For almost 20 years now, the United States has had
The United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission is a congressional commission of the United States government. Created through a congressional mandate in October 2000, it is responsible for monitoring and investigating national security and trade issues between the United States and People’s Republic of China. The Commission holds regular hearings and roundtables, produces an annual report on its findings, and provides recommendations to Congress on legislative actions related to China.
The twelve commissioners are appointed to two-year terms by the majority and minority leaders of the U.S. Senate, and by the minority leader and speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Not long ago, the Commission was hearing testimony about PRC activities in both Europe and in east Asia and Australasia. I only noticed this in a story this morning running under (what turns out to be) a somewhat exaggerated headline of
NZ should be kicked out of Five Eyes – ex-CIA analyst
As it happens, all the relevant testimony – written and oral – is online, in a document – the report of the Commission to leaders of the House and Senate – published a few weeks ago.
I’m not sure how often New Zealand comes up in testimony before Congress, or congressional committees. One hopes that when we do, it is generally more favourable than what the Commission heard a few weeks ago.
The key relevant witnesses were a couple of people from US think-tanks, specialists in PRC-related issues. In respect of New Zealand, there wasn’t much very new, mostly drawing on the work of Anne-Marie Brady (and John Garnaut in primarily an Australian context). And yet it is sobering to see your own country described in these terms, and to reflect on the extent to which our political leaders have allowed themselves to be compromised in ways that serve the ends of the PRC.
Here was how the co-chair of the Commission, former senator Jim Talent, opened the session
The activities of the United Front Work Department, which coordinates the CCP’s overseas influence operations, deserve more scrutiny–and a careful response. Australia and New Zealand, members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing network, have seen a sharp rise in political donations and media investment from United Front Work Department-affiliated entities, and even individuals affiliated with the United Front Work Department and People’s Liberation Army holding office. Beijing also incentivizes political figures in Australia and New Zealand to parrot its line on issues it deems important.
And comments from Amy Searight of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, whose testimony related primarily to South East Asia. These were from her oral testimony.
Recent studies on Australia and New Zealand have demonstrated the extensive and centrally coordinated efforts through CCP-led mechanisms to influence public debates and policy outcomes in these countries. John Garnaut and Anne-Marie Brady have both described their respective countries as “canaries in the coal mine” of Chinese political influence efforts. If countries with strong democratic institutions like Australia and New Zealand are vulnerable to Chinese influence and domestic political interference, one can imagine that countries in Southeast Asia, which have weaker governance, less transparency, and in some cases higher levels of corruption, would be even more susceptible.
She asserted that
Ultimately, China seeks to build a new order in Asia on its own terms where countries in the region will enjoy the benefits of economic linkages for the price of paying political deference to China’s interests and prerogatives.
In terms of the instruments of influence that China deploys, it primarily uses traditional tools of statecraft–aid, investment, commercial linkages and active diplomacy. The Belt and Road Initiative, along with the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, have become the primary tools for China’s economic diplomacy…..
It’s also important to note that China resorts to economic coercion, both to directly punish countries that act in defiance of its interests and to demonstrate to others the cost of defiance, and the most notable example here is in the case of the Philippines. When the Philippines challenged Chinese seizure of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea in 2012, Beijing sought to punish Manila by cutting off imports of bananas and other farm goods.
Recent examinations of Chinese political influence activities in Australia and New Zealand have revealed a number of mechanisms through which the CCP seeks to influence domestic debate in these countries. At the heart of most influence activities is the United Front Work Department, UFWD. UFWD efforts have focused heavily on overseas Chinese populations in Australia and New Zealand, including businessmen, community leaders, and students, but their efforts are not limited to ethnic Chinese and increasingly target the non-ethnic Chinese people in these countries. And we’ve seen allegations that have caused some real concern and public debate over a number of incidents, which include things like Beijing-linked political donors buying access and influence with party politicians; universities being coopted by generous donors for research institutions that have dubious neutrality in their academic pursuits; and voices that are coerced and silenced by networks on college campuses and elsewhere that are mobilized to silence criticism of Beijing. So these cases, the recent revelations in Australia and New Zealand, I think point the way for questions that should be investigated in the cases of U.S. allies and partners in Southeast Asia.
