On standards in public life, and Jian Yang

My honeymoon was paid for by a week or so helping an arm of the expansionist and repressive Chinese government  (the IMF was paying, and it involved helping run a course in some obscure provincial city on liquidity management and the implementation of monetary policy).  In more recent times, I’ve also done a couple of lectures on New Zealand economic management, under the auspices of the Australia New Zealand School of Government, for groups of up-and-coming Communist Party officials –  ANZSOG had wanted Graeme Wheeler, and they got me instead.   Indeed, to my own bemusement, for a time I even held a security clearance that (I was advised) meant that if, for example, I wanted to take a holiday in China, I needed to give advance notice to, maybe even seek approval from, our intelligence agencies.

These days it is hard for many people in the public sector to avoid sullying themselves with contact with Chinese government/Party representatives.   Some of that, no doubt, is just an inevitable part of state to state diplomacy.   But when the opportunities arise, there is also the fascination with an ancient culture, and its modern manifestations, and with a country that is home to perhaps a fifth of the human race.   Perhaps it was like that for the Soviet Union in earlier decades?  Or Germany in the 1930s?  It is easy to say now, but with hindsight I now regret the (very small) assistance I provided to the Chinese government and their officials.  However amiable and intelligent individuals might be –  and there were many such in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany –  they worked for, and advanced the cause of, a state which is the enemy of freedom, and the enemy of the values that made this country, and countries like it, what we are.   A state with an active aggressive agenda, propounding internationally an alternative authoritarian vision of governance, and brutally suppressing those who disagree with them.   A state ruled by a Party which actively connived in the murder and starvation of tens of millions of its own people.

Which is why those people (including the man himself) attempting to dismiss the concerns raised in the Financial Times/Newsroom stories about National MP Jian Yang as somehow “racist” are just playing distraction and trying to avoid the real issues, and real questions.

Would I be worried if, say, the National Party (or any other party for that matter) had made as one of its MPs someone with an equivalent background in the former ruling parties and military intelligence institutions of former authoritarian states like, say, Paraguay, Zambia, or Serbia?  Well, yes I would to some extent.   Such a background would speak of the values of the individual concerned –  and there has been no suggestion Jian Yang was forced to work for military intelligence or join the Communist Party; instead he will have been judged “reliable” to have been allowed to do so.  It would also say something about the values of a New Zealand political party which treated so lightly our own historical values and freedoms as to recruit someone like this.  Perhaps prioritising party fundraising over the values and freedoms of New Zealanders?

But in those cases, (a) the authoritarian states are now democracies, and (b) they are countries (chosen deliberately) with no particular interest in, or wish to exert influence on, New Zealand.

What about people with backgrounds in the intelligence services of the United States, the United Kingdom or (to use the example an FT columnist cites) Italy?  Frankly, I would have some concerns about the ability of someone who has ever worked in the military and intelligence establishment of another country to ever completely relinquish those loyalties and put the interests of New Zealand first.   Then again, such countries –  whatever their faults –  have been our allies over many decades.  The potential for serious conflicts of interest are much less than they are for some other regimes.

In other words, these things are points along a spectrum.    I’m not sure that former members of foreign intelligence services ever have a place in our Parliament, but those of Australia or the UK worry me less than those of the US, which worry me less than those of Singapore, Paraguay or Serbia, which worry me less than those of Russia or China.      The latter two are (a) large, and (b) aggressive powers.  Of the two, China is much more of threat in this part of the world than Russia.   But in the 1970s, the order might have been reversed.  Imagine a former KGB officer serving in the New Zealand Parliament in the 1970s, advocating the interests and view of the Soviet Union, and hob-nobbing with representatives of the Soviet Embassy.

Some people come out of the establishment of brutal aggressive authoritarian states and recant completely their former loyalties.  Their eyes have been opened to the evil that state represented, and often such people become leaders in the cause of urging people in the West to recognise the threat.  Sometimes, even, with the zeal of a convert their opposition to the state of their birth can be uncomfortable or even a little embarrassing.  And I don’t suppose that after his defection Oleg Gordievsky spent much time with the Soviet Embassy in London.

