Monday, May 25, 2020

Is Matthew Hooton's Pro-PRC Positioning Rubbing Off On Muller?

So here's a curious thing. A few days ago, Matthew Hooton wrote what can only be described as an obsequiously pro-PRC column for the Herald [this was the 'Chinese Taipei' one comparing Taiwanese independence to the Chatham Islands attempting to secede from New Zealand and proclaiming itself the real government of the entire country].

Now, just prior  to Todd Muller's victory over Simon Bridges, Hooton put out a piece which appeared *Suspiciously* similar to Muller's remarks in his first speech as National's new Leader.

As it turned out, this was no accident, nor plagiarism - but rather a case of shared authorship. Hooton had been Muller's sotto-voce comms guy for much of his Leadership campaign. Not that I seem to recall this being openly disclosed by Hooton before he started going in to bat for Muller and/or against Bridges, but not my point. Which is, instead, to note that Hooton has a reasonable degree of influence over what the new National Party leader says in public.

Which may, perhaps, explain why Todd Muller started loudly pushing for New Zealand to re-open the border with the People's Republic of China, "concurrently" with our working to re-open the border with our closest neighbour, trading partner, and traditional ally of Australia.

Personally, if we were going to be doing this with anyone else other than Australia, I would have thought that it made more sense to be looking at resuming relatively normal-ish interactions with countries that've actually demonstrably got the virus completely under control ... like Taiwan ... but for obvious reasons, I doubt that Hooton would be keen upon pushing for that.

Anyway, to sum up - we can reasonably infer from Hooton's column that he's pretty pro-PRC. And seems to think that openly standing up for New Zealand's interests when the PRC pushes us to, say, *not* have a lockdown etc. ... is negative conduct to be castigated and eschewed.

He's got a point that there's a potential economic cost associated with such actions, and that Winston's exchanges with the Chinese Embassy here are, as I put it at the time, a case of playing bull-rush in a China-shop. [Which I don't necessarily disagree with doing either, but that is another story for another time]

But going out of his way to insistently denigrate Taiwan as "Chinese Taipei" and roll the PRC's preferred line upon that and other subjects - is going rather further than sensible, pragmatic 'realpolitik' considerations. It's repeating outright propaganda, to the interest of a state other than this one.

And then a few days later, Hooton's highest-profile local client, the new leader of the National Party, starts pushing a similar line around re-engaging with China by opening the border etc. as a top priority. [And certainly, this would help restore the situation the Chinese embassy was pushing for at the start of the crisis - wherein they vocally opposed our closing of the border to the PRC and other countries in the first place]

We have known for some time now that the PRC has made a considered and cogent effort to get its point of view into our politics, courtesy of Prof Brady's "Magic Weapons" paper and other such occurrences.

In light of this, I think it is a legitimate question to ask what degree of influence Hooton and his associates had over Muller's remarks and subsequent (geo)political positioning over the weekend.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

On Matthew Hooton Against Winston Against China

There was something odd about Matthew Hooton's NZ Herald piece this morning castigating Winston for his remarks about the People's Republic of China. Namely, in a piece that was significantly about NZ's stance on Taiwan rejoining the WHO ... he did not use "Taiwan" once. Instead, it was "Chinese Taipei" all the way through - and in a manner that seemed almost calculated to emphasize that name. Which is, if you were unaware, the PRC's preferred way of talking about its "renegade province" on the international stage.

The only time Hooton came anywhere near saying "Taiwan", was when he was comparing ""Taiwanese Splitters"" [in scare-quotes, presumably because he's quite keen to kow-tow not only to the PRC's preferred proper nouns, but also to try and make out that Taiwan's divergence from the PRC isn't really a real thing, either, whatever the nomenclature under which it occurs] ... to the Chatham Islands pretending to break away from New Zealand in a bid to get the rest of us here in Kiwiland empathizing with Beijing upon the matter.

Now I know Hooton's no fan of Jacinda Ardern, but I somewhat suspect that obliquely insinuating she's Chairman Mao circa the late 1940s, is more than a few Bridges too far.

