For anyone who hasn’t yet listened to it I recommend Anne-Marie Brady’s interview with Wallace Chapman on Radio New Zealand last weekend. Half-hour interviews are pretty rare, and this one gives a good flavour of the issues and concerns she has been raising since the publication of her Magic Weapons paper last September. I’m not going to go over old ground again, but in listening to her I found four points worth noting:
- she has been surprised by how slow the New Zealand official reaction has been to the material revealed in the Magic Weapons paper,
- in discussing the Chinese-language media here, she noted that the Chinese Herald had initially reported her paper and also some of Matt Nippert’s Herald articles about Jian Yang. She heard later that the editor had been called to Beijing to be straightened out, and that fresh people had been sent in. There been no repeats of such deviations from the Party line (the PRC strategy to “harmonise” foreign Chinese language media with the line from Beijing) since. She noted in passing how large the Chinese-language media is (in a population of only around 200000) , contrasting that with the straitened circumstances of the mainstream media in New Zealand. “Who is funding them”, she asked. The implied – if unstated – answer was pretty clear. She sees this situation as itself a breach of New Zealand’s sovereignty.
- she was asked about the description of New Zealand as the “soft underbelly of Five Eyes”. As she noted, this wasn’t her description but the sort of line she heard repeatedly from the capitals of our traditional allies. Of all that was in the paper, she suggested that this was the line that had riled official Wellington most.
- asked about the (as yet unresolved) burglaries of her house and office, she was cautious about how much she said, but was clear that in her view there were unmistakeable indications of Chinese government involvement.
Brady’s paper is essential reading for the specific New Zealand context. In the last week or so I’ve read a couple of other papers about the international situation, which I’d also recommend for anyone interested. There is a paper from a researcher for a Canadian think-tank, “Hard Edge of Soft Power”, which I thought was an exceptionally clear description of the issues and challenges for countries like ours (and written for a general intelligent audience, whereas Brady’s paper (as released) was an academic conference paper and draft book chapter). And then there was the original research from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute on the way in which Chinese military academy researchers have increasingly been using collaboration with Western universities (notably the UK, Australia, and Canada) to tap, and develop, potentially highly sensitive military technologies (summary here, including a link to the full report).
In terms of background resources, I just noticed that the Asia Media Centre here has a timeline of coverage on the PRC influence issues, with links to lots of the articles that have appeared over the last year or so.
Meanwhile the New Zealand government and opposition blithely act as if there is no reason for any concern. They know what is going on, of course. But they just don’t care.
Occasionally there are a few suggestion that things might be a little different, at least as far as our foreign and defence policies are concerned. On the count, I noticed a post on the (relatively new) Point of Order blog (set up by a group of veteran political journalists). The post (“Peters leading NZ away from trying to balance relations with US and China”), was clearly rather well-informed (probably from the Minister himself). There we learned that
Led by Foreign Minister Winston Peters, the Coalition government has eased away from the previous National government’s ready accommodation with China and the presumption that NZ could easily balance United States and China relations to a more hard-nosed approach. Several elements have contributed.
First, a powerful pro-Beijing faction in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has lost influence.
Second, the present government is more attuned to current geopolitical shifts in NZ’s immediate north-west. Now there is a new, sharper understanding of the implications of a move by China into contacts with NZ’s immediate Pacific environment such as the Cook Islands.
It went on
Many New Zealanders who cherish their country’s “independent” foreign policy have little idea of how active China has been in spreading its influence into this region. Even within the Labour and Green parliamentary elements of the government, where anti-Trump feeling is dominant, the realignment of NZ towards the stance of its long-time closest partners may not yet be fully understood.
But it is clear Winston Peters has been instrumental in the policy revision in Wellington, moving NZ in its attitude to Beijing back towards that of its closest partners…….
The intelligence community is relieved by the government’s attitude. Before the general election, the National government seemed unwilling to accept or acknowledge the extent of Chinese penetration despite the growing indications of influence in NZ Chinese media and the apparent interventions of Chinese agents in NZ academic circles.
My reaction at the time was much as it was when the Defence strategy document was released a few months ago “well, that is all very well – and I welcomed the P8 purchases – but I will believe it means anything much when I hear it from the Prime Minister”. She, after all, leads the largest party in the government, and – together with National – her party is deeply complicit in the kowtowing to Beijing, at home and abroad. The Prime Minister was never heard from on the defence strategic issues.
