that Xi also felt the need to remind the EU leadership of the obvious. China will continue to “open up,” as it managed in only 40 years to accomplish what Europe did over the course of the entire industrial revolution.

New Silk Air, anyone?

On the – embattled – Macron front, more than New Silk Roads a de facto New Silk Air seems to be in effect.

No one – apart from Boeing – argues about a 30 billion euro-plus Chinese order to buy 300 Airbuses. And that’s only the beginning. The fact that Beijing will use Airbus technology to enhance its aviation prowess under the framework of Made in China 2025 is another matter entirely.

So Paris may not have turned, like Rome, into an official partner to the New Silk Roads – at least not yet. But the promises are quite telling – on three fronts.

1) The emphasis on multilateralism – “strong and efficient.” That’s not exactly Trumpian rhetoric.

2) Common action with Beijing on climate change and biodiversity.

3) An economic-trade partnership that respects mutual interests. That is, in fact, New Silk Roads-BRI official policy since the beginning, in 2013.

So when we compare the different strategies by Rome and Paris, Xi has, in fact, come out with a win-win.

Merkel, predictably, was careful to hedge to the hilt: “The triangle between EU, China and US is very important. Without the US, we will not be able to have multilateralism.”

At the same time, she stressed, the US-China trade war was “hitting our German economy.”

As for Team Macron, with the leader obsessed with posing as the savior of the EU ahead of the European Parliament elections in May, they could not help but go after the administration in Rome.

According to a Macron acolyte: “There is this bad European habit to have 28 different policies, with countries competing against each other to attract investment. We need to speak with a common voice if we want to exist. We have the same approach on the 5G issue: avoiding 28 different decisions.”

The 5G Monaco Grand Prix

Which brings us to the case of Monaco, not exactly a shabby prize – and duly visited by Xi, who was received, literally, as royalty.

The principality is absolutely avid to gobble up the fast-growing Chinese luxury tourism market. And that explains why Monaco has already signed a deal with Huawei to be the first country to be entirely covered by 5G before the end of 2019.

Paris, by the way, has not ruled out using Huawei equipment. And as a cherry on the cake, guess which city Huawei chose to globally unveil its spectacular new P30 series of smartphones? Paris.

Make no mistake, for Beijing, in terms of trade and economic relations, Berlin is way more relevant than Paris. But these big three – Berlin, Paris and Rome – all have major roles to play.

The New Silk Roads being re-connected to Italy after half a millennium will accelerate Euro-Asia integration, and even, in the long run, more influence for both the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

EU businesses, if not political Eurocrats, are starting to realize that Europe cannot afford to become a battlefield in Cold War 2.0 between the US and Russia, cannot afford to become a hostage of Washington tearing up international law – see, for instance, the destruction of the Iran nuclear deal and recognizing the occupied Golan Heights as part of Israel – and cannot afford to become a victim of Washington’s trade whims.

It’s no wonder that slowly but surely, the EU is shifting its priorities to the East – including to its “systemic rival.”

All roads lead to Rome for Xi

Source

March 25, 2019

All roads lead to Rome for Xi

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times ) by special agreement with the author)

All (silk) roads do lead to Rome, as this Saturday Chinese President Xi Jinping and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will sign a memorandum to adhere to the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Afterward, Xi becomes a magnanimous version of The Sicilian, visiting the port of Palermo, with Beijing intent on investing in local infrastructure.

Atlanticist hysteria has been raging wildly – with the simplistic narrative focused on the fact that Italy is a G7 member, at the heart of the Mediterranean “mare nostrum”, and crammed with NATO bases. Thus, it cannot “sell out” to China.

Conte and diplomats in Rome have confirmed that this is strictly about economic cooperation, and signing a memorandum is non-binding. Italy has, in fact, been informally aligned with the Belt and Road scheme since 2015 when it became one of the founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which finances scores of BRI projects.

EU members Greece, Portugal and Malta have also signed BRI agreements. Berlin and Paris have not – at least not yet. Same with London, but post-Brexit that will inevitably happen as trade with China will become even more important for the UK.

Here, in English and Italian, is the draft text of the memorandum, although the final version may be slightly more diluted to appease the Eurocrats at the European Commission (EC), which last week defined China as a “systemic rival”.

