KONG: New Zealand has felt the wrath of China, its largest export market and
second largest source of foreign tourists, with many scholars calling it a
backlash for the South Pacific country’s snubbing of Huawei Technologies.
this week Beijing abruptly announced it had postponed a tourism event scheduled
for next week in Wellington. Although the event, meant to usher in a “year
of tourism,” had been in the works for years, Beijing cited a scheduling
snafu for the postponement.
announcement, which came earlier this week, pricked the attention of New
Zealand, which received almost 350,000 Chinese holidaymakers in the year
through this past October, an 11.7% increase from the previous 12 months,
according to Tourism New Zealand. The rate of increase is higher than that for
tourists from any other country.
Zealand’s tourism industry is “poised to take a large financial
loss,” says a report published this week in the Global Times, a tabloid
that is part of the People’s Daily media group, a Chinese Communist Party
organ. “New Zealand’s strained political relationship with China —
following the ban of Huawei from building part of its 5G networks — is costing
the country more than it can afford.”
tabloid, known for promoting Chinese nationalism, quoted an outraged Beijing
tourist who canceled his 15,000-yuan ($2,200) trip to New Zealand. “Is it
a kind of robbery? New Zealand stabbed us in the back but asks for our
tourism contributed 17.4% to New Zealand’s total goods and services exports,
according to official statistics in 2016. The sector directly employs 7.5% of
the New Zealand workforce, and China is the country’s second largest source of
tourists, after Australia.
could have an imminent impact,” said Yuan Jingdong, an associate professor
at the University of Sydney who specializes in Chinese defense and foreign
policy. This impact will not only hit tourism, he said, but other sectors will
likely have some time before they are affected.
postponement of the tourism show and other little-explained happenings are
“clearly expressions of deep annoyance in Beijing about Wellington’s
growing China wariness and more public criticism of Chinese policy,” Yuan
added that New Zealand’s decision to cancel Huawei’s participation in the country’s
5G network is seen as a “direct rebuke of China,” seriously harming
China’s economic interests and tarnishing Huawei’s reputation.
irony of all of this,” Yuan said, “is New Zealand, like Canada, has
been one of the few Western countries that have adopted an open and friendly
attitude toward [China], hoping that economic interactions and people-to-people
contacts help narrow, not widen, the gap between the [countries].”
Chinese tourists can be an important source of revenue for the countries they
visit, they also sometimes act in accordance with Chinese foreign policy.
three years ago, after Taiwanese voters replaced a president who was friendly
toward China with an independent-minded leader, the number of Chinese tourists
to the island dropped precipitously. South Korea suffered a similar falloff
after it deployed U.S. antimissile batteries equipped with radar capable of
peering into Chinese airspace.
was late November when New Zealand at least temporarily blocked Huawei from
selling next-generation 5G technology to a cellphone service provider in the
little-explained events began shortly thereafter. New Zealand Prime Minister
Jacinda Ardern was scheduled to visit China late last year, but Beijing called
off the trip.
weekend, more than four hours into its journey to Shanghai, an Air New Zealand
flight made a U-turn and returned to Auckland. The flag carrier said improper
paperwork was to blame; news reports have cited the airliner’s references to
Taipei, the capital of what China regards as a renegade province.
New Zealand industries also have exposure to China, the largest buyer of the
country’s goods. According to New Zealand government data, the value of exports
to China, mostly dairy products and timber, came to 15.3 billion New Zealand
dollars (US$10.44 billion) in the year through last March.
the plane turnaround politics or poor paperwork? We might never know,”
said David Capie, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at Victoria
University of Wellington. “The deniability of this kind of retribution is
part of what makes it an appealing tool. But when you suddenly have multiple
problems and ‘scheduling issues’ cropping up all across the relationship like
this, you know something’s gone badly wrong.”
Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury who studies Chinese
diplomacy, said giving in to paranoia regarding China serves little purpose.
and tourism figures are strong and have increased significantly in the last
year,” she wrote in an email. “This is what we should be focusing on,
not trying to read the tea cups as to whether the Air NZ plane being turned
back or other small events add up to a deliberate snub.”
has been in the news recently. Beginning in late 2017, after she published a
paper on the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in the Pacific, she had her
office broken into twice, her house burglarized and her car damaged. She also
received a threatening letter and anonymous phone calls. A detailed police investigation
has turned up no leads.
Minister Ardern has remained neutral regarding what China’s intentions might
be. On Tuesday, she told a TV interviewer that her trip to China has yet to be
rescheduled. She also described New Zealand’s relationship with China as
is no doubt the relationship comes with its challenges as our relationships
with a range of countries will from time to time,” she said.
New Zealand government denies politics was involved in the postponements of Ardern’s
visit and the tourism event.
politics, at least domestic politics, is at play. The prime minister is getting
push back from the country’s largest opposition party. Simon Bridges, the
leader of the New Zealand National Party, said the Sino-New Zealand
relationship is “steadily deteriorating” under the Ardern
the politics of security is at the root of the deteriorating ties. New Zealand
is part of the intelligence-sharing alliance known as The Five Eyes. It says it
moved against Huawei due to a “significant” security risk. The U.S.,
also a Five Eyes partner, has been beating the drum about the potential of
Huawei 5G hardware being used to funnel information to Beijing. Now New Zealand
has come down on the side of its intelligence-sharing partner in the Huawei
country of less than 5 million people is also reinforcing its support of
smaller South Pacific nations due to its concern about China’s growing presence
in the region.
the Victoria University researcher, said the rift in the countries’
relationship has been growing for a while now.
no doubt,” he said, that New Zealand’s “coalition government [has
brought matters to a head with its] sharper tone on defense policy, on [the
Belt and Road Initiative], Huawei and the way [Wellington] has framed its
Pacific policy as pushing back against China.
think there’s more stormy weather to come. Beijing sees the Huawei issue as a
global one, and I think will treat a confirmed ban on using Huawei in 5G as an
indication of how New Zealand sees its wider China relationship going. It won’t
buy the line it’s just a technical, not a political, decision. I can’t see the
decision changing, so I think things are likely to get worse before they get