Well positioned for change

While Southland rocked away with the Gold Guitar Awards, the launching of a new pavlova western, Good for Nothing, the trauma and drama of finding a replacement for the deputy mayor, the intellectual stimulation of the Rotary Book Sale, international trading relations with China are rapidly becoming established, writes Tim Shadbolt in Southern Focus.

New Zealand is in a perfect position when it comes to trade with China. We were the first Western nation in the world to establish a free-trade relationship with China and we were also the first Western country to establish an embassy in Beijing.

In February Prime Minister John Key launched the New Zealand Inc China Strategy, which also aims at establishing trade.

Dunedin has a sister city relationship with Shanghai, which was established by its former mayor Peter Chin. Invercargill has sent five delegates to China in the past two months.

China will, without a doubt, become the next big superpower as both America and Europe suffer rapid economic decline. For most of the 19th century, China was one of the weakest and poorest nations on Earth. It had a strict isolationist policy and didn't want to trade with anyone. In Europe, however, there was a strong demand for Chinese tea, silk and porcelain.

This created a huge trade imbalance, so Britain decided to export opium from their colony in India.

This dramatically reversed the imbalance. China's emperor responded with a "Just say no" educational programme and opened hospitals for addicts, but this had little effect.

The emperor then wrote a letter to Queen Victoria begging for intervention, but by then India was making huge profits on opium so she refused to intervene.

China then launched a police crackdown on dealers and traders. Britain responded with the first Opium Wars.

In June 1840, two convoys of warships and 14,000 marines invaded several coastal ports and re-established opium trading posts.

Again, China tried to restrict the trade so in 1860 Britain launched the second Opium War, forcing the Emperor to make opium legal and to allow in Western missionaries.

In some ways, it could be argued that all this was China's fault for refusing to adapt to modern science and industry.

When Commander Matthew Perry sailed into Japan's Tokyo Bay and his American warships engaged in this gunboat diplomacy, the Japanese gave up fighting with samurai swords and armed themselves with modern weapons.

By 1905 Japan's navy destroyed a Russian fleet.

China has taken a long time to understand the power of free trade and military hardware, but it is catching up really fast.

I imagine that if New Zealand sent a couple of navy fishing patrol vessels off the coast of Shanghai and opened fire with 303s until China agreed to buy Kiwi cannabis the outcome would be rather different to the easy victories of the Opium War. In fact, today we are probably dealing with historical karma as China sends boatloads of methamphetamine to Western nations around the world. That's why I enjoy history. Everything is constantly changing.

China invented gunpowder.

It believed in Confucius' policies of peace and harmony and used it for fireworks.

When the warring nations of Europe heard about gunpowder, they built a steel tube, stuck a little gunpowder and a lead ball down the tube and conquered the world. So, watch out China. Here comes Invercargill.

» Tim Shadbolt is the mayor of Invercargill.

The Southland Times