Milan’s Corriere Della Sera published a comprehensive op-ed signed by Xi Jinping himself, even quoting legendary writer Alberto Moravia. Xi stresses the “strategic trustworthiness” between China and Italy and vows to “build a new stage of Belt and Road in aspects of the sea, the land, aviation, space and culture”. So, yes, this is not only about geoeconomics, but crucially also about the projection of geopolitical soft power.

Hoping to emulate Singapore

I have already explained how Marco Polo is back in China, again, and how the EU is struggling to position itself in a common front when dealing with its top trade partner. The ongoing geoeconomic game is essentially about the Maritime Silk Road – with  Italy positioning itself as BRI’s privileged southern European terminal.

The port of Venice is already being upgraded for a possible role as a BRI terminal. Now, the possibility opens for Genoa and the northern Adriatic ports of Trieste and Ravenna to be developed by COSCO and China Communications Construction. Conte himself has already singled out, on the record, Genoa and Trieste as “terminals for the New Silk Roads”.

COSCO is on a roll. It has operated the port of Piraeus in Greece since 2008 and holds 35% of Rotterdam and 20% of Antwerp. And it plans to build a terminal in Hamburg. In the Battle of the Super-Ports, as I defined it, between northern and southern Europe, Cosco is betting on both sides.

Zeno D’Agostino, president of the Trieste port authority, even dreams of becoming the new Singapore, profiting from Chinese investment, while not renouncing to manage its new status – as happened with Piraeus. He has perfectly understood how, for the Chinese, Trieste is “the perfect gateway to Europe.”

Palermo is an even more interesting story. It happens to be the hometown of both Italian President Sergio Mattarella and, more significantly, Michele Geraci, the undersecretary of state for economic development. Geraci was a finance professor at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou from 2009 to 2018. A Sinophile fluent in Mandarin, he has been Rome’s point man negotiating with Beijing.

China directly investing in the Sicilian economy is a huge deal, totally in tune with Italian national interest in terms of expanding the role of a strategic bridge between southern Europe and northern Africa.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, left, is seen with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in this photo from late last year in Brussels. Photo: AFP / Dursun Aydemir / Anadolu

On the hypersensitive telecom front, it’s certain that every direct reference to data sharing, 5G and strategic infrastructure will not be part of the Italy-China BRI memorandum.

That won’t alter the fact that both Huawei and ZTE have been experimenting for years now on installing 5G in Italy. Huawei already sponsors two “smart and safe cities” research centers in Italy. And the recent opinion piece by one of Huawei’s rotating chairmen has made a huge splash not only in Italy but across the EU; Guo Ping argues that the reason for the current demonization campaign is that Huawei equipment blocks all back-doors available for spying by the US National Security Agency.

All aboard the BRI train

Moving on, when Xi visits France early next week, his focus will be totally different. The Paris establishment has not made up its mind yet on how deep to relate with BRI. Inside the EU, France is the top power in terms of constraining Chinese investment. So Xi’s strategy when meeting President Macron will rely on stressing cooperation on climate, global governance and peacekeeping operations.

According to media reports, Macron has also invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to join the meeting.

Beijing is very much aware that France chairs the G7 this year and is the crucial co-actor along with Germany in shaping EU policies, especially after the crucial European elections in May that may translate into a huge success for far right, anti-Brussels parties.

Beijing is also focused on guaranteeing a smooth China-EU summit in Brussels on April 9, which will make things much easier for the 16+1 summit of China plus Eastern and Central Europe nations in Croatia on April 12. The inescapable fact is that the 16+1 – the majority of whom are part of the EU – as well as Greece, Portugal, Malta and now Italy are all on board of BRI.

Marco Polo is back in China – again

Source

March 10, 2019

Marco Polo is back in China – again

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times by special agreement with the author)

Embattled Chinese technology giant Huawei is on a new commercial offensive in New Zealand, one that playfully conflates the nation’s passion for rugby with telecommunications infrastructure.

“5G without Huawei is like rugby without New Zealand,” one billboard said. Another reads: “New Zealanders wouldn’t accept second or third best on the rugby field, and they shouldn’t have to put up with it when it comes to 5G.”

Last November, New Zealand blocked the use of Huawei equipment and supplies in the roll out its new generation 5G network over national security concerns, one of the first indications that Wellington is taking a harder look at its largest trading partner.

