Circling the wagons

Even fewer people than usual probably watched TVNZ’s Q&A programme on the Sunday evening of a long weekend (I didn’t either), but I hope many take the opportunity to download and watch the interview with Professor Anne-Marie Brady about Yikun Zhang –  initiator/organiser (or whatever) of the $100000 donation to the National Party –  the Chinese party-state’s United Front Work programme, and what New Zealand could or should do in response.   Perhaps equally worth watching –  for altogether different reasons – is the subsequent panel discussion.  I’ll come back to that.

Professor Brady was asked first about whether there was any evidence that Yikun Zhang is involved in United Front activities.  She was clear that his active involvement, both in the PRC and in New Zealand, is very well-documented in Chinese language sources (I touched on this last week, but for anyone who hasn’t read it I can also recommend this article by Branko Marcetic on The Spinoff,  which is full of useful links).  She was also careful to distinguish between welcoming, even encouraging, participation of new citizens, of whatever origin, in our political processes, and drawing a line when those activities are led by people with close ties to foreign governments, especially ones with deliberate and active strategies to exert influence over, or in, other countries.   She argued that we need to set boundaries around “inappropriate behaviour”.

Reprising arguments she has made consistently in public over the last year or so she highlighted two strands of the PRC’s United Front activities in countries like New Zealand:

  • neutralising the Chinese diaspora, including the Chinese language media and community associations, and
  • winning support, or acquiescence, for the PRC’s foreign policy agenda, including the place of the Belt and Road Initiative (ill-defined as it is), in the pursuit of a China-centred global order.

Asked what we could, or should do, Professor Brady listed these items:

  • a careful official investigation of the extent and nature of PRC influence activities in New Zealand (“as Australia, the US, and now the UK have done”)
  • “obviously” reform our election finance laws,
  • stand down periods for former MPs and minister (before taking up roles which might be seen as being in the gift of PRC entities –  or, presumably, other foreign powers),
  • look more carefully at whether MPs can lawfully be members of foreign political parties (the strong suggestion being that Jian Yang in still a member of the CCP),
  • take steps to help restore the autonomy of the New Zealand Chinese community, protect their freedoms, and promote (the restoration  of) an indigenous and diverse Chinese language media here.

She noted that the Five Eyes grouping had recently agreed on a programme to counter foreign influence, suggesting that our authorities will be doing something already.  (The article at that link is interesting reading, but when I read it last week my reaction was to be sceptical it meant anything much in the New Zealand context –  nothing suggesting any change of emphasis having been heard from the mouths of any New Zealand ministers or officials.)

Professor Brady noted that the political “bloodbath” we saw last week was an opportunity for the major parties to come together –  since they are being targeted by the PRC –  and devise better ways to build a constructive, but bounded, relationship with the PRC.

In concluding the interview, Brady was asked whether she had any concerns herself about speaking out.  She noted that it was, in law, her duty as an academic to do so, and noted that although there was some personal cost, to her and her family, she saw these issues as so important, to the integrity of our system, that she is willing to stand up and speak out, expressing the wish that more people would do so.   The still unsolved burglary of her house and office wasn’t explicitly referred to, but was a clear subtext.

The contrast between Professor Brady and most of her academic colleagues is pretty striking.  Our multi-university Contemporary China Research Centre –  chaired by Tony Browne (of the Confucius Institutes and other institutional arrangements with the Chinese Communist Party), and with representatives of MFAT, MBIE, NZTE etc on its Advisory Board – seems, from its website, more focused on dialogues with official visitors from the PRC  and the forthcoming year of Chinese tourism.  Not one of its key people has been heard from in the media and public debate on these issues, whether last week or in recent months.  In many respects, they seem little better than our politicians –  scared of their own shadows and reluctant to say anything lest visas, access, (New Zealand government) funding or whatever are jeopardised.   Any sense of that “critic and conscience” role, that the Education Act rather grandiloquently talks of for academics, seems dulled at best, or lost altogether.

But what of the panel discussion?  There was Bryce Edwards the political scientist, and three old tuskers from the big parties: former National Party president Michelle Boag, former National Party minister Wayne Mapp, and former Labour party president Mike Williams.

