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Obama was the “white knight” who came along to save the US and the world after the George Bush Presidency, just as Bill Clinton came long after 12 years of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior. And I have no doubt that there will be another “white knight” to come along after Trump to save the US and the world. All of that is irrelevant.This is about the longer view of the Empire and the bigger picture, writes Murray Horton.
The advent of the Trumpocalypse in the US provides an unprecedented opportunity to take a good, hard look at Aotearoa’s place in the world. And to ask the question – why are we still a loyal member of the American Empire? As the old saying goes, you are judged by the company you keep. But I need to be very clear, from the outset – this is not about Donald Trump. I’m sure you’re all sick to death of that subject. The only observation about him that I’d like to make is this – some compare him to Hitler. I think that’s incorrect. To me, he is Mussolini, with hair.
Trump is simply the catalyst who offers us a once in a lifetime opportunity to build this campaign and create a truly non-aligned Aotearoa. We know that there are plenty of New Zealanders right across the political spectrum who are just as appalled as we are by what the world is witnessing going on in the US every day. But it’s not about whoever happens to be US President. This is not about relitigating the 2016 US Presidential election – I shed no tears that Hillary Clinton didn’t win (and am happy to explain my reasons why, if asked).
Nor do I pine nostalgically for Barack Obama – I found plenty wrong with his Presidency (and, once again, am happy to spell out why, if asked).
Obama was the “white knight” who came along to save the US and the world after the George Bush Presidency, just as Bill Clinton came long after 12 years of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior. And I have no doubt that there will be another “white knight” to come along after Trump to save the US and the world. All of that is irrelevant. I am here to talk about the Empire – who the Emperor happens to be at any given time is neither here nor there. This is about the longer view and the bigger picture.
I am the organiser for the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA), which is based in Christchurch and has members throughout the country. We have been going for more than 40 years; we grew out of the great and very successful global anti-imperialist campaign of the 1960s and 1970s against the war in Vietnam. What I’m talking about here takes us right back to CAFCA’s roots — back to the future, so to speak.
CAFCA says it’s time for this country to pull the plug, to finish the business started in the 1980s which saw NZ both nuclear free and out of ANZUS; and to break the chains — military, intelligence, economic and cultural – that continue to bind us to the American Empire. Let’s deal with the world on our terms, not on those dictated from whichever empire we happen to be a junior member of at the time.
Somebody needs to take the initiative and we’re happy to do so. Accordingly, CAFCA is preparing to initiate and drive a nationwide dialogue to advance the case for a non-aligned Aotearoa based on policies of economic, military and political independence.
Not a new CAFCA thing
This is not a new thing from CAFCA – it has been part of our core issues since we were founded. To quote from our charter, sub-section “What Does CAFCA Stand For?”:
“An independent Aotearoa based on policies of economic, military and political self-reliance, using Aotearoa’s resources for the benefit of the people of Aotearoa, and refusing involvement in the self-serving military and economic treaties of big foreign countries. We oppose foreign control, irrespective of which country it involves. We oppose the exploitation of Aotearoa’s people and resources by foreign companies, and any foreign military or intelligence activities in Aotearoa”.
There’s another part of our charter which is worth quoting:
“CAFCA is a protest group, an educational group and a Leftwing progressive group. We define ourselves as ‘progressive nationalists’ – we take the viewpoint of working people in Aotearoa. We reclaim the legitimacy of ‘nationalism’. We reject racism, either as used against foreigners or as used against opponents of foreign control. We are also internationalists – as we are fighting a global enemy, we work with global allies”.
I want to stress this point, because the word “nationalism” is one that has been stolen and besmirched by the Right, both globally and in NZ. CAFCA is both simultaneously internationalist and nationalist – Leftwing, progressive nationalist (another good phrase suggested to us recently is “positive nationalism”). Words are funny things, which can mean different things in different eras – when I started off as a young Leftwing political activist (as a 1960s’ high school boy) I was proud to call myself a libertarian. Because that’s what I was – it meant I was an anarchist and anarchists were called libertarians in those days. Not now – it means quite the opposite. Another word stolen and besmirched by the Right.