The company is not banned outright in New Zealand, but is under a temporary ban via its local partner Spark, which has been prohibited from deploying Huawei’s technology over spying concerns shared by New Zealand’s “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing partners, namely the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) said last year that it had “established links between the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) and a global campaign of cyber-enabled commercial intellectual property theft.”

“This long-running campaign targeted the intellectual property and commercial data of a number of global managed service providers, some operating in New Zealand,” Andrew Hampton, director general of the GCSB, said.

A Huawei advertising billboard in New Zealand. Photo: Huawei website screen grab

Concerns over Huawei’s alleged links to China’s ruling Communist Party are now global, but New Zealand’s stance on China is fast shifting, with Huawei’s ban just the latest in a growing list of concerns that have caused ripples in previously calm and mostly trade-centric relations.

Last month, headlines on both sides of The Ditch — the sea that separates Australia and New Zealand – were made after allegations surfaced that a New Zealand academic had been harassed by presumed Chinese agents.

New Zealand scholar and China expert Anne-Marie Brady recently alleged that her office at the University of Canterbury and then her personal residence were broken into by persons acting on behalf of the Chinese government.

Earlier, Chinese officials had appealed to her university as well as New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to stop funding her research, some of which has probed China’s military activities, including revelations that Beijing is building bases on territory that Australia claims in Antarctica. Brady was also the first to reveal that a sitting member of New Zealand’s parliament previously served as a Chinese security agent.

New Zealand’s newfound and rising China concerns are starting to mirror Australia’s. Canberra’s fears have centered on Beijing’s perceived interference in its domestic politics, resulting in new laws that without overtly naming China aim to curb its political influence.

Brady has testified to Australia’s parliament, which was recorded in the official Hansard ledger. Australian journalist Peter Hartcher noted last month that New Zealand had not done the same, though it has since faced strong pressure to do so, including via a 150-strong petition from academics.

Andrew Hastie, chair of the Australian parliament’s security and intelligence committee and noted China hawk, told the reporter that “it appears that she’s a target of interest for the Chinese Communist Party or apparatchiks of the Chinese state as a way of silencing her and intimidating her.”

“It’s very clear that my country’s government wants this story to go away. The Chinese Ministry of State Security operates in our societies unhindered and our governments just watch. It’s happening in Australia, too,” Brady told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

The shells of the Sydney Opera House are seen through a Chinese flag. Photo: AFP/Torsten Blackwood
The shells of the Sydney Opera House are seen through a Chinese flag. Photo: AFP/Torsten Blackwood

As the controversy spirals, Wellington is now waking to the issue. China’s targeting of Australia-based people of interest has until now been more overt.

In 2017, Chinese academic Chongyi Feng was detained in China and not allowed to board a flight to Australia, where he teaches at the University of Technology Sydney. Feng holds permanent residency in Australia but is not a citizen, meaning Canberra was limited in what it could do.

Unrelated but threatening moves have worried politicians, journalists and academics in Australia, with allegations and instances of spying, bribery, political donations, academic interference and pro-Beijing propaganda placements in Chinese language Australian newspapers.

While some claims have bordered on hysteria, others have been proved and grounded in fact. To be sure, New Zealand’s view of China has not been as tortured as in Australia, which has relied on Chinese demand and investment to keep its recession-proof economy afloat even as it balances ties with its close ally the US.

But China is also New Zealand’s largest trade partner. New Zealand’s exports of all goods and services to China were worth NZ$16.6 billion (US$11.8 billion) for the year ended September 2018, $2.6 billion (US$1.8 billion) more than Australia and almost double New Zealand’s sales to the US, a government website says.

New Zealand is not confronted with the same trade-versus-security dilemma as Australia, but recent Chinese moves in its backyard have clearly made Wellington uncomfortable. It’s view of China as a “strategic partner” is also changing, as Beijing increasingly challenges the “rules-based order” in global affairs New Zealand holds dear.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s left-leaning Labour government has started to raise those concerns, analysts note. Those were seen in a Strategic Defense Policy statement issued last year, the first by New Zealand to raise Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.

“[New Zealand] is navigating a more complex world” and will “face challenges not previously seen in our neighborhood… [its] security outlook may be shaped most powerfully by a combination of forces putting pressure on the international rules-based order which will play out in newly potent ways close to home.”

