NZ has crushed Covid-19, but now the government must devise a resilience strategy that will ensure our independence and sovereignty are protected in the post-Covid world, writes Anne-Marie Brady

NZ has crushed Covid-19, but now the government must devise a resilience strategy that will ensure our independence and sovereignty are protected in the post-Covid world, writes Anne-Marie Brady
Image: Getty Images.

By Anne-Marie Brady*

New Zealand has emerged from eight weeks of Covid-19 lockdown with the epidemic well under control. The next big challenge is how to save our economy and how to devise a foreign policy which will enable us to weather the serious economic disruptions in the international system and escalating tensions among the great powers.

The strategic environment

Covid-19 is a global political crisis as well as a global health crisis, and the pandemic has drastically changed the strategic environment. The Covid-19 outbreak has strengthened the power of China and Russia, and weakened the US and EU. China is following an aggressive foreign policy, engaging in a disinformation war on the origins of the pandemic, and taking advantage of the weakness of other states to assert its position in the South China Sea, India, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Russia and Iran are also stepping up cyber warfare and disinformation about the pandemic.

Both China and Russia are offering conditional Covid-19 assistance to weak states. Russia sent 100 military medical personnel, accompanied by other military staff, to Italy. The FBI reported that China has launched cyber-attacks against US Covid-19 research facilities.

A PATIENT WITH CORONAVIRUS IN AN ISOLATION WARD AT A HOSPITAL IN CHINA, 28 JANUARY 2020 (PHOTO BY STR/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES).

Individual EU states struggled to cope with the pandemic, but the EU had no medical support for them and only belatedly talked about a financial package. The US appears rudderless and is deeply divided. President Trump’s mishandling of the crisis is a national tragedy and has severely weakened US soft power. His failure to respond adequately to the brutal killing of George Floyd and the mass unrest that followed has exacerbated the erosion of US global leadership.

Covid-19 is now the main cause of death in the US, with over 100,000 dead. The true numbers of coronavirus deaths in China, where the outbreak began, are as yet unknown.

The first reported case of coronavirus in Wuhan was on December 8, 2019. The seafood market it is believed to have originated from was closed down the following day, but Xi Jinping’s government did not inform the WHO until December 31. Semi-quarantine measures at schools and universities were put in place in Wuhan by mid-December, but the public was not told why. More than 5 million people left the city for the lunar new year celebrations and the Wuhan city government hosted a banquet for 40,000 in an attempt to set a world record.

New Zealand, like the rest of the world, was reliant on information about the new virus from WHO. New Zealand was clearly unprepared initially, but thankfully the government heeded the advice of experts and acted remarkably fast in closing borders, initially to China, and then worldwide, and setting up protective measures before it was too late. New Zealand’s China Ambassador threatened the travel ban would affect New Zealand-China trade, tourism and “people’s sentiments”.

As of June 2020, more than 6 million people worldwide have contracted Covid-19 and 370,000 have died from it. Even though this is a global crisis on a scale never seen before, global cooperation to address the challenge, especially between the great powers, has been sorely lacking.

The core risks of the Covid-19 era

New Zealand relies for our national security on the rules-based multi-lateral system, the strength of our Five Eyes partners, and the resilience and independence of our near neighbours in the Pacific. Our economic security is dependent on trade, we make surplus food which can still be exported, but we also depend on the imports of manufactured goods from our trading partners, many of whose factories have closed due to Covid-19 lockdowns. Since the pandemic began, New Zealand has had to confront a worrying number of strategic risks, most of them beyond our control:

  • China as the dominant global power
  • Russia resurgent
  • United States divided and weakened
  • The European Union disunited
  • A weak and ineffective United Nations

The New Zealand Coalition government, together with the “team of 5 million”, the people of New Zealand, has succeeded in dealing a fatal blow to the outbreak of Covid-19 in our country. Australia and our Pacific island neighbours have also managed to bring Covid-19 under control, as have an increasing number of small and medium states worldwide. Covid-19-free is the new national security bottom line.

