Trade Minister David Parker pays lip service to China's 'broader, cleaner, greener' Belt and Road Initiative

Trade Minister David Parker pays lip service to China's 'broader, cleaner, greener' Belt and Road Initiative
Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker

By Jenée Tibshraeny

New Zealand appears to be nurturing - if not smoothing over - its relationship with China by deliberately speaking out in support of its rebranded Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker spent a generous hour-and-a-half delivering speeches, and partaking in question and answer sessions at the China Business Summit in Auckland on Monday. Their key message was that the BRI has "evolved" and can be "mutually beneficial" for China and New Zealand. 

The BRI is Chinese President Xi Jinping's brainchild. Announced in 2013, it encompasses China's geopolitical strategy to develop what can be likened to a modern Silk Road.

With its focus on building infrastructure to support its trade routes seeing developing countries given concessional loans and crippled by debt, the Chinese Government has recently refreshed its marketing of the BRI. 

Parker has returned from a major BRI conference he attended in China last month, endorsing the supposed broadened focus of the initiative. 

Mirroring China's approach to distance the BRI from the bad press it has received, Parker reiterated at the Summit that there were ways for New Zealand to get involved that didn’t involve infrastructure.

Asked by interest.co.nz in a media conference why he, Ardern and the Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand repeatedly used the phrase “mutual benefit” through their addresses, when one would assume this was implicit with any sort of trade arrangement, Parker explained: “When BRI was initially launched it was about infrastructure.

“It seemed to us, we were in opposition at the time, that the sorts of infrastructure needs of developing countries, to which BRI was primarily addressed, didn’t seem to necessarily apply to New Zealand.

“Since then the Chinese Administration has broadened the ambit of what they consider BRI to cover other areas of co-operation outside of physical infrastructure. And therefore it’s easier for New Zealand to find mutually beneficial projects within a BRI framework.”

He said New Zealand, which is ranked first in the world in terms of ease of doing business, could for example help China be more business friendly.

Challenged by interest.co.nz on whether the BRI had actually evolved, or if the public relations around it had simply changed, Parker said, “It’s definitely changed.”

Pushed further on why a country, whose ambassador moments earlier said it had a long-term focus, would change the approach of its cornerstone policy, Parker again backed China: "It is self-evidently true.”

Asked whether the BRI was simply a political relationship-building exercise, he said President Xi was “very clear” that he’d heard criticisms of developing countries falling into debt and was “pushing against corruption” and “trying to green the BRI”.

“Those were good messages to hear from China.”

Parker acknowledged New Zealand and China could technically advance their relationship without the BRI, but said, “It’s important to the Chinese Government that some of these things be looked at from a BRI framing, and we’re happy to consider that.”

Parker is perhaps “happy to consider that” due to fears China will throw its toys out of the cot if New Zealand continues to prevent Spark from using Huawei’s technology in its major 5G roll-out.

While Ardern at the Summit again stressed New Zealand had an “independent foreign policy” and wouldn’t discriminate against individual countries, the Government Communications Security Bureau’s (GCSB) move to block Huawei can be seen as New Zealand succumbing to pressure from its Five Eyes partners, including the US.

Further to advertising in the media, Huawei is continuing to very publicly lobby the Government.  

The head of its New Zealand operations, Andrew Bowater, told Summit attendees the company had been “blind-sided” by the GCSB warning Spark not to use its technology.

He said things got very hot, very fast, accusing geopolitics of getting in the way of business.

Bowater was wired. His demeanour indicated he was well aware of the pressure he was under as he didn’t hold back attacking the Government.

He said “given the ramifications” of the GCSB blocking Huawei being “much broader” than a Spark project, he thought it was only fair for the Minister Responsible for the GCSB to meet with him.

He said Huawei was a long way off giving up on the New Zealand market, meaning it would continue to be a spanner in the works for the Government.

While New Zealand and China in March 2017 signed a non-binding Memorandum of Arrangement, under which they agreed to work together to support the initiative, no formal commitments have been made since. 

It would appear the Government's decision to come in to bat for the BRI is symbolic – a bid to keep China happy as negotiations to upgrade the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement continue. 

An upgraded FTA is a concrete, more widely understood way of increasing trade and investment between the two countries.

At the end of the day, China wants New Zealand food products and New Zealand wants Chinese goods and investment.

