Two interviews on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report this morning followed on from the news, reported in the local media on Saturday, of a US Congressional commission having held hearings on PRC influence in New Zealand politics (and that of various other countries).
I wrote about the testimony and related issues here. As I noted in that post, it was pretty clear that the testimony, by a couple think-tank staffers (one former US Defense Department, one former CIA), was secondhand, reporting (sometimes in slightly garbled form) the work of Anne-Marie Brady in particular, and people like Australian journalist John Garnaut. Of itself, that isn’t a criticism – in any inquiry of this sort, looking into a number of different countries and not in great depth, it makes a lot of sense to draw on the work of others closer to the specific country. What was interesting about the US inquiry was that it was happening at all, and that the New Zealand situation was getting this degree of visibility, and that is was before a longstanding commission with representatives from both sides of politics.
On Morning Report, one of the think tank staffers, Peter Mattis was interviewed. I’m not going to suggest it was an impressive performance, because it wasn’t. He didn’t have a good command of the sources he was drawing on, and seemed unable to cite specific examples of the sorts of behaviours and developments here that concern him. Painting with a broad brush risks getting dismissed with a broad brush, and that is more or less what happened – Mattis’s weak answers (unfortunately) spoke for themselves, and the tone was also evident in the voice of the interviewer, Guyon Espiner.
But let’s have a look at what Mattis said in his testimony (from p114) to the Congressional commission, and see what (if any) of it is wrong, or has been satisfactorily refuted.
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.
Of the “political core”, well no one now disputes that National MP Jian Yang was (and probably is – since in CCP terms, no one leaves without being expelled) a member of the Chinese Communist Party, which controls the PRC. Jian Yang served for some years on Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, and accompanied the Prime Minister and trade minister on official visits to the PRC. This was the same Jian Yang who now openly acknowledges that he misrepresented his past as part of the Chinese military intelligence system (and who has now gone to ground, not accepting any interview requests from the English language media for many months now).
And on the other side of politics is Raymond Huo, currently chair of Parliament’s Justice committee (dealing, for example, with electoral law). Huo may not have the same questionable background as Jian Yang, but was – so it is reported, and hasn’t been denied – responsible for taking a slogan of Xi Jinping’s and using it as a centrepiece in Labour’s election campaign among ethnic Chinese voters last year.
Of both Jian Yang and Raymond Huo, former senior diplomat, and now trade consultant and lobbyist, Charles Finny was interviewed on TVNZ’s Q&A show last year. As I recounted it
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.
As for community organisations, Chinese language media, and so on, no one has attempted to refute the claims made about the situation both here and in Australia. From everything I’ve read and heard, it would be pointless to attempt to do so. It is just the way things now are.
Mattis went on
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, and when a company tries to open their business in China and open sort of different avenues where they need political support, the CCP side simply says, well, you need to pay so-and-so to open the doors for you and to arrange the meetings, and that way there is never a direct, direct CCP payoff to a Western consultant or person, but rather it’s done through the companies themselves so 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.
To the extent he is referrring specifically to New Zealand, some of this seems a little overwrought (although there is the egregious case in Australia of Andrew Robb, the former Trade Minister who went straight from Parliament to a (NZ)$1m a year part-time job working for business interests with close connections to the Chinese state). But even here, we have former senior politicians on the boards of PRC (government-controlled) banks, and a former Prime Minister serving on a PRC forum, focused on extending the Belt and Road Initiative, all while also serving on the board of the New Zealand government funded New Zealand China Council.
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.
That’s pretty much a statement of fact. No party leader seems bothered by the presence in Parliament of a former member of the Chinese military foreign intelligence system (who has never once been heard to criticise the PRC), or even by the acknowledged fact that he misrepresented his past to get into New Zealand.
And from the subsequent interchange with members of the Commission
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, because especially once, once it involves members of parliament, it requires the prime minister to make a decision themselves of whether or not there’s an investigation of them. If the prime minister is not going to make that decision, then nothing can happen below that.
