Squirming and hoping the issue goes away

The Prime Minister was briefly put under the spotlight on Radio New Zealand this morning on the narrow issue of her reaction to the open letter regarding the Anne-Marie Brady/PRC situation.   The Radio New Zealand story reports that

The prime minister said at her weekly post-Cabinet press conference on Monday that she would not be making any moves to condemn China, despite rising concern from academics about the country’s attempts to suppress talk of its interference in domestic politics.

And in her interview this morning she was at pains to minimise and play down the issue, on the defensive, and playing red herrings

“As much as I support academic freedom, I also have to be careful how much I’m seen to interfere in the police as well…

Had anyone suggested she interfere in the Police?

If you took her responses line by line, each line might have seemed reasonable on its own.  But what it added up to was the sound of someone who (a) desperately wanted the issue to go away, and (b) was not interested at all in providing a clarion call for freedom from fear, whether for Professor Brady and her family, or those members of ethnic Chinese community in New Zealand who report harrassment and threats (including to family in China) from Beijing’s agents if they dare to exercise rights –  to speak up and speak out –  in New Zealand.  She seemed totally unbothered that an investigation, which she tried to imply was being conducted solely by something like the Riccarton suburban police station, was still going on after nine months.  Maybe it really is, but as Professor Brady notes

But Prof Brady said she had been told her case was closed.

“The discussions I’ve had with police make it clear that they’ve done everything they can, and I think that they would be ready to make a report to the government.”

She said this was a case for the national security teams at the highest levels, and not just a police matter because it was “not an ordinary burglary”.

The Prime Minister gives every sense that she wishes the whole situation would go away. Perhaps she doesn’t.  Perhaps she really cares about the freedom of New Zealanders. But it wasn’t the impression she was giving.  It came across as it might if the Prime Minister were more concerned about the interests of a few big businesses (public and private) selling to China, and perhaps the flow of political donations (presumably greater now she is in office).   Only she can really allay that impression, if in fact it is false.

From my perspective, one of the sad aspects of this affair is that people sticking up for Professor Brady seem to have been almost entirely from the left (I don’t know most of the people on the open letter list, but I’m guessing there aren’t many people not of the left on the faculty of the AUT school of social sciences and public policy (from whence many of the signatories come)).  But what is interesting is that much of the pushback also seems to come from the left. I’ve seen some particularly nasty comments in the comments sections of, for example, the left-wing The Standard blog.

And this morning one of the more respected figures of the left, Chris Trotter, is out with a full-blown attack, (“The Case of the Problematic Professor), having a go at Professor Brady and suggesting that all that should guide government policy on these matters is some narrow economic perspective –  what is good for Fonterra, or Red Stag, or Auckland University is good for New Zealand.  It almost deserves a post of its own, but just (relatively) briefly some comments.

He writes that annoying “China, on the other hand, can be extremely injurious to this nation’s economic health”.    Well, no, actually not.  Should the government of the People’s Republic ever decide to attempt to “punish” New Zealand they could create some short-term damage, and perhaps even some serious damage in individual sectors, but our total exports to China are about 5 per cent of GDP, and we have tools like monetary and fiscal policy to stabilise the economy in face of shocks.  China doesn’t make us rich (or, actually, as underperforming as we are), we do.  And do we have any self-respect or not?

Weirdly, for someone who is part of the Free Speech Coalition, Trotter seems to suggest universities should be pretty hesistant about criticising China.

Prattling on about being the “critic and conscience” of society is all very well, but when New Zealand’s universities are so dependent on the continuing inflow of international students, is it really all that wise to antagonise one of the largest contributors to this country’s educational export trade? It would be interesting to see how the nation’s vice-chancellors would react if equivalents of Anne-Marie Brady started popping up on their own campuses. Each academic activist launching equally uncompromising attacks against the Peoples Republic. How would all that criticising and conscientising affect their bottom-line I wonder?

Well, indeed, and the absence of the vice-chancellors from yesterday’s statement (or any other) was notable, but Trotter’s point argues for managing our universities differently, in a way that reduces our short-term vulnerability to thugs, not just pushing deeper into the market, and becoming more afraid of our own shadow, indifferent to those actually being intimidated.