The Government appears willing to provide whatever lip service it needs to, to keep developing the relatively mature – albeit evolving – economic relationship New Zealand has with China.

The problem is, the current international environment is making it increasingly difficult for New Zealand to keep its economic and political relationships distinct.

The questions then are, is the fact New Zealand’s echoing China’s BRI spin enough to progress what really matters to New Zealand – upgrading the FTA.

Or will New Zealand have to make a more definitive move to show its commitment to the “broadened, clean, green” BRI?

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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24 Comments

11
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Got to keep our overlords happy.

Both of them, the US and China.

Might get a bit tricky at some point :)

Clean and green are 'greenwash'. China is fossil-fuel-fired like eveyone else. And like everyone else, they know nothing else stacks up, though I'm sure they're not leaving it to 'market forces' to prepare for a non-ff future. They are also well aware that this is the last Empirical resource-grab the planet will ever see.

Mutual benefit? This is the same fellow who signed-off the TPPA, essentially signing our rights to self-determination away. There is no mutual benefit to the Belt-and Road, any more than there was with the Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere. We seem to still be back at the stage where we think a pile of computer-held '1's and '0's is 'wealth' - reminds one of Jack swapping the family cow for those magic beans.

The above comment suggests what is ahead, though. There will inevitably be a stoush between the US and China, unless a general collapse precedes it. At that point we'll have to pick sides....

What it glibly fails to question, is 'investment'. That's always a cover word for 'will benefit from'. It's past time we saw it in that light.

12
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Greener, my rear end. Chinese demand driven destruction of wildlife is not green, people! They only see green in terms of humans and have little regard for the natural, wild world.

12
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This statement sums up the fly in the ointment "The problem is, the current international environment is making it increasingly difficult for New Zealand to keep its economic and political relationships distinct." Increasingly these days were are being required to pick a side. No one seems to respect our political independence. and with Tianamen Square as a part of their history, the Chinese will expect the NZ Government to be able to squash any real dissent from the masses. In part some of the moves will be buried as a part of a larger agreement. Take for example the NRATPPFTA (which stands for Not Really A Trans Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement) where we have been forced to swallow some clauses that other countries have not, that essentially amounts to surrendering our sovereignty by stealth.

Swing to the US and Trump just don't care, any replacement will be anyone's guess. but whoever it is will still have to suck up to the money and an essentially corrupt political system. And Europe has too many of it's own problems to worry about a small island on the other side of the world.

We have to be able to trade with other countries, but our geographical location and size makes us vulnerable to political heavyweights. The only way out is for our Government to take a leaf out of China's book and learn how to build our own industry up to not only create jobs, but to become less dependent on and a supplier to the rest of the world.

Immigration is also turning us from being a South Pacific paradise to just being another overcrowded, politically contested, under-resourced island at risk of becoming another slum not unlike place like the Philippines.

In other words, just here to be exploited and rorted by someone bigger than us. Already happening with almost nothing of any significance being owned by us anymore, look where Tip Top is likely to go. We get the absolute minimum in the way of taxation, economic advantage out of these foreign corporations.
It is not good.

NZ should and has already been starting to learn from the UK on how to balance diplomatic relationship between China and the US.

There are clearly examples that NZ should not follow such as the AUS and Canada.

Keep it up NZ. You have the very potential to be one of the best friends with China in the so called Western world.

NZ should also fade away many terminologies that divide the world, the regions, and the people because we live in the same community of shared future for mankind according President Xi.

What about the natural world, endangered species and bio-diversity?

And what did President Xi say about the million in concentration camps in his country? Are they part of his shared community?
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/04/us-accuses-china-of-using-...
or for a wide range of links to the same subject
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xinjiang_re-education_camps
A rational diplomatic relationship with the current China govt could be summed up as "I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole". Our exports that arrive in China are international commodities: milk powder and timber; China can obtain them from whereever they wish and we can sell to the international market. The reason for special ties to make these exports to China is the opportunity for semi-corrupt political donations to our main parties. NZ should remain polite, not issue any condemnations but certainly stop the kow-towing to an evil regime.

*crickets*

As there should be. The wealth and security of NZ comes first. You guys will always be anti China no matter what they do.

Good grief. I can still recall all the hyping of one Donald J Trump a few years ago. You seem to have a fixation for powerful dictators. There's a name for that sort of syndrome, I am sure.