The big question now, is how can New Zealand deal with the strategic risks of the Covid-19 crisis, and also, what foreign policy and trade advantages can we gain from our ability to control the epidemic?

FONTERRA’S DAIRY FACTORY AT DARFIELD, CANTERBURY. (PHOTO: FONTERRA).

A new resilience strategy for New Zealand

New Zealand agricultural exports will help keep our economy going during this crisis. New Zealand has enough dairy to feed 100 million people and a cornucopia of other great food and wine. New Zealand also has an innovative services sector and small manufacturing base. We are an export-focused economy, and the standard wisdom of our trade negotiators is that we must not become dependent on any one market – no matter what incentives are offered.

The recognised definition of trade dependency is when a nation is 50% dependent on one market. New Zealand is now dangerously dependent on the China market. Half of all New Zealand imports are from China. New Zealand is strategically dependent on China for 513 categories of goods; 144 of them have applications in critical national infrastructure. New Zealand is the most dependent on China for strategic goods of all the Five Eyes states. Meanwhile, 33% of New Zealand’s dairy exports, 42% of meat exports, 58% of logs and timber exports, 38% of seafood exports and 47% of wool exports go to China. Almost 30% of New Zealand’s international education income comes from China.

New Zealand exporters are anxious about the political risks of the China market during the pandemic, as many of New Zealand’s other economic partners are not buying our goods in their usual quantities. Normal economic activity is at a standstill in many countries.

Supply chains are also a big issue for New Zealand, as many of our imports and exports travel in the cargo holds of the international airlines which, until Covid-19, brought 5 million tourists to New Zealand annually. Ninety percent of all international passenger flights to New Zealand have been suspended.

Now is the time to put maximum effort into diversifying New Zealand trade. Our trade negotiators are already working hard on this. While New Zealand was under lockdown, our diplomats initiated an agreement on supply chains and trade in essential goods which was soon signed by eight other states. New Zealand went from being totally dependent on China for all our PPE supplies to being able to access supplies from Spain and Taiwan. In the early stages of New Zealand’s Covid-19 lockdown China was withholding supplies to New Zealand and the minister of health, David Clark, admitted that New Zealand only had a couple of weeks’ supply.

Soon after lockdown began, the New Zealand government launched the International Air Freight Capacity Scheme which provides subsidies for 56 cargo flights a week. This has ensured that New Zealand exports continue to access multiple destinations, not just the China market. New Zealand diplomats say they are using every available international connection to boost our trading relations.

PM JACINDA ARDERN MEETS CHINESE PRESIDENT XI AT THE GREAT HALL OF THE PEOPLE ON APRIL 1, 2019 IN BEIJING, CHINA. (PHOTO: KENZABURO FUKUHARA/GETTY IMAGES).

On multiple levels, New Zealand is now pulling together with other small and medium states to provide economic, political, and strategic support, mitigating the China risk and the absence of US global leadership. New Zealand has joined an informal group of “first mover” nations, countries which have done well in suppressing Covid-19 and want to swap notes on re-opening. The group includes Israel, Austria,Denmark, Czech Republic and Greece. New Zealand was invited to join an agreement for essential cross-border travel between Korea, Canada, Singapore and Australia. New Zealand is also close to successfully concluding an free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union, and an FTA with the United Kingdom should soon follow. Our diplomats are continuing to work on passing a meaningful New Zealand-United States FTA, though hopes for this are slim.

Pacific island states cannot manage the pandemic on their own and are very vulnerable right now. New Zealand is partnering with Australia to offer practical assistance to our Pacific island neighbours to help them deal effectively with Covid-19. The continued independence and resilience of the island nations of the Pacific is crucial for New Zealand’s own security.

Covid-19 provides New Zealand with the opportunity to reset our foreign and trade policy. To do so, we need to return to a bipartisan foreign policy on China. If we are politically divided on such a core issue of our foreign policy, our international voice will be weakened. New Zealand needs a holistic, non-partisan, approach to facing up to the strategic risks of the Covid-19 era.