I presume here that Mattis is relating (in somewhat garbled fashion) the claim that Jian Yang, when travelling with official delegations to the PRC, is likely to have had access to highly classified briefing material prepared for senior ministers – material for which, were he not a member of Parliament, he would never have been granted access to (as, given his background, he would never have been granted a high level SIS security clearance recommendation). I’m not sure if this claim – regarded Jian Yang’s past access – has been confirmed, but I’m confident that no effort has been made to refute it. And recall Charles Finny’s observation – confirmed in numerous bits of photographic evidence, including on Jian Yang’s own website – of how close Jian Yang is known to have been to the PRC embassy.
Here is Brady
Yang accompanied New Zealand PM John Key and his successor PM Bill English on trips to China and in meetings with senior Chinese leaders when they visited New Zealand. This role would have given him privileged access to New Zealand’s China policy briefing notes and positions. Under normal circumstances someone with Dr Yang’s military intelligence background in China would not have been given a New Zealand security clearance to work on foreign affairs. Elected MPs are not required to apply for security clearance.
And what of the fundraising aspects? Note that Mattis did not – contra the Herald headline – suggest that the Chinese Communist Party was funding Labour. His specific suggestion, channelling Brady, was
one of the major fundraisers for Jacinda Ardern’s party has United Front links
The Labour Party General Secretary and President claim no knowledge of what this refers to (Nigel Haworth went so far as to say Labour had no one working for them that fitted the description. Anyone who has read Brady’s paper will recognise the reference to Labour MP (ie paid by the taxpayer) Raymond Huo. Here is Brady
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”)
During his successful campaign for the Auckland mayoralty, in 2016, former Labour leader and MP, Phil Goff received $366,115 from a charity auction and dinner for the Chinese community. The event was organized by Labour MP Raymond Huo. Tables sold for $1680 each. Because it was a charity auction Goff was not required to state who had given him donations, but one item hit the headlines. A signed copy of the Selected Works of Xi Jinping was sold to a bidder from China for $150,000.
I’m not aware that any of this has been refuted, even if Andrew Kirton and Nigel Haworth wish to attempt to plead ignorance.
(And to be clear, there is no suggestion that Labour operates much differently in this regard than National. I presume Mattis referred to Labour because they happen to be in office now.)
There is no suggestion in any of this that New Zealand electoral laws have been broken – charity donations like that to the Goff campaign are not illegal. But the suggestion Mattis made – of close ties near the top of the political establishment – appears to be on pretty safe ground.
Following the Mattis interview this morning, Morning Report also had on Labour Party President Nigel Haworth, who wasn’t exactly pushed very hard. But why focus just on MPs raising funds for the party, when we could look at the role of party presidents, National and Labour, themselves. From a post late last year.
A month or two ago, at the time of the 19th Communist Party Congress, it came to light through the Chinese media that the presidents of both the National and Labour parties had been sending warm greetings and congratulations. This last weekend, the Labour Party went one step worse.
The Chinese Communist Party held a congress in Beijing for representatives of such political parties from around the world (300 from 120 countries) as it could gather to its embrace. Most of them were from developing countries. Nigel Haworth, the President of the New Zealand Labour Party, attended. Here is how one Chinese media outlet reported the event.
The CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High Level Meeting was the first major multilateral diplomacy event hosted by China after the recently concluded 19th CPC National Congress.
It was also the first time the CPC held a high-level meeting with such a wide range of political parties from around the world…..
During the closing ceremony, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi stressed that the meeting was a complete success with a broad consensus reached. He also said CPC leaders elaborated on the new guiding theory introduced by the 19th CPC National Congress.
“The innovative theoretical and practical outcomes of the 19th CPC National Congress not only have milestone significance for the development of China, but also provide good examples for the development of other countries, especially developing countries,” Yang said.
The Beijing Initiative issued after the meeting states that over the past five years, China has achieved historic transformations and the country is making new and greater contributions to the world.
