A national day for lament, not celebration

Eamon de Valera, Prime Minister of Ireland, visited the German Embassy in Dublin on 3 May 1945, to pay his condolences to the Ambassador on the death of Hitler. He apparently justified it afterwards on grounds of diplomatic protocol, but it reinforced ever afterwards impressions that de Valera had been sympathetic to the Nazis.

Yesterday was the national day of the People’s Republic of China, marking the formation in 1949 of the Chinese Communist Party government. Various people have been highlighting photographs that have appeared in the Chinese-language media show National MP Jian Yang at the Chinese Embassy’s celebratory function, posing with Ambassador, the embassy counsellor, and the military attache.


(the latter tweet including a link to some further offshore commentary on the New Zealand situation).

Perhaps protocol more or less requires that, for example, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and assorted MFAT staffers attend national day celebrations. It is a part of normal state-to-state relationships. But there is no such obligation on obscure government backbenchers, and certainly no reason for such people to allow themselves to be photographed happily with the leading representatives in New Zealand of such a vile regime. A not unreasonable conclusion might be that Dr Yang is really rather sympathetic to, and supportive of, the PRC regime. Perhaps he just takes the view that what is in Beijing’s interests is, somehow, also in the interests of New Zealanders? Either way, with a (belatedly) self-acknowledged background like his, he shouldn’t be in our Parliament. The National Party should be ashamed to have him in its parliamentary caucus. Should be, but presumably isn’t. There is, after all, no sign that the whips have told him to lie low (and not, for example, be photographed with representatives of the PRC regime).

But, convinced as I am that Yang shouldn’t be in our Parliament – even if, as may well be the case, he has done nothing illegal – in a way, his conduct doesn’t seem out-of-step with that of our professional diplomats; neutral public servants one might hope.

The government-sponsored China Council was out openly celebrating 69 years since the Communist revolutionary victory.

And they were retweeting the enthusiasm of the New Zealand consulate in Chengdu

(note the exclamation mark. Is 68 years of a brutal murderous regime something to celebrate?)

And then somehow I stumbled on the Twitter account of the New Zealand Consul-General in Shanghai. Her tweet managed two exclamation marks.

She describes herself as “Addicted to China. From the government (MFAT) and here to help.”

I guess I can understand a passion of things Chinese, for the culture and history, but “addicted to China” doesn’t exactly suggest the sort of calm dispassion we might hope for from our senior diplomats – in dealing with a friendly country with whom we share values, let alone a brutal regime that appears to directly interfere in the New Zealand political process, and in entities and media outlets serving New Zealand (ethnic Chinese) citizens.

It is as if our entire establishment can’t bring itself to acknowledge the nature of a regime which has gone from one horror to another over the decades, barely regretting or apologising for any of them, and which now – richer and stronger than it was before, if a distinct economic laggard even in the region – poses real and new threats to its own people – the ramping up of surveillance for example – to regional stability, and to countries (including New Zealand) with a significant population of Chinese-born people. Are MFAT and the New Zealand China Council – and the New Zealand government – untroubled by any of this? Perhaps in 1938 their predecessors would have been celebrating the anniversary of the Nazi accession to power, all the while playing up the “trade opportunities”, and quietly observing that it wouldn’t do to upset the party-state?

It is a regime that is evil epitomised for this generation. Not, to be sure, North Korea and yet (a) chief protector of that evil regime, and (b) much more of threat to many more people and countries than North Korea is ever likely to be. And yet National MPs happily celebrate another anniversary of the evil. And quite probably Labour MPs do too, and would were they to form a government.

But it does prompt the question, where is the Green Party in all this?. I’m not a natural Green Party supporter and could not ever imagine voting for them. But over the years I’ve had a certain respect for them, and some of their MPs, when they’ve stood up against oppression, against surveillance, against threats to civil liberties. I was, perhaps a little strangely, an admirer of Keith Locke on this score. But on these issue – whether the specifics of Jian Yang, or the wider issues of PRC meddling- just total silence from the Greens. I’m not sure I really understand why. They don’t represent big and established business interests, and they don’t – as I understand it – have any track record of being heavily reliant on questionable fundraising. If there was ever a time to act as some sort of moral conscience, surely this is one of those?

