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”, 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 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
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.
24 thoughts on “Circling the wagons”
“”For democracy to work, citizens need to develop an irrational pride in their own democratic institutions””. It just needs saying twice. Isn’t this why we have ANZAC day commemorations?
Ms Golriz Ghahraman MP – Greens Spokesperson for Human Rights, Immigration, Customs, Disability, Foreign Affairs, Trade, Defence, Security and Intelligence, Corrections, Police, Overseas Development, Courts, and Justice should be asked for her comments. Four days ago she called for an independent inquiry into the presumed murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. So a few remarks about repression in Tibet, repression in Xinjiang and Organ Harvesting in China would be appropriate. Her opinion of the Chinese Communist Parties potential to influence New Zealand politics would be welcome. I might find myself supporting the social activist side of the Greens and that would be a surprise.
Many thanks for your article. I warn other readers to be cautious of the BBC’s two-part World Service investigation into the killing prisoners of conscience to harvest organs. I’ve had to switch it off twice.
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Golriz Ghahraman? The one that believes no human rights are absolute https://youtu.be/HReiIi2Z60I
Deeply dishonest, misguided and dangerous; any comment from that quarter should be regarded, firstly, as a manifestation of her perverse ideology.
I agree. Golriz Ghahraman is a muslim and in her very own political statements she has made clear that she wants to see our refugee numbers increase dramatically from the troubled muslim areas of Africa. She is a quiet but she is a highly trained activist that you can virtually guarantee she will be very vocal behind the scenes on the very subject of bringing in more muslim refugees. The Greens aiming for 5000 muslim refugees a year.
Thanks GGS. I’m no fan of fundamentalist Islam immigration, that’s for sure.
GG is a collectivist and globalist with deeply totalitarian leanings. Her attack on the visit of Nigel Farage was illustrative.
Nigel is a democratically elected MEP and fighter for British independence but our GG saw fit to try and have him banned from speaking here, protested the talk and was running around with that infantile “Nigel Farage is Full of Shit” poster. She further disgraced herself (IMHO) by telling us what our values are (apparently though Kiwi values were not worthy of support when NZ First raised the issue regarding immigrants) and that free speech is only OK if her and her dodgy crew approve of the content and speaker.
In some respects people like her are more of a threat to our freedoms than the CCP.
I have not seen MacDonalds sell its famous BBQ sauced Pork riblets now for many many years which happen to be my favourite. Subways still do sell their version of a pork riblets but not the same and the question is for how much longer? Muslims have definitely affected the type of food available to even be sold in NZ.
The push is now to have NZ KFC chicken halal for muslim consumption. Not sure I want some voodoo chanting over my other favourite ie KFC chicken.
She does not seem to be an extreme Muslim if she is one. However if as an activist she recommends bringing in Muslim refugees from China’s Xinjiang province that might persuade Raymond Huo to make a public remark about reported repression in China.
Born of Muslim parents makes her definitely Muslim. If you are concerned about Jian Yang not speaking out, then you should be more concerned why Golriz Ghahraman is so silent about her Muslim background and religious inclination.
Anyway she has already made it clear her stated goal is to increase the number of refugee intake from the troubled African nations and not anywhere else.
Sometimes it is the silent ones that are the most dangerous and I put her in that category.
I watched the interview last night and was very impressed with Brady .However Mapp has always been lacking something and Boag has been involved too long to be objective about such a serious issue.Kiwis have lost their warning antenna.
It concerns me the way many of our Mayors appear to be blind to what is going on and rush in to gain favour with ratepayers over business agreements.
Terrific essay, thanks Michael.
Thank you Michael, again. Adern needs to be put on the spot – National are clearly in disarray and are pretty much a lost cause on this issue in any case. We need a Royal Commission with broad terms of reference to investigate foreign donations and political interference. It’s time also that Transparency International sharply downgraded our place on their “corruption-free” scale. Many in our political establishment clearly value the whiff of Communist Chinese money over pretty much anything else.
