The kowtow

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.

(from this)

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… 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?

36 thoughts on “The kowtow

  1. Is there symmetry? On the 13th of May do the big-wigs assemble in Beijing to celebrate the founding of the National party of New Zealand? And do New Zealand companies make unsolicited donations to the Communist party of China?


    • In NZ unsolicited donations are legal because it is unsolicited. In China its called an illegal bribe and the offence carries jail time for re-education.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a bit of sympathy with blowing a bit of smoke in the direction of a major power for diplomatic purposes. I expect we would have to do the same for Donald Trump. I have less sympathy for letting the PRC get away with basically fifth columnar type activities in our back yard.


    • Blow some smoke maybe, but please never condone, either through silence or gushing praises the brutality and severe repression of which the regime is guilty.


  3. Yes, I know what you mean. If it is the Minister of Foreign Affairs it is one thing, and Jacobi another. If it is quietly said and not publicised that is one thing, proudly publicising it another (much as I approve of transparency). If it is then backed up by urging people to follow the Denton and Drysdale lead, and its total indifference to the nature of the regime (China compared to Singapore), or endorsing a deliberate blindness to active PRC activities in NZ and Aus, another again.


  4. hmmm; how did it get to this? “.. based on expanding trade, investment..” I would say; how many people in NZ, Australia or other advanced nations stop to think twice as “made in China” is dropped into the shopping trolley? a few no doubt but not a material number it would seem; indeed, ‘you sell your soul at a price’ but only if the buyer has money and reality is, China has +$3trn to her name…a hard fact to ignore.


    • $3trn isn’t what it was now that China’s GDP is so much larger than it was. They need quite large reserves while they maintain a managed exchange rate.

      I don’t have any problem buying Chinese appliances, or indeed for NZ firms to be selling them milk powder, holidays or an educational. My issue is what political hoops politicians jump thru to facilitate the exports, on behalf of a handful of influential interest groups, and the degree of self-censorship that goes on in the process.


  5. I have to admit I’m puzzled as to the conduct and views expressed by many of our so called political elite. I think basic truths and principles are increasingly being thrown out of the window in favour of self serving political spin. Real problems are denied or dismissed as being of no real consequence. With respect to China I think it is being driven by a mixture of greed and fear. Plenty to be gained by kowtowing to China. For current politicians this might include votes from Chinese living in NZ, campaign contributions, lucrative opportunities for relatives, and so on. For ex-politicians this might include directorships and other opportunities. On the fear side of the equation there is worry that any perceived criticism, might suddenly see votes and opportunities disappear, or trigger the emergence of sudden problems in the trade relationship. Sadly the “I’m alright jack” attitude has become deeply ingrained in NZ in recent years, and plenty of people aren’t concerned with housing affordability, underfunded DHBs, homelessness and other problems in their backyard, let alone broader geopolitical concerns or issues such as human rights in China.


    • As a atheist can I say Lord Macartney almost certainly did believe in God and nothing including his own sovereign’s command would have persuaded him to kowtow to a mortal. Religion imposes high standards.


  6. Surely current alligiance is the most salient. You have provided an image of kowtowing in your piece, a Chinese practice of the imperial era. An era of total loyalty to a monarchy regime otherwise it meant death.
    Perhaps to juxtapose the practice and your perception of NZ’s supplicancy to China, that you think Dr Jian Yang represents.

    Dr Jian Yang is a New Zealand Citizen. As such, he has automatically lost his Chinese citzenship. New Zealand is country of immigrants, what is important is that the person only has alligiance to NZ and no other foreign power.

    People migrate to move to a new society and not cling to their past.

    If NZ were to pass laws that bars people from parliament with the rights and priviledges of a foreign power, it would not have the support of many NZers. Especially those with dual citizenship or those able to access ancestry visas. It would significantly exclude people with a parent/grandparent from Britain, who have not renouced their citizenship.


    • That is a delightfully naive series of assertions. There are many well publicised cases of Chinese spies who were naturalized US citizens who conducted espionage for decades, nevermind how many there may be in other countries Here are some, see how many times and in how man cases ‘citizen’ appears.

      Once, New Zealand made principled policy decisions in spite of the potential economic (and other) consequences, such as the nuclear free zone. That seems like a long time ago.


      • Perhaps he is a new kind of spy. Hidden in plain sight.
        Good spies are the ones that no one really suspects. Part of the furniture, shun publicity and they avoid any connection to the place they are spying for.


      • As far as I know, most of those with concerns about Yang do not suspect him of spying (altho if the orginal story about SIS concerns about his position on the Foreign Affairs Ctte of Parliament were true, that would be another matter.