Then Trotter repeats one of Murray McCully’s old lines –  no more true for being repeated from the left.

New Zealand lives by its agricultural exports – which is why the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement was so important when the Global Financial Crisis struck. Without it, this country would have had significantly less to come and go on. Chinese consumers saved us from the sort of vicious austerity measures that afflicted the people of the United Kingdom and Greece. The nature of the Chinese system has not changed since 2008.

The economics is simply wrong (I’ve pointed out in previous posts the similarities between the path of our economy and that of the US over the last decade) and what about that last sentence? Most observers will say China has changed markedly, and for the worse, under Xi Jinping, and at very least that the hopeful trajectory many in the West envisaged certainly hasn’t come to pass.

Then Trotter has a go at Brady herself

The good professor is not, however, above advancing a little soft power on her own account. Is it no more than a coincidence that she has been called upon to present her ideas to the Australian parliament during the “China Panic”? Or that her academic articles and speeches are followed closely, and receive considerable approbation, in Washington DC? That the name of Anne-Marie Brady started appearing in our news media at exactly the same moment as the rivalry between the USA and China ratcheted-up several notches – was that nothing more than serendipity?

Might not her appearance before the Australian parliamentary committee have something to do with (a) her expertise, and (b) a bipartisan Australian commitment to taking PRC influence activities seriously?  And as I understand it, her name became prominent here after she released her Magic Weapons conference paper –  not intended for publication until a later book came out –  after the FT/Newsroom (hardly agents of Trump) published the astonishing story last year on Jian Yang’s background.

Trotter writes in praise of the crass Donald Trump approach to Saudi Arabia, reflected in the appalling statement last week.  In Trotter’s description – which he appears to endorse – if that involved “turning a blind eye to cold-blooded, state-sanctioned murder, then so be it”.   If the Prime Minister really wants to line up with Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy, perhaps she could at least come out and say so.  But, as a reminder, evil as the Khashoggi murder was, he wasn’t a US citizen.  Anne-Marie Brady and many of the intimidated in the ethnic Chinese community are New Zealand citizens.

Trotter concludes urging that the Prime Minister should stay silent, and that in so doing she will “earn the respect of Beijing and Washington alike”.  More likely, both would despise her, if for slightly different reasons.  More importantly, it would be the sort of stance –  prioritising a few big businesses over the interests and values of New Zealanders –  that eats away at any residual respect people have for the political process and our “leaders”.   Far better the words from Scott Morrison’s recent speech (as aspiration, if not always observed)

I fear foreign policy these days is too often being assessed through a narrow transactional lens.   Taking an overly transactional approach to foreign policy and how we define our national interests sells us short.

If we allow such an approach to compromise our beliefs, we let ourselves down, and we stop speaking with an Australian voice.

We are more than the sum of our deals. We are better than that.

As a reminder of just how compromised our university hierarchies are I found this graphic on the Auckland University website.

au students

Not only is the dependency on foreign students rising, but the foreign student numbers are totally dominated by PRC students.    I’m usually very keen on free and open trade, but when you find yourself dealing with thugs, the sensible response (in almost any business or area of life) is to pull back and reduce your exposure to thugs, not to simply do the kowtow –  perhaps especially when you are a university, residue of some of greatest bits of the Western tradition.    We can’t allow our values, and the safety of our people, to be simply played around with to protect the interests of a few big (public and private) corporate businesses.   In Australia, a former Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade recently called for Australian universities to not act as if the revenue will always be there

“While demand remains high, it makes little sense for Australian universities to turn their back on the revenue stream offered by students from China and elsewhere,” he said. “But it would be wise to invest the profit margin for the longer term, not use it for current expenditure. Put it into a future fund or endowment, which would give universities a measure of resilience in the event that the market abruptly shifts for reasons beyond the control of universities.”

That would seem prudent here too, but of course it might force governments to look harder at the long-term financial structuring of our tertiary sector.

Finally, there was a story on some of these issues on Newsroom this morning, the key line in which is best captured in this tweet.