My only unease about the Royal Commission idea is that it would be appointed by the existing political establishment. It could be a useful tool if enough of them had come to their senses to recognise that there were some real problems, otherwise the appointments and terms of reference would be structured to produce the “little or nothing to see here” line (run again by the PM in her Morning Report interview this morning).
I am not even sure $100k is the work any CCP initiative given that National is in Opposition. If I believe I can secure a job paying $170k as a list MP for an initial investment of $100k, even I would be very tempted to offer National Party the $100k donation as a ordinary kiwi citizen with zero CCP links. It is a paltry sum given the 3 year term as a list MP would result in a payback of $510k with parliamentary travel privileges as well on top.
GGS: would you prefer to be a JP?
Soft power in New Zealand has already succeeded and we are acquiescent at the political level. Both major parties must know the intent of the PRC, but allow the situation to continue believing they can manage it. The political donations saga of the last week and it’s pre-history of several years or so demonstrates an unwillingness (self interest) and inability (not capable) to manage anything in this area. New Zealand, the 5th eye is very wonky in my opinion.
So while I agree the reach of the CCP is probably deep in our society and by extension our political process which is very much sub-optimal, what I want to know is what YOU actually suggest New Zealand at a Governmental level does about the situation given:
>We are a small trading nation – dependent on selling mainly Agricultural and Horticultural goods to partially pay out way in the world
>We have no FTA with the USA
>We have no FTA with the UK (and limited access via the still extant EU access deal/s)
>We have limited access to Canadian markets
>We have an FTA with China
“China is now New Zealand’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade valued at over NZ$27 billion in 2018”
[Source: https://www.mfat.govt.nz/en/trade/free-trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements-in-force/nz-china-free-trade-agreement/ ]
$27 Billion 2 way trade value of which $15.3 Billion is exports….that $15.3 billion supports a lot of economic activity inside NZ when those export receipts are spent by the earners of those export receipts…
The Clark Labour Government, with the then National Party opposition in total agreement, entered into that FTA/trade noose willingly…..ANY tweaking of China’s nose over political matters will have consequences on the economic front. We have seen problems with clearing the wharves in Shanghai and other Chinese ports before when the PRC is unhappy with NZ…
Are our 5 Eyes partners going to help us out on the trade front if the NZ Government is brave enough to push back on PRC soft power influence in NZ??? Not likely, they have resisted access for our farmers for decades yet are happy to use NZ bases for intelligence gathering, tracking space traffic and supporting their Antarctic missions…
If the West, in its broadest sense, wishes to contain China’s influence they need to agree and implement a strategy that is mutual supportive of West Bloc members economies and protective as a Bloc of their combined interests… which means the big boys need to give a little to the little countries like NZ if they expect diplomatic support for a China containment strategy.
And that is not likely… so we will just have to dance for our supper in front of the worlds super powers in the US and China and be friends with them both… as they both exercise considerable soft power inside NZ…
Frankly, China needs to be acknowledged as number 2 big boy on the International scene with an ancient culture which views the world very differently than the West…a little respect goes a long way as does a coherent West Bloc strategy that has 50-100 year time horizons and a dedication to stick to that strategy – because you know the PRC will stick to its strategy for generations until they achieve their objectives…
Look forward to your considered views Micheal
Most of China is thriving; as the Beatles said ‘getting better all the time’; Falun Gong, Tibetans, Muslims are all minorities in China even if they out number Kiwis. These are moral issues so protesting about them is a matter of whether you believe wealth is more important than right and wrong. Compare with: https://congosquarenews.com/2015/06/06/the-story-of-the-determined-efforts-of-a-liverpool-resident-to-fight-colonialism-and-human-rights-abuses-at-a-time-when-they-were-accepted-norms-and-how-he-has-been-forgotten-by-history/ or the dock workers who refused to unload South African ships during the apartheid years.
It seems as if China and its government has a great sense of pride and are hyper sensitive to criticism but that is no good reason to keep quiet.
As Mr Reddell has pointed out most of our exports are unprocessed and if China refused to take them someone else would which is quite unlike South Korea with Samsung’s electrical equipment. So China has little economic hold over NZ with the possible exception of tourists. I’d be quite happy to refuse all Chinese tourists if I thought it would change their repression in colonised Tibet and Muslim Xinjiang or stopped organ harvesting from a single prisoner. If all the millions of Chinese tourists went to Australia instead of New Zealand I would feel sorry for them.