New Zealand, Taiwan, Australia, Pacific Island Forum states and other nations that have eliminated Covid-19 should form an education, tourism and trade Covid-free bubble, what I have called a Bubble Alliance. New Zealand should also market itself as a safe and trustworthy place to work, for international businesses who need to escape Covid-19. International film makers and game developers are already looking to produce more content in New Zealand. When borders re-open, New Zealand may be able to attract international students who would have otherwise have gone to the US or the UK to study.

The strategic challenges we face now are huge. Covid-19 is putting massive pressure on the global order. Doing nothing, like a rabbit in the headlights, is not an option. Small states like New Zealand must forge new alliances, strengthen bonds with like-minded states, and hedge on trade, so that we can maintain our independence and prosperity.


*University of Canterbury Professor Anne-Marie Brady is a specialist in Chinese politics both domestic politics and foreign policy, polar politics, Pacific politics, and New Zealand foreign policy. She is a fluent Mandarin Chinese speaker. She is founding and executive editor of The Polar Journal. 

This article first ran on The Spinoff here and is used with permission. The article was written as part of the SSANSE (Small States and the New Security Environment) Project at the University of Canterbury is launching a Commission for a Post-Covid Future to provide contestable policy advice to the New Zealand government on options for foreign, trade and economic policy for New Zealand’s post-Covid recovery.

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54 Comments

Time to Reset.

Should do business with all countries but should not allow any one country to dictate terms and that is possible if we as a nation are not dependent on any one country specially country that is run by dictator and not sharing same democratic values as ours.

Mistakes of the past should not be repeated. Be prepared for short term pain for long term gain.

NZ is fond of proclaiming that the country punches above its weight. And that is not without merit. Our troops and their leadership have a distinguished and ready record in distant overseas conflicts. Our western allies then, remain as our allies now. Ironically old enemies Germany and Japan would now be comfortably in the club. There is by far enough economic force, prowess and potential to re-forge our connections with the proven trustworthy at the expense of the obviously untrustworthy. If that makes our trading less global and our modus operandi more nationalistic, so be it. At least we would know we are in the company of and the greater certainty of friends

Punch above our weight. Modestly we have to admit that is true. But lets put it into perspective. If an armed organisation wished to take on the armed might of NZ who could beat us? I doubt Fiji despite its excellant soldiers could do so. Obviously China and the USA could. But roughly where would you estimate we would find an enemy who matched 'our weight'? My guess and please let any Filipino correct me - the Manila Police force probably outnumbers our defence force and may well be better armed.
Like any very small kid in a rough neighbourhood we need to know who are friends are and try to keep them happy. Otherwise stay inconspicuous.

Keep in mind that Helen Clark crippled our military. this was made easier by administrations prior to hers and their neglect. While we have done very well with what we had in the past, what we have got today is bugger all to do anything with!

It's easy to say and hard to do given what NZ currently offers from the global supply chain perspective

National tout themselves as the party that can best manage our economic recovery, so they will have very clear views on our economic reliance on China won't they?

I did notice Nikki Kaye several times obviously avoid mentioning "Chinese" when she listed the diversity of National MP's in a weekend interview. Must be a bit sensitive about it.

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Yes I noted Labour not commenting on Helen Clark signing the free trade agreement with China today.
Must be sensitive about it!
Rolls eyes.

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You obviously didn't see the interview. Each time Nikki rattled off the diversity in their caucus as including Indian, Korean, Pasifika, Maori. Then personally named them. Never mentioned Chinese once. At least it means they know it's unpopular.

Also, signing a free trade agreement over a decade ago is one thing, allowing China to influence a government from within is something else.

Can’t exactly remember the movie itself but I well remember the line “you lie by omission.”

maybe nikki was not sure jian yang was Chinese after her mix up with PAORA goldsmith being maori

Maybe they're planning to reinvent him as Hone Yang, their new Maori MP and spokesman for surveillance and right-thought?