But what of Jian Yang?  I had a look yesterday at his maiden speech in Parliament, delivered in February 2012.  Maiden speeches are often an occasion for a new member to outline their personal philosophy, and the things that made them who they are, and led them to seek to enter politics.  A few are classics –  I recall being taught from Sir John Marshall’s in my first year politics course decades ago.  But what of Yang’s?

Read without knowing he’d been a member of the Communist Party (well under 10 per cent of China’s citizens are), or had been a serving participant in the intelligence establishment, it might seem inoffensive enough, although still a little surprising.       To serious champions of liberty, the Tianamen Square protests, and subsequent government massacres, stand as a continuing charge against the Chinese state and Party.  How does Yang deal with them (they disrupted his plans for graduate study abroad)?  They are nothing more than “student demonstrations”.

He can safely be mildly critical of the Cultural Revolution –  his parents were apparently sent to the countryside for “re-education” –  but never mentions the dreadful evil of the Great Famine, one of the worst man-made (Chinese government made) disasters ever.  There are boilerplate references to his support for opportunity and choice, but no attacks on the evil of the one-child policy, still in place at the time Yang gave his speech. Nothing about the lack of freedom of expression, the lack of freedom of religion, the lack of any free alternative to the Communist Party in China.      Instead, we get paeans to the “success” of the Chinese government in “lifting millions of people out of poverty”, as if the same government hadn’t driven them unnecessarily further into poverty in the first place –  and he has the gall to suggest that “reflecting on the way in which China has achieved its positive change and development gives me a firm belief that the policies of the National Party are in the best interests of New Zealand.”     And for someone with an academic background in international relations and an expressed interest in contributing on foreign affairs matters in Parliament, nothing at all about Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, or its advocacy internationally of alternative visions of governance antithetical to liberal democracy.

It is one thing to be proud of your ethnic background –  and China has an ancient culture that once led the world –  but Yang showed absolutely no sign of having turned his back on, or a desire to call out, the evils of a repressive authoritarian party and government that has never recanted its mistakes, that has failed economically (compare Taiwan and China for example) and which represents a threat to us, and to countries (and believers in freedom) throughout east Asia.

And it wasn’t just the maiden speech.  As the Financial Times notes, since entering Parliament

He has consistently pushed for closer ties with Beijing and for international policies and positions echoing those of China’s Communist party.

In one of the FT articles on this story, there is photo of Yang posing with the Chinese defence attache at a celebration a year or two ago of the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese army.  Perhaps a Minister of Foreign Affairs more or less has to attend such functions.  Backbenchers don’t, and they certainly don’t need to be posing with military representatives of aggressive foreign governments, unless doing so speaks of their ongoing sympathies.  There is simply no sign of Yang having recanted his active involvement in the Chinese intelligence establishment –  indeed, until yesterday that inolvement was not generally known,

If, say, Russel Norman or Julie-Anne Genter (adult migrants who subsequently became NZ MPs) had been as actively involved in advancing Australian or US government causes (respectively) there would also have been considerable grounds for concern, mitigated to some extent by them not having been serving members in the intelligence regimes of the countries of their birth.

Who knows quite what the nature of Yang’s ongoing association with the Chinese authorities is.  But as the FT report notes, China has been increasingly active in placing and cultivating people in Western democracies and helping them gradually reach positions of political influence, and it reports concrete areas of concern in Canada (including from the intelligence authorities) and Australia.    Perhaps Yang doesn’t fit that bill at all, but if so his case would be a lot more convincing if he’d had a track record of being consistently and openly critical of the Chinese government and the Communist Party.  Instead, as the FT notes, in an interview recently he repeatedly requested the journalists not to include information about his intelligence background in articles about him.  You’d think it might have been an opportunity to openly criticise the authoritarian regime (being able to use the insider’s perspective he’d gained in his misguided youth) that he had turned his back on in choosing to come to New Zealand.  But apparently not.

It really is a quite extraordinary story.  On the one hand, quite remarkable that it has taken six years in Parliament for the media to look into the background of this MP –  one has to wonder why these stories weren’t being written in 2011 when the National Party first put him on the list. Perhaps there would have been more scrutiny if he’d been attempting to become a constituency MP?