        Personally, i have two concerns: someone with his background should not be in our parliament at all, unless he is prepated to openly recant his past allegiances and express open regret for his active voluntary participation in a vile regime. And the other concern is the one summarised in the phrase others have used “agent of influence”: he appears still to be very closely aligned to the PRC authorities to an extent where it is hard to be confident that he is consistently pursuing NZ interests and would do so when the interests of NZ and the PRC are at odds. The fact that he is apparently a key fundraiser for the National Party just reinforces the concern.

        And, to be clear, if (say) Julie_anne Genter had that sort of past in the US, and continued to identify very strongly with US govt interests and agencies, i would have very many of the same concerns (accentuated if there was evidence that the US itself was trying to interfere in the domestic political system).


      • There’s nothing new about spies hiding in plain sight. Ever hear of Kim Philby and the Cambridge Five? No, it’s not a band.


      • I think to target Yang for not openly being critical of China is rather harsh as a criteria to enter into a job that is meant to serve the public and I do believe the new administration of Premier Xi Jin Peng has been involved in brutal and cruel. Quite the reverse China has been very peaceful and restraint in its various international disputes participating actively in UN missions of peacekeeping and ever ready to lend a hand in any natural disasters.

        I can’t say the same for Israel though. It is no wonder that John Key, a Jew, resigned rather than having to condemn Israel for land grabbing and brutal and harsh treatment of the Palestinians in land disputes just a few months prior to the UN resolution condemning Israel lodged by NZ as part of the UN Security Council. But as a New Zealander and the Prime Minister he should have stood by with his government and be fully involved in the condemnation of Israels actions. Instead he chose to step down escaping Israels wrath.


      • Correction: The Administration of Premier Xin Jin Peg has NOT been involved in any brutal or cruel activities.


      • “I think to target Yang for not openly being critical of China is rather harsh as a criteria”

        Is Yang being ‘targetted’? It is his own lack of candor about his background on his application for citizenship, his affiliation to organizations meant to influence the Chinese diaspora and in turn to influence their host country, and finally his explanation, which is more an admission than an excuse, that has brought this attention upon him.

        Israel, huh? Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…


      • Interesting as well because we have another immigrant who peddled influence until the yankee FBI decided to rob him of his money. That has been how many years in court.Just another Key compromise.


    • I wouldn’t favour adopting the Australian prohibition on dual citizenship, and as you note dual citizenship isn’t the issue in Yang’s case. There is the question of whether he withheld material information on his citizenship application, but what I find more concerning is the apparent patterns of behaviour that lead many to conclude that in practice, and at very least, Yang isn’t able to distinguish the interests of the PRC from those of NZ. With his background, if he wants to serve in our Parliament, we might reasonably expect some clear denunciations of his past associations with, and service of, an evil regime. As we would have for someone moving from Germany who’d been a member of the Nazi Party and voluntarily engaged in the state’s intelligence networks,

      People move countries for all sorts of reasons. It isn’t easy, or perhaps even possible, to look into their souls, but it is reasonable for voters to expect (a) to be told the true story about candidates, and (b) to push back against candidates who identifiy so closely with the representatives of a foreign power.

      Btw, I don’t accept the characterisation of NZ as a “nation of immigrants”. I was NZ born, my parents were NZ born, my grandparents were all NZ born, as were most of my greatgrandparents. This is home.


      • I can well imagine Dr Yang wants to use his ethnic advantage to be a representative for all Chinese immigrants. If so he may be avoidingpublic criticism of the Chinese government because it would alienate some of the Chinese immigrants he wants to represent. However if that is the case he should be in sensitive contact with Chinese immigrants who are not supporters of the Chinese government such as Taiwanese, Tibetans, Falun Gong, democrats from Hong Kong, etc. If he is not a stooge for the Chinese government then he should be able to prove a record of being sensitive to the concerns of all immigrants of Chinese ethnicity. [Of course as a list MP he is also representing all Kiwis of whatever origin].


      • Of course you would not condemn dual passports as you do also hold a British Passport. But as I hold only a NZ passport I would follow the Australian condemnation of dual passport holders as unreliable to hold office as a MP. Yang would have to give up his China passport as China does not allow dual citizenship. That is a good sign of loyalty to NZ. Would you be prepared to give up your British passport? I doubt you would.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I”m not sure whether you were aiming this comment at me or not, but to be clear I certainly do not hold a British passport (sadly, my family having been here for many generations). Perhaps more importantly in this case, I’m not a member of Parliament or a political candidate. In case, your comment was aimed at Bob, neither is he.


      • Country of immigrants: like Australia, Canada, USA, Singapore etc. Significant proportion of the population descendent from recent immigrants.
        Recent in my estimation is within the last 500 years. Indigenous from my point of view, is a population that is not known to be from another location within a time period of Millennia or recorded history.

        The test for me in Dr Yang’s case is; has he shown actions that are contrary to the interests of NZ. Currying favor with the Chinese government on NZ’s behalf or cultivating connections in the interest of NZ doesn’t meet the disloyalty test. If Yang is useful to NZ and to the National party, it would not be wise to publicity humilate the Chinese government. A person with cultural sensitivities is important, saving face publicly is essential in Chinese relationships.