Here we go again. Helen Clark's govt signed an fta with a vastly different and opening up China to what we see today. That agreement left us with the ability to change our laws about things like foreign buying of houses here. That was changed when the Key govt signed at fta with South Korea that closed that option and the same terms that now applied to South Korea now had to apply the fta with China.
Also, under the Clark govt, we saw the advent of the "preferred investor" category where basically you could buy your way into the country by investing (can't recall the amount required off the top of my head), but that specifically excluded investment in residential real estate, which the John Key govt in 2011 changed to allow. That is when the floodgates really opened.
China has changed since those days, and not for the better from the outside looking in.

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Wow...I had not realised Key had actually created that much of a problem for young Kiwis vis-a-vis home ownership affordability. So while he campaigned on the need to urgently address affordability he cynically did completely the opposite. What a legacy. Shameful.

with a vastly different and opening up China to what we see today. China does not act with 'today' thinking, they act with a very long term strategic view. Do you really believe the West's reliance on China just happened by accident? The West uses guns where the Chinese use subtlety. With guns you know what the strategy is, with subtlety you don't realise the 'opponents' strategy until you're between a rock and a hard place. China hasn't changed - the West has just woken up to what it's got involved with.

Both Nats and Labour need to go back and read through some excellent articles written by Dr Brady in the past. The NZ Chinese community itself has diversity. Many ethnic Chinese were born here as Kiwis (or Chiwis if you like), while ethnic Chinese migrants don't just come from China. Not all Chinese think and behave in PRC. It is a pity the main political parties don't get it.

What you failed to understand is that blood tie is the single most important factor that the Five Eyes operates on.

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Please NOBODY take the bait from this person who obviously does not like being in NZ.

Xing likes being here like any colonial likes being in their colony. He just appears keen to get the rule of Winnie the Flu in place in NZ.

Is this professor Brady the same one who had stuff stolen off her by the Chinese in multiple breakins? HHmmmm.

Yes, and she is still courageously voicing very legitimate concerns. Great reminder of the thinly vailed threats of the Chinese ambassador to NZ! Shame on him.

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The article was doing so well until "When borders re-open, New Zealand may be able to attract international students..." and then it all fell apart.
Any reset of political and economic strategies need to rely LESS on foreign students, especially from Mainland China, to balance our economic books.
Education must return to being for the benefit of our own progeny, not the offspring of a 'conquering' power.
But then again University of Canterbury Professor Anne-Marie Brady is talking her own book.

I certainly agree that the unis should *rely* less on international students. But I would say that there may be space to *attact* those students while acknowledging the potential fragility of the funding stream, e.g. be less reliant on them.

We may be able to attract the really bright students this time. I don't object to Chinese students so long as we balance them with Taiwanese, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and the Phillipines. Note most of those countries could teach us lessons about fighting Covid-19.

The Chinese student who stayed with us and friends all Googled B+ assignments to make up for their lack of fluency in English. Any complaining academics were slapped down by the University accountants who knew what side their bread was buttered on.

The failings of running anything and everything as a business.

The report also failed to mention that the 1st 'big' infrastructure project since COVID19 has been awarded to a Chinese company whom outbid two New Zealand Companies. I think all this talk of a reset is not going to happen under any New Zealand Government as their intellectual depth is just not present.

Agree. Lots of talk. No substance.
Jacinda is great at talking.

Hypocritical of this government to tell Fonterra to 'buy local' for it's current IT contract, only for the government to then go and award Chinese & South African companies the first tranche of the KiwiRail contract, because of price.
https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=123...
https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=123...

Bring in the students but with a caveat that getting a degree here post COVID-19 is a hard (study) grind and not something that can just be purchased. I've worked with a couple of uni graduates that literally couldn't write a paragraph and one that bought her car licence for $500..! The amalgamation of the polytechs is long overdue, how many courses have been investigated and are basically junk -DDD.

We may need to review the implications of a neighbour captured by forces not necessarily acting in our best interests.
The CIA coup against 'The most loyal ally' is history's warning in 2020

The cultural choices seem easy. The political ones less so....

LOL - I still find it hard to come to terms with the under arm bowling incident. But I am uncomfortable with this kind of overt propaganda emanating from a so called caring superpower.

