Key walking a tricky path with tilt to US

19:25, Jun 23 2014

It's nice that John Key gets along with Barack Obama. New Zealand is a tiny country and it will always struggle to be noticed in the big capitals of the world. It will benefit from being noticed by the most powerful man on Earth. It could benefit even more from Key's friendly relationship with Obama.

New Zealand is seeking a seat on the Security Council for roughly the same reason: to get noticed and to make its voice heard in the wider world. It is under no illusion that it will have much influence on the council, a peculiar body that mixes the genuinely powerful with some of the middle-power relics of a previous age (Britain, France). But it is better to be at the table than not.

Key's relaxed personality has no doubt helped to cement his friendship with Obama. Their shared interest in golf has helped them bond. And of course the thaw in the nuclear freeze between the two countries has been proceeding now for 20 years.

It's important not to sentimentalise this. The United States is much friendlier to New Zealand now, partly because it is wary of China and it wants allies and friends. The rise of China made Washington see the relationship with New Zealand in a different light.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership talks will test the relationship. The free trade deal will be no good to New Zealand unless it provides much better access for our agricultural goods to the American and other markets. Similarly, a deal that sacrifices Pharmac's powers or gives American corporations excessive powers in the New Zealand marketplace will also be unacceptable.

The question remains: will Key's Government uphold these interests or will it partially or wholly sacrifice them? There is simply no way of answering this. The Key Government has been wholly secretive and it seems we won't know the answer till some sort of deal is sealed. That will give little comfort to New Zealand voters.


Key has also been markedly secretive about security matters, and it took a journalist to reveal his visit to the National Security Agency while in Washington. The NSA has clearly abused its powers and become the world's snoop. Its absurdly wide powers of interception mean that any New Zealander who uses the internet is likely to be on record in Washington.

This is intolerable but on this issue Key is as dutiful towards the United States as any National prime minister since World War II. He has decided, it appears, that the Five Eyes deal is beyond criticism. This is not a heroic position. Fortunately for him, few New Zealanders give the issue any thought.

New Zealand now has to negotiate a path between the US and our other major international patron, China. Presumably this will become even trickier as tensions rise between the superpowers. It is striking that in Washington Key joined a somewhat aggressive American declaration about issues in the South China Sea. This is an argument in which New Zealand has no interest and Key has decided on this question to tilt to America's side.

Which raises the wider question. Just how far is the Key Government prepared to go in tacking towards Washington?

The Dominion Post