      • Yes, I know what people mean by “nation of immigrants”, but I don’t think it is a useful description, and is often a distraction – sometimes deliberate – to avoid recognising that it is quite legitimate and appropriate for a state to have views on, and limits on, how many people should come here now.

        Someone of Yang’s sort may well be useful – whether to NZ, the PRC, or the National Party – but he shouldn’t be in our Parliament. We should be confident that our MPs are working solely in the interests of NZers and I don’t see how that can be the case in Yang’s case. A quiet departure from politics would be the least-worst outcome now, perhaps even for the PRC.


  7. Getgreatstuff, continues to display complete ignorance and antisemitism.

    The Oslo II Accord divided the West Bank properly called Judea and Samaria into three administrative divisions: Areas A, B and C. Note, area A is exclusively administered by the Palestinian Authority; Area B is administered by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel; and Area C, is administered by Israel. Area C is where Israel is building. This is Israel’s country; Arabs are from the Arabian Peninsular and are not indigenous to North Africa, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria or gaza etc.

    Where are the original N. Africans and Egyptians etc today? As it is clear you do not know, here is the answer: They were killed or forced into conversion to Islam. This is because Islam’s teachings require World domination and war hence their relentless attacks on Israel. The only aspect this attack on Israel has to do with land (the palestinians have rejected their own state three times since 1917) is because Islam cannot tolerate any country owning land they formally conquered (see e.g. Spain and Balkan’s islamic issues). Further, the koran commands the killing of all Jewish people to usher in the mahdi (their messiah).

    If you had some understanding of Islam you would know: The Quran contains at least 109 verses that speak specifically of killing nonbelievers / non-Muslims (have you missed the 30,000 Islamic terror attacks since 9/11?). These verses say, chop off their heads and kill non-Muslims wherever they may be hiding. Muslims who do not join the fight are called ‘hypocrites’ and warned that Allah will send them to Hell if they do not kill non-muslims. Your palestinian friends continually state, “Arise, o sons of Arabia. Fight for your sacred rights. Slaughter Jews wherever you find them. Their spilled blood pleases Allah, our history and religion”. The Quran’s teaching can be summed by this verse: 4:95-96 “Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and receive no hurt, and those who strive and fight in the cause of God with their goods and their persons. God hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home)”.

    As the current article speaks of foreign influences your propaganda of palestinians was invented by the KGB in the 1960’s assisting 1400 years of Islamic practice of murder (the tally so far is 270 million murdered (Thomas Sowell, 1994; David B. Barrett, 2001; Koenard Elst, 2001).

    Israel is a democratic country where Israeli Arabs vote and are members of the Knesset and the rule of law is practiced. Where are the half million Jewish people who formally lived in muslim lands of the middle east today?

    This clip ( shows your support using the same language of lies muslim terrorists speak as opposed to the facts practiced by Hamas and PLO. This is exposed by the eldest son of one of Hamas’s top leaders in the clip at the UN. Fifty percent of the PLO/Hamas’s income goes to terrorist family pensions who have killed Israeli citizens and you support this (e.g.

    Lastly, these so called Palestinians are Jordanian and in gaza they are mainly Egyptians.

    Instead of get stuff why not do something useful to society and get an education?


    • Clearly an education that you propose is not a guarantee of wisdom. It takes a larger force to show patience and extend the hand of peace. UN resolution merely calls for a cease of further land grabbing activity until disputes can be discussed and settled. Israel is clearly the military superpower in the region. If you keep poking even a tiny mouse(Palestinians) in the nose. Eventually even that tiny mouse will bite you.(sticks, stones and a few rockets)


    • Your point about Palestinians being Jordanians and Egyptians makes little or no sense. New Zealanders are made up of Maoris, British, Irish, Chinese, Indians etc.


    • Antisemitism? Is beating up the little guy called Antisemitism these days? I thought the appropriate term is a big bully?


      • Buncombe, your antisemitism blinds you to facts. This is an economic blog requiring basic numeracy, yet you cannot grasp there are 1.6 billion muslims surrounding five million Israelis! One third of UN directives are against Israel because of the 56 muslim countries dominating the UN. Yet these very countries permit rape of children, wife beating, female genital mutilation, murder of non-muslims, child marriage, sex slave markets and fund terrorists, which you are supporting. Our western world and technology would not exist if it was not for the Jewish people, yet you support Islam that plunged Europe into the dark ages and is trying to do so again. Fimicolous is clearly your way of life.


      • I guess with The Greens new Muslim refugee MP who also a distinguished refugee lawyer with the UN, then the Greens now have a mandate to push their 5000 Muslim refugees each year policy into NZ. I wonder if Winston Peters NZFwill support a Labour/Greens government with that as one of the Greens core value policies?


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