Overall aside from a few things, a good piece.
It's good to see a piece with a strong degree of China skepticism, given the predominance of pro-China articles on this website.
Also she doesn't go too far the other way with some balanced and valid criticism of the USA.

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I for one admire this lady. She has the courage to speak out when few others do. She continues to stand up under pressure even when the Government and Police have been reluctant to protect her. And yes I completely agree with her position here. Even education, although I fear the possibility of our Universities prostituting themselves for "easy" money when looking for international students rather than being centres of excellence.

A couple of points; the risk re the UN, as far as most countries in the world are concerned it has always been weak and ineffectual, undermined by the Veto votes, and NZ's 'small manufacturing base' needs to be rebuilt into something that delivers both resilience and export earnings. We already have some pretty good research departments at a couple of universities, so why isn't there the industry there to pick up what they deliver?

Agreed Murray - she's fantastic.

Agree both. Very courageous. Unlike almost all of our politicians.

China has announced great progress in developing a vaccine for COVID 19 and once it may be available around Sep to Dec 2020 as a public good for the globe.

This is absolutely saviour of the world economy and role model for many other countries who are also developing vaccines.

I think it is time for NZ as a country also a mixing pot of cultures to reassess and update its perspective of the world in a post COVID 19 world --
should it based on blood or race or so called ideology or tribalism?
OR, should it based on coexistence of civilisations, and order, and harmony and a shared future of mankind?

It is so obvious NZ's best interests are in the latter.

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Xingmo, can you give Anne-Marie her computer back now?

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And compensate her for the damage to her car?

The last thing NZ needs right now is an unfounded and blindly instigated Anti-China and Anti-Chinese sentiment or movement.

I think xingmowang backed into it in his Great Wall!

The last thing NZ needs right now is an unfounded and blindly instigated Anti-China and Anti-Chinese sentiment or movement.

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In case anyone needs reminding, this virus came out of China.

Finding a cure and sharing it with the world is the least it could do to remedy the mother of all balls-ups.

I think only Pompeo agrees with you.

Check what Cambridge researchers conclusion here (https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/covid-19-genetic-network-analysis-pr...).

China is the first responsively and constructively reported the COVID19 cases to the WHO which gave at least 2 months for the globe to prepare for the pandemic. NZ is the one of many beneficiaries of such act and should be really grateful of it.

However, the origin of COVID19 is at least a myth or from a recently closed US military lab -- The Fort Detrick laboratory (https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1182694.shtml)

Good one Xingmo, repeat the CCP nonsense.

Your opinion should be called nonsense.

My statements are all fact based.

Your first link says it spread from China.

The virus originated in China.
It is highly likely it leaped over from wild animals in a wet market. If China was a responsible international citizen, it would have banned the trade in these animals years ago. On both public health and animal rights grounds.

My next point. Evidence suggests that it took at least 2-3 weeks for China to report to WHO after the virus started spreading in Wuhan.

Finally, China has also been obstructive in distribution of PPE.

Frankly, China's government have handled this appallingly.

Trump may be a joke, but China is more of a joke, at least with its handling of covid 19

Heh heh heh. The best humour always has a grain of truth in it.

Last weekend 31 black men in Chicago were shot by other black men and 3 of them died. Where are Black lives Matter and their mates?

Oh, yeah, definitely. The presence of gang violence in some places in the USA completely obviates the need for addressing racism and police misconduct. Glad we've all imbibed that.

Watch when we open up the bubble with Taiwan, then you'll see the Chinese throw the toys out of the cot!

I notice Xingmowang has made numerous posts, (is each post paid for by the CCP?) including the laughable assertion that Five Eyes is based on blood!!! It is based on shared values of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and human rights, entrenched in laws, constitutions and actionable through the independent courts. Hallelujah! Millions have fought and died for such cherished freedoms. The irony of Xingmowang's posts is that such discourse on this website is possible in a democratic society, but, of course, it is dangerous in authoritarian China. Clearly, the person is unhappy living in a free, democratic country, like ours. There are many people willing to drive him/her to the airport.

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