In a sense, I didn’t have long to wait this time. In her weekly interview on Morning Report on Tuesday the Prime Minister was asked about Chinese overt and covert influence activities in the Pacific and in New Zealand and whether she had any concerns. Kim Hill – the interviewer – explicitly referenced the situation in the Cooks and Nuie (touched on in a Sunday-Star Times story) and Anne-Marie Brady’s work. It is hardly a secret that China has been very active in the Pacific (both Melanesia and Polynesia) and is widely thought to be sounding out possibilities for future naval bases etc.
And what did our Prime Minister have to say? She burbled on about the “realm territories” – officialese for the unusual constitutional position of the Cooks and Niue – trying to somehow allay any concerns solely with the irrelevant observation that the two countries had had diplomatic relations with China for some years. She said she didn’t want to single out any individual player – as if, you know, someone other than Germany was threatening Czechoslovakia in 1938 – and talked only about how we (New Zealand) needed to up our game in the Pacific regardless of what anyone else was doing. Of New Zealand and China, she claimed that our relationship was “broad, complex, and vital”, but with no sign that she had any concerns whatsoever. Of course, she asserted that New Zealand policy would always be made in New Zealand’s interests, and then went on to adopt the juvenile phrase beloved of the New Zealand left “we will always take an independent foreign policy”. What, even when we face common interests and threats? She somehow managed to avoid engaging on the domestic issues – be it donations, Jian Yang, collaboration between universities and the PRC, the break-in to Anne-Marie Brady’s house, the attempts to control the local Chinese language media, to suborn or silence ethnic Chinese New Zealanders. Just nothing.
Winston Peters can talk a good talk to friendly – but not widely read – journalists, and even when he meets Mike Pompeo or Marise Payne. Perhaps it will even temporarily ease some of the behind the scenes pressure on the government, to stop lagging behind in taking the PRC influences activities more seriously. But until the Prime Minister is on side, openly engaging with the public we can safely assume nothing much we change about the corruption of our system and society – National and Labour hand in hand.
(One reader observed to me yesterday that to listen to the Prime Minister on such issues it is rather like a Palmolive ad – “squeaky clean”, nothing to see here.)
Take, for example, the ongoing disgrace of Jian Yang. It is pretty bad that our immigration and citizenship officials appear to have done nothing about his acknowledgement a year ago that he misrepresented his past – in the PLA military university – when applying to move to New Zealand (not only has he acknowledged misrepresenting his past, but claimed – as if in defence – that the Beijing authorities had told him to do so). It is worse – frankly extraordinary – that a former PLA intelligence official, member of the Chinese Communist Party, someone never once heard to criticise any aspect of PRC policy (despite its heinous human rights record, expansionist foreign policy etc), sits in our Parliament – defended by the National Party, and accommodated (left unbothered, not criticised) by the Labour Party (and all the other parties). When did the party of the decent centre-right middle classes come to be the party that covers for such a person, simply (it appears) for all the donations he manages to pull in, and despite his ongoing close associations with the embassy of Communist China?
As part of the new podcast series by John Campbell, TVNZ yesterday released a podcast on Chinese influence in New Zealand, including the cases of Yikun Zhang (he of no English, very close Communist Party ties, donations and – nominated by both parties – honours) and Jian Yang. I was among those Campbell interviewed, along with Tze Ming Mok (an Auckland ethnic Chinese commentator, of Singaporean/Malaysian background) and Clive Hamilton, the Australian academic. There isn’t a great deal that is new in the podcast, but the detail I thought was telling was Campbell’s effort to give Jian Yang a chance to talk. He went to the constituency office Jian Yang shares with Paul Goldsmith. Jian Yang was in the office, but simply refused to come out to talk. He is apparently still quoted reasonably often in the Chinese-language media but simply refuses to explain himself to his majority English-speaking electors. It is shameful, but it is also telling. A decent man would want to front up and tell his story. A decent party would insist on it. A decent opposition party would repeatedly highlight any failure to do so. I wonder what Paul Goldsmith – seemingly an otherwise decent National MP – makes of his office mate’s refusal to talk?
A reader who is fluent in Chinese sent me a couple of snippets on Jian Yang.