So, what is CAFCA going to do about any of this? We have decided to create the Aotearoa Independence Movement. What is AIM? It’s a campaign, not an organisation. It most definitely is not yet another political party (so, please don’t ask me what are our policies on superannuation or cats). And it’s very early days yet, in what will be a long process. We’re simply at the stage of seeking groups and/or individuals to join a national coordinating committee to run the campaign. This speech does not mark the official launch of the campaign, there is a lot more preparatory work to be done yet before we get to that stage. But it’s an announcement, we’re putting the idea out there and saying that it’s going to happen.
What will CAFCA do to “initiate and drive this nationwide dialogue”? That will be decided by the organisations and individuals that get involved in the campaign for a truly non-aligned Aotearoa. We invite as many people as possible to get involved. We see this as an idea whose time has come, one worthy of a major campaign.
I should point out that, not only is this campaign taking CAFCA back to the future; even its title turns out to be recycled. When it was suggested, by one of my committee colleagues, and adopted by the rest of us, I thought: “That name rings a bell”. So, I consulted our organisational history. In 1986 we changed the country name in our title from New Zealand to Aotearoa. We asked our members to vote on three options, all including Aotearoa.
One of the unsuccessful contenders was the Aotearoa Independence Movement, so there really is nothing new under the Sun. You might be amused to learn that the other unsuccessful contender was Campaign for an Independent Aotearoa. Think about that acronym for a minute. Personally, I would have loved us to have been renamed as CIA but I was outvoted.
CAFCA thinks that gaining true independence from the American Empire, and becoming non-aligned, is an idea whose time has well and truly come. It is not “anti-American” (or “racist” or “xenophobic”, for that matter). We stand with the American people who are currently fighting back in their millions against the daily outrages being perpetrated by Trump and his reactionary billionaire cronies. We stand with them as we stood with them in common causes ranging from the war in Vietnam to the invasion of Iraq and the failed attempt to impose the TPPA on our peoples.
Nor is CAFCA some “far Left voice in the wilderness” in calling for this. No less a pillar of the Establishment than Christchurch’s Press newspaper published a very recent editorial (18/2/17) entitled: “Ties With US Must Be On NZ’s Terms”. That is exactly what CAFCA and AIM are saying.
The Press editorial is worth quoting:
“What has to be remembered is that New Zealand has also grown up a lot since the ANZUS tiff 30 years ago. The anti-nuclear stance has matured into a more robustly independent New Zealand foreign policy. The old alliances with Britain and the US are in the past. New Zealand is now more interested in the United Nations and other multilateral arrangements.
“Our independent small-nation stance will become more important in the Trumpian era, when US foreign policy will become more uncertain and unpredictable. Our helpful American friends are very welcome here, but it is good to extend the hand of friendship on our own terms, and not as a junior partner in an outdated alliance.”
This is really quite extraordinary, coming from a paper like The Press (or any other major mainstream NZ media outlet). When the ANZUS “tiff” was raging 30 years ago, The Press and its mates were proclaiming that the sky would fall. As recently as the criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003, The Press faithfully parroted the US and UK propaganda line. The editorial also includes some eyebrow raising wishful thinking – try telling the SAS that “the old alliances with Britain and the US are in the past”.
The reference to “our helpful American friends” is to the very recent role of the US Navy and Coast Guard in helping NZ after natural disasters. But, in the case of the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, the US Navy wasn’t sent here for the purpose of helping with that (nobody has yet worked out how to predict earthquakes). It was sent to Auckland to be the centrepiece of the NZ Navy’s celebration, a political propaganda role to soften up NZ public opinion by being the first US warship to visit NZ in more than 30 years.
The Kaikoura quake happened and was seized as public relations gold. The Press editorial also has a glaring omission, which I’ll come to a little further along.
The CAFCA committee had some internal debate about this title of this speech referring to the US Empire as “crumbling”. Yes, the US is far and away the world’s mightiest (and therefore most dangerous) military Power. But all empires have a use by date, and their strength wanes and then they’re gone (either literally, as in the disintegration of the huge land empire of the former Soviet Union) or they fade away over time until they are just a memory, like the British Empire.
And the evidence is there that the US Empire has reached its tipping point – the evidence comes in various forms. One obvious one is the inexorable rise of China as the up and coming empire, whose unquestionable economic power is rapidly being accompanied by its growing military power. Another piece of evidence is the increasing military and political irrelevance of the US in the Middle East, which has been one of its major strategic concerns for many decades.
