“I’m always very careful what I say to either man”

It was to the credit of TVNZ’s Q&A show –  probably our leading current affairs television programme –  that yesterday they gave some time to the question of the Chinese Communist Party (and state) activities in New Zealand.

The centrepiece was an interview with Canterbury University politics professor Anne-Marie Brady, about her recent substantial paper Magic Weapons: China’s political influence activities under Xi Jinping, which had a particular (and mostly well-documented) focus on New Zealand, and the great deference shown by much of the New Zealand establishment towards a brutal and expansionist regime.  And it was preceded by an interview with Beijing-based New Zealand economist Rodney Jones on various topics including (CP)TPP, China’s own political and economic direction (including the increasingly visible and dominant role of the Communist Party), and some of the concerns raised in Brady’s paper and in the Financial Times/Newsroom disclosures about the background of National MP –  and Chinese Communist Party member –  Jian Yang.

Jones noted –  and of course I largely agree with him –  that we should consider it simply unacceptable to have a member of the Chinese Communist Party as a member of our Parliament (noting the point various other commentators have made –  you only get to leave the Party by death or expulsion).  Same goes for former serving members of the military intelligence establishment of a regime such as that of China.   Jones called for bi-partisan agreement on these points between the National and Labour parties.  Formal accords don’t have a great track record, but frankly any political party that took serious our heritage as a longstanding open and free democratic society would not even consider having such a person in their ranks.   As I’ve noted previously, I’d make an exception for someone with Jian Yang’s background who has now genuinely “seen the light”, is willing to openly disown and criticise the regime he was once part of, wanting nothing now to do with the representatives in New Zealand of such an evil regime.   Oleg Gordievsky was a hero, and rightly honoured as such.

Professor Brady noted that China’s influence-seeking activities in countries such as ours operate on multiple levels (all documented more extensively in her paper).  She noted the way in which almost all the Chinese-language media in New Zealand is now under the thumb of the Chinese Communist Party.   She highlighted the issue of political donations, and the way in which our electoral finance laws allow large donations, including from foreign individuals and foreign-controlled entities, to find their way –  often anonymously –  to political parties.  She has previously noted the way that many former senior politicians now hold directorships and other positions in ways that either directly serve the interests of China, or (at least) provide a severe economic disincentive to ever saying anything that might displease China –  noting yesterday that in at least some cases these people will have got into these roles barely aware of the wider context. And she drew attention to the extraordinary way in which our business and political elites go out of their way to pander to such a dreadful regime.    She noted that the presidents of both the National and Labour parties, and various heads of universities, had been issuing positive statements around the recent 19th (Communist) Party Congress –  in a way which, as she noted, one could never imagine happening for a US political party convention.  I couldn’t find a record of vice-chancellors’ statements –  although given the amount of fee income they derive from Chinese students, and the (Chinese-controlled) Confucius Institutes  several allow as part of their universities, what she says wasn’t a great surprise.  As for Peter Goodfellow and Nigel Haworth, that did surprise me a bit, but sure enough a quick search took me to Xinhua/China Daily stories under the heading “Global chorus of praise for party leadership”, with quotes from these heads of our two largest political parties (along with those from various parties in other countries), prefaced this way

The ongoing 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China has received messages of greeting from foreign leaders, political parties and organizations around the world. They speak highly of the Party’s leadership as well as China’s socioeconomic development and global contributions, and express full confidence that the CPC will lead China to even greater success. The following is an edited summary of these messages.

These people –  these parties –  are a disgrace, selling out their (our) birthright for a mess of potage.    All the more so at a conference which set the public seal on the ascendancy of Xi Jinping, whose term in office has been marked by ever-less freedom, an ever-more instrusive state, a much more internationally aggressive foreign policy……as we see the stepped up United Front Work programme of influence-seeking in other countries.  It is as if our political parties had lost any sense of self-respect.

Brady urged New Zealand to take the issues more seriously, and to look to work closely with Australia and Canada, countries which face similar issues to those in New Zealand –  and where the governments have been more willing to confront the problems.   She highlighted the quote from a Chinese diplomat that appears in her paper

after Premier Li Keqiang visited New Zealand in 2017, a Chinese diplomat favourably compared New Zealand-China relations to the level of closeness China had with Albania in the early 1960s.

