Canterbury University politics professor Anne-Marie Brady has published today a follow-up to her substantial paper on Chinese party/government influence-seeking activities, particularly in New Zealand. In the new short paper, published under the auspices of a NATO-funded project “Small States and the New Security Environment (SSANSE)”, she poses specific challenges to our new government to do something about the issue, and the threat it poses to New Zealand and New Zealanders (including the many ethnic Chinese citizens). Her abstract reads as follows
New Zealand—along with other nations—is being targeted by a concerted foreign interference campaign by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The campaign aims to gain support for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government’s political and economic agendas by co-opting political and economic elites. It also seeks to access strategic information and resources. China’s efforts undermine the integrity of our political system, threaten our sovereignty, and directly affect the rights of Chinese New Zealanders to freedom of speech, association, and religion. The new Labour-New Zealand First-Greens government must develop an internally-focused resilience strategy that will protect the integrity of democratic processes and institutions, and should work with other like-minded democracies to address this challenge.
When I read that “must” in the final sentence, of course I strongly agreed that it should be so, but was not at all optimistic that it will.
She summarises her key findings as
- China’s covert, corrupting, and coercive political influence activities in New Zealand are now at a critical level.
- The New Zealand government needs to make legislative and policy changes that will better protect New Zealand’s interests and help to protect our nation against foreign interference activities more broadly.
Coming just a day after the news that a leading publisher in Australia had pulled out, at the last minute, of publishing a book on exactly these sorts of issues in Australia, it was a reminder that we aren’t alone in facing these issues. Where we may stand alone is the determination of our political and business elites to ignore the issue, and just hope any fuss dies away quickly without too much upset to Beijing.
As she has argued already in her main paper, the active Chinese intrusion has become a much more serious threat in the last few years, under Xi Jinping
United front work has now taken on a level of importance not seen in China since the years before 1949, when the CCP was in opposition. The CCP’s united front activities incorporate co-opting elites, information management, persuasion, and accessing strategic information and resources. It has also frequently been a means of facilitating espionage. One of the key goals of united front work is to influence the decision-making of foreign governments and societies in China’s favour.
New Zealand appears to have been a test zone for many of China’s united front efforts in recent years. Australia has also been severely affected; and the government there has now made strenuous efforts to deal with China’s influence activities.
Brady notes that New Zealand is of interest to China for both economic and geopolitical reasons. Much of it is covered in the main paper, but some of these lines were new to me and some are apparently dealt with in her new book.
New Zealand’s economic, political, and military relationship with China is seen by Beijing as an exemplar to Australia, the small island nations in the South Pacific, and more broadly, other Western states. New Zealand is valuable to China, as well as to other states such as Russia, as a soft underbelly through which to access Five Eyes intelligence. New Zealand is also a potential strategic site for the PLA-Navy’s Southern Hemisphere naval facilities and a future Beidou-2 ground station—there are already several of these in Antarctica.
Whenever Chinese navy ships visit Auckland, I’m afraid I can’t help thinking of Soviet Union and Nazi Germany parallels – surely we’d never have had their vessels visiting? Would even our governments contemplate granting naval facilities to China – an actively aggressive naval power? I hope not.
Does it all matter?
Some of these activities endanger New Zealand’s national security directly, while others will have a more long-term corrosive effect. The impact of China’s political influence activities on New Zealand democracy has been profound: a curtailing of freedom of speech, religion, and association for the ethnic Chinese community, a silencing of debates on China in the wider public sphere, and a corrupting influence on the political system through the blurring of personal, political and economic interests. Small states such as New Zealand are particularly vulnerable to foreign interference: the media has limited resources and lacks competition; the tertiary education sector is small and —despite the laws on academic freedom—easily intimidated or coopted.
On that latter point, while Canterbury University has apparently stood up for Brady’s right to speak and write in ways that Chinese interests don’t like, that same university hosts one of the Chinese funded and controlled Confucius Institutes.
As she notes, New Zealand governments have embraced this relationship with China, something that intensified under the most-recent National-led government.
What should be done? At an overarching level she says
The Labour-New Zealand First-Greens government must now develop an internally-focused resilience strategy that will protect the integrity of our democratic processes and institutions. New Zealand should work with other like-minded democracies such as Australia and Canada to address the challenge posed by foreign influence activities—what some are now calling hybrid warfare. The new government should follow Australia’s example in speaking up publicly on the issue of China’s influence activities in New Zealand and make it clear that interference in New Zealand’s domestic politics will no longer be tolerated.
Getting specific she calls on the government to
The Labour-New Zealand First-Greens government must instruct their MPs to refuse any further involvement in China’s united front activities.
That would be Raymond Huo I presume.
The new government needs to establish a genuine and positive relationship with the New Zealand Chinese community, independent of the united front organizations authorized by the CCP that are aimed at controlling the Chinese population in New Zealand and controlling Chinese language discourse in New Zealand.
And there is a list of six other specifics
- The new Minister of SIS must instruct the SIS to engage in an in-depth investigation of China’s subversion and espionage activities in New Zealand. NZ SIS can draw on the experience of the Australian agency ASIO, which conducted a similar investigation two years ago.
- The Prime Minister should instruct the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to follow Australia’s example and engage in an in-depth inquiry into China’s political influence activities in New Zealand.
- The Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs should instruct the Commerce Commission to investigate the CCP’s interference in our Chinese language media sector— which breaches our monopoly laws and our democratic requirement for a free and independent media.
- The Attorney General must draft new laws on political donations and foreign influence activities.
- The New Zealand Parliament must pass the long overdue Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism legislation.
- The new government can take a leaf out of the previous National government’s book and appoint its own people in strategically important government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs) which help shape and articulate our China policy, such as the NZ China Council and the Asia New Zealand Foundation.