Bryce Edwards argued that out of last week’s maelstrom the Chinese influence/donations issue was the one that had attracted the least attention so far, and needed to have more.  The interviewer suggested something like a select committee inquiry, which Edwards seemed to think had merit, adding that there was no chance of any party in Parliament now picking up the issue.

And as if to prove him right, the old guard  – the other panellists –  rushed in to play down the issue.   Wayne Mapp went first, denying that there is any PRC influence in New Zealand politics, noting that he had never seen any evidence, and suggesting that having been Minister of Defence he would have seen it if it was there (he went on to suggest that the PRC issue was mostly one about the great powers, and the extent to which we were in some sense caught between them).   Michelle Boag chipped in to suggest that if there was a PRC influence strategy it would have to be counted a miserable failure –  there was, after all, only one “Chinese MP” (as if the fact that that one MP was a former PRC intelligence official, Communist Party member, actively associated with the PRC Embassy, and never ever heard to say anything critical about the PRC wasn’t in its own small way evidence of influence).  Mike Williams declared that he mostly “agreed with Wayne”.

It was sad, but it was worse than that.   People who are smart enough to know better, playing distraction (totally ignoring, for example, the way in which PRC activities and attitudes are compromising the rights and freedoms of ethnic Chinese New Zealanders who aren’t at all sympathetic to Beijing and its agenda) in defence of what has become the established way of doing things in New Zealand (both main parties).   It trivialises a serious domestic issue –  including the utter reluctance of any of our senior politicians to say anything that might possible disconcert Beijing and the willingness to court, and take money from, people who closely associate with one of the more evil regimes on the planet – ignores the international nature and reach of the PRC programme, completely discounts the threats to other peaceful and democratic countries in east Asia, let alone the growing repression of many of the PRC’s own populations.   People like those three know better, but choose not to see, or to care.  They actively choose to turn a blind eye to the character of the regime and its activities –  whether here, at home, or in the rest of the world.  Rather like their own current party leaders –  Nigel Haworth and Peter Goodfellow (united in perhaps nothing else but (a) the defence of the way things are done and (b) the celebration of Xi Jinping), Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges (and John Key, Bill English, Phil Goff and Andrew Little before them).

And this, of course, is where I part company to some extent from Anne-Marie Brady. At least in her public comments she seems to assume that our political leaders have an interest in doing the right thing, and only need to have specific suggestions made to them.  I see zero evidence of that.  I’m quite prepared to believe that both parties value the defence and intelligence relationship with the US and Australia, and will do the minimum to maintain it – and the rest of Five Eyes will cut us lots of slack, because it would be a PR coup for Beijing if it were ever to come about that we –  small as we are –  were no longer part of that partnership.

But there is no sign of any interest in doing anything about the domestic situation –  whether as regards party donations, a willingness to speak openly against external aggression or domestic human rights abuses, or about the situation of the ethnic Chinese New Zealanders who want to be free of Beijing and its abuses.  No sign last year (all parties kept quiet about Jian Yang), no sign this year (National and Labour combine to honour Yikun Zhang for what appears to be, in effect, services to the PRC), and no sign now.   This isn’t a case of good men and women being misled, and people like Professor Brady drawing things to their attention for the first time.  It is a system run by people who have allowed it, knowingly (but probably gradually and subtly), to be corrupted.    Labour and National (and ACT) seem as bad as each other, two sides the same coin.  New Zealand First is arguably worse, because it occasionally talks a good talk in Opposition, but then gets into government and just goes along.  And as for the Greens –  who don’t seemed to be reliant on donations from these sources –  and who sometimes in past appeared willing to bring a moral dimension to politics, where are they?  In government I guess, and perhaps strongly advised –  directly or indirectly –  by MFAT not to jeopardise the tourism year, or the “FTA” renegotiations.  If you just go along, you make yourself complicit.

(It was hard not to utter a wry chuckle at the suggestion of a select committee inquiry into such matters.  After all, the Justice select committee has its triennial inquiry into the election underway at present. But who chairs the Justice committee?  Why, Labour MP Raymond Huo, who –  as Professor Brady has documented –  is very actively engaged with various United Front organisations, who organised the event at which the very largest mainland donation to Phil Goff’s mayoral campaign was arranged.  If anything is ever going to be done, the stables –  party organisation and Parliament – need cleansing first.)

Wrapping up this post, I would draw your attention to a few things I saw over the weekend.

