By Olivia Pierson
Last week a friend and I trailed along to a public lecture at Auckland’s Massey University given by Professor Rouben Azizian, who is Massey’s illustrious Director for Defence and Security Studies. He was co-speaking with his Canadian colleague, Dr. Marc Lanteigne, a senior lecturer and specialist on China and East Asia. The topic up for examination was New Zealand’s role in the Asia Pacific region in an ‘increasingly unstable world’ (that’s code for a world with Trump as U.S President).
I had the small hope that we would not be subjected to a whole lot of Trump Derangement Syndrome, but alas, of course we were. All university professors these days are ‘rattled globalists’ whose agenda has been.. well, rattled by two major 2016 events: the election of President Donald J Trump and the Brexit referendum in the U.K. They often reference these events, as Professor Azizian and Dr Lanteigne did on at least four occasions in the short space of 1.5 hours.
Professor Azizian is a Russian Armenian who has had a long diplomatic and academic career which started in Moscow. He has written and/or edited a mix of around 30 articles, chapters and books on geopolitical diplomacy and security. He is widely respected as being extremely knowledgeable on diplomatic/security issues in the Asia Pacific region from Russia to Nepal, from Fiji to North Korea and from Indonesia to China - and all else betwixt.
His two main areas of concern were the increasing closeness of the relationship between Russia and China - two massive nations who are both currently on expansion missions: Russia into Ukraine, China into the South China Sea. Also of concern is the looming crisis of North Korea going nuclear and the conflict between the Kim regime and the Trump administration. Professor Azizian’s theme for the evening was that New Zealand could step up to be more vocal about these geopolitical problems instead of waiting until we were officially asked to contribute - given that we and Australia are central to these issues because we are located in the heart of the South Pacific.
Dr. Marc Lanteigne spoke about the mysterious China Belt & Road Initiative and the heavy investments in trade route infrastructure by air, sea and railroad now set up through China, Russia and the Pacific, an initiative that New Zealand, unlike Australia, is now officially a participant as the route has expanded into the South Pacific region, due in part to our free trade agreement with China. Australia has refrained from signing off on this initiative, preferring instead to be more closely allied to the United States rather than Asia (and Kiwis like to imagine that Ozzies are dumber than us).
Dr. Lanteigne informed us that the Belt and Road Initiative will be the main item on the agenda at the end of October 2017, when the highly secretive Party Congress (ruling communist party) gathers in lockdown in Beijing - a congress held every five years to discuss military, economic and defence issues facing China. It would be safe to conclude that the other main item on the agenda will be North Korea (that the United States has strong armed China into finally dealing with).
One can only imagine the impact on China of the spanner now thrown into the works by President Trump’s upping the ante on North Korea with talk about a military solution!
Professor Azizian pointed out, as if it were a bad thing, that in his recent and very statesmanlike address to the United Nations, “President Trump used the term sovereignty 21 times”. Ye gods! Aside from who the little brain was doing the counting, since when can nations in some sort of union talk to each other with any sincerity without the concept of sovereignty being important? By way of analogy, that would be like individual humans talking about their problems with a relationship counsellor without being able to reference the concept of “self”.
Hence my previous comment about university lecturers being “rattled globalists”.
When it came to the lecture’s Q & A allocation, I found the questions from the audience to be of sound quality, but the answers were weak and evasive. They were, however, telling of where Dr. Lanteigne and Professor Azizian actually stood on some of these matters (they were futile in their attempts to not let it show).
After our lecturers made a pathetically flimsy case for peaceful negotiations with North Korea being “the only way forward despite Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric” (meaning the world just has to accept a nuclear armed North Korea), one elderly gentleman asked if a reunification of Korea might be on the agenda - he didn’t say clearly whose agenda, but both Dr. Lanteigne and Professor Azizian denied that this was even a possibility and certainly not in Kim Jong-un’s mind. This answer absolutely flies in the face of many experts who write extensively about North Korea and South East Asia, like author and commentator Gordon Chang, who wrote in September of this year:
“The overarching goal of the Kim family—and the core of its legitimacy—is the reunification of the Korean nation under its rule, something the United States would have to resist. Therefore, the North Koreans could start a chain of events that leads to conflict and perhaps the world’s first nuclear exchange. “ [Gordon Chang, 8th September 2017]
To read more of Gordon Chang’s outstanding commentary on China and North Korea, go here to the World Affairs Journal.
If North Korea becomes a fully fledged nuclear power, the Korean peninsula may well be reunified but only on the terms of the brutal Northern regime. Remember the reunification of Vietnam with its death toll of millions and its 2.5 million refugees? Does anyone want a repeat of that, only this time with nukes in play? This possibility is what Trump is trying to avoid, as well as trying to avoid having a North Korean intercontinental nuclear missile having the capability to hit the United States homeland.
Dr Lanteigne and Professor Azizian gave the distinct impression that North Korea has never been a problem until Trump came along and made it one. Not once did either of these learned men ever mention the epic failure of President Obama, President Bush, President Clinton or President Bush Senior to address in any meaningful sense the aggressive actions, threats and intentions of the North Korean regime. But Azizian did take the time to address Trump’s latest tweet about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “wasting his time talking with North Korea” as if the tweet were so terrible.
Of course neither lecturer ever once mentioned the disgusting, cruel and unnecessary torture and death of Otto Warmbier, the young American boy arrested in North Korea for the alleged crime of taking a poster off the wall in a hotel - kidnapped and arrested on President Obama’s feeble watch, then tortured into chronic brain damage and delivered back to his parents to die in Ohio on President Trump’s watch.
How the hell was this naked North Korean aggression toward an American citizen a result of “Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric” when it happened during Barack Obama’s presidency?
If these lectures are a way to try to lure the public to come to Massey University to enrol in this course, nothing could be more off-putting. If I want to hear globalist anti-Trump sentiment 24 hours a day all I have to do is tune in to CNN, Al Jazeera, the BBC or NZ TV1 and TV3, not go and fork out thousands of dollars a year to be lectured at university level with this unintelligent, irrelevant bias.
Massey University should perhaps try to lure professors and specialists who are well versed in American history and American exceptionalism if they want to stay relevant and educate people to be effective in a changing world.
It is worth making the point that New Zealand would do well to form stronger ties with the country who saved our bacon during the Second World War - when the rubber hit the road, it was an Asian Empire who sought to make us subjects and the American Republic which fought for our survival at great loss to themselves until they won the war. To opt for closer ties to communist China and oligarchic Russia at the expense of our ties with the liberty oriented United States - our real ally - does not say very much for the kind of democracy we as New Zealanders like to think we are. Ideology actually does matter when it comes to close alliances in my view.
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