As she noted, we should hope that this was very far from true.  Albania had been the most isolated member of the eastern-bloc then, and we should not be comfortable as the most isolated member of the western-bloc now.   In making that comment she was probably alluding to the reports of growing unease among our traditional partners about the closeness of New Zealand governments (and our political/business establishment) to China.

But in many respect Brady was mostly traversing –  although presenting it to a wider audience –  ground that her fascinating paper has already made familiar.  My main reason for writing this post was some mix of astonishment and further dismay at the panel discussion that followed the Brady interview.   There were three panellists: Josie Pagani (who has Labour affiliations), Laila Harre (former Alliance Cabinet minister), and former diplomat and now lobbyist Charles Finny.   Add in the presenter, and they were all falling over themselves to play down any sort of issue –  with the possible exception of something around political donations, with Laila Harre using the opportunity to make the case for state-funding of political parties.

The word “racist” was never explicitly mentioned, but the panellists and presenters seemed to live in terror of being denounced as “racist” if they raised any concerns about a foreign government’s activities in New Zealand.    It was, after all, exactly the approach taken by (now) senior Opposition MP (and former Attorney-General) Chris Finlayson, who then added in a touch of personal abuse of Professor Brady for “good” measure.   Pagani expressed concern that there was “an element of singling out individuals” (MPs Jian Yang and Raymond Huo) about the paper, and the presenter chimed in with the suggestion that no one raises concerns about (American-born and raised) Greens minister, Julie-Anne Genter.

I’m not sure about anyone else, but I’ve explicitly addressed the Genter situation here previously.  Had Genter worked for the American military intelligence system, and spent her time hob-nobbing with the American Embassy, articulating American positions on issues, I’d have many of the same concerns as I have about Jian Yang (with the –  not trivial – difference that the United States is a historic friend and ally).  It probably wouldn’t be appropriate for such a person to be in our Parliament, as we could not be confident that their national loyalties lay exclusively with New Zealand.  But here’s the thing: no one has ever raised a shred of evidence to suggest that Genter’s past or present includes anything of that sort.    (Personally, I’d be reluctant to vote for someone for Parliament who had immigrated from anywhere as an adult, but there is still a material difference between Jian Yang –  and Raymond Huo –  and Julie-Anne Genter.  And the important differences aren’t about skin colour or sex, but about demonstrable patterns of conduct.)

But the most vocal, and egregious, of the panellists was the lobbyist Charles Finny.  He has sallied forth in defence of Jian Yang previously, and I wrote about his comments here.   He’s a lobbyist, whose livelihood, depends on “getting on” with the main political parties –  which does make one wonder about TVNZ’s judgement about having as a panellist someone who will be ever-emollient at best.  He knows a great deal about China, but can’t afford to say what he knows openly.

Here is some of what I wrote about Finny’s previous effort in defence of Jian Yang.

Finny’s article is headed “Time for NZ political parties to take the migrant vote seriously” (actually I was pretty sure Labour had been doing just that in South Auckland for decades), but his focus is on the ethnic Chinese vote, and Jian Yang.

On the last day of the Westie experience [some years ago] I was introduced to a National Party candidate, Dr Jian Yang. He was teaching in the political science department at the University of Auckland. We talked about his academic background, about what he had done in China before leaving for Australia (where he completed his PhD at ANU), about the China-New Zealand relationship and about the Chinese Embassy and Consulate network in New Zealand.

It was clear Dr Yang was very well-connected to the leadership of the Chinese communities in New Zealand, as well as to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China and its Auckland Consulate. He also had significant connections in China, both to government figures, and to the business community. This was the first of many meetings I have had with Dr Yang. We have met in his context as a MP, as a member of select committees and at social functions. We have travelled together to China and elsewhere as part of official delegations. 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.

Did they, one wonders, back in 2010/11 discuss Yang’s background in the Communist Party and his teaching role in the Chinese foreign intelligence services?

