EARLY IN the morning of 14 September 1793, George, Lord Macartney, the first British ambassador ever to visit the Chinese court, entered the imperial tent in Jehol, the Manchu capital, to see the emperor Qianlong.
As one, a thousand demonstrated their submission to the Son of Heaven by performing the ceremony of the kowtow. Three times they fell to their knees, and three times on each occasion they touched their foreheads to the ground. Macartney, however, refused to kowtow. He would bend one knee, he said, to his sovereign; both knees he would bend only to his God. Three times, with the greatest politeness, he went down on one knee. And three times, in the course of each genuflexion, in rhythm with the mandarins, he respectfully bowed his head. But he flatly refused to touch his forehead to the ground.
There is a good article today in the New York Times today on the Jian Yang affair – or non-issue as the National Party, and most other parties, and most of our establishment appear to believe (and want us to believe). As the article notes
While New Zealand is a small country, it is a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence sharing partnership along with the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia. And so vulnerabilities in New Zealand’s government could have wider import.
Curiously, not being particularly well-connected, I’ve had several people mention in the past few days private talk among our traditional allies of possibly ending New Zealand participation in Five Eyes over our government’s growing deference to China. Whether that possibility would bother a majority of New Zealanders is questionable, but it should.
The article goes on
Chinese-language news media outlets in New Zealand reported that Mr. Yang had presented awards in April to members of the New Zealand Veterans General Federation, a group made up of former Chinese military or police officers now living in New Zealand. The awards were reportedly for members’ activities during a visit to New Zealand by Premier Li Keqiang of China, when they blocked the banners of anti-Chinese government protesters and sang military songs.
Chen Weijian, a member of the pro-democracy group New Zealand Values Alliance and the editor of a Chinese-language magazine, Beijing Spring, said Mr. Yang was “very, very active” in New Zealand’s Chinese community.
“When he speaks, he speaks more as a Chinese government representative, instead of a New Zealand lawmaker,” Mr. Chen said.
And this is how New Zealand now appears in yet another impeccably liberal part of the global press?
There are several organisations in New Zealand, partly or wholly government-funded that serve, in effect, as fronts to advance the establishment perspective on China. There is the Asia Foundation, the Contemporary China Research Centre, and the New Zealand China Council. The Council is chaired by a former National deputy prime minister, and includes a former National Prime Minister (who holds various positions in the gift of the Chinese government, and other Chinese directorships), the chief executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the chairman of Fonterra, and other mostly less well-known figures. The Executive Director is Stephen Jacobi, a former diplomat and industry advocate (with a past focus on North America).
At the People’s Republic of China (PRC) national day celebrations last week, the Consul-General invited Jacobi to speak. He posted the text of his remarks on the Council’s website. Those brief remarks were both extraordinary and banal. Extraordinary for the degree of deference to the PRC, and the indifference to any concerns around Yang and Raymond Huo, and yet probably just what one has come to expect from an establishment whose considered approach appears to be never, ever, openly say anything that anyone could possibly construe as critical of the PRC. National day celebrations aren’t the time to gratuitously offend people, but with normal countries it is quite appropriate to recognise differences of values, interests, and perspectives. We and the United States, or the UK, don’t always see eye-to-eye, as you’d expect with two different countries. With China, per Jacobi, it is as if our hearts are at one – or at least our minds are well-trained to pretend so.
It is an honour for me to be with you this evening and to convey the warmest greetings and congratulations of the New Zealand China Council on the 68th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Toasting the founding of a regime that has brought forth so much evil…..it turns one’s stomach. He goes on to describe it as an “auspicious day”.
The relationship is going from strength to strength, building on the firm foundation of mutual respect, shared interests and a history of co-operation.
As one observer of China noted, it is “Party-speak” (and not of the cocktail variety).
As we have watched China emerge as a major global power, we have continued Rewi’s pioneering spirit as we have built a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership based on expanding trade, investment and people to people links.
From the earliest days in the history of our country we have welcomed Chinese immigrants, thereby increasing the vitality and diversity of our nation.
And, so on the one hand we simply rewrite our own history – Chinese migrants weren’t exactly welcome in the 19th century – and on the other we blithely celebrate the emergence of a global power that simply flouts international law (South China Sea) and its own international commmitments (including around the WTO). For a country – New Zealand – supposedly committed to a rules-based international order, it is extraordinary obseisance.
And then unadorned congratulations.
I would also like to congratulate Dr Jian Yang MP and Raymond Huo MP and the other MPs with us this evening on their re-election to Parliament.
If anyone close to the Council is remotely troubled by Yang’s past – hidden from the electorate for years – or the wider arguments advanced by Professor Brady, they are obviously keeping very quiet. As with Charles Finny the other day, this is the establishment falling right in behind the position of these questionable figures – particularly Yang in our Parliament.
While we have achieved much together, I believe there is more to come.