But more concerning is the seeming indifference of the National Party to Mr Yang’s background.  He was/is (we are told) a very effective fundraiser for the National Party, and politics isn’t cheap.  Once upon a time the National Party could be counted on for a fairly hardline on defence and security. But these days, if this story is illustrative, do they just no longer care, so long as they can maintain a cosy relationship with the Chinese establishment and host visits from Chinese leaders and Chinese warships?  It is easy to downplay geopolitics when one is as physically remote as New Zealand.  But the issues and threats to us, and to like-minded countries, are real nonetheless.

On a similar note, shouldn’t it be somewhat concerning that the largest donor to the National Party is an entity called the Inner Mongolian Rider Horse Industry (NZ) Ltd.  I suppose we should be grateful the donation was made in a way that it was disclosed, but this is a company which has a small New Zealand operation, subsidiary of quite a large Chinese parent owned by a Chinese billionaire.

I have no way of knowing if the National Party is worse on such matters than the Labour Party would be (or for that matter, New Zealand First, which now has a prominent candidate Shane Jones of Bill Liu citizenship shame.)  But Jian Yang is a member of the National Party, and the National Party has now led the government for nine years.  For now, the hard questions seem to need to be asked of them.   If they didn’t know Yang’s background before recruiting him, that was slipshod or deliberately indifferent, and if they did know but just didn’t care –  and stuck him on the Foreign Affairs committee nonetheless – it risks looking like just another form of depraved indifference, whether through blindness to the threat China poses to things we (and people like us, from Taiwan, from Canada, from the UK or wherever) have held dear, or just a focus on keeping the donor money and votes flowing in.

I’m no New Zealand First fan, but the slogan on their campaign billboards “Had enough?” sums it up for me.  After the housing disaster, the economic failures (and worse, the near lies about them), and episode after episode that speaks of the degradation of standards of public life in New Zealand, for me it is just another nail in the coffin.  More nails than timber now.



45 thoughts on “On standards in public life, and Jian Yang

  1. I wonder what interests that John Key has been advancing on behalf of Australia given he was just recently knighted in Australia by Malcolm Turnbull? It is rather strange that most other New Zealanders get treated as 3rd class Special Class Visas when John Key would get premium class treatment?


    • In the interests of accuracy

      There are approximately 650,000 NZ citizens resident in Australia
      The bulk of those or approximately 500,000 hold Protected SCV’s and as such are entitled to all welfare benefits

      Anyone who travels to Australia after 2001 are aware of the situation and no different than anyone travelling to Singapore or Indonesia and pleading ignorance of the local laws … particularly relating to drugs

      Special Category Visa …. An SCV obtained on or prior to this 2001 is classified as a ‘Protected SCV’ meaning the holder is eligible to most social security benefits without restriction

      Liked by 1 person

      • An estimated 600,000 New Zealanders live and work in Australia, mostly quite happily, but only when something goes wrong do they discover how few rights they have.

        Honey Inia, 34, has lived in Australia for 15 years.

        A week after she arrived from New Zealand she got a job and worked until her twins were born nearly seven years ago, then worked part time. In their 14 years together, she and her de facto partner established a house, mortgage, cars – “it was all joined upLeft as sole provider for two children when her partner passed away last June, she went to Centrelink (social welfare) “to see what I am entitled to – it was nothing”.

        Because she is a New Zealand citizen her children are disadvantaged – even though they are Australian.

        “I still had no options,” she says. “I even asked for a widow’s benefit: I didn’t qualify for that because I am not over 65.”

        There has long been anger among New Zealanders at being treated like second-class citizens in Australia..”



  2. It’s possible the Chinese govt still exerts some considerable influence / leverage over him, if he still has a lot of family in China. He may not feel free to criticise China at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Quite possibly. But if that were true (and if so one would sympathise), someone in that (hypothetical) position presumably couldn’t be sure of devoting their efforts in Parliament and potentially the executive wholly to the interests of NZ.


    • I do remember the case, but with the memory of a politically-interested 12 year old. Of course, the claim in that case – which didn’t meet the test to convict him of espionage – is that he was passing confidential material to the Russians. If that had been true – and it is hard to know how he could have been at that point, years after he had left the public sector – he’d have deserved prosecution and imprisonment.


