The foreign affairs representatives of the Five Eyes security alliance have just delivered their predictably distorted views on the recent Legislative Council election. They have been collectively browbeating China and its Hong Kong Special Administrative Region about “actions that undermine Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy”.
Such “actions” were rampant from June 2019 for month after month. The Five Eyes alliance expressed zero concern then. In fact, its members regularly supported the black-shirt insurrection, with the United States now publicly confirmed as one of the financiers of aspects of that terrible insurgency. Brazen or shameless — take your pick.
There is, however, some interesting background to this recent announcement, which is something of a first for the Five Eyes.
The Five Eyes security alliance was originally “Two Eyes” — the United Kingdom and the US. Their code-breakers had established a most useful working relationship during World War II, in accordance with the Atlantic Charter, agreed in 1941, shortly before the US entered the war. In March 1946, a secret treaty was agreed between the UK and US, in effect creating the Two Eyes, which linked the work of the US National Security Agency and the UK Government Communications Headquarters.
Canada joined this arrangement in 1948. Australia and New Zealand joined in 1956. The Five Eyes alliance, as we know it today, comprises the five leading English-speaking allies from World War II. This alliance has served a very important role for its members by providing an enhanced, joint security framework.
In 2013, leaked documents provided by Edward Snowden (who once worked for the NSA) revealed that Five Eyes alliance members did not just spy in foreign parts but spied on one another’s citizens and then shared collected information with each other. This provided a handy way around domestic national security law restrictions, which hindered members’ spying directly on their own citizens.
The alliance also helped orchestrate, through security-service collaboration, covert political intervention in foreign countries, which included the overthrow of governments in Iran in 1953 (by the UK and US) and Chile in 1973 (by the US and Australia).
More recently, Canberra and Washington grew increasingly attracted by the potential benefits of using the Five Eyes alliance to apply a level of synchronized geopolitical pressure on China. That is, Canberra and Washington got to thinking how the Five Eyes security-protection platform could be developed to launch some level of recurrent, coordinated Five Eyes political response on certain contentious issues as part of the now high-volume Sinophobia project led by the US.
New Zealand differed from Australia and the US on this issue. It valued its membership in Five Eyes — as a security alliance. But, as The Guardian reported, in April, New Zealand disagreed about using this security alliance to apply political pressure to China by issuing joint geopolitical claims. New Zealand argued, cogently, that any collective political-pressuring should be done outside of this alliance, which is expressly concerned with security protection.
Soon after, energetically unsympathetic reporting was directed at this New Zealand response by signed-up, China-thumping media outfits like the Voice of America, CNN and the Australian version of the news program 60 Minutes. This strongly suggested that significant pushback against this New Zealand stance was being applied by Washington and Canberra.
We cannot tell for sure what other pressures were applied to Wellington “behind the shelter shed”, as they say in Australia. However, like all nations worldwide, New Zealand is struggling to control its own version of the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps there was some suggestion that offshore assistance could be more swiftly made ready if Wellington got into step with this bright idea of adding a heavy-duty, political-pressure group function to the central security role of Five Eyes. Or attention may have been drawn to a small dark cloud beginning to form over New Zealand’s continuing membership of the alliance.
Whatever the pressure, the price of failing to support the new party line on ramping up the role of the alliance was made clear. New Zealand has joined in this fresh venture into overt political badgering by the Five Eyes alliance.
In fact, it had to be made to comply: How would it have looked if just “Four Eyes” swaggered forth to deliver this primary, scolding political lecture? “Where is New Zealand?” everyone would have asked.
The Washington-led hyper-project to contain the rise of China is relying on increasingly desperate measures to prosecute a dismal program. Now a very long-term security alliance has had its fundamental role twisted so that it can be put to work as part of this ultimately futile mission. Janan Ganesh reminded us recently, in the Financial Times that “the US is not responsible for China’s rise”. So how can it contain a rising nation four times its size which reached “escape velocity” well over a decade ago? America and its chums need to grow up. Don’t hold your breath.
The author is a visiting professor in the Law Faculty of the University of Hong Kong.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.