What is astonishing is that one of New Zealand’s most-experienced China experts is, at least in public, untroubled by any of this: the close connections to a foreign government’s embassy, even as he serves as a member of the New Zealand Parliament, or the key role he describes both Yang, and Labour’s Raymond Huo playing in party fundraising?  Not that many decades ago, the convention – perhaps not always rigorously observed – was that elected politicians stayed well clear of party fundraising efforts, for good reasons to help maintain the integrity of the parliamentary system.

Finny is in full defence mode for Yang (and presumably Huo).

But it was a strange campaign period, with political players employing various strategies. Among the twists and turns, a rather strange and well-coordinated analysis/investigation was undertaken and then reported by Newsroom and the Financial Times about the past of Dr Yang. Subsequent coverage has led to calls for Dr Yang’s resignation.

Now, I have been involved in politics long enough to know that there are few stories of substance to emerge in the middle of an election campaign by coincidence (particularly ones that are so thoroughly researched). This was a story suggested by someone who had an agenda of some sort – and the timing was intentional.

If 10 days before an election isn’t a reasonable time to ask questions about a candidate’s background. I’m not sure when is? And it isn’t as if, to date, anything those media outlets reported has been disproved or refuted?

And Finny has nothing at all to say about Professor Brady’s paper, the timing of which was determined by the dates of an international conference she was presenting at. As he talks up – no doubt correctly – the importance of the migrant vote, surely suggestions that a major foreign power might be actively engaged in attempting to control most of the local Chinese-language media, and Chinese cultural associations, might have been worthy of some mention?

In his comments yesterday, Finny went further.   He confirmed that he had known right back in 2010/11 that Jian Yang had served in the Chinese military intelligence system.  The voters, of course, were not so fortunate, until Newsroom and the Financial Times finally revealed that background a couple of months ago.

Finny confirmed that he knew both Jian Yang and Raymond Huo, the latter less well.  He observed that he thought it was great that we had Chinese MPs, and had no problem with them being in our Parliament.  But then he went on to note that he was always very careful what he said to either man, because he knew that both of them were very close to the Chinese Embassy.  One could only shake one’s head in some mix of astonishment and despair that a leading former diplomat is just fine with having two people in our Parliament whom he doesn’t feel confident about talking openly to, apparently because he thinks that anything he says could end up back at the Chinese Embassy.    Out of his own mouth…….

There was a belated (and lame) attempt to cover himself, as Finny observed that “many of us are close to other countries’ embassies.  I don’t suppose that anyone has concerns that if someone in public life in New Zealand talks to Charles Finny that whatever they say might end up with the American, Australia, or whatever embassy he had in mind.  There is quite a difference between having a good working relationship with the embassy of another country –  probably quite important if you are involved in trade lobbying etc –  and having divided loyalties.  Charles Finny served New Zealand for decades as a diplomat, and I’m sure no one has reason to doubt his national loyalties.  Were he to move to the United States, get elected to Congress, and maintain very close ties to the New Zealand Embassy, Americans might reasonably have doubts (in that hypothetical).

Finny also attempted to defend Jian Yang and Raymond Huo by suggesting that their first loyalties might well be to New Zealand, but that they would have views about how New Zealand’s interests might be best served.  I suspect Arthur Seyss-Inquart had views about how Austria’s best interests in the 1930s were served too, or Jozef Tiso in Slovakia.  It is a defence almost impossible to take seriously.  We need to know that our MPs have a national loyalty only to New Zealand, and the best interests of New Zealanders, and not to an advancement of a foreign power’s view of those interests.

After all, if (private citizen and lobbyist) Charles Finny is always “very careful” about what he says in the presence of Jian Yang or Raymond Huo, how much more uneasy should we be our the presence of these MPs in the caucuses of our two main political parties (one previously in the government caucus, the other now)?   Should those MPs’ peers always be “very careful” what they say in the presence of Yang and Huo?  Finny’s advice would appear to be so.    Both serve on select committees, which benefit from departmental briefings –  indeed, given the shortage of experienced Labour MPs, Huo will almost certainly be chairing a select committee this term.  Would Finny regard it as acceptable for these men –  who he is “always careful” with – to serve as ministers in our government?  In any of these fora –  caucuses, select committees, Cabinet (or travel with senior ministers) –  there is likely to be information or angles that the Chinese Embassy would regard as valuable.  I’m not suggesting either man passes on such information: it was Finny who appeared to make that claim.  It was an extraordinary concession.

