Anne-Marie Brady has been at the forefront of identifying, and highlighting, the ways in which the People’s Republic of China, through the Communist Party’s United Front work programme, appears to have been attempting to influence, and interfere with, public life in New Zealand – both among the local ethnic Chinese community, and more generally. Her Magic Weapons paper remains required reading, and for all that apologists have attempted to brush aside the issues raised in the paper, no one has made any serious efffort to engage with, and refute, the concerns she has raised.
Most other New Zealand academics, with familiarity with the Chinese language, have stayed silent. But another person – with Chinese language – who has written, quite extensively, about the New Zealand situation is the author of the pseudonymous blog Jichang Lulu. He has a new and substantial piece (if characterised by an idiosyncratic style) on the United Front activities in New Zealand, which is likely to repay reading for anyone interested in these issues. Whoever the author is, his usual focus is regions far from New Zealand (Nordics) but has been paying a lot of attention to the New Zealand situation in the last year or so and appears to be quite well-connected. I linked the other day to his detailed piece on PRC efforts to attempt to bring Norway and Mongolia to heel.
Much focus in recent months has been on National Party list MP Jian Yang. But, of course, National is in Opposition at present. Jichang Lulu has raised specific concerns about senior Labour backbencher Raymond Huo, who also appears to have close connection to the PRC regime. From his latest post
According to a source with knowledge of the matter, recent requests from a CCP-unfriendly NZ Chinese organisation to have ministers send Chinese New Year greetings were reportedly redirected to Raymond Huo, effectively making the ruling party’s leading United Frontling, whose PRC-consonant views are well–known, the government’s gatekeeper to contacts with the Chinese community. In contrast, ministers and other politicians didn’t hesitate to attend celebrations with PRC diplomats. In other words, the Party-state, through its local advocates, can vicariously veto official support for something as apolitical as a calendrical festivity, at least when the persons seeking such support happen to have Chinese surnames.
Huo currently chairs Parliament’s justice committee – responsible for the triennial review of the election, and for handling new electoral legislation more generally. And the way governments typically turnover their members, there has to be a pretty significant chance that he’ll be a member of the executive before this parliamentary term is out. Much focus in recent times has been on past and present ties of senior National Party figures to PRC interests. But with Labour in government – and their party president an effusive public supporter of Xi Jinping – it is about time harder questions were asked of the new government.
Another thing worth reading (although behind a paywall) is an article in The Australian today under the heading Cold War: Freeze on China Ties. It builds on reports last week that
university leaders were concerned about Chinese government attempts to dissuade students from coming to Australia to study. In an escalation of the pressure on universities, school visits have been cancelled, senior educational meetings in Beijing have been “postponed” and messages warning of the dangers of studying in Australia have been posted on the website of the Chinese embassy in Canberra.
China is putting Australia into a diplomatic deep freeze, stalling on ministerial visits, deferring a trip by our top diplomat and putting off a broad range of lower-level exchanges to pressure Malcolm Turnbull over the new foreign interference laws and naval challenges to disputed Chinese claims in the South China Sea.
Government sources are reported as conceding that “there is a diplomatic and bureaucratic stalling over a range of visits, as Beijing voices its displeasure at foreign-interference laws”.
I guess this is the sort of thing that the subservient apologists in our own political, bureaucratic and business establishment worry about. But perhaps it should prompt them to think again about the nature of the regime they want to cosy up to. The PRC might have some capacity to hurt individual New Zealand economic sectors – as, say, the Mafia or organised crime might in other countries – but our prosperity as a nation is simply not based on those firms’ trade with China. And sometimes, just occasionally, there are advantages to distance: Korea, Vietnam, or the Philippines (let alone Taiwan) have to live with the PRC on their doorstep. We don’t, and it is surely time to reflect on what manner of regime they abet, whether actively or by silence.
The other day, New Zealand Prime Minister gave her first major foreign policy speech. As far as I could tell, it was better than it could have been on the PRC.
China’s global influence has grown along with its economic weight. Its leadership on issues like climate change and trade liberalisation could add momentum to our collective efforts in those areas.
Naturally, there are areas where we do not see eye to eye with China. My government will speak honestly and openly with our friends in Beijing. Whether it is about human rights, pursuing our trade interests, or the security and stability of our region.
Taking that approach isn’t about singling countries out, , but about taking a consistent approach on the issues and principles that matter to us.
It wasn’t very grovelly – none of the nonsense Murray McCully was using just a few months ago about China saving us through the financial crisis of 2008/09 – although anyone who thinks China is somehow at the forefront of global trade liberalisation hasn’t looked very closely (or doesn’t wish to).
By contrast, here is Julie Bishop quoted in that same Australian article
After Mr Trump said he would “love” Australia to join the US in military passages through Chinese disputed territorial waters, Mr Turnbull refused to say in advance when an operation would take place. Such an operation, which the US has conducted in the past, would contradict Beijing’s claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea and assert the right of free passage for international shipping.
In Australia, Ms Bishop said: “We have been traversing the South China Sea for many years in accordance with international law and we will continue to do that. Australia is an upholder and defender of the international rules-based order. We believe strongly in the principle of freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, and we will continue to traverse the South China Sea as we have in the past”.
I’m no great fan of the current Australian government more generally, but there is a degree of realism about the nature of the regime, and its external threats, that seems deliberately absent from the utterances of our own leaders, of whatever party.
Prompted by the events of the last few days, I wonder whether journalists might consider asking a few questions of some of our political leaders:
- what do the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs think of the PRC actions in recent days to remove the term limit on how long Xi Jinping can serve as President? One might hope that any answers would be somewhat more serious – more engaged with the level of international unease – than suggesting, say, that, after all, we have no term limits, and our head of state reigns for life.
- since National Party president Peter Goodfellow and Labour Party president Nigel Haworth (and former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley) have quite recently been effusive in their praise of Xi Jinping and his approach (links in the Jichang Lulu piece), how do they view this latest step? It is no good attempting to say “oh, we are just party functionaries we do the organising”: if you are willing to praise the foreign leader of an aggressive dictatorial state, that increasingly threatens not only the human rights of its own people but other nations, you owe us your take on this latest step.
- and since Bill English refused ever to engage seriously on the issue of Jian Yang – the former PLA intelligence official, who now concedes he misrepresented his past to enter New Zealand, and who maintains very close ties to the PRC authorities – perhaps they could ask Simon Bridges, the new National Party leader. Is he comfortable having such a person in his caucus, and (reportedly) as one of the party’s leading fundraisers. Most likely, Bridges would fob journalists off as English did whenever anyone asked, or fall back on the slurs his shadow Attorney-General has relied on. But even if he did, at least we would have a clearer steer on the character of the man, and the nature of the new generation of New Zealand’s political leadership.