Facing a global challenge 

Al Gillespie and Carey Church

New Zealand is in ‘unchartered waters’ with the dual threat of a more assertive China making us more exposed economically than ever before, and the precarious challenges presented by the Russia/Ukraine conflict.

Speaking in Cambridge last week, University of Waikato law professor Al Gillespie said while New Zealand has no ‘boots on the ground’ in Ukraine, its provision of weapons, training of Ukrainian troops in Britain, and assistance in resettling displaced Ukrainians means this country has never been this close to war with Russia.

Prof Gillespie was addressing guests at a U3A meeting at Te Awa Lifecare.  He spoke on ‘Challenging Times: The Ukraine, the Pacific, and Extremism’.

The multiple challenges presented by the war in Ukraine include the risk of a nuclear response from Russian president Vladimir Putin to increased international sanctions, widespread famine and malnutrition sparked by the conflict, the sabotage of gas flows to Europe, and the inability of the United Nations to act against Russia means a global response is needed to change the current dynamic.

A solution, he said, lay somewhere between a global collective response and pressure applied to Putin from within Russia.

Gillespie’s area of specialisation is in international law related to war, civil liberties and the environment.  He has served on several international delegations, including Unesco, is an adviser to the New Zealand government, is the author of 17 books and the recipient of numerous international and New Zealand awards.

He described the Russia/Ukraine war, and Russia’s actions on the ground, as illegal in international terms and said it was important to look back to prior the February 2022 invasion to better understand the current situation.  He cited Russia’s earlier aggression in Chechnya, Georgia and Syria, and the shooting down of the Malaysian passenger aircraft MH17 over Ukraine in 2020.

The world was dealing with an opponent who has not only ‘not lost’, and expects his opponents to surrender, but is also able to exercise its unbridled power of veto over any United Nations’ Security Council action.

“We have not seen a crisis like this in Europe for many decades.  Putin is using weapons that are illegal under international law,” he said.

Much of the threat to New Zealand today is attributable to the way international trade has changed.

He said New Zealand’s trade deal with China, amounting to 34 percent of our exports and linking $30 billion to one trade partner, was cause for concern. Even with the inclusion of billion-dollar trade deals with Britain and Europe, and a revised trans-Pacific TPPA deal on the table, New Zealand was increasingly at risk.

While China is a great economic partner for New Zealand, he said consideration must be given to issues around Taiwan, human rights questions and China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, China’s disregard for promises made around the handing back of Hong Kong, and its moves to woo Pacific Island nations.

“We need to take these things seriously,” he said.

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