However we can choose to stay quiet about China so long as we do so for other regimes such as Saudi Arabia and North Korea. What we cannot / should not do is avoid the current issue of foreigners influencing New Zealand politics behind closed doors.
At the least look at https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/petitions/document/PET_80558/petition-of-freeman-yu-inquire-into-foreign-influence and note it mentions no country by name.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
Most of our exports is in primary industries. We subsidise these industries in the billions effectively subsidising the food production of the countries we sell to. We also pollute our waters, rivers, coastal oceans and air on behalf of other countries. Not too sure how we can be corrupted by China when we are paying for the benefit of exporting to China. Isn’t corruption caused by them paying us rather us paying them? Perhaps they should be more concerned about our corrupting NZ influences affecting China’s government?
Your question deserves more space (and visibility) than just a reply to a comment. I will see about doing a standalone post addressing it (again – at least to some extent).
But I guess the key area where we may differ is around perceptions of NZ’s economic dependence/reliance on the PRC. My assessment is that it is not particularly large, and is concentrated in a couple of sectors (tourism and export education – the latter a sector heavily “subsidised” by the bundling with immigration/work access rights.)
There are also gradations of response. I’m not suggesting NZ put itself in the vanguard of an international move to consistently fight the PRC’s domestic human rights abuses – dreadful as they are, and good as the occasional word would be. It would be a good start if our political parties stopped praising the regime and its leader, stopped telling stories (self-serving) about our economic reliance (stressing instead that we make our own prosperity), and agreed – perhaps in some sort of accord – that they would not take donations from abroad (that includes the Phil Goff campaign) and would not take donations or support/associate with people regarded as having strong ties to the PRC and its United Front organisations. The removal of JIan Yang and Raymond Huo from Parliament would be good – quietly perhaps (outcome matters more than noise) – and – wary of identity politics as I am – I’d be delighted to see selected for lists or seats ethnic Chinese NZers who were (say) Falun Gong practitioners, advocates of Taiwanese independence, or (individually) willing to speak up and speak out about the human rights abuses.
Mostly these aren’t matters of legislative change, but about self-regard and self-reliance.
(And, of course, for other reasons I would sharply reduce our immigration targets, which would have the helpful specific side effect of stopping future influxes of Beijing-sympathetic migrants, and allow more space for the existing ethnic Chinese NZers to build and maintain independent and diverse media, community associations and so on.)
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Surprising that you have left out our Primary Industries from mention as most of the FREE Trade Agreements that we have signed was mainly due to enabling access for our Primary produce and not for the tourists and international student trade.
This attitude is part of the problem. You seem to feel that standing up to China would cost us in monetary terms. Therefore we should just bend over and take what we are given. Unfortunately what we will be expected to put up with will gradually increase, to the point it is to late to stand up and we will be enthralled to China.
The fact our so called leaders don’t see this is a reflection on most of our politicians being reared for the job from early on. They have little or no experience outside politics and are easily blinded by the pieces of silver waved in front of them.
If China had shot and killed 16 people in a peaceful protest like Isreal did recently as part of their celebrations when Donald Trump shifted the US embassy to Jerusalem I am pretty sure there would be an uproar in NZ about the incident. So far it looks like China is far more busy building infrastructure and improving lives of once very impoverished communities in Africa and around the world. Of course it did sound rather strange watching on TV, an army of healthy and happy African workers singing Chinese Long March songs each morning before starting work in a Chinese factory but certainly a better look than the skin and bones with flies coming out their nostrils look on TV, which we usually in the past see in impoverished drought ridden and sickness ridden Africa.
True. Danegeld didn’t work a thousand years ago. Appeasement didn’t work eighty years ago. A lesson about dealing with bullies learned in the school yard 60 years ago. Maybe our politicians all went to posh schools with no bullying?
The engineering is just awe inspiring. I will be even more gobsmacked if the chinese built a elevator into space.