      • So the government and institutions of the day did not have evidence for any wrong doing against Bill Sutch. There was just some vague allegations but that was enough to destroy Bill’s reputation. While in Jiang’s case we are meant to be all relaxed about him not being scrutinized because he is an MP in the governing party. What is that about?


      • In fairness, the Sutch case did involve a full High Court trial in which presumably the Crown presented a bunch of evidence, which presumably didn’t meet a “beyond reasonable doubt” test. (He was after all arrested after meeting with a Soviet embassy official in a odd location outdoors at night.)

        I’m not aware that anyone has yet accused Yang of a criminal act.

        But, of course, I agree that hard questions need to be asked, of the PM, the Nat. Party president, and perhaps John Key too. Perhaps as importantly, we need to have a more open conversation about China and the way it is seeking to exert influence in a wide range of countries – a conversation about power, about values, and (one hopes) not about race.


  3. …. “a government that has never recanted its mistakes, that has failed economically”

    I can think of a Government closer to home that is unable to recant its mistakes and prettys them up with the pretty stick and “tells” the proletariat that is success

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Isn’t it remarkable how Bill English – Na Key before – lightly brush off our problems. Stuck on Lake Road for an hour in gridlock “quality problem” – no growth in labour productivity and they simply ignore it (remember how we were going to close the gap with australia?). No finance companies will be bailed out – except politically sensitive South Canterbury Finance. People on welfare are bludgers but not those fine people at: 1) the Hobbit, 2) Sky city Convention centre, 3) the America’s cup, 4) Tiwai Point…. corporate bludging is fine because there will be photo ops and black tie events and hey, that person on the benefit would have only wasted that money paying their electricity bill, putting petrol in their car (note the surge in petrol margins) or food on the table…. Cromwell got it right “in the name of God Go!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Peter

      I largely agree with you, but as the Treasury official who wrotes lots of the paper on deposit guarantees, I should be clear that (a) the finance company guarantees were issued by Cullen, and (b) were done so on the recommendation of Tsy and the RB (why? not because we cared about the bottom tier, but because the top tier were still investment-grade rated – and the RB expressed no specific credit concerns to us at Tsy – and we concluded that given we were issuing guarantees to pre-empt the risk of generic retail runs and flights to cash we could either include the finance companies, or we would be condemning them to near-immediate collapse (on the basis of an arbitrary line: banks vs non-banks).

      Of course, Cullen went against our advice in ways that helped allow SCF to take on lots more risk after the guarantee was in place, and English didn’t act soon enough to close down those risks, but…..the retaIL guarantees were a Cullen deed.


      • That’s a little bit obscure – Kevin Rudd, as a courtesy, notified his NZ counterpart of his intentions to establish deposit guarantees for Banks and Credit Unions and Building Societies, which did not include finance companies – the inclusion of Finance companies was an exclusively New Zealand decision that was never explained and smelled to me of lobbyists and other influencers at work


  5. Thank you Michael, it really does surprise me how complacent folk are regarding the influence by and our increasing entanglement with a deeply corrupt totalitarian state. Tens of millions killed or starved to death by the communists and the fascists; have people forgotten the lessons of the 20th century? How can it be that the lies that created that monstrous time are re-emerging.
    Here is a little clip on how we (humans) came to that terrible place and how we can help stop it happening again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXXG_sOjPDk

    Liked by 1 person

      • I thought it was the Japanese that started WW2 in China with such things as the Nanking massacre? Or the British Empire with the forced gunship diplomacy eg the Opium Wars and the boxer rebellion? Or even British held HongKong and Portugese held Macao. More like foreign devils in the mix there perhaps?


      • What?
        Try reading up on the cultural revolution (1960’s to 70’s); some of your events weren’t even in the same century. I just knew I was going to end up regretting trying to engage in rational discussion with you.


  6. This is not entirely true. We had been working on guarantee proposals ourselves and had approached the Australian Treasury about joint work. They had no interest at that point (just a few days earlier) and so we continued doing development work ourselves (with some haste). On the Sunday we were notified that Rudd was going to make an announcement of retail guarantees, which brought forward the NZ decision. As you say, the decision to include finance companies was a NZ specific one (one we had already agreed to recommend a day or two earlier), and partly reflected the specifics of the NZ regulatory regime (finance companies here could take retail deposits and weren’t directly regulated, while in Aus they had a different regime), and the factors I listed in my reply to Peter Redward.