I’m talking about the war in Syria, where the US has been reduced to being just one player among many and not one of the important ones. I’m talking about the resurgence of Russia under Putin, which is sticking it to the US across a whole spectrum of issues and, in a richly ironic turn of events, is accused of interfering in US politics (payback time for many years of US interference in Russian politics).
Don’t just take our word for it that the US Empire is crumbling – Trump’s election slogan, repeated ad nauseum, was “Make America Great Again”. Tens of millions voted for that and it won him the election. Of course, Trump and co don’t want to end the US Empire anytime soon, they want to reassert its “greatness” and continue lording it over the rest of the world.
Dangerous times ahead
A cornered rat is always the most dangerous, which makes for dangerous times ahead for the rest of us. But the evidence is that the US Empire is, indeed, crumbling.
One thing that I should say here (and this is my personal opinion, I don’t think CAFCA has ever discussed this) – it strikes me as glaringly obvious that not only should we get out of the US Empire, but we should also cut all vestigial ties with our original Empire, namely dear old Mother England. Get rid of the Queen of England as our Head of State and save ourselves the megabucks it costs us taxpayers to run a Governor-General as her Representative.
Make all the necessary constitutional and legislative changes that flow from that. John Key made a feeble attempt to start the process with his flag referendum but that was such a half pie sort of thing, so much a case of putting the cart before the horse, that it predictably failed. Don’t muck around, go for the full pie solution. Get shot of Mother England and Uncle Sam. It’s called leaving home and living your own life and it’s what all of us do in the much vaunted “real world” that we keep getting told about. It’s called being independent.
Don’t we already have an independent foreign policy? Well, we are most definitely nuclear free, and that is something to be very proud of. It puts NZ well ahead of most other countries. I recommend that you read Maire Leadbeater’s excellent book Peace, Power And Politics: How New Zealand Became Nuclear Free. The lesson from that successful campaign was that it was won from the grassroots up, not from the top down – it wasn’t bestowed upon us from on high by some enlightened politicians. And, as a direct consequence of that, we are out of ANZUS. But the key fact about that one is that NZ was kicked out, we didn’t leave of our own accord. If things had panned out the way that 1980s’ Labour government wanted, we would have had our cake and eaten it, by being both nuclear free and still in ANZUS.
Both of those highly commendable achievements were won a generation ago and have become the status quo, part of the cultural furniture. But things haven’t progressed from there, and the powers that be, both in NZ and the US, have been actively working to nullify those facts on the ground, to get around them, to subvert them, and to render them irrelevant. My case is that we have a half pie independent foreign policy, if that; and it will take another grassroots campaign of similar scale to achieve a full pie one. AIM is that very campaign.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been some laudable instances of NZ acting independently of our imperial masters – such as, for the first time ever, we stayed out of someone else’s war, namely Iraq (although we did send so-called “non-combat” forces there, which did end up helping the illegal occupiers’ combat forces); and NZ played the key role in reaching a lasting peace settlement in Bougainville – under a National government, to boot.
But those are exceptions, not the rule. Despite being both nuclear free and out of ANZUS, NZ has continued to be a loyal junior partner to the US in American wars such as in Afghanistan (and NZ’s role in that war is under the spotlight right now, with the new book Hit & Run proving that our “heroic” SAS has the blood of innocents on its hands).
Loyal junior satellite
We are the most loyal of junior satellites in the vitally important covert Five Eyes intelligence alliance, the secret ANZUS best illustrated by the Waihopai spy base; and in slavishly doing the bidding of both of the US government and American transnational corporations when told to do so (the entire and seemingly endless Kim Dotcom case is the perfect example of that). We’re not as much of a doormat as Australia but that’s not much of a benchmark, and we’re getting there.
So, what would a non-aligned foreign policy look like? Firstly, it’s not the same thing as neutrality, armed or otherwise. It doesn’t mean isolationism. It would mean that New Zealand would pick our allies and, if necessary, our wars, on a case by case basis, decided first and foremost by what is in the interests of the New Zealand people, not the interests of foreign governments and/or corporations. We are currently being subjected to a four-year long rolling maul of militarist propaganda centenary about World War I, we are being force fed a diet of nauseating pap and propaganda about it (I wonder if NZ will mark this year’s centenary of the Russian Revolution with the same enthusiasm).