For now, though, it gives me great pleasure to propose a toast to the health and prosperity of the great Chinese people and to the relationship between New Zealand and the People’s Republic of China.
It is almost as if Jacobi and the Council believe that the PRC has any concern with advancing the interests of New Zealand and New Zealanders. And thus he concludes with his toast to a regime that has been responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of its own people (and tens of millions more unborn), that is increasingly repressive of its own people, is actively engaged in subverting the political process and values of countries like New Zealand, and which is an increasing expansionist threat to other countries in its neighbourhood.
Perhaps you might charitably think this is just stuff he had to say. You sell your soul, and you pay the price.
But then earlier this week, Jacobi was tweeting his endorsement (“message in here for us kiwis too”) for a piece in the Australia Financial Review, in which the authors – an academic and a business figures – push back, by very heavy use of straw men, against any concerns about the PRC and its activities in, in this case, Australia. Nothing to worry about apparently, China no different from any other country, and foreign donations are just a “fact of life”. And this in a country where earlier this year an Opposition Senator had to resign his shadow frontbench position over claims he’d been backing China’s position on the South China Sea in exchange for money.
At least there seems to be a serious debate occurring openly in Australia. Denton and Drysdale can make their case for the defence in the AFR. But others are considerably more sceptical. There was an excellent sceptical piece in the Australian cultural, political, and literary monthly, Quadrant by a former senior China analyst in the Australian Office of National Assessments and a former Australian ambassador to the Koreas. And perhaps more powerful was a short article yesterday by a former senior Australian diplomat and deputy secretary in the Australian DPMC, “The China-Australia free trade agreement meets the all-controlling state”.
Philosophically, Australia and China occupy different solitudes regarding trade and investment. These days, not always, the underpinning attitude for Australia is free enterprise capitalism: commercially motivated, profit-driven, private sector enterprise, pursued within a clear legal framework. Beijing’s version is state capitalism, plus an underpinning of autarky: investment at home and abroad directed to national priorities, improving China’s competitive advantage (often using subsidies). The aim is to enhance China’s economic power and sovereignty.
At a societal level, President Xi has been emphatically reasserting the centrality of the Communist Party. Controls over China’s citizenry are being tightened—for example, by the ‘great firewall’ scrutinising and limiting access to the internet, and by closer monitoring of all citizenry for a ‘social credit score’.
The recurrent experience of foreigners seeking to invest in China has been that they are pressured to provide information on their secrets and systems as part of the price on entry. One fears for Cochlear and CSL. This is now being taken a step further. According to a recent Angus Grigg article in the Australian Financial Review, in future all foreign companies operating in China will be forced to hand over sensitive commercial data to Beijing under a system directed at generating a ‘social credit score’ for commercial enterprises as well as individuals.
More generally, while foreign investment in China is encouraged in cutting-edge industrial sectors, foreign firms are squeezed out once they reach maturity, with their key technologies secured. Writing some months ago in the Australian, Rowan Callick noted that China opened its mining industry to foreign investors about 20 years ago. At the peak, in 2009, there were 300 foreign mining operations in China. The number is now down to a handful. ‘Through a range of contrivances their services have been dispensed with.’
I presume Fonterra is well aware of all this, although one wonders if their farmer shareholders are.
There are other examples (or here) of a robust debate in Australia, and serious open scrutiny of the way in which the PRC is attempting to exert influence in Australia. Reasonable people might differ on the conclusions and appropriate policy responses, but in New Zealand any discussion or debate seems to be regarded as some sort of lese-majeste. And yet this is the government of our country we are talking about.
One of the issues that needs to be tackled is our political donations laws.
In the Charles Finny defence of Jian Yang I linked to the other day, there was this line
It is my understanding that Dr Yang has become one of National’s most successful fundraisers, in much the same way Raymond Huo is important for the Labour Party’s fundraising efforts.
I dug out Barry Gustafson’s history of the National Party, published only thirty years ago. There Gustafson’s records the active efforts of the party stalwarts to raise funds, while noting that
“An unwriten but scruplously observed rule has always been that no MP should be placed in the position of seeking, receiving, or even being made aware of money collected on behalf of the party”
No doubt the culture change is not just of relevance to ethnic Chinese MPs or candidates. MPs – legislating in the interests of all New Zealanders – shouldn’t be known for their fundraising prowess. But, more particularly, we shouldn’t be running a system where the largest known donor to the governing party is a foreign-owned company with quite modest New Zealand operations.
How has New Zealand come to this? Where even the debate is almost disallowed, where neither the politicians nor the local media seem to have any interest in pursuing the issues (whether specific- Yang – or general, those raised by Brady). When did we become the sort of country where the Financial Times and the New York Times – worthy outlets both – are the ones raising more searching questions about New Zealand’s polity, and its relationship with a hostile foreign regime than our own media and our own political figures (past or present)?
What makes our establishment so willing to perform what amounts, in effect, to today’s full kowtow?