February 7th, 2008

From my Navy days what I remember about New Zealand was that it was wouldn’t let the USS Bainbridge make a port call because we were nuclear powered and might have had nuclear weapons on board. New Zealand had a strict No Nukes policy. And while I would have like to have visited, I understood their environmental stance.

But that was 30 years ago.

From The Nelson Mail:

Every now and then, however, something happens and the public gaze returns. Five months ago, the country’s biggest employer, the army, ordered that heads be cracked to suppress an uprising led by Myanmar’s revered Buddhist monks. Condemnation was resolute and surprisingly universal – even China expressed alarm.

New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned that the whole world was watching the country’s “illegitimate and repressive regime” and would hold it to account. The age of impunity in neglecting and overriding human rights was over, he declared. For the new leader of a country with a lingering interest in the affairs of the former colony it administered initially as a province of India, Mr Brown was talking tough. But, another day, another crisis, and the preoccupation with Myanmar soon waned.

Now, it is back in focus, in a very small way – at least in this country – after revelations that a state-owned business has enterprisingly landed a deal helping to build cellphone towers. Government broadcast and telecommunications business Kordia has almost completed an $80,000 deal with the pariah state’s military rulers.

I still haven’t figure out what the oppressive generals want with a cellular network but hey, they steal the dollars, they get to spend them.

However, business has no conscience, [Boy, is that ever true. JH] and Mr McCully would know well that New Zealand has no economic or trade sanctions with either Fiji or Myanmar. As someone who no doubt fancies his chances of becoming foreign affairs minister this year, is that what he will be pressing for? Would he draw up his own list of countries that New Zealand businesses, state-owned or otherwise, will be barred from trading with, outside of any United Nations hit-list?

Prime Minister Helen Clark says the contract is “probably” a positive force for democracy in Myanmar, because communication with the outside world can have an important role in ending repression. That assumes the use of the cellphone towers will be generally available to the public, which requires quite a stretch.

Probably a positive force? The only part of the deal that is positive has to do with the bank accounts of the no-conscience businesses involved.

Was New Zealand a better nation when it wouldn’t let the likes of me ashore?

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