That war was the epitome of imperialist wars; it literally was a clash of empires, with ordinary people from all over the world, including one of my own great-uncles, paying for it with their lives in their tens of millions. It was a war with absolutely no justification. It demonstrates exactly why New Zealand needed then, and still needs, a non-aligned foreign policy. New Zealand has fought, and continues to fight today, a lot of other people’s wars.
None of them justified – with the exception of World War II, because it posed an existential threat to not only New Zealand but the world at large (my father was a prisoner of war in that one). We fought both those world wars as the most loyal servants of the British Empire and as soon as that was over and power shifted to the American Em pire, we rode off with those cowboys.
A non-aligned foreign policy would involve cutting the strings that continue to bind us to the American Empire. I am also the organiser for the Anti-Bases Campaign (ABC), and the AIM campaign entirely endorses ABC’s demands, which are are clear and easily understandable – the NZ Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) spy bases at Waihopai and Tangimoana (which are US National Security Agency bases in all but name) must be closed; the GCSB, which is simply a junior subcontractor for the NSA, must be abolished; and the US military transport base at Christchurch Airport, which has been there for more than 60 years, must be demilitarised, to end it providing cover for US military and intelligence activities that have nothing to do with providing logistic support for peaceful scientific research in Antarctica.
Fascinatingly, that Press editorial which I quoted makes absolutely no mention of Waihopai or Five Eyes. Yet they are, by far, NZ’s most important contributions to the US Empire – much more so than a handful of SAS soldiers in Afghanistan or NZ Army “trainers” in Iraq. Getting Aotearoa out of the Five Eyes spy network and closing the Waihopai spy base would remove this country from being entangled in wars and spying that serve the interests of the US and other countries, not ours.
Being non-aligned would eliminate the use of the NZ military as guns for hire in other people’s wars and prevent them committing the war crimes detailed in Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s new book Hit & Run.
Aotearoa Independence Movement
I’ve already said that a non-aligned foreign policy is not the same thing as neutrality, armed or otherwise. But there is no reason why that topic should not be discussed as part of the dialogue that CAFCA will initiate via the means of the Aotearoa Independence Movement campaign. All options should be on the table and explored as we redefine our place in the world.
Now, I must stress, the specific suggestions that I’m about to raise are from me alone – they are not CAFCA policy, it has never discussed them, and AIM doesn’t have any specific policies yet, they will come out in the wash.
I personally think neutrality should be on the agenda. Armed neutrality is a well-established practice globally. Does anybody think counties like Switzerland, Sweden or Austria are disadvantaged, poor, or isolated as a result of their long entrenched national policy of armed neutrality? The NZ peace movement put in a lot of work promoting positive neutrality in the 1980s as part of the successful campaign that made NZ nuclear free and out of ANZUS. Credit must be paid to John Gallagher and the late Larry Ross, both of Christchurch (John is now in Nelson).
I don’t foresee a non-aligned Aotearoa as being “isolationist”. Quite the opposite. This country already does a lot of UN peacekeeping work, we need to do more and not just under UN auspices. I’ve already mentioned the commendable role that an unarmed NZ military presence played in bringing peace to Bougainville. NZ has dined out on our military role in East Timor – but, we only went there when our American Big Brother told us it was now all right to do so (and thus, instantly, reversing a quarter of a century of shitting on the long-suffering Timorese people).
Let’s take this further – do we need a military at all? What does it do beyond fight other people’s wars in other people’s countries? Why are NZ soldiers still fighting in an Afghan civil war? The question naturally arises – OK, what would I do about ISIS? It deserves to be classified as a criminal organisation per se, as was the Waffen SS and for the same reasons.
It needs to be defeated and rooted out, stem and branch. But opposition to NZ’s involvement in the war against ISIS does not mean support for ISIS. So, you’ll get no argument from me as to the need to wipe out IS. The question is: whose responsibility is that? And my answer is: not ours. New Zealand needs to get out of Iraq ASAP and stay out of Syria.
ISIS arose directly out of the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq; ISIS arose from the ashes of al Qaeda, the defeat of which was the justification for the invasion of Afghanistan. Something else, just as nasty, will inevitably replace ISIS when it is defeated. None of that stuff will be sorted out until the root causes of the permanent Middle East regional war are addressed.