It also highlighted that lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity have increasingly become the aspiration of people worldwide, and it’s the unshakable responsibility and mission of political parties to steer the world in this direction.
“The most important thing between the 18th and 19th CPC party congress was the belt and road initiative,” according to the Russian Communist Party’s Dmitry Novikov. “And the most important thing about the initiative is the economic cooperation among various countries. Such cooperation leads to the promotion of relations in culture and politics.”
And the President of the New Zealand Labour Party was party to all of this. In fact, not just a party to it, but someone who was willing to come out openly in praise of Xi Jinping.
“I think it is a very good speech. I think it is a very challenging speech. I think he is taking a very brave step, trying to lead the world and to think about the global challenges in a cooperative manner. Historically we have wars and we have crisis, but he is posing a possibility of a different way of moving forward, a way based on collaboration and cooperation. Making cooperation work is difficult, but he think that’s a better way for mankind. I think we all share that view.”
It is shameful. Probably not even Peter Goodfellow would have gone quite that far – if only because there might have been some (understandable) rebellion in the ranks if he had gone that public.
To repeat, no one – not Brady, not Mattis – is suggesting that anything illegal is going on (except perhaps for the acknowledged and documented failure of Jian Yang to disclose his PRC intelligence past, apparently on PRC instructions, when entering the country). But they are suggesting a willed indifference to the nature of the PRC regime, and its activities threatening its own citizens (perhaps the least important issue for outsiders), threatening the interests of other countries that share our historic commitment to democracy and the rule of law, and its activities in New Zealand, at a political level and among New Zealand ethnic Chinese communities. This isn’t just any other foreign government. The United Front approach isn’t, for example, that of the British Council – the shameful sort of parallel that Guyon Espiner seemed to attempt to introduce in his interview with Nigel Haworth.
The (Beijing affiliated) New Zealand China Friendship Society also entered the fray. Morning Report reported a text or tweet from their president suggesting that it was past time for a critical examination and review of Professor Brady’s paper. I’m sure Professor Brady would welcome that – it is how academe works – and it has been nine months now since her paper was released, and I’ve not seen any serious attempt to refute or disprove any significant element of her paper. Surely if she had just got the wrong end of the stick it would be easy to disprove? Perhaps the NZCFS would have asked someone to do so? I had a look at their website, and found that their annual conference was being held this last weekend. There was nothing on the conference programme suggesting any serious engagement with the issues. Perhaps that would have been awkward for the sponsors. Brady again:
The Xi administration’s strategy of working more with local governments for economic projects has now revitalized the CPAFFC, as well as the local equivalents they work with such as in New Zealand, the New Zealand-China Friendship Society (NZCFS). NZCFS, like their parent organization, went into decline from the 1980s on, and struggled to attract membership. Now thanks to significant support from both the PRC and the New Zealand government, a re-invigorated NZCFA is again promoting China’s interests, but this time it is an economic agenda—One Belt, One Road.
The Herald’s article on Saturday had some political reaction to the story. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was just another round of “nothing to see here” from both the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition. In their never-ending pursuit of yet another trade deal – serving the specific interests of a few influential business groups (including the universities) – they sell New Zealanders, and our values, short, unbothered apparently by the corruption of our own system. or the activities of the PRC regime. And their craven stance – never ever critical of anything the PRC do – appears to have been ably represented this weekend by our Minister of Foreign Affairs.
When asked whether he would raise issues regarding the South China Sea, after China landed a bomber on one of the islands in the disputed territory, he said he expected the issue to come up, but said he would not do Chinese politicians and officials the “discourtesy” of airing New Zealand’s specific position on the matter via the media.
“The Chinese would not have any respect for me if I did that, and I do want them to respect me.”
(I wonder if he will ever tell us – citizens, voters, taxpayers – “New Zealand’s specific position on the matter”?)
One can only imagine that the PRC regime has about as much respect for Winston Peters (or Simon Bridges – who wanted to sign us up for a “fusion of civilisations – or Jacinda Ardern) as Hitler had for Neville Chamberlain.