As Geremie Barme notes further (perhaps rather generously on the government’s intentions)

“China’s challenge to everybody in this region … is it requires governments are much smarter in dealing with a rising superpower that is aggressive, totalitarian, bullish and nasty in many ways, but also is varied and complex and interesting and engaging.”

Standing up to China, while still maintaining a working relationship, was difficult.

“It’s hard work and it’s constant work. This Government wants to do good but can’t quite manage to do so,” Barmé said.

“This is the real deal, and New Zealand’s never had to face this … You have to sit down and you have to work out, what is a consistent long-term policy, at least for the life of this Government. And how do you articulate that.

“And I get the sense they haven’t done that; Jacinda Ardern just runs for cover.”

She can’t even bring herself to talk, concernedly, about the astonishing situation in which a former PRC intelligence official, Chinese Communist Party member, sits in our Parliament –  close to the Embassy, never criticising the regime for anything –  having acknowledged that he misrepresented his past to get into the country in the first place.

I guess it suits the handful of big corporates and university bosses that she simply keeps quiet.  It should shame the rest of us.

28 thoughts on “Squirming and hoping the issue goes away

  1. Reluctant to comment on this, but have to point out that Trotter is very friendly with left wing academics at AUT. Not defending his blog, with its polemical aspect, but he obviously supports Jacinda. I suggest that there is a problem with the assumption that China will act against academics, but within the context of a bigger problem with the tertiary system. In particular the view that it is there to earn foreign exchange from international students.


  2. Mark Richardson on TV3 called Phil Twyford a Communist because of the draconian Eminent Domain clause within the new Urban Development Authority that allows the Government to cease land and building for development without any private rights protection. Mark feels that the Remuera golf course is being targetted because it is a National Party electorate.

    Increasingly this Labour Government is the Communist Party of New Zealand.


    • Rather hyperbolic getgreatstuff. Quoting Mark Richardson is perhaps weakening your point. Maybe checking the definition of “Communist” might also be in order.


      • Actually, I did call Phil Twyford a Nazi when he first wanted to brand and badge property owners as greedy landbankers and then stealing their homes in the interests of NZ the Fatherland. But since we know that Jacinda Ardern behaves more communist than Communist China then I guess it was appropriate to recategorise the Labour Party as more communist than Nazi.


  3. Chris Trotter should – and almost certainly does – know better. If he spouted even a whisper of what he does in New Zealand in China, they’d disappear him and send him for “re-education.”

    Liked by 3 people

  4. The behaviour of all our parliamentarians is sickening. It also shows that they have no idea on how the Chinese behave. Considering the money spent on members of the public service that should be advising them they are either getting bad information or they are just ignoring it.

    The trip planned for Jacinda is a typical example. No matter how you play it this is an insult. From their point of view, delaying with no excuses is a lose of face for her. It is a, slightly, veiled treat that if she fails to toe the line the next treat will be much more obvious.

    The other problem is that once you give in to such a bully once it becomes harder to ever stand up. So now it is just a down hill slide into servitude. Of course, as many have found out, supporting them no matter how much you are selling out the country, leads to rewards later on in life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Frankly, Jacinda Ardern has told so many lies and innuendos that every time she opens her mouth I shudder. I actually see her as a woman version of Trump, the actor who plays to an audience. It is no wonder that even the Chinese have given her the cold shoulder.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The cheerful chump Armstrong also had a column on Stuff today trying to belittle concerns about China’s human rights abuses. Looks like the Left are trying to help Jacinda out. Is it concerted? Meanwhile Bridges is digging an even deeper hole for himself implying the US and China are morally equivalent. This country is in trouble.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. A sorry indictment on the New Zealand political system. I keep hearing the phrase”no evidence to suggest. …” regarding China’s dubious activities, yesterday from Simon Bridges, also heard the same thing from the PM, even the CE of Spark chimed in with that turn of phrase in relation to Huawai
    A few weeks ago on Q and A the same turn of phrase was used by National party grandees. Deeply irritating, all one needs to do is read any serous analysis, which documents China’s intentions and actions at a geo political level to see how exposed we are to the influence of a regime whose true motives are almost certainly not in our long term interest as a country. Even serious international news outlets are running stories specifically on Chinese influence in NZ (most recently the Economist). The reaction of politicians in particular increasingly leads me to wonder what motives are at play here. Surely not just business pressure driving the reaction, I suspect that their own parties are now so entwined with China that even if they were privately concerned there may not wish to upset key sources of income and influence. My feeling is there is much short term thinking on this and not thinking about what our approach to China now means for future generations.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. While tidying my download folder mainly clearing all the bank transaction spreadsheets I came across a file I had absolutely no memory of labeled ‘Submission 33 – Professor Rory Medcalf’ and dated feb this year. Having not a clue what it was about I opened the pdf and it seems relevent to this article. This paragraph attracted my attention:-