One of those causes is a Sunni/Shi’ite civil war stretching back centuries, the Muslim equivalent of the religious wars that decimated the Christian world 500 years ago. The US and the West in general, including NZ, are out of their depth there and should get out and stay out. Muslims will have to sort it out themselves. And the West’s hypocrisy is sickening – it, including NZ, bootlicks to Saudi Arabia, a feudal dictatorship that could show ISIS a thing or two when it comes to public beheadings, floggings, torture, misogyny, crushing dissent and propagating Islamic fanaticism and terrorism, including into the very Western countries rushing into war against ISIS.
Western petrol bowser
Ah, but Saudi Arabia is the Western world’s petrol bowser, isn’t it?
So, do we need a military at all? What was the Army’s longest peacetime deployment in NZ history? Their occupation of the Christchurch CBD for more than two years after the February 2011 killer quake. I saw these poor bored soldiers having to man the cordon every day and I felt sorry for them.
I mean, is that what we pay the military to do? Is that what our Army is for? Wouldn’t it better to significantly upscale Civil Defence for that? Or even create a National Guard to handle disaster relief and any arising civil unrest. Why do we have a Navy performing fisheries patrols? A proper Coastguard could do that (and replace Navy ships taking Cabinet Ministers for PR junkets and photo ops).
The Air Force only now performs transport roles, it has no combat capability. So demilitarise those planes and helicopters.
Is all this pie in the sky stuff? Nope. Is there a country in the world without an Army? Yes – Costa Rica, which inhabits a much rougher neighbourhood than we do, and has happily done without an Army for longer than I’ve been alive Think of the tens of billions of dollars that would be freed up for really important national priorities like health, education and housing. The cops could handle any domestic counter-terrorism work currently allocated to the military (they’ve got enough guns and like waving them around). And the cops could replace the spies – the advantage is that, theoretically at least, their actions are accountable to a court.
Just what have we got out of being in the Western alliance, or what John Key described as “the club”? Well, John got to play golf with Barack Obama (and he’s probably pleased that he doesn’t have to do so with Donald Trump).
Where were our allies when we were subjected to the only act of State terrorism committed on NZ soil, namely France’s murderous attack on the Rainbow Warrior? Where were our allies when Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, committed a hostile act of espionage on our soil, namely seeking to criminally gain NZ passports for the purposes of State terrorism? So, that’s the thanks we get for being in “the club”. Terrorism and espionage committed on our soil by our “allies”.
Activist foreign policy
Still speaking personally, I advocate a non-aligned Aotearoa pursuing an activist foreign policy. There is plenty of unfinished business. Yes, 2017 marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark nuclear free law. What tends to be forgotten is that the Lange Labour government tried to have its cake and eat it, i.e. by going nuclear free and staying in ANZUS. The Yanks were having none of that and kicked us out.
Thank God – imagine being ANZUS with Trump. But that same Labour government went to great lengths to assure our big brothers that we wouldn’t spread “the Kiwi disease”.
And we haven’t. Let’s do so – let’s actively work for a nuclear free world, one country or region at a time, if necessary. Let’s demand that all the nuclear powers, overt or covert (I’m talking to you, Israel) disarm and dismantle their weapons of mass terror and genocide. And I mean all, not just the North Korean loonies and the Iranian theocrats.
Let’s speak truth to power and tell countries such as Australia and the US what we find abhorrent in areas such as their human rights and race relations practices. Because that’s what’s friends do. And in the case of those two countries, they’ve never hesitated from telling us what they think about us or from giving us unsolicited advice. The US State Department patronisingly does an annual public assessment of every country in the world – let’s ensure that NZ does the same on the US.
Successive governments have always said that our belonging to “the club” enables us to punch above our weight, to sit at the big boys’ table. Good, let’s do something useful about major global issues. I’ve already mentioned the need to address root causes in the Middle East. Unusually, NZ did just that, in the dying days of the Obama Administration, using our temporary Security Council membership to vote against illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine. We only did that because the US told us we were allowed to and, crucially, abstained from using its veto.
The reaction from Israeli PM Netanyahu was typical threatening hyperbole – he said it represented a “declaration of war” by NZ on Israel. Let’s get on the right side of history in the Middle East – like eventually we did in places like South Africa and East Timor.
Regionally, Aotearoa needs to be much more activist. As a First World capitalist economy we are part of the climate change problem that threatens the whole world and nowhere more imminently than our tiny Pacific neighbours. There is clamour for NZ to take in more refugees and I fully support that – the inhabitants of these doomed atolls need to be at the top of the list. All of them, if necessary – we’re only talking thousands of people.
