Tuesday, June 1, 2021

New Zealand breaks with 5 eyes in favour of China---is Canada's Trudeau next?


Five Eyes: why New Zealand wants to go its own, quieter way on China

  • Smallest member of world’s oldest intelligence-sharing network prefers a more traditional approach to megaphone diplomacy, according to analysts
  • They say it suggests different ideas on the purpose of the alliance and that Wellington doesn’t want to damage relations with Beijing, as others have
  • As other Western democracies in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network turn their gaze towards China, its smallest member has broken ranks.

    New Zealand
     – part of the post-war alliance with the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia – has been openly reluctant to embrace the bloc’s pivoting security focus to Beijing, as tensions over trade, technology and ideology have strained relations between China and the West.

    Wellington has faced a backlash for distancing itself from the Five Eyes when it comes to China, including signing some but not all of their joint statements on Beijing’s political crackdown in Hong Kong.

    Australian PM Scott Morrison and New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern in Queenstown. Photo: AAP
    Australian PM Scott Morrison and New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern in Queenstown

New Zealand’s stance on China has deep implications for the Five Eyes alliance

  • Analysis: Country has confirmed itself the weak link in the intelligence chain it joined with the US, UK, Canada and Australia

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern and new foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta, pictured in February 2020.
New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern and new foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta, pictured in February 2020.  Mahuta has insisted she does not want New Zealand’s relationship with China to be defined by Five Eyes.

  • Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister from the centre-left Labour party, has offended devotees of the Anglosphere by indicating she is not prepared to take her country into the kind of trade war with China that Australia has found itself facing.

    Asserting her country’s sovereignty has potentially deep implications for the “Five Eyes” alliance, the intelligence sharing partnership that emerged after the second world war and blossomed in the cold war. Indeed some say New Zealand has confirmed itself as the weak link in the intelligence chain that it joined with the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia.

    The upset stems from a statement by Ardern’s relatively new foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta, who said earlier this week that she did not want New Zealand’s complex relationship with China to be defined by Five Eyes. She suggested that New Zealand needed to “maintain and respect” China’s “particular customs, traditions and values”.

    At a joint press conference with her Australian counterpart Marise Payne on Thursday she was more explicit still. Mahuta said: “The Five Eyes arrangement is about a security and intelligence framework. It’s not necessary, all the time on every issue, to invoke Five Eyes as your first port of call in terms of creating a coalition of support around particular issues in the human rights space.”

    Payne acknowledged that New Zealand had the right to determine its own response to human rights issues, but made the case for speaking out: “We also have to acknowledge that China’s outlook – the nature of China’s external engagement both in our region and globally – has changed in recent years.”

    The dispute on how to handle China, and through which institutions, has been rumbling for some time. In January the New Zealand minister, Damien O’Connor, suggested Australia follow his example and show China a little more respect, adding that a little diplomacy from time to time did not go amiss. Now Ardern and the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, are reportedly going to meet in New Zealand in two weeks to discuss the issue.

    Ardern in her first term ceded much foreign policy to her foreign minister Winston Peters, leader of the NZ First Party, but seems willing to take the helm in her second term.

    New Zealand, like Australia, trades heavily with China, with 29% of its export revenue dependent on China. It has been New Zealand’s biggest trading partner since 2017, leading Ardern to navigate evidence of Chinese political and technological interference gingerly. New Zealnd has signed a free trade deal with China, and over the past few months opted out of joining Five Eyes declarations condemning China’s abuse of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.

    New Zealand has also seen how Australia’s willingness to challenge China has led to severe trade repercussions. The dispute is still raging, with the Australian government on Thursday tearing up Victoria state’s Belt and Road agreements with China, deeming them as not in the national interest.

    Mahuta’s remarks may also disappoint a breed of Brexiter that foresaw the Anglosphere and Five Eyes as the future beating heart of a diplomatic intelligence alliance against China. The most recent book on Five Eyes by Anthony Wells (Casemate) argues on China: “The wise use of naval power is critical to keeping the economic arteries open. The Five Eyes can become the centrepiece of the intelligence gathering and analysis to support these operations.”

    There had in recent months been some signs the UK, out of the EU but eager for new alliances in the Indo-Pacific, had been pushing the Five Eyes in a more political direction, blurring the distinction between policy and intelligence. In November 2020 the five countries for instance issued a joint statement condemning the crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong. The UK has also been angling for Japan, one of the countries most informed on China’s security intentions, to join the alliance.

    Perhaps as the smallest of the five countries in the alliance, New Zealand could see itself being dragooned into an expanded and more ambitious alliance over which it would have little control. Ardern herself had merely suggested Five Eyes might not be the most appropriate vehicle with which to issue statements on China, asking aloud: “Is that best done under the banner of a grouping of countries around a security intelligence platform, or is it best done around a group of countries with shared values – some of which might not belong to that Five Eyes partnership?”