    “” Australia is also a bellwether nation in how it handles the domestic dimension of Chinese power and protects the freedoms of its own Chinese community. The legitimacy of China’s authoritarian system depends – in significant part – on its ability to stop dissent, including among Chinese communities overseas. Australia has a large and diverse Chinese community, a cherished and growing part of what this country has achieved as a multicultural society and a successful economy. Australia is also a sanctuary for freedom of expression for all who live here. That is core to our national identity. Allowing that freedom of expression to persist could be seen by the CCP as an example to other Chinese communities and a risk, however seemingly small, to the Party’s (and Xi’s) long-term authoritarian grip on power. “”

    Don’t know who Prof Medcalf is but guessing he is an Australian academic. Seems to have his head screwed on the right way. Like to hear Bridges, Ardern, Peters, Shaw saying the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Medcalf is a professor of national security and China issues at ANU in Canberra. I think I linked to that submission, to the select committee on the foreign interference laws, earlier in the year.


      • Yes you must be right. With the benefit of Google I found the website is https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Intelligence_and_Security/EspionageFInterference/Submissions
        A big read with 51 submissions. No 20 and 33 are worth reading; not sure about any others. I’m recommending them to other readers of this blog but what I would really like is to just get our party leaders to just read submission 20.

        What president Xi and the CCP is doing is not illegal, it is subtle and patient. Any authoritarian regime should be distrusted if not for its current actions then for its potential to do evil and cause harm so probably the success of their United Front is to the long term detriment of all Chinese citizens. However whether it is good or bad for China is irrelevent to NZ; we are foolish to be deceived so easily.
        As a comment to a previous article said “” Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. “”

        Liked by 1 person

  8. With Adern or Simon Bridges leading us, there doesn’t seem to be any hope. And Peters seems rather too fond of the baubles of power to challenge the major parties on this topic. I hate to think that Ardern’s persistent refusal to express alarm or even mild concern after Professor Brady’s threats and harassment could embolden CCP operatives in their duties.

    Incidentally, would be very interested in your take on the UN Global Compact for Migration, which sounds scary even though technically non-binding. Australia has said it won’t be signing, but presumably NZ will still be signing in a few weeks.


    • I had a quick look through it the other day and decided not to write about it. In general i’m sceptical of almost anything coming out of the U.N., but if there are real major problems with this document they seem likely to be more of an issue for countries with lots of illegal migration and asylum seekers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Here’s some local comment with links to a couple of clips going through the implications of the UN proposal. The ongoing campaign to usurp democratic national independence by supra national authorities is of real concern. Witness the EU directives against Poland and Hungary for their stand on immigration, a stand that had overwhelming, democratic support from the people.
        From Dieuwe de Boer on “Right Minds”


      • Part of the problem is that it blurs the distinction between legal and illegal migrants, and the worry is that it could open a door to the kind of illegal migration others face because it would no longer be “illegal” under the terms of the pact but just a fact of life to be foisted upon the taxpayer, in effect by defining (illegal) migration as a basic human right.

        The really insidious part of it is the injunction for countries to produce propaganda to shift public opinion towards having positive attitudes towards all migration, hand in hand with the silencing of dissent or contrary views and defining them as necessarily racist/xenophobic/hateful, thereby justifying the defunding of platforms and censorship.