Not a climate change solution
This is not a solution to the problem of climate change (that’s a whole other, but vitally related, issue, one which Trump is actively making worse) – it is merely a reaction to the problem, a recognition that we have a responsibility to help our neighbours whom we have harmed.
There are other regional issues that Aotearoa should be addressing. Decolonisation of France’s Pacific empire is an obvious one. And it’s not just France – why isn’t Aotearoa supporting the people of West Papua who only want what the people of East Timor got (independence from a violent and genocidal Indonesian occupation)? I have a personal interest in the Philippines – it is commendable that Norway is sponsoring the interminable peace talks between the government and the revolutionary Left which has been waging a war of national liberation for 50 years.
But why did one of our Asian near neighbours have to go to the other side of the world to get such help? Why hasn’t Aotearoa recognised the alternative government of the Philippines, the one headed by the National Democratic Front? And why are we pussyfooting around with President Rodrigo Duterte, a man who makes Donald Trump look like a sensitive new age guy, a President who openly incites mass murder?
Why, specifically, was he allowed to enter this country in 2016? I suggest that he be barred from any future visits or, if he comes here, he be arrested under international law as a mass murderer (which is what happened to the murderous Chilean dictator, General Pinochet, who was arrested and held in Britain on an international warrant (he was eventually set free and went home to die in his bed. But it gave the old bastard a well-deserved fright).
Now, once again, global power (economic at first, with political and military still to come) is shifting from the US to China. I do not advocate NZ transferring its allegiance to become a loyal servant of the arising Chinese Empire. Many mainstream commentators have remarked on the irony of the US adopting protectionism under Trump, with China stepping into the spotlight as the champion of globalisation and what is laughingly called “free trade”.
I’m not surprised. When I was young, the Western media unfailingly referred to “Communist China” or “Red China”. I think they should now be compelled to routinely refer to “Capitalist China”.
And NZ seems to have a bad case of wanting to have 50 cents each way, when it comes to the rival US and Chinese Empires. China is our biggest trading partner but we’re still a very active military and intelligence junior partner of the US, whose main priority in its recent military, trade and foreign policies has been to contain and confront China (that was the purpose of the TPPA, as far as Obama was concerned. And China, pointedly, wasn’t invited to join it).
In July 2017, the NZ military is taking part in annual military exercises with the US and Australia (ANZUS lives again, but, ssshh, don’t tell the NZ public) which are a rehearsal for a military assault on China. John Pilger’s new film is titled The Coming War On China, and in a recent online interview with Gordon Campbell at Scoop, Pilger was asked what NZ could do to lessen military tensions between the US and China. He said:
“Well, New Zealand can start by speaking with an independent voice, decoupling itself from the American train. Perhaps New Zealanders imagine their government resigned from the ANZUS Treaty in the 1980s. In fact, the treaty was never abrogated and New Zealand has remained a willing participant in the most important US-invented strategic network, known as Five Eyes. New Zealand could take positive regional initiatives to protect its vast environment from war games, such as speaking out about the US taking control of nine million square miles of the Pacific — an area double the size of the mainland United States — as a ‘marine range complex’ run by the Pentagon and spun by President Obama in 2014 as ‘the world’s largest marine reserve’. Why not a ‘zone of peace’ in the South Pacific, proposed by New Zealand?”
China is far from blameless in this and needs to be told, as much as the US, to stop throwing its weight around in the South China Sea. As I said above, I have a personal interest in the Philippines, which is one of China’s neighbours which have borne the brunt of that country’s bullying behaviour in the South China Sea. China was the first foreign country I ever visited, in 1973, with an NZ student delegation. I distinctly remember officials telling us that China would never be an imperialist country. Obviously, that was then and this is now.
But if militarily we suck up to the Yanks, economically we’ve jumped into bed with China. True to form, we have put all our eggs into one basket (dairying) and hope to sell them in one market (China). Once again, that puts NZ into a terribly vulnerable position if and when something goes wrong in the Chinese economy, or it develops its’ own dairying industry. As the trade-off for that short-term gain NZ has opened the doors to a Chinese takeover of that very industry and the rich farmland on which it depends. So, it will be a race to see which comes first – China developing its own dairy industry, meaning that it won’t need NZ anymore; or China owning the NZ dairy industry, rendering the question academic.
