01.04.2024 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Chinese Foreign Minister visits New Zealand and Australia

China's Foreign Minister

Between 17 and 21 March, Wang Yi, a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party and China’s Foreign Minister, visited New Zealand and Australia (for the first time since 2017) at the invitation of his counterparts, Winston Peters and Penny Wong. And while the motivation for Wang Yi’s visit to the first of these countries contained its own intrigue, the main component of the entire tour was undoubtedly related to the second half.

For at present, Australia occupies a much higher (very conventional, but undoubtedly existing) level in the global hierarchy than New Zealand. In the Indo-Pacific region, where the focus of the current phase of the “Great Game” is shifting, the author believes it is in the third tier. The US and the People’s Republic of China are on the first tier, while India and Japan are on the second.

Australia established its presence on the world stage at the beginning of the last century as part of the British Empire. In this respect, its participation in the First World War was a milestone, especially during the “Gallipoli Campaign” of 1916. The film Gallipoli, by the way, is hardly the most talented work in this artistic genre on the subject of war, one of mankind’s harshest punishments for some very bad deeds.

Australia was also an active participant in the Second World War. And after the Second World War, the country was involved in a number of major conflicts (on the Korean peninsula, in Vietnam, in the Middle East, in Afghanistan), but now under the aegis of Washington rather than London.

With the end of the Cold War and the emergence of a new global player in the Indo-Pacific region in the person of the People’s Republic of China, Canberra has gradually been faced with the need to determine its position in the entirely new realities created by the aforementioned shift in the centre of gravity of global processes to the region in which it is located. When one of the poles of the emerging field of political tensions remains an ally and the other becomes a major trading and economic partner. This means that one’s own well-being depends essentially on maintaining constructive relations with the other.

And until the end of the last decade, Australia was trying to strike some kind of balance in this area, when Washington’s test message “What will you do in the event of a conflict over Taiwan” was followed more or less definitively by the answer “Nothing”.

At the turn of 2019-2020, however, there was a break in this strategy (of balancing) when the conservative government of Scott Morrison moved quite decisively towards the United States. Over the next 2-3 years, until the centre-left coalition led by current Prime Minister Anthony Albanese takes power in May 2022, Australia’s foreign policy has developed such a deep pro-American, anti-China rut that it is proving very difficult to get out of. In particular, the Scott Morrison government’s involvement in the formation of the AUKUS configuration was undoubtedly significant.

One of the latest indications that the new government is also in the same “rut” was the nature of the recent “Australia+ASEAN Summit“. Canberra’s and Beijing’s interests also overlap in the Pacific, where, as in the Second World War, the struggle for influence over the now-independent island states is intensifying.

Nonetheless, the Chinese leadership is demonstrating (let us stress this again) the typical Chinese patience. And despite all the recent negative aspects in the bilateral relationship, the Chinese side believes that there is a good basis for maintaining and (possibly) developing it. The Global Times outlined this in the form of a presentation made on the occasion of Wang Yi’s visit.

A substantive discussion of the full range of issues in the above-mentioned relationship took place during his meeting with his counterpart Penny Wong (who is, incidentally, half-Chinese), who had said the day before that she expected “a frank exchange of views on common interests, differences and the role of both countries in maintaining peace, stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region”.

And if this initial position can indeed be described as cautiously expectant, the Chinese side, as the above account suggests, appears to be quite optimistic. Judging by the Global Times account of Wang Yi’s speech at the talks, it remained so after the talks ended.

However, the guest’s remark that the state of bilateral relations should not be influenced by “any third party” attracted attention. Meanwhile, it was undoubtedly present in the background of the latest negotiations. This was particularly evident in P. Wong’s comment on the need to “maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”. This turned out to be a simple reproduction of the established formula of the American approach to the Taiwan problem and to relations with China as a whole.

The parties agreed on a visit to Australia by Chinese Premier Li Qiang, with whom they will apparently discuss in particular the problems of trade, which, we repeat, form the basis of the entire format of relations between the countries.

The visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister to Australia ended with a reception at Prime Minister E. Albanese’s house, during which the guest once again generated a positive mood about the prospects of bilateral relations.

As for New Zealand, the first country of Wang Yi’s visit, in the popular mind it seems to be a half-asleep backwater of world politics with its green meadows where countless flocks of sheep and cows graze, which form the basis of the country’s prosperity. And also, with the specific action called “Haka”, i.e. one of the main cultural assets of the historical period (not without elements of cannibalism) of the glorious Maori people. This “heritage” is now performed jointly (by the Maori and descendants of their “enslavers”) on almost every occasion: at weddings, funerals, before sporting events, and even at parliamentary sessions.

In the 20th century, New Zealand participated in most of the above conflicts with Australia. For example, as part of the “Australian New Zealand Army Corps” (ANZAC) in the same “Gallipoli Campaign”. But with the end of the Cold War, Wellington said: “We’ve had enough, go away with your nuclear submarines, we’ll be friends with everybody” (though New Zealand remained a member of a special intelligence organisation of five Anglo-Saxon countries, the Five Eyes).

This went on until January 2023, when the then Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (pictured here to the left of the British Crown Representative whose power she was trying to end) said: “I am tired of your stupid male toys called “high politics”, I want simple female happiness”. She then resigned prematurely.

The tough men who replaced her, first from her own Labour Party and since November 2023 from the camp of the Conservatives who won the next election, have been busy doing what they love to do. That is, thinking about “the emerging strategic situation in the Indo-Pacific region and responding to emerging foreign policy challenges“. Apparently, the recent leaks about New Zealand’s possible accession to AUKUS were their result.

As far as we can understand, Wang Yi’s main message during his talks with his New Zealand counterparts, led by current Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, was expressed by a rhetorical question: “Guys, why are you no longer satisfied with your previous carefree life with cow-sheep, Haka dancing and excellent economic relations with us? Believe me, nothing has happened in our foreign policy in general and in our relations with you specifically that would worry you.”

The reaction of Wang Yi’s fellow negotiators to this message will be judged in no other way than by their further concrete actions. So far, Wellington’s intention to at least maintain relations with Beijing is evidenced by the announcement of the trade minister’s visit to China scheduled for April.

Finally, let us stress once again that the overall strategic course of the Chinese leadership in the international arena is aimed at overcoming the already emerging and not forming new impassable lines of division of the modern world political space. This is a necessary condition for excluding the prospect of another global massacre, which will certainly be the last in human history. This is not the time for paranoid propagandists with their gibberish about “the (mythical) West that has hated us for centuries and should have been nuked long ago”.

As part of this course, Beijing seeks to find solutions to (seemingly intractable) problems in its relations with each of its external partners. The foreign minister’s trip to Australia and New Zealand was further confirmation of this.


Vladimir TEREKHOV, expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

Related articles: