N.Z. in lock down: DAY 37

Yesterday was DAY 37 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

It has been interesting to look at the news from around the world these last few weeks and observe the hugely varied reactions of politicians and the public to COVID19. The diversity of reactions and responses has been quite profound. From the grim unity of New Zealanders going into lockdown to the increasingly violent division in the United States; from the quiet success of Taiwan to the flat out denialism over taking Brazil and some third world despots, the variation in the reactions and subsequent responses have been startling.

I will not concentrate on New Zealand so much as that is well documented and now receiving high praise from around the world, warranted or not. Instead I will look at some of New Zealand’s major international partners and where those partnership might go in the post-COVID19 environment.

A few days ago I examined the Australian response to COVID19 and noted that it is doing per head of capita, slightly better than New Zealand. The governments of both countries are talking to each other about how reopening the borders might happen, which is good. However, there are other nations that New Zealand and Australia should start talking to about an extended bubble. Taiwan is one of these nations. The island nation east of China has been one of the true success stories in the global campaign against COVID19. It has had just 429 confirmed cases, of which 324 have recovered with 6 deaths. No new cases have happened since 26 April. New Zealand and Taiwan have good relations and share similar democratic principles. South Korea is another one that could potentially be invited to join the bubble. It has 10772 cases of which 9072 have recovered, with new case rate per day in the single digits.

I now examine the risks posed to our small Pasifika neighbours like Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and our Melanesian neighbours in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. These little island nations might have dodged a bullet by being remote and not having large numbers of tourists arriving like Tonga, Fiji and Samoa do. All of these islands have weak health and social welfare systems, which means a potential outbreak in any of them could be absolutely catastrophic. The last serious pandemic to affect them would have been the 1918-1920 influenza, which was transported around the world by ships carrying soldiers returning from the battlefields of Europe. A ship that was carrying infected New Zealand soldiers was allowed to dock in Apia during that time and 7,000 Samoans or about 1/5 of Samoa’s population then died.

It is not just these small nations that could be devastated. It is also the even smaller territories such as Wallis and Futuna, Niue, the Cook Islands, Tokelau, Kiribati, Palau and other tiny land masses could potentially have their entire populations wiped out. Because of the great risks posed to these nations, no one should be surprised that they were quick to slam their borders shut.

New Zealand and Australia need to take charge of aid to these little nations. They cannot afford the lack of transparency and the potential for agenda setting that goes with Chinese aid. Nor can we rely on American aid any for them any longer in the age of Donald Trump. Given the size of some of the smaller territories like Wallis and Futuna, a sum of say $200,000 directed through the Red Cross would be quite substantial.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 25

Yesterday was DAY 25 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

I monitor a range of media, political, economic, environmental and social commentators on Twitter. They include columnists such as conservative columnist Matthew Hooton and socialist commentator Chris Trotter, China specialist Anne-Marie Brady and a host of others.

Over the last 3 1/2 weeks, it has been really interesting watching the commentary flow about how New Zealand is doing, how we compare to other nations. But one thing that everyone seemed to have overlooked was how are our little Pasifika neighbours going.

It turns out, very well.

Last night Professor Brady, who works at University of Canterbury, had an idea on Twitter that I quite like about how New Zealand’s border might initially reopen. Professor Brady noted that the vast majority of small Pacific Island nations are clear of COVID19. In this she is thinking of – but not limited to:

  • Fiji
  • Samoa
  • Tonga
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Vanuatu
  • Solomon Islands

Her vision is of a small islands super bubble. Other commentators on the thread thought that if we do that, New Zealand’s role would be to ensure that the bubble is not breached by anyone with the virus, which would be done by requiring them to quarantine at N.Z. facilities before they travelled to anywhere else in the bubble.

Due to the heavy reliance of many of these places on tourism, but also recognizing that outsiders carrying COVID19 could potentially completely destroy the smallest of these states, this would be the most fool proof way. The United States is too risky by simple virtue of their lack of organization in defeating COVID19 and Autstralia, whilst having a falling rate of cases, has in effect detuned from its South Pacific responsibilities.

Even if this idea does not fly, this is a great opportunity for New Zealand to steal a lead in the South Pacific by offering to help them build up their health sectors. An investment in that could be looked as both an investment in their well being, but also an investment in New Zealand’s national security, by helping to ensure that these nations are not crippled in the future.


How New Zealand could be attacked

The following is a purely hypothetical scenario in which militants attack a public target in New Zealand. It is constructed on the understanding there is as much danger closer to New Zealand as there is overseas and that failing states present an opportunity for national security threats to evolve in the South Pacific.

The Solomon Islands are in chaos. The Government has collapsed amid sectarian tensions. The rule of law extends no further than Honiara and large rural centres. Militia’s dominating their own patches have established themselves. A healthy trade of light weapons including rifles, rocket propelled grenade launches and hand guns is flourishing. Neighbouring Papua New Guinea is also very weak, and unable or unwilling to stem the flow of illegal goods from Irian Jaya. Neighbouring countries look on in alarm, but none have the resources or the international standing necessary to carry out any sort of intervention. Human rights abuses are rampant as is organized crime. Australia and New Zealand are busy fighting a foreign foe. Their intelligence assets are not focussed on the South Pacific and reports detailing potential attacks sit untouched on the desks of officials on both sides of the Tasman Sea.

On the surface it looks like just a defunct nation with no working legal system or law enforcement. Underneath the surface something more sinister is happening. An unknown militant group with international support has established contacts with criminal elements in the Solomon Islands, looking for a way into New Zealand without raising the attention of the authorities. They have a large amount of money, are well resourced and unbeknownst they have false New Zealand passports. Contacts in Wellington and Hamilton are going to provide them with housing and transport assistance. The plan is to acquire a large amount of explosives, as well automatic weapons with a view to attacking a well known public site when the maximum number of people are in the area.

As the planning progresses, the targets are narrowed down. A rugby fixture in Hamilton during the Super 15 season is one possible target. A railway station in peak hour commute is another. Possible targets for individual attackers to hit are also being drawn up. The individuals carrying out the attacks will have access to semi-automatic weapons and explosive charges. At no point do the neighbours notice anything suspicious – quiet, polite. The attackers seem like ordinary people, albeit perhaps a bit aloof.

Philosophically the attackers contempt for life is maximum. Society at large is poisoned. Only a bloody retribution will help to solve the problem. They want to cause as many deaths as possible, do as much damage as possible and prolong the resulting emergency for as long as they can. Maximum chaos is the order of the day.

Eventually the day of the attack arrives. The attackers are dressed to blend into the crowd, and look no different from any of the many people that they walk past. No suspicions appear to be raised. Security at the target site is no more stringent than any of the days spent observing it. The time has come, the hour is here and New Zealanders are none the wiser. Lax trans-Tasman intelligence co-operation will now pay a very high price.