    I was at, and was a key participant in, a high level RB/Tsy meeting a couple of days before the final decision was made, and while there was unease about including the finance companies, the logic was seen as pretty compelling and inescapble. I was never aware of any external lobbying up to that point (there was a lot after the announcement as details were refined – incl eg a push, successfully rebuffed, to incl property trust, money market funds etc).


    • Thanks for that. I followed the two schemes closely as they unfolded. At no time was it revealed that you guys had been working on it and as I read you above, were in fact the initiators. Interesting to find this out 10 years later after the heat has gone. As an aside, in my field, I advise if any doubt or unease ever arises, for any reason then opt out


      • I’m pretty sure the paper we (RB/Tsy) sent to Cullen on the Friday before the Rudd announcement is on the Tsy website somewhere. It wasn’t a recommendation to establish a guarantee, but rather a recommendation to keep a close watch on the situation, and an outline of how such a guarantee coud be done if necessary.

        Of course, the origins were really with the Irish, who aroused a lot of ire with their highly-publicised guarantees. I doubt we had any influence on the Australians – probably just that Rudd’s decision to do something took the Aus Tsy themselves by surprise.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. i lectured at a Chinese Central Bank training seminar way back in 94. i didm’t feel sullied, more over-banqueted and at some points amused. We were taken to a night club/dancehall which was pretty empty due to one of the periodic anti-corrption drives. There were a couple of security agency goons there, who really looked the part.- trench coats , thuggish appearance. I was told that one of their jobs was to check that there was the right balance between western music and revolutionary songs. There was a bout of ballroom style music which some couples dance to. Then a group of young women same out in hotpants and belted out some racier numbers. At the end, i asked what happened to the revolutionary songs. i was informed that the girl band sung those songs. So the club met the quota, but not in the style that might have been intended.

    the spirit of freedom lived on


    • Clearly it was quieter in the provinces in 1998 – although i well recall the banquets. The hospitality of the PBOC also includes the only time in my life I’ve eaten snake.

      (Then of course there were all the Chinese secondees at the RB – ranging from the very impressive to the electrical engineer – father was apparently in the Party – who made himself useful by fixing the Econ Dept coffee machine.)


  8. If Jian Yang has obtained citizenship due to non disclosure of links to / employment by China’s Communist party, how does this compare to Metiria Turei’s revelations?


    • Metiria Turei was not forced to resign. Her revelations were calculated to attract the radical Green voters and the party polls reached a high of almost 15% on her revelations. She resigned because the press was asking questions of her extended family as to why her mother and her father and aunts and uncles abandoned her and her child to the point of starvation and poverty that she had to resort to benefit fraud to feed her daughter and herself. Th kitchen just got to hot and her extended family was being embarassed when they were actually more a upper middle class family and not exactly poor.


      • Therefore it was not the fraud but the embarassment that forced herself to resignation. Of course the Greens took a hammering because she lost her credibility when she quit. When the going gets tough the tough gets going. Once a quitter never really gets NZ support as the polls show.


  9. I don’t know whether proper disclosure would have led to him not getting residency or citizenship.

    If – repeat if – he didn’t accurately disclose pertinent/required information, that seems to me about as serious as Turei’s acknowledged offence. Perhaps he would be more culpable, being a bit older and more established? She, of course, is still standing for Parliament at this election.


  10. I think its important to distinguish: i) are our feelings simply anti-Chinese (I don’t believe mine are and I’m hoping that others on this forum aren’t), ii) to set aside how we’ve been treated as foreign guests by our Chinese hosts (I’ve always been treated amazingly well in the 30+ times I’ve visited China), and: iii) whether it’s appropriate to have someone who worked intimately in the intelligence community of a foreign power in the centre of our government.

