The corruption of New Zealand politics

Who knows whether Jami-Lee Ross’s allegation around the handling, and disclosure, of a donation to the National Party from one Yikun Zhang are correct or not.  One hopes time, and evidence, will tell.   Frankly, one hopes Ross is wrong, or overstating things.  But at least one observer notes that Jami-Lee Ross has previously been actively involved in such fundraising.

Him again…..the former PLA intelligence official, Chinese Communist Party member, and National MP, who admits he misrepresented his past to immigration/citizenship officials, but who is stoutly defended by successive National Party leaders, and whose prime role in the National Party appears to be (highly effectively it is reported) tapping the ethnic Chinese community for donations.

It seems highly likely, to the point of being almost certain that there was at least one such substantial donation from Yikun Zhang.  After all, the man’s wife told Stuff that Simon Bridges had been to their house for dinner, while from the same story we learn

A receptionist at KCC said Zhang could not be emailed as he did not speak English.

We can assume Bridges didn’t go for dinner for the sake of the witty repartee, stimulating conversation, or on account of a personal friendship.  It is a far cry from the days  – not that many decades ago –  when party leaders and senior ministers stayed well clear of party fundraising, to avoid giving the impression of opportunities for influence.

Incidentally, I’d been under the impression that immigration to New Zealand had long involved some English language tests.

In case one wonders if the receptionist was telling a convenient tale, there is an OIA request  – to the Southland District Council of all places –  available on line about Yikun Zhang and one of his legal advisers.  The Mayor had made Yikun Zhang some sort of semi-official Businss Adviser.   Among the June 2018 OIA responses, the mayor is reported this way

The Mayor wishes to acknowledge the work of Yikun Zhang and Ping Chen and he has no emails that relate to any business matters that can be released as discussions occur between Ping Chen and the Mayor as Mr Zhang gains confidence in English. To date communication has been verbal and translated either on conference call or Wee Chat.

Very little, or no, English.

The Mayor and his wife seem to have benefited considerably from the largesse of Yikun Zhang

The Southland District has received no gifts from either party, and the Mayor has received two bottles of wine prior to a dinner (2016) in Auckland, a sponsored trip to China (2017) for he and his partner to attend business and local government introductions in Beijing and Guangzhou and return again.

The Council was obviously a bit defensive about the Mayor’s ties to Yikun Zhang and the OIA response twice highlights Yikun Zhang’s national political connections

There is an informal relationship to see how things progress. Both  [Yikun Zhang and Ping Chen] are well known in central government and both have close links to high level Ministers and MPs.

Perhaps Simon Bridges was one those “high level Ministers”, but whether he was or not we can safely assume that OIA response is referring primarily to National Party ministers, since this relationship with the Southland District Council developed over the last few years.  And as the Stuff story notes (complete with photos)

In July National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett posted photos on her Facebook page of her and Jami-Lee Ross sitting at the same table as Zhang for the opening of the Chao Shan General Association’s new function centre.

What else is there about Yikun Zhang?

Well, we know that the current government –  Labour/New Zealand First coalition –  gave him an honour in this year’s Queen’s Birthday honours –  for various things including, apparently advancing the People’s Republic of China Belt and Road Initiative (the “maritime Silk Road” bit).   There is a photo of him with the Governor-General receiving the award.  Presumably, given his inability to speak English, the conversation was rather limited.  A Cabinet minister praised him

“Mr Yikun Zhang, has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to New Zealand-China relations and the Chinese community. Mr Zhang has facilitated economic and trade conferences and Expos between New Zealand and China and is an effective and tireless community organiser.

Various other commentators have highlighted some of Yikun Zhang’s other activities.  Thus, it appears that Yikun Zhang is actively involved in various United Front organisations, used by Beijing to influence ethnic Chinese in other countries, and influence politics and society in those countries.

Rather like, as Anne-Marie Brady has pointed out, Labour MP Raymond Huo.

It is a little hard to believe that someone who established himself here, clearly has considerable resources at his disposal, but can’t even be bothered learning English (he isn’t some struggling 80 year old on a parent visa, say), has the interests of New Zealand primarily at heart, when liaising with or donating to, political parties.  Do you really not  have to know even conversational English nowadays to become a citizen?  Perhaps when he returns to Auckland someone could ask him, through a translator, about whether he has anything negative to say about the brutal regime whose diplomats he hangs out with, and whose foreign policy initiatives he seems to have helped advance?

And, of course, if this particular case puts the spotlight on National, it was Labour/New Zealand First who awarded the man’s honour, and when Labour was last in government there was the infamous case of the award of citizenship to a donor, against the strong recommendation of officials.  And, look, the minister involved is a Cabinet minister today.

National seems to have been particularly effective at tapping the ethnic Chinese donor “market” in recent years.  They were in government.  One can only imagine how the Labour fundraisers are now looking at the possibilities, and that any such approaches are likely to fall on receptive ears.  Is Labour willing to resist the temptation?  Probably not judging by the willingness of the party hierarchy to praise the CCP and Xi Jinping.  Oh, and there was the large donation to Phil Goff’s mayoral campaign from the mainland.