As for Josie Pagani claiming that there was “an element of singling out individuals”, well in a way she is correct.  Brady’s paper singles out specific individuals about whom there are specific reasons for concern –  the exact opposite, for example, of tarring an entire community.  Here are the some of specific paragraphs from Brady’s paper.

On Jian Yang she has several pages of material, including

As widely reported in the New Zealand and international media in 2017, Yang Jian worked for fifteen years in China’s military intelligence sector. It was a history which he has admitted he concealed on his New Zealand permanent residency application and job applications in New Zealand,104 as well as his public profile in New Zealand—at least in English sources.

However in an article in the People’s Daily (Renmin ribao) magazine, Huanqiu renwu (Global People) in 2013, which was republished in a number of websites, Yang Jian gave an extensive interview detailing aspects of his earliest years, his career in China, and subsequent activities in Australia and New Zealand. Yang Jian entered the PLA-Air Force Engineering College to study English in 1978; he taught at the same college for five years after graduation, trained at the People’s Liberation Army Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute for his first Masters degree, studied for a year at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for US-China Studies at Nanjing University, and after that, from 1990 to 1993 taught English to students at the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute who were studying to intercept and decipher English language communications.

Yang Jian does not mention his 15 year career and studies with the PLA on his National Party online cv, and it also does not appear on the online cv provided for his profile when he was a lecturer at the University of Auckland. But he did provide this information in a cv in English to be circulated to Chinese officials which he gave to the New Zealand Embassy in China, preparatory to a visit to China in 2012, the year after he entered parliament.  And a Chinese language report promoting the setting up of the National Party’s Blue Dragons organization (an ethnic Chinese youth group within that party), highlights his studies at the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute, while not mentioning any other details about his working life or other tertiary studies when he was living in China. The Financial Times speculated that these selective mentions of his past links with the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute were meant as a “dog whistle” to the Chinese community in New Zealand.

She goes on to note to his role as key fundraiser, access to material that someone with his background would never get as an official, and noting that “Yang is seen at most official events involving the PRC embassy and the ethnic Chinese community in New Zealand.”

And of Huo she writes

Even more so than Yang Jian, who until the recent controversy, was not often quoted in the New Zealand non-Chinese language media, the Labour Party’s ethnic Chinese MP, Raymond Huo霍建强 works very publicly with China’s united front organizations in New Zealand and promotes their policies in English and Chinese. Huo was a Member of Parliament from 2008 to 2014, then returned to Parliament again in 2017 when a list position became vacant. In 2009, at a meeting organized by the Peaceful Reunification of China Association of New Zealand to celebrate Tibetan Serf Liberation Day, Huo said that as a “person from China” (中国人) he would promote China’s Tibet policies to the New Zealand Parliament.

Huo works very closely with the PRC representatives in New Zealand.  In 2014, at a meeting to discuss promotion of New Zealand’s Chinese Language Week (led by Huo and Johanna Coughlan) Huo said that “Advisors from Chinese communities will be duly appointed with close consultation with the Chinese diplomats and community leaders.”   Huo also has close contacts with the Zhi Gong Party 致公党 (one of the eight minor parties under the control of the United Front Work Department). The Zhi Gong Party is a united front link to liaise with overseas Chinese communities, as demonstrated in a meeting between Zhi Gong Party leaders and Huo to promote the New Zealand OBOR Foundation and Think Tank.