And these comments were from her written submission
Recent examinations of China’s political influence activities in Australia and New Zealand have revealed a number of mechanisms through which the CCP seeks to influence domestic debate in these countries. At the heart of most influence activities is the United Front Work Department (UFWD). UFWD efforts have focused heavily on overseas Chinese populations in Australia and New Zealand, including businessmen, community leaders and students. But their efforts are not limited to ethnic Chinese, and increasingly target non-ethnic Chinese people in these countries. Influence activities are broad and varied in these countries, but the allegations that have sparked the most concern include Beijing-linked political donors buying access and influence with party politicians; universities being coopted by financial largesse for research institutions that have dubious neutrality in their academic pursuits; and voices that are coerced and silenced by networks on college campuses and elsewhere that are mobilized to silence criticism of Beijing.
The second expert to testify was Peter Mattis, apparently a former CIA analyst but now Fellow in the China Program at the Jamestown Foundation.
First point is that Australia and New Zealand both face substantial problems with interference by the Chinese Communist Party. In both cases, the CCP has gotten very close to or inside the political core, if you will, of both countries. The primary difference between the two has simply been their reaction. The problems that are there include the narrowing of Chinese voices, the CCP’s essential monopolization of the media outlets, the takeover of community organizations, and in a sense denying the rights of Chinese Australians and Chinese New Zealanders to exercise the rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech in public forums. And this relates to the political systems of these countries primarily because if these are the–if CCP backed people are the heads of these Chinese community organizations in those two countries, and politicians use them as their sort of advisors or their guide to what the Chinese community is thinking, it means that they really essentially have a CCP firewall, if you will, between the political class in both countries and the Chinese communities that live within them.
There is the supporting of those voices that speak productively, in Beijing’s terms, about China, and there is the issue of suppressing voices that don’t through denial of visas, through pressure placed on institutions, and in some cases sort of calls directly to those individuals. There’s also the issue of what you might call a three-way transaction where retired officials or politicians take on consulting jobs, if you will, ….. it’s a bit of a proof to the pudding of Lenin’s apocryphal comment that only a capitalist will pay for the rope that’s used to hang him.
With respect to the reactions, in New Zealand, both the last prime minister, Bill English, and Jacinda Ardern, have denied that there’s a problem at all, and although the current prime minister has said that the attempts to intimidate and to steal materials from scholar AnneMarie Brady will be investigated, that’s a far cry from any sort of productive action when you have people who have lied on immigration forms that are now sitting as members of parliament.
And to quickly move to a recommendation, I think that at some level the Five Eyes or the Four Eyes need to have a discussion about whether or not New Zealand can remain given this problem with the political core, and it needs to be put in those terms so that New Zealand’s government understands that the consequences are substantial for not thinking through and addressing some of the problems that they face.
The Commission also reproduces the interchange between witnesses and Commission members. Some excerpts
HEARING CO-CHAIR TALENT: Mr. Mattis, two questions. Mr. Mattis, you said that you noted that New Zealand is part of the Five Eyes arrangement, and you, I think you said in your oral testimony that the United States should consider that on an ongoing basis, and I think the suggestion here is that there is some risk that they may have been compromised to the point that perhaps we shouldn’t continue that arrangement. Am I reading you correctly that that’s an option we ought to take into account, and how high would you assess the risk? …
MR. MATTIS: The answer is yes, that’s precisely what I was implying, that it should be considered on an ongoing basis, and the way some of what was described to me is that, yes, some of these individuals had not, don’t have direct access to the product of NZSIS or the Ministry of Defense, but because they were close to the prime minister, in the case of Bill English, that anything on China that was briefed to Bill English was briefed to Mr. Yang Jian, and therefore it may not be sort of official day-to-day access, but in terms of the conversations, the briefings, it was entirely present within the system. And I think because it has gotten very close to the political core, one of the major, one of the major fundraisers for Jacinda Ardern’s party has United Front links, that you have to say this is close enough to the central political core of the New Zealand system that we have to think about whether or not they take action and what kinds of action, what do they do to reduce the risk
DR. SEARIGHT: Can I just add something on the New Zealand point? You know Peter raises some really important concerns, and he’s more knowledgeable about some of the specifics than I am, so I don’t discount his concerns, but I would say that the Five Eyes relationship with New Zealand is extremely important to New Zealand, and it’s one of the few pillars we have in our relationship.