There's legitimate space to discuss Winston's remarks pertaining to the PRC recently - that's one of the benefits of a free and democratic society, we can have free and democratic conversations about what our elected representatives come out with upon all of our collective behalves.

And while I do think that Winston is, in effect, coasting towards mixing metaphors by playing bull-rush in a China shop by openly disclosing that the PRC attempted to get us not to enter Lockdown, or asserting that Beijing wouldn't impose significant trade-penalties upon us for supporting the Australian call for independent inquiry into the origins of Covid-19 etc. ...

... that doesn't mean I think he's in the wrong for doing so. He's standing up for New Zealand's interests and independence.

Hooton's perspective, by contrast, appears to be that letting China have its way - and at least as importantly, being seen to do so - is the best way to support New Zealand's interests. I'm not sure if he's to bothered about the "Independence" side of that equation.

Still, look on the bright-side. If Beijing chooses to make good on Hooton's implied threats to stop accepting our exports, etc. ...

... perhaps that means they'll also stop buying up our politicians and newspaper columnists.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

On National On Labour On Human Rights In (A) Crisis

So let me get this straight. The National Party is objecting to the Government's recent Public Health Response bill ... because of its deeply held stances around the protection of human rights, opposition to warrantless searches, and scrupulously consistent abject horror at the concept of abrogation (or expedition) of democracy.

I believe the canonical response goes: pull the other one, for it hath bells on.

This is the self-same National Party that semi-regularly treated 'human rights', and the Human Rights Commission as a dirty word during its time in Government - indeed, which has continued to oppose the Human Rights Commission's stance on prisoners voting  from Opposition.

This is the self-same National Party that massively expanded Police and spy agencies' powers to engage in warrantless search and surveillance of ordinary Kiwis ... and, as it happens, sided against the Human Rights Commission AGAIN in the process.

This is the self-same National Party that imposed a SuperCity on Auckland against the will of its people (as in, quite literally erased eight democracies and then some at the stroke of a pen), suspended democracy for almost a decade at Environment Canterbury, and rushed HOW much legislation through under Urgency?

National's own track-record is abundantly clear. They didn't care about human rights, or the views of the Human Rights Commission, or protecting you from warrantless search etc., or upholding your democratic-constitutional system ...

... up until it became politically convenient to. In fact, they STILL don't care about these things. They're just far enough from power - and painfully aware that they're going to be that way for some time yet - that they can semi-safely pretend to be up in arms about these concerns, secure in the knowledge that by the time they're in a position to legislate in these areas again, all of this will be a distant memory.

The National Party was quite prepared to actively support the abrogation of human rights, sidelining of HRC, and the deliberate erosion of democratic systems here ... in an ordinary, peace-time situation. In fact, in what was - by  their own accounting of things - some of the best and most prosperous conditions in recent memory.

Who knows WHAT they'd have felt entirely entitled to hack away at were they in the driving seat right now instead of Labour. Hell, they'd probably be flogging off the other half of half a dozen energy companies in order to try and fund a few billion worth of tax-cuts ... and that'd be before they'd even realized there was a Covid-19 Crisis demanding their attention.

Now, I am not, strictly speaking, a huge fan of Labour ordinarily. And I do think that there is legitimate room for both criticism and conversation around this Bill. As well as, of course, congratulation in no small quantity for how they've handled this present Crisis all up.

But I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that the man who proudly boasts of being a "former Crown Prosecutor" who's presently leading the Opposition ... genuinely has an issue with warrentless searches by Police. It'd be interesting to know if this apparent deeply-seated principled belief meant that he'd ever turned down prosecuting a cannabis charge, for instance, because the warrantless search powers we've already got under various legislation (even prior to the legislation he voted for on this subject) were made use of to make the arrest.

I doubt it. I really do.

There's a lot of misinformation flying around about the Public Health Response bill at the moment.

Surely, the most egregious of it is that National has a leg to stand on.

Not least because that would imply that it hath been surgically removed from Simon's mouth.