I need to make clear that I am using the example of China only to make the point; my criticism would be the same if the country involved was Australia, the US, Britain, Japan or wherever. In fact, China is a very minor player in the relentless takeover of Aotearoa by transnational corporations and foreign individuals. As of March 2016: China was the country of origin of the owners of $729 million worth of NZ companies – by contrast, Australians owned $50 billion worth of NZ companies. And the US owned $7 billion worth.
An independent foreign policy means not being part of anyone’s empire but standing on our own two feet and picking and choosing our friends and allies, based on what is in our own national interest and in the public interest (I make that point because NZ Big Business has a habit of hijacking the phrase “national interest” to mean what is in its interests). Foreign policy does not only involve military alliances and wars; these days it predominantly means trade. The same principle applies – that NZ chooses our trading partners based on what is in our national interest and. more importantly, what is in the public interest. Global trade is dominated by transnational corporations and their interests have been prioritised by the governments of their nominal home countries, governments which have subject to corporate capture, governments that think what is good for Big Business is good for not only their own countries but for the world.
Most of what are misleadingly called “free trade” agreements are nothing of the kind – they are investment agreements, serving as the Trojan horse of the transnationals to gain access to ever more markets for profit, power and control. In that respect, much of global foreign policy has been privatised, meaning that the agenda is being set, not by sovereign governments but by transnational corporations using their political allies to further their interests. The most recent example of these (but by no means the only one) was the unlamented Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement which, thankfully, was defeated. Not by Donald Trump signing an Executive Order like some holdover from the Roman Empire, but by a huge, global grassroots people’s campaign in which the New Zealand people played a very active and leading role.
Which brings us to the subject of globalisation? Would a non-aligned Aotearoa want to get out of the international market? No, why would we? We’re an international trading nation and always have been. I’m indebted to my friend and CAFCA colleague, Bill Rosenberg, who, in his capacity as policy director/economist of the Council of Trade Unions, has written: “Could We Have A People-Friendly Globalisation?”. I quote:
“I suggest that what we should seek as far as possible is consistency between our aims at home and our international aims. Wellbeing should be primary. Agreements should recognise as primary the right of each nation to make rules in its citizens’ interests in certain essential areas. An example is in areas fundamental to their wellbeing including health, education, safety, environment, conservation, culture, human (including labour) rights, and actions it considers necessary to address disadvantage of social groups, inequalities of income and wealth, and inequalities of outcomes. Within those limits, intentional trade barriers can then be reduced. The process of developing these agreements should be as similar as possible to the development of domestic legislation, with much greater openness and public consultation.”
Bill quotes other experts who write that what they call “hyperglobalisation” is a direct threat to both democracy and the nation state. Bill writes: “I unashamedly choose a working democracy: The point of this is certainly not to advocate closing up the borders. That would be daft. The point is that the current intense model of globalisation – hyperglobalisation – must be reformed to make it friendly to democracy within nation states”. Bill’s whole article is well worth reading – it is the lead piece in the February 2017 CTU Monthly Economic Bulletin (Bill writes each Bulletin in its entirety).
Now I realise that a lot of these words are political dynamite and mean very different things to different people. Words and phrases such as “non-aligned, independence, sovereignty, nation state, democracy, globalisation”. Questions arise – “independence from whom and for whom?” How do you define democracy? Is it “sovereignty” for Aotearoa’s “people” or “peoples”? (I once spent one whole meeting deciding where the apostrophe should go in a group’s title, i.e. would it be “People’s” or “Peoples’”?. It sounds funny but it was deadly serious, and important. And it had nothing to do with grammar). So, before any questioner here says, for instance: “I’ve heard no mention tonight of tino rangatiratanga”, or indeed, any question beginning with: “I’ve heard no mention of”, I point out that all that CAFCA is doing, via the AIM Campaign, is initiating a nationwide dialogue. There are lots of things that I haven’t mentioned in here. We (by which I mean both CAFCA and AIM) are not a political party presenting a package of policies. Definitions and questions will be part of that dialogue process.
