Is China slowly gobbling up this country?
While the world remains engrossed with China's growing competition and confrontation with big countries like the US and India and conflicts with maritime nations in the South China Sea, here is one country, apparently insignificant, which has also found itself engulfed by the Chinese tentacles, so much so, that it has put its contacts with its traditional allies under threat.
That country is New Zealand, the small island-nation located south-east off Australia.
A piece published in IntelNews.org on Thursday, May 31, has cited a report by the Canadian spy agency Canada Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to say that Beijing's influence in New Zealand is "so extensive" that it puts the traditionally close intelligence contacts between Wellington and its western allies in jeopardy.
One eye of the Five Eyes catching jaundice?
New Zealand is a member of the Five Eyes alliance or the UKUSA Agreement - an intelligence pact which also includes the US, UK, Australia and Canada - since World War II and it was strengthened in 1955 to facilitate multilateral framework for intelligence cooperation between these five countries. But the Canadian intelligence has warned that New Zealand is finding it increasingly difficult to operate within the framework because of growing political and economic influence of China at an alarming level, the IntelNews.org piece said.
The report, titled 'China and the Age of Strategic Rivalry' - authored by CSIS experts - featured views expressed by participants at a CSIS-organised academic research workshop in Canada.
In a section which talked about Chinese "interference in democratic systems", the report said that although small in size, New Zealand is an important country for China - "as a soft underbelly through which to access Five Eyes intelligence".
In recent times, China has even gone to the extent of adopting "an aggressive strategy" that aims at co-opting New Zealand's political and economic elites to influence the country's political decision-making, the report added.
This way, China not only inches closer to the goal of gaining advantage in trade deals; facilitate espionage and control the island-nation's Chinese expatriate communities' viewpoints and remove New Zealand as one of the eyes of the Five Eyes as a way of asserting regional hegemony.
The IntelNews.org report also mentioned about a separate development whereby Peter Mattis, an expert on China, told the US Congressional committee in April about New Zealand's increasingly weak position in the Five Eyes alliance because of China's secret designs. Mattis, a former China specialist for the CIA, said this before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission which advises the Congress. He even doubted whether New Zealand could continue to be a member of the alliance after China has drilled into its depth.
NZ government, however, dismisses the report
The New Zealand government, however, is not convinced. Prime Minister Jacina Ardern, the 37-year-old leader who is due to give birth to her first child in some time, dismissed the doubts saying no such issue has been raised with her government by the other four members of Five Eyes members and that her government took leads on such matters from official channels and not through opinions expressed at workshops.
New Zealand's relation with China, a country with which it has diplomatic relations since 1972, is not too rosy. China is New Zealand's No.1 trading partner but New Zealand is China's 43rd and the two countries witness huge contradictions in several other fields like infrastructure, education, tourism, foreign investments, etc.
New Zealand is far too vulnerable to Chinese influence because of the massive divide and that makes the Chinese - an ambitious race - all the more interested to infiltrate and tap the intelligence resources of a group which also features its rival United States.