In one of the …. files released last Oct by the immigration office under OIA , Jian Yang declared he entered to Luo Yang University in 1978 and graduated in 1982 where he obtained a bachelor degree of English Study.
When I checked the background of this university in Chinese source, I found this university (Luo Yang university) wasn’t even founded until 1980 which means the university didn’t exist in 1978, the year Mr Yang declared he started his university education.
Here is a brief introduction of the Luo Yang university in Chinese in Wikipedia which I have translated into English.
Luoyang University, is It was a Tertiary institute that existed between 1980 and 2007. The school was funded in September in 1980 through World Bank education loan and Luoyang City council, and was a full-time polytechnic. In 1997, Luoyang University began the construction of a new campus at Luolong District, south bank of Luo River. In 1999, Luoyang University moved to the new campus. The old campus still has the Luoyang University Adult College and some ancillary facilities.
Before 2006, Luoyang University is a polytechnic level institute. The school had tried to upgrade to university level several times, but not successful. In 2007 Luoyang University merged with another polytechnic Luoyang Industrial Polytechnic, and became a university level institute called Luoyang Institute of Science Technology.
The certificate that Jian YANG submitted to the immigration office seems a official document issued by the university and that has left a question: why the university would take a risk to make a statement which is apparently again the fact?
Either the certificate itself didn’t come from the university but was made up by someone else or Jian Yang was assisted by the university for a purpose to cover up his military background.
Again, in serious and decent countries these matters would be taken at least as seriously as the dodgy Czech currently (and rightly) under investigation.
I was sent a link to a debate hosted by a local Chinese-language TV station during last year’s election among ethnic Chinese candidates from four different parties. Among them were Jian Yang, and an ethnic Chinese (Malaysian born) candidate for the Maori Party. I was sent a translation and brief commentary on an exchange between these two (at about 1:03)
Jian Yang was challenged by Maori Party’s Chinese candidate, Wetex Wang (a Malaysian born Chinese), asked if he has done anything about introducing foreign investment to help the local economy in his 6 years sitting in parliament.
Below is a translation of Jian Yang’s answer.
Our Yili Group, built milk powder factory here. Our Mengniu Dairy, that is, Yashili International Holdings. These enterprises came to New Zealand, in fact they have all contacted with me, including our largest waste disposal factory, Waste Management, is invested by Chinese. We all contacted with (them). I went to their companies to introduce New Zealand’s policy, why New Zealand is a good place, why you should come to New Zealand.
My reader notes
(Please note that Jian Yang in the video has kept referring those Chinese companies as “Our Yili, Our Mengniu, Our Waste Management” which sounds like he is a CCP official. This is quite strange for me. Even if Jian Yang is an ethnic Chinese, he is a NZ politician. I would not imagine Kiwi politicians would refer those Chinese companies as Our.. Our…Our… instead, they would say Chinese Yili, Chinese Mengniu. Apparently, Jian Yang still positions himself as a CCP representative but sitting in a foreign political circle.)
Perhaps a small thing in its own right, but put it together with his background, his ongoing close ties to the PRC Embassy, his refusal to talk to the media, his refusal ever to say anything critical of the PRC, it makes my reader’s point that there is little sign that Jian Yang – despite serving in the New Zealand Parliament – prioritises New Zealand interests and perspectives. And our government seems unbothered.
Of course, there is always the alternative perspective. I noticed the China Council – New Zealand government paid champions of and apologists for the People’s Republic of China – tweeting a link to this article by a New Zealand living and working, and publishing, in China. He champions the China Council and concludes
There’s no quick fix, and it will definitely take time and effort, but the sooner the world understands that China and the Chinese people are just like the rest of us, the sooner the world will reap the sweetest fruit that trade liberalization and economic globalization can grow.
Probably many Chinese people do have much the same aspirations, but the Chinese people have no freedom of expression, no freedom of religion, no ability to change their government, often not even freedom of movement, no benefit of the rule of law. Not just like us at all. It is the Chinese government we – and they – have to worry about. There were fellow-travellers and sympathisers writing from Berlin in 1938, or from Moscow throughout the Cold War too. But most New Zealanders – and then both the government and the opposition (National and Labour) – knew better.
Our leaders should – and I hope one day will – hang their heads in shame at what they brush over, and consciously look past, just not caring, so long as the donations and deal keep flowing.