    Ciaran Martin, the former chief executive of the National Cybersecurity Centre, part of GCHQ, has said that the idea that New Zealand had endangered the foundations of the network was to misunderstand its specific security role. He wrote on Twitter: “Five Eyes governments could choose to expand the alliance for example coordinate foreign policy on China. But they have not, yet, and it would be a huge change in how the Five Eyes works. For now, New Zealand is not opposing anything anyone has actually (publicly) proposed”.

    But Rory Medcalf, the head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, questioned Ardern’s rationale. Five Eyes was an “extremely trusted and long-serving intelligence-sharing arrangement” that was always going to translate into coordinating policy as well,” he said. 

Five Eyes: Is the alliance in trouble over China?

May 4 2021

  • 24 hour Operations Room inside GCHQ, Cheltenham

    image captionThe Five Eyes group has successfully shared intelligence between Western powers for decades

    The Five Eyes alliance is an intelligence-sharing arrangement between five English-speaking democracies: the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It evolved during the Cold War as a mechanism for monitoring the Soviet Union and sharing classified intelligence. It is often described as the world's most successful intelligence alliance. But recently it has suffered an embarrassing setback.

    Four of the members have jointly condemned China's treatment of its Uyghur population in Xinjiang province. They have also expressed concern over China's de facto military takeover of the South China Sea, its suppression of democracy in Hong Kong and its threatening moves towards Taiwan, which China has vowed to "take back" by 2049. One country, though, has opted out of confronting China: New Zealand.

    Surprisingly, perhaps, for a nation that prides itself on respect for human rights, New Zealand's Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta declined to join in this Western condemnation of Beijing, saying "it felt uncomfortable" with expanding the alliance's role by putting pressure on China in this way. Although New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted on Monday that its differences with China are becoming "harder to reconcile", the country still prefers to pursue its own bilateral relations with Beijing.

    New Zealand's foreign minister, Nanaia MahutaIMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES
    image captionForeign Minister Nanaia Mahuta declined to join in Western condemnation of Beijing

    China's state media has made much of this, talking of a wedge been driven between the two neighbours and allies, Australia and New Zealand.

    China is New Zealand's largest export market; New Zealand depends on China for close to 30% of its exports, mostly dairy products. So does Australia, but the two Antipodean neighbours clearly view China's policies in a very different light.

    Australia's federal government in Canberra has vetoed a major Chinese investment in the state of Victoria which was to be part of Beijing's "Belt and Road" initiative, its growing acquisition of economic assets around the world.

    Meanwhile, China has imposed a series of damaging trade sanctions on Australia over the past year.

    As the trade war between the two countries worsens, Australia's wine exports to China have reportedly dropped by 96% from the first quarter of 2020 compared to the first quarter of this year, from A$325m (£181m) to just A$12m (£6.6m). New Zealand, on the other hand, has been rewarded by Beijing with ever-closer trade relations.

    Jacinda Ardern and Scott MorrisonIMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES
    image captionNew Zealand's Jacinda Ardern has taken a different China stance to Australia's Scott Morrison

    So what exactly has all this got to do with intelligence-sharing? Very little, is the answer.

    It was assumed last year by officials in the Five Eyes alliance that since all five nations broadly shared the same world view, then that view would also apply to China. In May 2020 the alliance agreed to expand its role away from just security and intelligence to a more public stance on respect for human rights and democracy.

    In November the alliance criticised the Chinese government for stifling democracy in Hong Kong when Beijing introduced new laws that disqualified elected legislators in the former British colony. A Chinese government spokesman reacted angrily, mocking the Five Eyes alliance by declaring that "those who dared to harm China's sovereignty would find their own eyes poked out".

    Now, six months later, New Zealand's departure from the party line on China has meant that the Five Eyes' newly expanded role appears to have ground to a halt, prompting some to question whether the alliance is in trouble.

    But that would be an exaggeration. This was about politics, not intelligence. New Zealand is not leaving the alliance, it is only drawing a distinction between the two. In retrospect it was an overstretch of what Five Eyes was meant for: sharing secrets.

    There will almost certainly be some in New Zealand's intelligence community who feel embarrassment at this playing out so publicly. By far the majority of intelligence shared within the alliance comes from Washington. The next biggest contributor is the UK, with input from GCHQ, MI6 and MI5. Considerably smaller contributions are made by Canada and Australia.

    When it comes to New Zealand, an intelligence review conducted in 2017 found that for every 99 pieces of intelligence NZ received through the alliance, it contributed just one. So New Zealand would clearly have much to lose if it left.

    In conclusion, then, is the alliance going to transcend into a unified diplomatic or political pressure group? Unlikely at this stage. Is its existence as an alliance for intelligence-sharing between allies in trouble? No.

  • 4 May 2021

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