A few months ago, I reported this from a (Chatham House rules) seminar I was invited to

There was clear unease, from people in a good position to know, about the role of large donations to political parties from ethnic minority populations –  often from cultures without the political tradition here (in theory, if not always observed in practice in recent decades) that donations are not about purchasing influence.  One person observed that we had very much the same issues Australia was grappling with (although our formal laws are tighter than the Australian ones).  Of ethnic Chinese donations in particular, the description “truckloads” was used, with a sense that the situation is almost “inherently unhealthy”.   With membership numbers in political parties dropping, and political campaigning getting no less expensive, this ethnic contribution (and associated influence seeking) issue led several participants to note that they had come round to favouring serious consideration of state funding of political parties.   I remain sceptical of that approach –  especially the risk of locking in the position of the established parties, or locking out parties the establishment doesn’t like – but it was sobering to hear.

What is the issue?  It isn’t that New Zealand citizens, of whatever ethnic background, shouldn’t be able to donate to political parties.  The concern in the PRC context is that (a) the donors themselves are often dependent (their own businesses) on continued access to the PRC, and often have families back there exposed to the (not very) tender mercies of the party-State, (b) the extent of PRC Embassy and related United Front organisation influence on the local ethnic Chinese community, and (c) the not-unrelated risk of the flow of donations drying up should the recipient party ever do or say anything upsetting to Beijing.  The PRC regime is of a character, and determination, not like the home countries of most of our other migrants.

Yikun Zhang himself seems almost peripheral to Jami-Lee Ross’s concerns/allegations, as reported so far. But I hope that the incidential disclosure of his name, and apparent close relations with the National Party (in particular) will help to spark a more honest conversation about the flow of Chinese money to political parties, in the context of a more realistic assessment of the nature of the regime, its methods, its interest.  And, on the other hand, a renewed demand for a much greater degree of integrity –  a willingness to say no, just occasionally, to stand for the values the underpinned our political system for a long time –  among our politicians and political processes.   It wasn’t that hard, in the end, to get rid of Jami-Lee Ross.  What about Jian Yang?

Sadly, we can expect more silence, more complicity, and not just from the National Party, but from every single one of our parties and their leaders.

UPDATE: Part of a thread on Yikun Zhang and the United Front/CCP connections.

16 thoughts on “The corruption of New Zealand politics

    • Having worked and visited a dozen countries, I actually put NZ as one of the more corrupt countries. We just practice legal corruption. It’s called contract variations.

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    • The tapes seem to not be the smoking gun in terms of any criminal activity but it certainly puts Bridges in a tough political position having to explain some pretty rude comments. But then again most of us do have our own opinions that we express to our close work mates at the watercooler gossip channel of people that we think are not pulling their weight but you can’t get rid of due to the myriad of political correctness these days.

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  1. It is the emergence of obsequious and potentially corrupt New Zealanders that really jerks my chain.
    The influencers can be legislated against and thrown out. Australia has set the pace on this.
    The influenced sould be outed and charged if there is corruption. How is it politicians can accept so many “gifts” and party donations and those that work for corporates can’t even get a free sandwich these days without breaking code of conduct clauses.

    The same is going on all through the Southwest Pacific with some states nearly “gone”.We are nearly all asleep in our region. A bright light needs to be shone on this as a matter of urgency.

    Liked by 1 person

    • New Zealanders have always been corrupt. Just that Kiwis know how to corrupt legally. The Treaty of Waitangi and the Maori Land Court are prime examples of legal corruption. It is subsequent to the set up of these legal structures that the largest transfer of land went from Maori to British new settlers. Ownership went from 90% to 20%.

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  2. I agree wholeheartedly with Stuart and Steve and applaud you Michael for raising these issues with courage and tenacity.

    Some of our politicians have become ferel.

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  3. Our politicians are very naive and have little appreciation of history especially the younger ones.

    It is time for the govt to fund political parties. It will still be possible to start new parties but they will need to find their own funding (ref TOP and the Conservatives). More ordinary members of the public might join parties if they achieved a minor perk – say free travel to Wellington once a year with lunch thrown in.

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  4. According to Queens Birthday Honours Mr Yikun Zhang has been Honorary Chairman of Chao Zhou Association since 2002 – so he has been in NZ for 16 years and has made no effort to learn English and assimilate but quite happy to buy and exercise influence within NZ over the peons and serfs and peasants and under-class who live beneath his radar

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  5. Note the date and time of Crusher Collins public declaration of loyalty to Bridges. I’m picking this will change by Xmas, possibly gone by lunchtime. She is not to be trusted, IMO.
    Looking at the wider issue of donations to political parties, I agree that NZ is more corrupt than we appear to be. Why can’t the law be changed so that all donations over a certain $$ value have to be publicly declared, eg via a website at Parlimentary Services?

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    • I was once told that when chosing a university its reputation in specific subjects would be about five years out of date. The concept that reputation is something from the past applies to All Black rugby players and Black Fern netball players too. New Zealand’s reputation for having an incorruptible establishment is also dated, probably by a generation. Once lost reputation takes a long time to recover.

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  6. Reblogged this on The Inquiring Mind and commented:
    Michael Reddell at Croaking Cassandra has an excellent analysis of the Chinese connection to the Bridges-Ross Mess. He links it to the broader issue of just how far does China’s influence now reach into the body politic. Whilst not necessarily agreeing with all Reddell’s points he makes many very valid points, which our political leaders of all shades have signally failed to address.
    Please read the entire post, it is worth it

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