In response to my post yesterday about the Asia NZ Foundation roundtable on foreign interference/influence in New Zealand, I received this comment, which I’m elevating into a post of its own because of its source, and because otherwise only a small number of readers would now see it.
When officials are assuring you everything is under control, that’s the moment you know that everything is not under control. As a long-term New Zealand watcher I am deeply disturbed to see how the political and bureaucratic establishment in Wellington wants the problem of Chinese interference in domestic politics to be swept under the carpet.
The idea that the Australian debate on this topic is ‘unhelpful’ is simply ridiculous. Successive Australian governments have ignored the problem but now it has become so painfully obvious that Canberra has had no choice other than to take a stand and set some limits on Chinese Communist Party interference. I believe that a substantial reason why Canberra acted was because of the public focus on the problem.
China will continue to suborn the NZ political system unless your Government is prepared to push back. If the problem is not addressed in time this will become a serious problem for the NZ-Australia bilateral relationship.
My suggestion is that the Australian and NZ Prime Ministers should meet with their intelligence agency heads and have a frank, closed-door discussion about the extent of the problem of Chinese interference in both our countries. We can actually help each other here.
Pretending there is no problem, or failing even to utter Beijing’s name isn’t sophisticated statecraft, its just a failure to come to grips with a major problem for both our countries.
The comment is from Peter Jennings, who has been Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute since 2012.
Peter has worked at senior levels in the Australian Public Service on defence and national security. Career highlights include being Deputy Secretary for Strategy in the Defence Department (2009-12); Chief of Staff to the Minister for Defence (1996-98) and Senior Adviser for Strategic Policy to the Prime Minister (2002-03).
I’ll leave his much-more-informed comment as it stands, just observing of his suggestion of a meeting of our two Prime Ministers etc, that for such an event to occur there would have to be a willingness and desire among political leaders on this side of the Tasman to acknowledge and confront the issue. In fact, what we see in public is a desire to minimise, or to deny that there are, any serious issues, and to refuse to deal even with issues in plain sight.