My father always used to think that everyone in New Zealand wore grass skirts and threw spears. He wasn’t joking. That was the view often presented to the world when royalty or dignitaries came here. He had a clear memory of the Prince and Princess of Wales in a sinking canoe being rowed by a bunch of brown people in grass skirts who stuck out their tongues.
I understood the cultural and symbolic meanings of these greetings, but I also understood that other civilised nations would not find this type of greeting ‘normal’. After all, this is New Zealand, not the Amazon. But I have been embarrassed by a number of events that have taken place since – an image of the Duchess of Cambridge suppressing a giggle at a very scantily dressed man greeting her in 2014, and a lot of bare Maori bottoms on display at the Americas Cup celebrations last month. Instead of being proud and happy that we had won the Cup, all I could think of was what my Dad would have thought… oh and how I fervently hoped that they were wearing G-strings under those grass skirts. I don’t know if other New Zealanders feel this way, but it is my inborn Britishness that causes me to cringe on these occasions, I am sure.
New Zealand is a country that celebrates its indigenous culture and even if, like me, you are not crazy about it, I would never want to deprive anyone of their history or culture. Sometimes, however, this goes too far. Last week, foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta treated us to some fairy stories about dragons and taniwha that really belonged on Playschool. But Mahuta included within her fairytale the news that our natural allies did not want to hear – that New Zealand is happy to be part of Five Eyes as an intelligence-gathering network, but other than that, it will do what it damn well pleases… and if we want to cosy up to China, then we will.
Australia has already accused New Zealand – with good reason, I might add – of trying to protect its trade with China while letting its traditional allies do all the heavy lifting and that position has now been shown to be true. From the idiotic Damien O’Connor’s insulting remarks to Australia that they should treat China with respect like we do (when Australia was being punished by China for demanding more accountability in the spread of the pandemic), to the fairy stories about taniwha and dragons, we are looking more and more ridiculous on the world stage.
But it is worse than that – far worse. While mindless MPs like Golriz Ghahraman beat Air New Zealand with a stick over providing aircraft engineering services to aircraft in the Middle East that MIGHT have ended up being used in the conflict in Yemen, she is silent on the treatment of the Uighurs, or the people of Hong Kong, or the claims of slavery in some provinces in China. New Zealand cannot turn a blind eye to these things and seriously claim to be a champion of human rights. And yet, this is exactly what the government is doing.
While the media tie themselves in knots defending Mahuta’s position, the government needs to think hard. The serious criticism of our position with China from our natural allies, mainly Britain and Australia, ought to be sending chills up the spines of government ministers. They are telling us in no uncertain terms that we have no choice but to pick a side, and if we favour China over them, we will regret it.
We will definitely regret it.
After all, Five Eyes needs New Zealand much less than New Zealand needs Five Eyes. Australia needs New Zealand much less than New Zealand needs Australia. We have watched as Pacific nations find themselves bound to the Chinese dragon, through loans that cannot be repaid or through charity that comes with a price. New Zealand does not want to end up in the same position, but that position just got closer – much closer – last week.
The moment I heard that the Chinese had praised Mahuta’s speech was the moment I hung my head in shame and despair. Since when was it a good thing for New Zealand to receive praise from the People’s Republic of China, that murders, imprisons and enslaves its own people, on our foreign policy? Has the world gone truly mad?
This government, naïve in the extreme, arrogant and blind as it is, needs to give some serious thought to where it is headed. We insult our natural allies at our own extreme peril. It needs to think about China’s behaviour towards Taiwan or Tibet, its actions in the South China Sea, and its sabre rattling with Japan. China is becoming extremely aggressive in the modern world. Ask yourself if trade with China is worth it, because we just might be swallowed up by that dragon, taniwha and all.
I don’t think it is worth it. We are a proud nation, and proud nations stand up for what they believe in, even if there is a price to pay. They also look after their friends. Nanaia Mahuta and Jacinda Ardern need to think about that before they put us into a position from which there is no turning back.
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