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The Five Eyes Alliance is an intelligence exchange agreement between five English-speaking democracies: the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It evolved during the Cold War as a mechanism for monitoring the Soviet Union and sharing confidential information. It is often described as the most successful intelligence alliance in the world. But recently he suffered an embarrassing setback.
Four of the members jointly condemned China’s treatment of its Uyghur population in Xinjiang province. They also expressed concern over China’s de facto military takeover of the South China Sea, its suppression of democracy in Hong Kong and its threatening moves towards Taiwan, which China has vowed to “take back”. by 2049. However, one country has chosen against China: New Zealand.
Surprisingly, perhaps, for a nation that prides itself on respect for human rights, New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has refused to join in this Western condemnation of Beijing, saying “that she felt uncomfortable “expanding the role of the alliance by putting pressure on China in this regard.” path. Although New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted Monday that its differences with China were becoming “more difficult to reconcile”, the country still prefers to continue its own bilateral relations with Beijing.
Chinese state media have done a lot, talking about a rift between the two neighbors and allies, Australia and New Zealand.
China is New Zealand’s largest export market; New Zealand depends on China for almost 30% of its exports, mainly dairy products. Australia too, but the two neighbors of the Antipodes clearly see Chinese policy in a very different light.
The Australian federal government in Canberra vetoed a major Chinese investment in the state of Victoria that was to be part of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, its growing acquisition of economic assets around the world.
The result: China imposed damaging trade sanctions on Australia.
As the trade war between the two countries escalates, Australia’s wine exports to China are said to have fallen 96% from the first quarter of 2020 compared to the first quarter of this year, from 325 million Australian dollars (181 million pounds sterling) to only 12 million Australian dollars (6.6 million pounds sterling). New Zealand, on the other hand, was rewarded by Beijing with ever closer trade relations.
So what exactly does all of this have to do with information sharing? Very little is the answer.
Last year, officials of the Five Eyes alliance speculated that since the five nations broadly share the same worldview, that view would apply to China as well. In May 2020, the alliance agreed to expand its role from security and intelligence to a more public stance on respect for human rights and democracy.
In November, the alliance criticized the Chinese government for stifling democracy in Hong Kong when Beijing introduced new laws disqualifying elected lawmakers in the former British colony. A Chinese government spokesperson reacted angrily, mocking the Five Eyes alliance, saying that “those who dare to undermine China’s sovereignty will have their own eyes stung.”
Now, six months later, New Zealand’s departure from the party line on China has meant the newly expanded role of the Five Eyes appears to have ended, prompting some to wonder if the alliance is in trouble. .
But that would be an exaggeration. It was a question of politics, not intelligence. New Zealand is not leaving the alliance, it is only making a distinction between the two. In retrospect, it was an excess of what Five Eyes was meant to be: sharing secrets.
There will almost certainly be members of the New Zealand intelligence community who will feel embarrassed to see this unfold so publicly. By far, the majority of intelligence shared within the alliance comes from Washington. The second largest contributor is the UK, with contributions from GCHQ, MI6 and MI5. The contributions of Canada and Australia are considerably smaller.
For New Zealand, a 2017 intelligence review found that for every 99 pieces of intelligence New Zealand received through the alliance, it only contributed one. So New Zealand would clearly have a lot to lose if they leave.
In conclusion, will the alliance transform into a unified diplomatic or political pressure group? Not likely at this point. Is its existence as an alliance for the sharing of intelligence among allies in difficulty? No.