I’ve found it a little hard to take too seriously earnest calls in the US for inquiries into Russian attempted interference in the US election last year (and am well aware of plenty of instances where the US has interfered in the elections of other countries). But if there is a case for such investigations in the US – and I think there probably is, even though Russia is a much inferior power to the US – how much stronger is the case here for a serious inquiry into the sorts of claims, and evidence, Professor Brady has outlined in her paper.

And there are simpler questions still that should be put to Dr Yang, whether by the National Party itself, or by the media. For example, can you name – say – three occasions on which, since you were elected to Parliament, you have disagreed with a policy stance taken by the PRC, and where you have spoken out clearly in defence of New Zealand interests and values? Shouldn’t be that hard. After all, South China Sea adventurism is in flagrant breach of international law. And the growth of the surveillance state in China under Xi Jinping isn’t exactly consistent with the sort of values the National Party proclaims. Or the increasing uses of “big data” highlighted in this article in the Financial Times today. Or one might ask how differently he sees the PRC being from, say, the Soviet Union or (the much shorter-lived) Nazi Germany – the latter being particularly active among the ethnic German populations in neighbouring countries in the 1930s. Does he look forward to a day when freedom of speech, freedom of religion and multi-party democracy prevails on the mainland – as it does, say, in Taiwan? As I say, it shouldn’t be hard to get clear and straightforward answers from someone who has genuinely abandoned his party (and military/intelligence) past.

Finally, while Dr Yang, MFAT, and assorted official China-promoters in New Zealand are celebrating 68 years of evil, there is this alternative perspective from Hong Kong, where people more readily appreciate the evil, the threat, that the PRC now represents.

I’m not suggesting that our government should deliberately go out of its way to upset the regime. And normal state-to-state relations (as we had in later years with the Soviet Union) are to be expected. But our governments – our diplomats – are supposed to be there to serve the interests, and values of New Zealanders. And that means, among other things, recognising and acknowledging the dreadful character of the regime they are dealing with. Hermann Goering was known to throw a good party too. Nuremberg rallies were, reportedly, spectacular.

15 thoughts on “A national day for lament, not celebration

  1. Excellent post. Although I do wonder about the statement: “And the growth of the surveillance state in China under Xi Jinping isn’t exactly consistent with the sort of values the National Party proclaims.” I think the National Party has been very happy to have muddied the waters between “mass collection” and “mass surveillance”… and from everything we have learned about the GCSB, I doubt that protecting privacy is a major concern of the Nats.


  2. I think would think it unfair to criticise our diplomats for attending national day celebrations in their host countries (they are there to enhance contact) if it were not for the disgraceful contrast with the studied non-appearance of National Government representatives at this year’s (and recent) national day celebrations hosted by Russia’s Wellington Embassy. Despite Russia being willing to sign a FTA which had almost been concluded when we cravenly jumped to overseas order and canned it.
    The Wellington diplomatic community marvels at the snubs. EU countries, for example have more reason to express unhappiness with Russia. But they still pay polite respects on its national day, and expect the same back.
    I was told our conduct perplexes diplomats. Speculation included it being consistent with a childish understanding of international relations, through to unwarranted anxiety about EU/US/China frowns.

    It rather fits with the astonishingly inept and useless currying of favour with the human rights haters at the UN when we suddenly sponsored an anti-Israel resolution as McCully’s swan song.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, to be clear I don’t criticise our Minister of Foreign Affairs, or assorted diplomats, for attending China national day celebrations. It is the tone of celebration (of the regime) on the one hand, and identification on the other, that is disconcerting. Some of it is probably unthinking and opportunistic. The worry is that in some cases it is more serious than that.


  3. Always thought if you are into S & M and you are in a bondage session, buck naked, hands and feet manacled to the bed-posts and Madam Lash starts to apply the lash its a bit late to tap-out


    • Not really an image I want in my mind, but…yes…I do see your point.