It was Huo who made the decision to translate Labour’s 2017 election campaign slogan “Let’s do it” into a quote from Xi Jinping (撸起袖子加油干, which literally means “roll up your sleeves and work hard”). Huo told journalists at the Labour campaign launch that the Chinese translation “auspiciously equates to a New Year’s message from President Xi Jinping encouraging China to ‘roll its sleeves up’.”   However, inauspiciously, in colloquial Chinese, Xi’s phrase can also be read as “roll up your sleeves and …..[expletive deleted] hard” and the verb (撸) has connotations of masturbation. Xi’s catchphrase has been widely satirized in Chinese social media.  Nonetheless, the phrase is now the politically correct slogan for promoting OBOR, both in China and abroad. The use of Xi’s political catchphrase in the Labour campaign, indicates how tone deaf Huo and those in the Chinese community he works with are to how the phrase would be received in the New Zealand political environment. In 2014, when asked about the issue of Chinese political influence in New Zealand, Huo told RNZ National, “Generally the Chinese community is excited about the prospect of China having more influence in New Zealand” and added, “many Chinese community members told him a powerful China meant a backer, either psychologically or in the real sense.”

And these are people establishment figures like Charles Finny think are just fine to serve in our Parliament?   Even if they do choose to be “very careful” about what they say in these presence of these MPs?  Extraordinary.

Of course, both Jian Yang and Raymond Huo continue to lie low.  TVNZ approached them for comment –  and I suspect would have been only to happy to have broadcast an interview with either.  Jian Yang apparently had nothing to add to what he has already said –  including that he had falsely represented his past on immigration or citizenship papers because the Chinese authorities told him to –  and Raymond Huo was quoted as rejecting “any insinuations against his character”.  Perhaps he should take that up with Charles Finny.

It was pretty extraordinary when, in the previous Parliament, Todd Barclay refused to front the press, or be interviewed by Police.  But at least there was his right to avoid self-incrimination in a potential criminal context to consider.  For two newly-re-elected MPs to simply refuse to front serious questions about their past and present activities, raised by major media outlets, serious academics, and (now) a leading lobbyist and former senior diplomat is just extraordinary.

What is perhaps more extraordinary is that they are presumably doing this on advice.  No one doubts that if the whips and party leaders told them to front up (or else), they would do so.  So we can only assume that the party leaders are complicit in their refusal to front up to the voters.

Sadly, that wouldn’t be very surprising.    Bill English tells the media they will simply have to talk to Jian Yang, while knowing that Jian Yang is refusing to front up to any English-language media.  And questions as to whether is appropriate to have a Communist Party member and former Chinese intelligence officer in his caucus, and as a key fundraiser, are really matters for the leader.  In fact, in the post-election reshuffle, Jian Yang actually won a small promotion –  now National Party spokesman on statistics.

The current Prime Minister and the leader of the Green Party are totally silent on the matter.  And although our Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs did utter the odd concerned noise before he took office, there has been nothing since.    The latest line –  reported by Newsroom –  now that he has rejoined the establishment  is that

However, Peters said he did not raise the issue with [Chinese foreign minister] Wang, blaming previous governments for not taking action.

Perhaps, but you are the government now, and the issues haven’t gone away.   Perhaps even more incredible –  or par for the course –  was this

Peters said he had never wanted an inquiry into China’s influence in New Zealand.

“I raised two things, I said the fact the Australians had expressed serious concern and that this was, in terms of the Brady report, a highly internationally recognised thesis and finding – I didn’t ask for a full-scale public inquiry and I’m not asking for one now.”

However, a press release issued by Peters on September 19, titled “China’s Growing Control in New Zealand Must Be Investigated”, quoted Brady as saying “a special commission was needed to investigate China’s impact on our democracy”.

Which might be slightly less concerning if there was any sign, even a shred, that the Minister of Foreign Affairs or the Prime Minister were taking the issue seriously in private, and were willing to do anything about it.

Is there really no political figure, in our entire political system, willing to stand up for the interests and values of New Zealanders, for our heritage as one of the longest-established democracies in the world?  Or to recognise, and openly call out, the nature of the Chinese regime?  Hard to believe really –  decades ago our then Labour government was at the forefront of resisting the appeasement of Germany – but for now the evidence seems to point in one direction, and it isn’t encouraging,