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Nicholas Ross Smith
Nicholas Ross Smith
Nicholas Ross Smith is an adjunct fellow at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

New Zealand’s independent and indigenous foreign policy means it has a mature relationship with China unique in the Anglosphere. But this is under pressure as great power rivalry grows in the Indo-Pacific.

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China’s zero-Covid policy and ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy have overshadowed its soft power efforts, but a shift in focus to the climate crisis could change that. Given the major commitments it has already made to cut carbon emissions, China should be positioning itself as a leader in climate diplomacy.

Much like the Soviet Union’s collapse reinforced China’s focus on economics at the end of the Cold War, Russia is again giving Beijing food for thought. Russia’s overconfidence and underperformance in Ukraine are likely to weigh on China’s thinking over reunifying Taiwan by force.

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Democracy is part of the story, but the truth is that Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine is complex and involves numerous factors. Ignoring Russia’s ‘civilisational turn’ and mobilised historical memory leads to a flawed understanding and ineffective policies.

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The reaction to Pacific nations seeking deals with China has been one of fear as Australia and New Zealand act out of national security concerns. But with their paternalistic overtones, Australia and New Zealand run the risk of denying the agency of Pacific countries and ignoring their key concerns.

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Enlargement sceptics like French President Emmanuel Macron fail to see that the European Union has lost its ability to inspire. A new wave of enlargement that includes Ukraine and the Western Balkans could see the union again become an antidote to great power pressures.

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It looks unlikely that Russia and Ukraine will get everything they want out of negotiations in the wake of the Russian invasion. Instead of a forced neutrality along the lines of Finlandisation, current-day Finland, which maintains neutrality while being a European Union member, offers an example to follow.

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While geopolitical tensions are rising in well-known hotspots, the fiercest competition is over more abstract notions of truth and reality. The assertion of competing realities between the US, Russia and China is creating even greater global uncertainty.

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While US-Russia talks on Ukraine may ease fears of a Russian invasion, the two sides fundamentally disagree on how security should be managed in the region. As the world moves away from a US-dominated power structure, perhaps Washington should let Europe take care of itself.

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The emergence of new technologies, including in nuclear weaponry, and cyberspace has changed international relations and rendered the analogies meaningless. Instead, treating the Sino-American relationship as a complex but unique relationship would enable a more positive focus and downsize the negativity dominating discourse.

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US-China tensions are leading several Indo-Pacific countries to seek a third alternative to a great power struggle. Malaysia and Indonesia are obvious candidates to lead such a movement, but New Zealand could be a dark horse given its independent foreign policy.

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Both the US and China use history such as the Cold War and the Eight-Nation Alliance to bolster their positions and criticise the other side. The risk is that Washington could end up feeding Beijing’s narrative of Western imperialism, narrowing the scope for de-escalation.

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China’s response to the US leaving Afghanistan will be of key interest to those forecasting the shape of international politics. While pragmatism will protect China from hubris and overreach, its lack of soft power will curb its ability to dictate world events.

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China has to be able to forge friendships with more powerful countries that share its vision of international politics. It can find common ground to build relationships, but it struggles to generate the critical mass needed to turn them into friendships that matter.

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International students remain barred from returning to China, and some are venting their frustration on Twitter. China’s inability to control user responses is undermining its social media messaging and the reputation of its higher education sector.

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If the EU is to shake off its ‘hobbled giant’ image, it must act more consistently on major foreign policy issues such as relations with China. The swift retaliation against Belarus does offer an opportunity – if it can maintain a united front.

China is no innocent bystander and many of its actions deserve a strong international response. But distorting the China threat could lead to policies that unleash another damaging cold war.

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Cold War parallels are imperfect, but one area where significant competition between China and the West already exists and could spiral out of control is the battle to assert the ‘truth’.

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A New Zealand minister’s advice to Australia on dealing with Beijing may be impolitic, but it lays bare the challenges of small nations caught in the US-China competition for influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

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China projects a narrative of being a benevolent and empathetic global leader but, domestically, the narratives coalesce more around nationalist assertions of China as a growing international power. Reconciling this ‘two-level game’ at the heart of its foreign policy is vital.

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Buying into the doomsday narratives on Covid-19, climate change, civil wars or humanitarian crises only breeds fatalism and authoritarianism, when what the world needs is creative solutions and global cooperation.

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After 20 years, Putin may be looking to protect his legacy by negotiating a controlled power handover in Russia, retiring from day-to-day administration while keeping a firm hand on policy direction as Russia’s father figure – much as China’s Deng Xiaoping did.

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From the Hong Kong protests to the treatment of Uygurs in Xinjiang, China’s international image has seen severely dented this year. It must work to repair the damage through persuasion and co-option, not just by leaning on its economic stature.

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Being dependent on international goodwill to maintain trade, it’s in the central government’s interests to handle Hong Kong with patience. Having stoked nationalism, however, Beijing may be tempted to deal with the protests decisively.

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In 1956 the Soviet Union forcefully quelled dissent in Hungary, and consequently lost moral standing in the cold war. China should remember this and consider what PLA intervention in Hong Kong would mean for its ‘peaceful rise’ narrative.

It has become fashionable to blame Russian interference for cases in which democracy seems to have gone awry – from Brexit to Donald Trump’s presidency. The trouble, however, lies more with electoral democracy.

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After years of trying to win friends and gain influence through its outreach programmes, Beijing has run into a wall. The reason is twofold: China must improve its art of persuasion, and the West it seeks to impress must be willing to come to the party.

There is an answer to Beijing’s property bubble conundrum: either a single tax on land value that Sun argued for, or a pragmatic land tenure system that Singapore has adopted.

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