We don’t have a free trade agreement with New Zealand. Obviously we walked away from TPP. We haven’t exempted them inthe steel and aluminum tariffs. I heard an earful about this when I was just in New Zealand two weeks ago. But I think there may be a disconnect between the political level and the bureaucratic level, I mean the government. The bureaucratic level is really turning on China and sees its connection with the United States and Australia as really significant in that sharpening of their policies, their thinking about China, and we heard a lot of thinking that was encouraging. And so I would just say I would be very cautious about cutting off a Five Eyes relationship because I think that really could have some tremendous negative blowback and push New Zealand in a direction that we would not be happy about.
MR. MATTIS: Two other points. I didn’t say cut it off. I said consider it because we–and you just highlighted a number of carrots that are on the table. There are sticks and carrots that we have with New Zealand, and I think on this issue we need to consider how to apply them and sort of encourage New Zealand to find the political will if they can find it because it does, especially in their system, given what has to come from the prime minister’s office, it is a question of politics, not a question of knowledge at the bureaucratic level.
Pretty sobering stuff, to have affairs in your own country described thus.
What was, perhaps, new was Dr Searight’s comments from her recent visit to New Zealand, in which she noted
The bureaucratic level is really turning on China and sees its connection with the United States and Australia as really significant in that sharpening of their policies, their thinking about China, and we heard a lot of thinking that was encouraging
It would be interesting to know who, and what, she meant by that (perhaps the intelligence agencies or Defence, rather than MFAT?). To the public, there is no sign of any unease, or any change of course. And of course our political leaders – of all parties – keep blithely on, preferring (for example) to avoid awkward issues like Jian Yang or Raymond Huo (the latter now chairing a major parliamentary committee) and to pretend that there are no issues.
I was reading yesterday the New Zealand China Council’s report on options for New Zealand to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative (the one in which the previous government agreed to work with the PRC towards a “fusion of civilisations”). This report was paid for by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the head of NZTE sit on the board of the China Council.
It was quite as obsequious, and deferential, as ever. In the preface, Council chair (and former Deputy Prime Minister) Don McKinnon gave a single mention to the need for New Zealand’s involvement to be considered in the light of New Zealand’s “deeply held values”. That sounded briefly encouraging, but throughout the rest of the 40 page report there was no further mention of, or identification of, values. One was left assuming that for the China Council, and perhaps their sponsors, the only “value” that mattered was the dollar one – as much trade as possible, never upsetting the interests of the Council’s corporate membership.
I’ve also been reading over the last few days, Clive Hamilton’s book on PRC influence activities in Australia (although with some references to New Zealand), Silent Invasion. This was the book that the author’s long-time publisher pulled out of publishing at the last minute worried about the threat of (PRC-related) legal action. Based on where I’ve got to so far, the book does have its weaknesses, but it also gathers a wide range of well-documented information on PRC activities in this part of the world, and we’d be foolish to think that things here are materially different than they are in Australia. But as I read, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen a single review of the book – or article about its substance – in any New Zealand outlet (although the Beijing-aligned New Zealand China Friendship Society did link to a negative review from an Australia paper). It is as if the willed-blindness to the nature of the PRC regime, and its interests in keeping New Zealand and Australia quiescent by whatever means, and its attempts to use ethnic Chinese abroad in its interests (whether they really want to or not) extends not just to our political and business leaders but to all or most of our media as well.
I can’t see how kicking us out of Five Eyes helps anyone, except perhaps the PRC. And in the current climate, the US Administration certainly doesn’t help the case of those interested in a serious sustained pushback against PRC influence activities, and aggression in and around the South and East China Seas, and in countries like Pakistan, the Maldives, Cambodia etc. But the flakey and inconstant nature of the US at present doesn’t change the character of the issue, and shouldn’t distract us from the nature of the reprehensible regime our politicians and business leaders constantly want to make nice to. Our Foreign Minister is in Beijing this weekend, but presumably will be as deferential as ever, seeking new deals with the regime, and keeping very quiet about what it seems to be doing here and abroad.
As I noted a week or two back, this government seems more like Neville Chamberlain than Michael Joseph Savage (whose government took a strong stand in the late 1930s). The previous government was, of course, just as bad (and remain so now in Opposition), but I don’t suppose comparisons with Savage mean much to them.
UPDATE: A Herald story on this material, including some reactions from politicians – “nothing to see here” – and academics.