How would being non-aligned affect ordinary New Zealanders in their daily lives? Let’s look at one area, which is central to CAFCA’s reason for being, and therefore I am most definitely speaking on CAFCA’s behalf about this. That area is, of course, the whole one of foreign control, as per our title. A non-aligned Aotearoa would adopt a much tougher approach to what is misleadingly labelled foreign “investment” (the great majority of which is actually a takeover, not investment at all). This has been the subject of many previous speeches and articles by me and others in CAFCA, and is not the central focus of this particular speech, so I’m not going to go over all that here.
Suffice to say that the central principle would be that their presence here would have to be genuinely deemed to be in the national interest and in the public interest. This is our home and they are visitors to our home – the home owner sets the rules for the visitors. Let’s apply that slogan that we keep being told in other contexts – it is a privilege, not a right. As far as foreign purchases of NZ rural land are concerned, there is a good case to be made for a blanket ban. If that is deemed “aspirational”, then the “realistic” option is to only allow land to be leased by foreigners, not bought.
Buying up of NZ land
That one subject alone – the seemingly never-ending buy up of NZ’s prime rural land by foreigners (both rich individuals and agribusiness) is the one that has most emotional resonance with New Zealanders. When the Crafar Farms sale to Chinese buyers first became a major political issue several years ago, John Key said that he didn’t want to see New Zealanders “become tenants in our own country”. I very rarely agreed with anything Key said but I’m happy to quote him on that one. Naturally, his deeds as Prime Minister for eight long years did not match those words.
I need to make plain here that this has got nothing to do with immigration. CAFCA does not “hate foreigners” (in my case, I had an Australian migrant grandfather and I am married to a Filipina and have a large family in the Philippines, many of whom have visited NZ). Immigration is not our issue, except for subjects like absentee foreign owners, landlords and speculators having an adverse effect on the country’s housing crisis and homelessness. We have no problem with migrants coming here to live and work (the Christchurch rebuild depends on them).
And I – this is my personal opinion – believe that NZ can and should take a lot more refugees. Would I want them as neighbours? They already are, specifically Eritrean refugees in a Housing NZ flat across the street. No problems, very nice people. Better, in fact, than some of the no hoper Kiwis we’ve endured as neighbours.
What we do need a lot less of are the foreign absentee owner “rich pricks” (to use Michael Cullen’s immortal phrase) buying up and sealing off great tracts of NZ’s rural land for use as boltholes or private playgrounds. As we know, US billionaire Peter Thiel was this year revealed as having effectively bought NZ citizenship in order to buy land for his bolthole here unhindered and to have all of the benefits and none of the obligations involved in actually living here. NZ is all the fashion for the American super-rich 0.01 percent wanting boltholes – a recent very long New Yorker article entitled “Doomsday Prep For The Super-Rich” included this:
“The growing foreign appetite for New Zealand property has generated a backlash. The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa – the Māori name for New Zealand – opposes sales to foreigners. In particular, the attention of American survivalists has generated resentment. In a discussion about New Zealand on the Modern Survivalist, a prepper Web site, a commentator wrote, ‘Yanks, get this in your heads. Aotearoa NZ is not your little last resort safe haven’.”
CAFCA’s fame has obviously spread. We’ve never been contacted by the New Yorker.
I’ll wrap this up without coming to a sweeping conclusion, or any sort of soaring crescendo. I wasn’t planning on giving this speech now. I was coming to Auckland for something else and [Pacifi Media Centre director] David Robie invited me to speak at AUT while I’m in town (for the first time in three years). Having accepted, I had to think of something to talk about. Both I and CAFCA thought the opportunity to speak about AIM was too good to pass up.
But, as I said, this is not the launch of that, and I’m not on a speaking tour to promote it. It’s early days and a lot of preparatory work has to be done yet. It’s rather like what we in Christchurch see with the numerous new buildings going up in town – an awful lot of time has to be spent literally preparing the ground, getting the underground essentials and foundations right, before anything appears in sight.
The whole purpose of announcing the Aotearoa Independence Movement campaign is to initiate and drive a nationwide dialogue to advance the case for a non-aligned Aotearoa based on policies of economic, military and political independence. It is to provide the means for discussing, defining and deciding what would be involved in that, and everything that would flow from it. To decide what that would mean and how to get there. I think you’ll agree that this is a discussion that Aotearoa needs to have and that now is the time to have it.
Murray Horton is organiser for the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA),This is the text version of an address he gave at a Pacific Media Centre-organised seminar at Auckland University of Technology on 7 April 2017.