      • Thanks

        I suppose the only counterpoint is that the NZ establishment has gone over and above any median international practice in promoting/sustaining large scale immigration here for decades – and being dismissive of any scepticism – without any UN covenants.

        Which doesn’t leave me approving the covenant, just sceptical of how much it matters here (amid all the other dross policy, including that promoted under all manner of UN conventions).

        For those interested I saw Muriel Newman’s article on this issue in her latest newsletter https://www.nzcpr.com/newsletter/
        and there was also a guest article here from a British author https://www.nzcpr.com/un-member-states-migration-is-a-human-right/


  9. “China, on the other hand, can be extremely injurious to this nation’s economic health”

    Oh, how quickly and cheaply we have been bought. It’s not hard to imagine why China, and inevitably many recent Chinese migrants to NZ might have contempt for our system and society. Like our terrestrial birds, unaccustomed to predators, we taken unprepared and were no match for the invaders.

    Lest anyone dismiss that as racism, who has more to lose than freedom loving people of Chinese ethnicity, when China can turn the screws on their relatives in the old country?

    Liked by 2 people

    • From above

      “The Chinese government might then tap or pressure the global Chinese diaspora even more than it has so far. In particular, it could more easily manipulate migrants (or their descendants) who moved to the West from Taiwan or Hong Kong after China became communist in 1949, for example, by applying pressure on any of their relatives still living in Taiwan or Hong Kong.”


    • ” I saw stacks of free newsletters published by the university’s association of students from China. The contents were subtly political, with Beijing’s pro-unification line buried in human-interest stories or slick-looking entertainment. I asked a student if he was worried that Beijing was making inroads with such propaganda. He looked puzzled and said, “Well, you know, we are a free country, and these publications are legal.”
      Reminds me of TVNZ and it’s series on how well migrants fit it into regional communities.


  10. If there is a problem with China then there is also a problem with a policy that embraced a multi ethnic society and therefore the ideals underpinning (what some see as) the immolation of Western society.
    On the other hand (National) there is a problem with turning the country into one big real estate market?
    Xi may have opponents but I bet he has a lot of support?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. A skilled migrant (Chinese) began work as a tour guide and saw the money to be made if he drove a bus himself. He carried a box of wine bottles handing them out to Kiwi drivers who thought he was a great bloke. Now that company has 8 buses and more on order. Has taken on one token Maori driver. Gets home and “throws the money in the air” for his wife to count. He must have read “In Search of Excellence” as he had a great attention to detail. I notice though that he would idle his bus to warm it up even when there were neighboring houses in the vicinity and if a hotel manager told him to turn it off he would claim to have a flat battery.


    • What you do not see is the amount of effort it actually takes to run a business of that size, drivers to pay, health and safety. Repairs and maintenance, breakdowns and complaints. The tax department starts looking which means tax to pay of 15% plus income tax of 28% plus employers ACC levies and insurance. Net profit after tax shrinks your cashflow quite considerably. He should have stuck to it as a part timer keeping his main job and doing the weekend drive. He would make more money and keeps the cash.


  12. Disappointing to hear Chris Trotter posting such a partisan and scathing post- I find many of his articles, though obviously leftist, to be thoughtful and considered


  13. Today’s Herald has an article by Fran O’Sullivan, Head of Business, NZME. Actually quite informative from the middle onwards but ruined by the opening:
    “”Christchurch-based academic Anne-Marie Brady should steer clear of China Derangement syndrome.
    Brady’s tendency to sweep many up within a grab net of barely veiled accusations is an unfortunate aspect of her work; particularly when it comes to the New Zealand commercial sector and its dealings with China.
    Her treatise “Magic Weapons: China’s political influence activities under Xi Jinping” is a case in point.””

    Anne-Marie Brady produced not a treatise but according to Paul Buchanan and essay “” her “Magic Weapons” essay is an example of applied research and was not meant to be a theoretical or conceptual path-breaker “”
    Ms O’Sullivan is read by thousands whereas Anne-Marie Brady’s essay was read by a mere handful of academics.

    Liked by 1 person

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