New Zealand Labour leader Jacinda Ardern speaks to the press in Wellington on October 19, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Charlotte Greenfield
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in an October 19, 2017, file photo. Photo: Reuters / Charlotte Greenfield

China “seeks to restore claimed historical levels of influence … [and] some actions in pursuit of these aims challenge the existing order.” “It has expanded its military and coast guard presence in disputed areas of maritime Asia. It has determined not to engage with an international tribunal ruling on the status of sovereignty claims,” the paper said.

In July, New Zealand announced it would spend NZ$2.35 billion (US$1.67 billion) on four Boeing P-8A Poseidon submarine-hunting maritime patrol aircraft that would offer more interoperability with the US and Australia in naval exercises.

Winston Peters, acting foreign minister with the minority New Zealand First party, traveled to Washington last December to seek US support and help in the Pacific, New Zealand’s backyard and a part of the world that feels significantly less safe for a small but independent nation than it did even two years ago.

“New Zealand is a small but well-functioning democracy located at the bottom of the world,” he said in an address. “While New Zealand and the United States work together on a range of global issues, our cooperation and like-mindedness is now coming into sharper relief in the Asia Pacific where the region is becoming more contested and its security is ever more fragile.”

In recent months, analysts and academics have noticed a perceptible shift away from China. “I can’t recall in recent years a more substantial and consolidated New Zealand official view of the behaviors that China is exhibiting in the South China Sea,” professor Robert Ayson of Victoria University told Asia Times.

“Jacinda Ardern’s coalition government has brought with it generally higher levels of concern about some of China’s goals and actions in the wider Asia-Pacific region and an increased willingness to put these concerns on the public record.”

“China’s more worrying behavior and the arrival of a more concerned government has meant that those parts of New Zealand’s official community which have been concerned about China have had a more receptive audience in Cabinet for their views.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) welcomes New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters at the Department of State in Washington DC on December 17, 2018. Photo: Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

“It’s no coincidence that these stronger indications of skepticism and concern about China have come when Winston Peters is foreign minister and his [New Zealand] First colleague Ron Mark is Defense Minister,” he said via email, pointing out the minority leader’s nationalist and more traditional realist credentials compared with the left-leaning and inclusive Ardern.

But Ardern may also take a more traditional view that China can still be a part of rules-based-order, including in regard to climate change mitigation efforts. The basis for that is a “comprehensive strategic partnership” signed under former prime minister John Key and President Xi Jinping.

David Capie, a professor at the University of Wellington, told Asia Times that “those actions [of China’s] threaten New Zealand’s interests, so it’s not surprising that there would be a shift in policy. I’m sure it is a welcomed by our closest partners, but this is a New Zealand decision.”

There is speculation that Wellington has been pushed into a harder line vis-à-vis Beijing by both Canberra and Washington and that the Labour government — despite being far more left-leaning than the previous center-right Key government — was correcting a perceived laxity on China by its predecessors.

“It sometimes takes the election of a new government for officials to be able to take a look at policy settings and to work out if they need adjusting,” Capie said. “I think that’s what’s happened to New Zealand.”

Still, Wellington must keep intact its crucial economic ties with China, even as it changes the way it looks at Beijing’s place in the world and region. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met with Ardern on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in November, where the two leaders discussed upgrading their ten-year-old free trade agreement (FTA), according to Chinese media.

Chinese tourists taking pictures in New Zealand. Photo: Facebook

New Zealand has also signed on to the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade pact. At the same time, domestic anti-China tensions have flared with Chinese buyers often blamed for inflating property prices. That backlash has recently motivated foreign property ownership law changes.

Adding to the economic drama, a plane bound for Shanghai to promote China-New Zealand tourism under the “Land of the Long White Cloud” promotion campaign was recently inexplicably turned back. The campaign aims to lure more Chinese to New Zealand, especially to lesser visited areas.

Much of New Zealand’s trade with China centers on dairy and agricultural exports, with the Chinese keen for goods and foods they see as clean, safe and high-quality. New Zealand has been using that clean image as a drawcard for tourism promotions. One entrepreneur even started selling bottled New Zealand air to China, with each bottle enough for 180 breaths.

“I wouldn’t overstate the shift that’s taken place. The government has expressed a desire to keep working with China and sees it as an especially important partner on issues like climate change and trade,” Capie said.

But the harassment of New Zealand nationals who reveal China’s hidden moves in the region and a block on Huawei’s involvement in its telecom infrastructure development shows the relationship is shifting from what was once a friendly, warm and trusted place.

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