I’m not sure the Commerce Commission is quite the right body to look at the effective Party/state control of the Chinese language media. And I’m also not entirely sure how much confidence I would have in either the New Zealand intelligence services or DPMC, but I’m certainly supportive of the sort of direction she calls for.
She mentions the ASIO report. As an example of the more realistic hard-headed mentality now afoot in Australia, consider this extract from the Director-General’s overview in the latest ASIO Annual Report
During this reporting period, ASIO identified a number of states and other actors conducting espionage and foreign interference against Australia. Our investigations revealed countries undertaking intelligence operations to access sensitive Australian Government and industry information. We identified foreign powers clandestinely seeking to shape the opinions of members of the Australian public, media organisations and government officials in order to advance their country’s own political objectives. Ethnic and religious communities in Australia were also the subject of covert influence operations designed to diminish their criticism of foreign governments. These activities—undertaken covertly to obscure the role of foreign governments—represent a threat to our sovereignty, the integrity of our national institutions and the exercise of our citizens’ rights.
You will look in vain for anything similar in our SIS Annual Report. Then again, the Minister for the SIS was the same Chris Finlayson who was reduced to personally attacking Professor Brady at a recent election meeting.
I’m also sympathetic to her call regarding appointments to the New Zealand China Council and the Asia New Zealand Foundation. Over the last couple of months I’ve kept an eye on the China Council’s Twitter feed: it is little more than just a propaganda feed, accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative, and more given to adulation than critical analysis. Between the preferences of the (previous) government, and the personal economic interests of many of the key figures involved, perhaps it isn’t too surprising.
But it is also why I’m not very optimistic Professor Brady’s calls will come to anything. Foreign policy – perhaps especially towards China – has been depressingly bipartisan – and there is little sign on these sorts of issues that the Greens or New Zealand First are really any different. Why would our new Prime Minister be inclined to do things differently when her own party president was just recently offering congratulations to the Chinese Communist Party on the occasion of the recent 19th Party Congress? The Labour mayor of Auckland was apparently the recipient of large offshore Chinese donations to his election campaign. I gather that Helen Clark has rubbished the sorts of concerns Professor Brady has raised.
And the National Party Opposition won’t be pressing her to – not only do they have a Communist Party member in their caucus, but their party president was also offering warm fraternal greetings to the butchers of Beijing. The system seems to be corrupted already, so what motivation does anyone inside it have to start to turn things around? Perhaps external pressure might help – if he had any political standing left himself, Malcolm Turnbull might well turn the fire back on the New Zealand government, and question the way it was allowing New Zealand to be used in Chinese party/goverment interests?
As Professor Brady notes, the standard response is always along the lines of
It has often been said that New Zealand is not important to China and that if we offend the Chinese government we risk our trade with them. It is simply not true that New Zealand is not important to China. And when our national interests may be threatened, the government should be prepared to weather temporary short-term blow back, for long-term political and economic gains.
And as I’ve pointed out previously, Australia does much more of its foreign trade with China than New Zealand does, and countries make their own prosperity. China hasn’t made New Zealand, or Australia, rich: our own people and own resources have done that. But the firms – public and private – with a direct vested interest in keeping on good terms with China have access and political clout. One of things we need to remember is that the interests of businesses (and universities) who deal in countries ruled by evil regimes, are not necessarily remotely well-aligned to the interests and values of New Zealanders. Selling to China, on government-controlled terms, isn’t much different than, say, selling to the Mafia. There might be money to be made. But in both causes, the sellers are enablers, and then make themselves dependents, quite severely morally compromised.
And if I were ever remotely hopeful that the sort of changes Professor Brady (admirably) calls for might come to pass, there was just another reminder of how our elites view these things. At a corporate function last week, former Prime Minister John Key
…spoke at length about New Zealand’s relationship with China. “As PM I went to China seven times and everyone knows that I’m a massive China fan. I think the opportunities are enormous, the country is amazing, and the leadership is doing extremely well,”
I guess the leadership is doing “extremely well” at securing its own position, advancing China’s interests (over against the rule of international law) in the South China Sea, in expanding their influence in countries like our own, in extending the reach of the Party ever further in China itself, and pressing on with the chilling social credit scheme, to give the state ever more control over the populace. Oh, and the small matter of an ever-more-distorted credit-driven economy that can’t even come close to replicating the material living standard available in the freer democratic bits of east Asia.
The system – our system, as well as theirs – is corrupted. Their corruption and destruction is conscious and deliberate.
It all also leaves me slightly uneasy about a comment I saw from Professor Brady suggesting that any inquiry needed to take place in secret. Perhaps there are some national security issues where secrecy would be important, but if there is any hope of sustained change it can probably only come from something that happens openly, and which enables New Zealanders to see what their leaders have done – pursuing some mix of a warped view of national interest, and of private and personal business interests. Who, after all, would the secret reports be delivered to, but the same political leaders who have allowed this suborning of our system, and our people, to go on. Someone wrote to me yesterday that ” this isn’t an oligarchic or anti-democratic society”. That’s right. But it can be a supine one, too ready to ignore what doesn’t affect most of us (non-Chinese New Zealanders) very much on a day to day basis.
If you refuse to open your eyes, or read, it is hardly surprising you might not see anything.
Andrew Little, the Minister Responsible for the SIS, said he was not aware of any undue Chinese influence.
“I don’t see evidence of undue influence in New Zealand, whether it’s New Zealand politics, or New Zealand communities generally.
“We have a growing Chinese community. We have a strongly developing trade relationship and diplomatic relationship with China. I don’t think those things, on their own, connote undue influence.
“If there’s other things she says constitutes undue influence, we’d have to know what that is.”