Having ranted about tourism last week I am recanting, but only a little. I like it when my friends come as tourists, I just don’t want everyone else! Clearly that’s hypocritical – everyone else wants their friends to be able to visit Queenstown, or New Zealand, not just my friends. OK, I will allow everyone in New Zealand’s friends and family to come visit, but you can only land upon our shores if you have a resident here that you are specifically coming to visit. How about that as a method of limiting tourist numbers? I reckon it is at least as sound as any idea the government has come up with given that I haven’t heard them come up with any!
Of course tourism has more benefits than seeing friends and family, or making money. A critical benefit is increasing mutual global understanding through exposure to different people and different ways of being. Given the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia, mutual global understanding seems like a very worthwhile goal. We have received two different messages from Russian friends recently. Greg and Anna now live in rural Slovenia (where we hope to visit soon if we can rally ourselves to the now novel concept of overseas travel, although that is another story). They are absolutely despondent about Russia’s actions and horrified that their erstwhile country would invade a sovereign state under what appear to be stretched pretences at best, false pretences at worst.
Irina, on the other hand, still lives in Russia. She sent me a message saying that there was a lot of false reporting about the war together with a link to a Telegram page that is actively reporting on the Ukraine war from a Russian perspective. She also noted that they were all for peace but not with Nazis or fascists. I struggled to understand her message, which was relatively cryptic compared to Greg and Anna’s outpouring. Presumably she was referring to the Russian claim that the Ukraine invasion is to protect the local ethnic Russian population of Donbas from “extreme nationalists, neo-Nazis and fascists” who have seized the government in Kyiv. Volodymyr Zelenskyy (President of Ukraine) is Jewish so is relatively unlikely to be a neo-Nazi. There are indeed neo-Nazi factions on the rise in Ukraine, as in a considerable number of European nations, but they don’t justify Putin’s justification of the war.
I also looked at the Telegram information for which Irina sent the link. It is dominated by specific reports of how Russian troops are trying to assist Ukraine citizens to leave and also bringing humanitarian aid into Ukraine, while Ukraine troops apparently are preventing their citizens moving through safe corridors and blocking humanitarian assistance. It is completely impossible to tell what news is accurate and what inaccurate at this level of detail without insider knowledge. One can be reasonably certain, based on the conflicting evidence around the Wellington protests in New Zealand, that there is far more to what is going on that is portrayed by conventional media. And if I couldn’t be sure of the story in my country, I can be completely sure that I can know little of what is happening in Ukraine. One can also be reasonably certain that, in a war setting, both sides carry out actions that are reprehensible.
Russia is, of course, not the first or only country to invade another state under false pretences. Remember the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the USA, justified by the claim that Saddam Hussein was commanding weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)? It only took 17 years and the deaths of around 4,400 American soldiers and between 100,000 and 1,000,000 Iraqis for the USA to pull out of Iraq. This contrasts with the US knowing by 2004 that there were no WMDs in Iraq. While George Bush claimed Iraq was a gathering threat, an internal US Iraq Survey Group reported to the US Congress that Iraq represented a diminishing threat. Oops, we invaded a country under false pretences, but they are still dangerous so we aren’t pulling out any time soon.
I don’t remember widespread international condemnation of the USA, impounding of American billionaire’s assets, or trade embargoes. Do you? This worries me greatly. We accept that our ally invades another country under false pretences and doesn’t pull out once is 100% clear that the pretences are false. But we can’t accept that a country we are not so fond of invades another country wrongly. How come the double standard?
Is ‘How come?’ simply that many of us have been to America, met many Americans, have learned about America past and present, have many American friends, have Americans in our families and generally feel we understand the country (though I would have to say that my experience of living in Wyoming in the 1990s left me feeling like it was an alien state!)?
In contrast, we know relatively little about Russia who has generally been on ‘the other side’ from NZ and its allies. During WWII, The Soviet Union (formed in 1929, with Russia as its dominant state) was on the side of ‘the Allies’ after preliminarily siding with Germany but changing their position when Hitler attached them. After WWII the situation shifted markedly. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was created in 1949, on the basis of that the Soviet Union represented an active threat to Europe and North America. The ‘Cold War’ was the long period (1949 – 1991) of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the USA which only ended when the Soviet Union broke up. There were no major conflicts between the two superpowers, despite worldwide fears of nuclear catastrophe. However both powers supported regional or ‘proxy’ wars and also sought to outdo each other through propaganda campaigns, espionage and embargoes, and in sports events and technological competitions such as the Space Race.
As a gross generalisation, we stopped liking Russia as a country after WWII and disliked them more after living through the Cold War. ‘Russia’ tends to be used synonymously (and confusingly) with the Soviet Union, because Russia was the dominant state. If we were more intertwined with Russia might we like their actions better? If we were less intertwined with the USA might we disapprove of their actions more vociferously?
It’s probably the wrong time to go advertising New Zealand tourism in Russia in order to advance mutual understanding. China is another country with whom it would be advantageous for us to have more understanding given it is now considered the #2 superpower, having pushed Russia off its perch. And we have strongly forwarded trade with China in the last decade. Should we promote reciprocal post-pandemic tourism with China because the only hope of reaching country-wide understanding is through growing interconnections between our peoples? Unfortunately that market won’t be reviving until China steps back from its no-COVID policy. One wonders what the political motivations might be for that continuing stance.
Let’s really hope our degree of understanding and liking of China is not tested by China deciding to invade Taiwan. The risk of such an invasion will be affected by the global reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Taiwan considers itself an independent country. Taiwan separated from China at the end of WWII when the nationalist Kuomintang fled there as the Communist Party led by Mao Zedong took over mainland China. However, China considers that Taiwan is still part of China. Tension between the two countries is supposedly at its worst in 40 years. Taiwan is strategically important both geographically, and given that is manufactures 65% of the world’s semiconductors (used in electronic devices).
If China does take active steps to control the Taiwanese government, New Zealand will be in the invidious position of deciding whether to embargo trade with a country that takes one third of our total exports and from whom we import $13B worth of goods annually. Such a decision would be under global scrutiny, with a steely gaze coming from the USA. We can only hope that China does not choose to smash economist’s murky crystal balls through military action.
PS Mutual understanding mechanism or not, I still don’t want eleven million tourists a year back in New Zealand because local tolerance has its numeric limits.