Spying on the same people who you want to be buying

New Zealand’s involvement in spying on other countries as part of the Five Eye Network represents a form of national schizophrenia. There is a disjuncture between the fervent desire of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Government Communications Security Bureau to be seen as friend of the USA and the passionate drive to open the doors of trade to China and other Asian countries to secure our economic future.

For the record, I am neither supportive of our Free Trade Agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, nor convinced that our national security requires anything like the spy network we are so joyfully immersed in. But even on the basis of the reasoning of those who believe in both, it is obvious that you cannot be both a servant immersed in the activities of the National Security Agency and a close friend to China.

If we pay the cost of the backlash against the Five Eyes Network, the figures are large: China is our second largest trading partner, worth $12.7 billion a year to our economy. Japan is our fourth largest trading partner, worth $6 billion a year. The European Union takes eight percent of our exports and provides 12 percent of our imports. And we are complicit in spying on them all. What if China, for instance, decided they would like to revisit the terms of our Free Trade Agreement in light of our involvement in UKUSA?

It is in the nature of espionage that evidence is hard to come by. However, we do have a history of Industrial espionage: in the 1980s, we used Echelon to spy on the Japanese government’s negotiations on coal prices, which led to New Zealand achieving a favorable deal for its coal exports. We play a dangerous game, and we are not big enough to win this Game of Thrones.

John Key’s assurances that his phone is not being tapped has a distasteful ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ feel to it that suggests he is in the know from his good friend Obama. I can only imagine that will be noted by other leaders who are (finally) outraged at the invasion of their privacy and national security by the Five Eyes Network. Surely Key cannot believe that his hokey semi-rural style and blue-rinse-charming smile will cut through the cold reception we may receive outside of our little club of spies.

If our government was operating in the national interest, they would already be reviewing our current involvement in Five Eyes and seeking to distance themselves privately and publicly from the activities of the USA. But our government operates in the interest of the USA, because MFAT and the GCSB are run by people who are immersed in the USA worldview. This is becoming a liability; unfortunately I don’t think we are ready to carry the cost of that liability. The Fonterra scandal was an education in the narrowness of our markets, our brands, international perception of our country, and that was a health issue. A national security scandal in which the NZ brand is tied to the sinking fortunes of the USA could be far worse.

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