      (although one of mine is that NZ is a lot less exposed to or vulnerable to actions of China – at least on the trade or investment front – than official wisdom would have us believe.)


  4. They have jailed and condemned the actions of the Gang of 4, lead by the wife of a aged Mao suffering from dementia for most of the atrocities of the 1960s. You can’t expect today’s leadership to continue to take the blame of previous administrators.


    • Every society need’s scapegoats – they found them. But it isn’t only about individuals but about systems, ideologies, and lack of institutional constraints. The Communist revolution and party needs to accept the responsibility. If a Nazi party had ruled Germany continuously for decades and never disowned its ideologies, and remained – in modern terms – as repressive as ever, and perhaps more expansionist than ever, we’d (surely?) hold them to account.

      But for NZ the issue should be simple: these people (a foreign govt) is clearly directly intervening in our system, in a way that should be quite unacceptable from any power.


  5. Slightly off topic, but wonder what your views are on FTAs between free-trading and mercantilist countries.

    Given that trading with mercantilists seems to involve a lot of red tape, random inspections, suspension of import licenses at the whim of officials, forcible transfer of IP, unwanted joint ventures etc, is it really worth the bother? The WTO rectification protocols seem to be pretty toothless.

    It seems mercantilist countries are happy to import low value commodities but are resistant to the trade partner going up the value chain, so what does that mean for the Ricardian trade model? What does it mean for productivity?


    • All fair points. Then again, there seems little doubt that the China FTA has been good for our dairy industry.

      I’m a sceptic of what I prefer to call “preferential trade agreements” more generally – for all the reasons the Aus Productivity Commission has adduced. Perhaps we are worse off politically from the China-FTA (so much political effort now prob driven by the desire for an upgrade) but it isn’t clear we are worse off economically. Of course, free trade – bilaterally and multilaterally – would be superior, but I suspect the Chinese are losing out more (from all the restrictions you talk of) than anyone else is, even all taken together.


  6. Agree 100%. I think as China has grown more belligerent, autocratic and self-important the CCP has increasingly used threats and intimidation to get its way, and many countries have bent under that pressure. A recent example was the issue of the dumping of cheap heavily subsidised Chinese steel on world markets. New Zealand steel manufacturers were also hit by this practice and complained to the government, which commissioned MBIE to investigate. However, my understanding is that China objected and threatened our trade. However, unlike most other countries that have investigated these kinds of claims, MBIE (unpersuasively in my view) found no cause for further action… case closed.

    Hard to know for sure if there was anything underhand, but I think in a free society we should always be deeply concerned if as a result of intimidation or a desire to not rock the boat the media, politicians, and official bodies deliberately do not speak out against matters that potentially threaten our independence and freedoms. When the country in question is also a ruthless totalitarian regime with a history of horrendous human rights abuses that makes it even worse and we should be actively encouraging diversification away from such a country.

    Installing a communist party member as a National MP seems like another compromise to our values that should have raised many red flags.

    I presume you saw this article?

    What particularly stood out to me was this sentence:
    ‘A National Party spokesperson says: “We believe attacks on Dr Yang’s character were racially motivated and politically timed a mere 10 days from the election.”’

    This is surely disingenuous and is hard to take seriously, since the issue clearly is not about race, That the National Party under English seemed willing to play the race card and even resort to outright lies on this issue (and others) over the election period, frankly took me by surprise, and I think it is a very worrying sign for the future.


    • Thanks

      (I’m not a fan of anti-dumping procedures, but to the extent that political considerations did influence any MBIE decisions I agree that would be quite unfortunate.)

      The willingness to continue to assert that questions about Jian Yang and CCP influence are race-based is, as you suggest, a rather sad and sorry reflection on the National Party, and a sign of how weak their substantive position on the issue might be. As someone who has continued to echo the concern the FT/Newsroom raised, their attempted slur doesn’t affect me in the slightest, but it has led me to revise down my view of Chris Finlayson and other senior Nats.


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