Price on bridging the Aukus chasm

Hamish Price writes:

A chasm is opening in New Zealand’s traditionally bipartisan foreign policy regarding the Government’s potential involvement in Pillar II of Aukus. If not managed carefully by the National and Labour Party leaderships, it risks locking them into positions on our primary security arrangements that will flip-flop with every change of government, reduces our security options, and diminishes our credibility on the regional stage.

Yep foreign policy should be stable.

Conversely, defence minister Andrew Little was more enthusiastic about New Zealand exploring the benefits of Aukus Pillar II for our defence and security framework.

But in the six months since going into Opposition, Labour have now firmly hoisted their colours to an anti-Aukus mast. In February, the party’s associate foreign affairs spokesman Phil Twyford called Aukus an “offensive warfighting alliance against China.” 

Seems hysterical. AUKUS is not an alliance like ANZUS or NATO. It is primarily a technology sharing agreement. Considering how small fry we are, I’d say we’d potentially gain a lot from it.

If Australian Labor can come to the party on Pillar I, then why is its New Zealand counterpart resisting a much more benign engagement in Pillar II?

A good question.

Helen Clark’s views on Aukus have been rehearsed publicly, and consistently, over the past three years. However, her criticism that the new Government’s interest in Aukus is a break from bipartisan consensus doesn’t bear scrutiny. Labour in government engaged with Aukus, and the new Government is continuing its work. It is Labour’s flip-flop, and Hipkins’ inability to explain it on security terms, that is widening the differences.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters is clearly frustrated that Clark has captured much of the public debate on Aukus, and even more so that the Labour Party are now adopting her opposition. But her leadership on the debate occurred at a time when both the previous and current governments were largely silent in the conversation. “We’re evaluating it, we’re not sure, wait and see,” are not compelling counter-punches.

Clark has almost become Leader of the Opposition in exile on Twitter. Everyday she is tweeting against the Government in almost every policy area there is.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and China’s support for it, was a key moment in European perceptions of China’s transformation from a strategic challenge to a strategic threat.

That’s what change me also.

There are various short-, medium-, and long-term scenarios in the region with differing probabilities. The most plausible scenarios are:

  • The region becoming less tense. For this to happen, China would need to renounce its current aggressive stance, declaring a hostile takeover of Taiwan as off-limits, withdrawing from provocative conduct in the South and East China Seas, and disengaging in undermining the international rules based order.
  • Alternatively, the United States capitulating to China’s superiority in the region.
  • The status quo being maintained: a challenging environment with potential flash-points between the major powers, but no further escalation.
  • Increased escalation leading to a protracted cold war between the major powers.
  • A hot war between the US and China.

Before reading what Hamish thinks is the probability of each, I’d say (1) is a pipe dream, (2) is highly unlikely and (5) is highly undesirable and unlikely. So the future is probably (3) or (4).

Price thinks (4) is most likely – a new Cold War.

Aukus candidates may resist describing it as a deterrence to China’s aggression, but advocates need to do so. China’s aggression is a real challenge, now universally accepted by the West. If advocates for Aukus do not frame it as a deterrence, then the deal risks being framed as a proponent of aggression by its opponents, as Twyford has in New Zealand. 

That is good framing – it is about deterrence.

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