First, a reader sent me this (translated) extract from an essay/article by Auckland-based Chinese activist and dissident Chen Weijian which “examined how Zhang Yikun achieved his political promotion in three years in China and in the international Chinese community as well as his business achievements in NZ”.

The photo below was taken in Beijing on 30 Aug 2018 where Zhikun Zhang visited the Chaoshan (TeoChew or Chaozhou) Association  of Beijing along with the heads of other Chaoshan associations of the USA, Canada, Thailand etc.
The poster on the wall they are reading is titled of ” Always go with the Party (the Communist Party).
Zhikun Zhang who joined the PLA in 1990,  the next year after the CCP sent troops to shoot unarmed Chinese young students in Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989.
 After 29 years, on the same day of 4 June, the former PLA member was awarded of MNZM, an award to a person who ” in any field of endeavour, have rendered meritorious service to the Crown and nation or who have become distinguished by their eminence, talents, contributions or other merits”,[1] to recognise outstanding service to the Crown and people of New Zealand in a civil or military capacity.
Within only three months after receiving this honor, he was recognized by the CCP for his devotion to this most evilest political Party: always go with the party.
And this is the man our Prime Minister is photographed with, our Opposition leader courts, and Jami-Lee Ross, Sarah Dowie, Paula Bennett, Andrew Little, Phil Goff, Peter Goodfellow, Nigel Haworth-  and probably plenty more – are happy to associate with, happy to pursue and take donations he arranges, and so on.
How can anyone suppose his political activities in New Zealand are primarily about the best interests of New Zealanders?
“Always the Party” –  source of so much evil, past and present.

And then there are the Xinjiang concentration camps, that (all) our politicians are studiedly silent on.  I thought this thread was pretty telling (drawing on the point I’ve made here previously that in many important respects the PRC party-state is the late 1930s party-state Germany of our era)

This is regime Yikun Zhang associates with and supports.

Does this stuff not bother Jacinda Ardern or Simon Bridges at all?

Another reader sent me this over the weekend.

PRESS RELEASE – Tuesday 16 October 2018, London, UK.
Independent people’s tribunal is established to investigate forced organ harvesting
in China.

An independent tribunal to inquire into forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China has been established as an initiative of the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC).

The Tribunal will investigate if any criminal offences have been committed by state or state-approved bodies / organisations in China concerning forced organ harvesting.

You can read (a lot) more about this here and (more generally) here.   For any sceptical that there is an issue here, I’d suggest listening to this two-part BBC World Service investigation, in which they walk carefully through the reasons to strongly suspect that the PRC is killing prisoners of conscience (probably mostly Falun Gong, but not exclusively) to be able to undertake the huge number of transplants occurring in China –  for Chinese and foreigners, pretty much on demand (subject to payment) –  each year, in a culture averse to voluntary organ donation.

This is the regime Yikun Zhang associates with and supports.

While our politicians do and say nothing.

And finally, the Herald ran this cartoon on Saturday


It is good that they are airing the issue.  But it still puts the responsibility on Beijing, and not where it actually lies, with our political leaders and heads of political parties.  Beijing does not force them to do or say (or not say) anything. They are moral agents, and they freely choose to allow the interests of New Zealand and New Zealanders to be compromised by their willing pursuit of, and association with, money rather strongly tinged with PRC political agendas and interests.

I was dipping into the famous Francis Fukayama book The End of History and the Last Man yesterday.   In his introduction he includes this line

For democracy to work, citizens need to develop an irrational pride in their own democratic institutions

That sounds generally right –  the fierce attachment that creates a willingness to defend something when it is threatened.  Given the way our political leaders are debauching New Zealand institutions at present, any such pride almost has to be irrational.  But perhaps there is a potential leader somewhere who will help restore our system?  Bob Jones played that role –  as regards the economic mess New Zealand had gotten into – in 1983/84.  The present challenge is greater, because all the main parties are equally compromised.  But so is the need for action.

UPDATE: Late this aftermoon today I was rung by Roy Morgan Research and participated in a quite detailed survey about trade, defence, values etc issues as regards New Zealand and each of Australia, India, Japan, China, and the United States.   Whoever was behind the survey (the Asia NZ Foundation perhaps?) I hope we eventually get to see the results.