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01 September 2002

Anti-Americanism and us


One of the great benefits of travel - especially when you're well away from the normal tourist routes - is that you get a new perspective on the world.

A successful tour of Xinjiang, China and the Altai Republic, Western Siberia, has done exactly that for WHAM. So please forgive me for taking a helicopter view of the world we saw, listened to and read about.

One of the strongest impressions we've come home with, was the ever-present jealousy and low-key hostility to things American. We're not talking about raving nutters or revolutionaries here - just the middle class people we spoke to.

The prosperity of New Zealand and its export farming industries depends on a global commitment to free and fair trade. It also depends on global peace and stability. As the only superpower, the United States in effect underwrites world peace and world trade.

A world reaction against things American - especially if it took root politically - therefore poses a serious risk to the prosperity of a trading nation like New Zealand.

There's a tendency in our mass media, and it's one which the United States Government fosters, to paint those countries which are actively anti-American as rogue states. Even part of an axis of evil.

The leaderships in North Korea and Iraq deserve these emotive descriptions. But what about pro-western leaders who are corrupt and routinely abuse human rights? Are they any less evil?

Most of the nasty governments on Amnesty International's list are pro-western. And far from stirring up anti-American attitudes among their people, many of these regimes do their best to suppress it.

It's a task that becomes more difficult by the day. America's one-sided attitude to free trade creates resentment everywhere. As do its moralising sermons. Then there's the worst canker of all - Palestine - where United States policies are driven by a short-sighted domestic political agenda.

Many Chinese have private gripes about their government but they're staunchly nationalistic. The same goes for many Russians, Chinese, Arabs, Turks, South Americans and Africans.

Hundreds of millions of them are nationalistic, poor and resentful - with little to lose if a tide of overt anti-American anti-free trade feeling swept the world. All it would take would be the right (wrong) trigger.

If this nightmare scenario is to be avoided, New Zealand and our free trade allies have their work cut out. Somehow we have to convince our American friends to see free trade and world political issues through less selfish eyes.

The poor of the world will only have a vested interest in global stability and free trade if they share in the benefits. This means giving their agricultural products access to the wealthy markets of the world.

To stay rich the US needs to convince the citizens of poorer countries that wealth is something they can aspire to. It also needs to convince them that human rights are as important in countries which are pro-west, as well as those that are not.

And a just solution must be found in Palestine. It's a potential fuse which could set the world alight.

To the best of our knowledge there are few New Zealand products sold in Palestine. But what happens in Palestine and in the countries we've just visited could well have huge bearing on the future of our economy.

- Trevor Walton

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