This situation is only going to get more tense. America is clearly bent on making an enemy of China and using whats left of its advantage to keep China from becoming a true rival. However unlike the cold war when they had the support of the former British empire countries and Western Europe they have since squandered that good will and find it increasingly hard to convince other nations to play their game. Trumps form of diplomacy is counter productive and is driving countries into China's arms.
Its early days but it seems Australia and NZ are going to have to choose between our economic interests (China) and our shared history/cultural ties with America. Australia is a more staunch ally of the US and will find it tough to break away, NZ has only paid lip service for decades to US interests and our population is changing rapidly to one with less ties to our former alliances so public opinion will be split.
Eventually the balancing act will be unsustainable and whichever side we end up falling on we will suffer consequences.

They say the easiest way to become a millionaire is first to be a billionaire. Jiang Zhaobai, one of two brothers, who with their 'private' funding , via the Pengxin Group, rode into New Zealand to save the Crafar, farms , and overpay for any New Zealand assets, now finds himself demoted from the billionaire status, whether he was really a billionaire who knows, or has just given it away. Perhaps business acumen is not required by the OIO after all, simply access to state funds.
Hunan Dakang , the listed company under which the rebranded Crafer farms now are found has had somewhat of a rollercoaster stock market ride.recently .Towards the end of last year, it found itself in that group of 160 Chinese listed companies that had pledged more than 50 percent of their shares, while at the same time its share price had collapsed more than 50 percent. Thankfully the stock market has rebounded
Having been frustrated by New Zealand and Australia, it forayed into South America, soybeans . This foray has seen itself having to sell off recently acquired assets, but fortunately with further recent loans from state owned banks, it can manage as a privately listed company, and undoubtedly venture to another part of the globe to acquire assets as per any state initiative, a little longer.
Remarkably , KuangChi science which along with Pengxin, were so embraced by the previous government and John key, , at the end of last year had pledged more than 70 percent of its shares. It is truly no wonder that the Chinese state, can not afford the stock market to rollover.

I said it before, and I will say it again, the OTT money paid for Crafar farms was for that all important foot in the door, look what has transpired since, with the relentless push to vertical integration.

The Gubmint's realised that BRI means 'Mo' Munny' if they play their cards right. Like a NorthPort harbour and a beefed-up rail link to Awkland, both classic BRI infrastructure projects. The quid pro quo? Pffft - that's for After the election....no need to burden them Voters with picky details.

"Debt trap diplomacy, big fan! Reckon we should rebrand it Nice, comfortable and friendly belt to make it sound more benign."

Straitjacket maybe?

One Belt, One Straitjacket

Meet the new imperial power, same as the old.

As long as the Straitjacket Fits

China sounds big & menacing but it's running on debt like the rest of us. If their corporates go broke that's no sweat for Mr Xi, they simply revert to the state by default. Beautiful communism he calls it. If you think China's biggest problem is Mr Trump you'd be wrong. The Chinese people know exactly what's going on & I'm picking a civil war in parts before 2025. Remember there's a billion people who are not sharing the results - less than 100 million are with another 100 doing okay. There's unrest out west & there's huge layoffs happening right now. It's good that we are talking with China but the world is waking up to their hardball commie politics & are a bit over them shouting & demanding & waving their arms in the air & walking out of the conference room.
The world is changing by the hour. What happened yesterday was yesterday. Today is a new day.
Play the game well one day at a time NZ Inc. Don't give up & don't give in. Let's stick to our beliefs. They are worth sticking to.

OK - we in New Zealand are gutless.
Take a look at what China has done/is doing in Zambia.....complete state capture.
Great thing 'bout China is that it is very good at playing the long-term game - very good. It started interfering in Zambia in the 1970.
China has great influence over Zambian Govt - this is well known.
It appears that the same blueprint is being applied to New Zealand....step by step.
The percentage of Chinese that make up the Zambian population continues to rise.....

And yet you still see on the likes of NBR comments along the lines of "What does it matter who owns the land? We can always legislate over it."

As the Huawei and CCP tantrums are highlighting, this is a dangerous assumption. And consider the 80s: we couldn't keep two French terrorists in jail in the face of threats of retaliation via trade. Given food security is slated to be a huge issue in coming decades, it's naive in the extreme to think it doesn't matter whether NZ's most productive land is owned locally or internationally (by any foreign state / state-connected company).

Plain as the nose on your face