    In my humble opinion, it’s irrelevant whether Jian Yang is active in the CPC and/or security apparatus or not. As he’s admitted to having been employed for a substantial period in the Chinese intelligence community he should not be put in a position of trust and responsibility in this country. Period. In my opinion, this should be the case regardless of whether he’s worked for Chinese intelligence or the CIA/NSA. People whose loyalty to our country cannot be guaranteed should be vetted carefully and anyone found to have worked for a foreign intelligence organisation should simply not be allowed into a position of authority. To me, this is just prudence.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Michael: perhaps you can explain why it was a 100% guarantee rather than say 80% which would ensure investors had at least a little skin in the game.


    • Yes, that was a straightforward call. If one was considering a permanent deposit insurance scheme, there is a good case for having some sort of deductible, in which the depositor takes some of the loss. The situation globally in Oct 2008 was a different one – it was about trying to get ahead of a crisis we were already in (and in the NZ case at the time what was seen as a “flight to liquidity” irrespective of the credit standing of any particular institution). Had we covered only 80% of any loss, depositors would still have been strongly incentivised to take their money out of any institution they had concerns about, which would have precipitated the run we were concerned to pre-empt). We had already seen such behaviour with Northern Rock (in the UK) a few months earlier.


  12. I see another donor further down the list, after the Inner Mongolia Horse Rider Horse people.

    $50,000 from De Yi Shi
    Level 3, 139 Quay Street

    I checked the address and it belongs to the NZ China Council, but on the council website, no-one by that name exists. It seems more like the name of a company to me. Aren’t they supposed to put the names of real people up as donors?

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Auckland’s most expensive house, the seven-bedroom mansion on exclusive Paritai Drive partly financed by former Hanover Finance director Mark Hotchin, has been sold to businessman Deyi Shi for $39 million.”


      Kadri, yes thats a real person. He lives in a $39 million mansion on Paritai Drive in 2013 valuation.

      The address you have got on 139 Quay Street is the pentagon shaped building on Princess Wharf with the ANZ logo on the top. He owns the entire building.


      • Ah, thanks! I was thinking he was a De Yishi, because of the way they spell the name.

        He is 石德毅, if anyone feels like doing Chinese Google searches for his name.


  13. The NZ intelligence service seems like the appropriate body to be watching out for anything untoward in terms of unlawful or improper collaboration with foreign states. We know they *have* been investigating him, and no doubt they would inform the prime minister of any issues of substance. With that in mind, do the public and the media also need to be asking questions?


  14. I think we should most definitely be asking questions. Politicians views can be swayed by their personal interests especially when there’s a lot of money involved.

    As for curiouskiwicat, all I can say is People who hide behind names shouldn’t be taken seriously on blogs Man up. Who are you?


    • Hey – thanks for your question. I don’t intend to hide, and if you google the name you should find my twitter account and some other social media with my real name all using the same handle, which will tell you more than you will probably want to know about who I am.

      I don’t expect to be taken at all seriously on an economics blog anyway. But I ask questions on here every now and then because Michael Reddell has a very interesting perspective, often quite different to my own, and often different to the dominant paradigm expressed in media in NZ, but often quite persuasive, so I like to hear and learn!


  15. In a democracy, we have a right – some would argue a responsibility – to question those people who manage our affairs. In a democracy, the people who manage our public affairs are our servants not the other way around. It’s absolutely our right and responsibility to question their judgement.

    Curiouskiwicat you need a lesson on civics.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I agree Peter. Quite possibly, perhaps even probably, Yang is doing nothing directly inappropriate/illegal now, but it is still up to citizens to decide whether they want former members of foreign intelligence services of hostile powers to be elected to our Parliament. With no evidence that he has openly regretted his former work, and membership of the Communist Party – and his own acknowledgement that he hid the facts of these past involvements from the public,, my view on that is quite clearly “no”.


      • How would you discriminate against Red Party members? Red Party members are considered the most loyal, the smartest, the top of the top, the best of the best in China’s societal makeup. I meet them sprinkled in with ordinary migrants in every industry in NZ.


    • The great thing about anonymity is that you can freely express your thoughts. As long as it adds to the discussion and tests hypotheses put forward then not sure why anonymity is a so called man up requirement.


      • I don’t have any particular problem with anonymous comments, although (like many people I suspect) i tend to put more weight on views expressed by people using their own names. I’ve had people commenting here on various issues who simply could not use their own names due to their day jobs, and the comments section would be poorer without them.


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