Known by the company they keep

Where might one turn if writing today about the New Zealand/ People’s Republic of China issues?

One could start with yesterday’s extraordinary interview our Foreign Minister gave yesterday on Radio Live where, on the one hand, he laid into Jian Yang, and on the other seemed to suggest that anyone who questioned the activities of the PRC here or abroad was somehow motivated by racism.    Quite extraordinary.  And while we are on the subject of Jian Yang, perhaps Mr Peters could have a chat to the Prime Minister (who seems totally unbothered by Jian Yang), or to the MP from his own party who is Minister of Internal Affairs, responsible for citizenship law (Jian Yang having acknowledged a year ago that he misrepresented his past to get into the country in the first place, apparently under “guidance” fron Beijing).

And the Herald this morning was awash with material.  There was a rather wishy-washy editorial, which ended with the suggestion that if the delay in the Prime Minister’s visit to Beijing was “a rebuke it is not warranted”.   Well, of course not, both the Prime Minister and (successive) leaders of the National Party do their utmost to cover for Beijing, and never ever give offence.

There was the flippant cartoon, suggesting that all the PRC would be interested in here was the recipe for slow-cooked lamb, which one might just pass over without note if the issues weren’t so serious, the abuses undertaken by the regime –  at home and abroad – so grave.

There was another article in which the Prime Minister and Simon Bridges seemed to compete for who could grovel before the PRC regime –  tossing overboard any sense of decency or right – the most.    You’ll recall that Simon Bridges had a head-start, having been the minister responsible last year for signing New Zealand up to the rather warped aspiration of a “fusion of civilisations” –  with the PRC of all people.   According to Bridges

He said New Zealand’s default position should not be to question the legitimacy of China’s actions in the Pacific and around the world.

But, being independent and all that, and with the PRC’s track record, it actually doesn’t seem a bad starting point.  Perhaps his predecessors suggested our default shouldn’t be to question the legitimacy of Germany actions in the Europe in the 1930s, ….but I doubt it.  It is hard to see that Bridges is guided by anything resembling the word “principle”.

As for PM,

Ardern would offer no definite view when asked which country, United States or China, was more important to New Zealand.

“Some of the discussion around choosing lanes in which we swim does not fit with our independent foreign policy,” she told reporters.

“New Zealand has a range of important relationships, some for different reasons, some with different histories. But for me, the most important thing is maintaining the independence of that foreign policy basing it around New Zealand values, upholding those values and continuing to strengthen them when it is in New Zealand’s interests.”

No sign of anything resembling “principle” there either.  For her, it seems, “independence” is the primary virtue, not standing up for what is right, and standing up for the freedoms and interests of New Zealanders, including those in the ethnic Chinese community.   From both her and Bridges, it seems that visceral anti-Trumpism is being allowed to provide cover for simply sacrificing the integrity of our domestic political system, and a climate in which New Zealanders can go about their business in New Zealand –  including call out the abuses by the PRC –  free of fear.

And then there was the frankly pretty scurrilous column by Fran O’Sullivan, “Academic draws a long bow on China”.  I thought it was pretty bad on two counts.  First, she accused Anne-Marie Brady of “China derangement syndrome”, and yet when one gets to the end of the column all O’Sullivan has to say in disagreement with Brady’s paper –  which, as published was only in working paper form –  was that it included Ruth Richardson among the former politicians now involved in the boards of Chinese (PRC controlled) companies.  Whatever the ins and outs of the Synlait situation, former Minister of Finance, Ruth Richardson sits on the board of one Chinese bank here, Don Brash chairs another, Jenny Shipley is on one of the boards, and former National minister Chris Tremain is on another.   In all cases, with the possible exception of Don Brash, no one supposes these appointments were about banking expertise.  It is about connections, and such appointments also have the side benefit of putting such senior former politicians in a position where they can’t really criticise anything the PRC does.   But, in a way, the second count bothers me more.  O’Sullivan is the “Head of Business, NZME”, but she is also co-chair of the China Business Summit, and sits on the Advisory Board of the taxpayer-funded advocacy and propaganda outfit, the New Zealand China Council.  Neither of those involvements was noted in the article.  General readers can’t just be assumed to know such things, and should be able to assume that staff writers and columnists have no personal interests in the causes they are championing.

(Oh, and there was also the de haut en bas tone –  O’Sullivan being a favourite of the establishment these day –  of  this comment on Brady’s paper

It highlights issues that the higher echelons of the NZ Government are currently grappling with: whether foreign-sourced political donations carry a tag; an alleged Mainland influence on Chinese nationals and local ethnic media and unanswered questions that remain over National MP Jian Yang.

Except that there is no sign of the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition taking a stand on either issue.  Perhaps some officials are indeed troubled, but politicians call the shots.  We know there are problems – answered questions in the case of Jian Yang.  Bridges and Ardern simply refuse to face what they – and their predecessors –  have reduced our politicaL system to.)

But actually what I really wanted to write about today was an article not in the New Zealand media at all, but in the Chinese media (a Xinhua story to be exact –  thanks to a reader for sending through the link).

Both main party presidents –  Peter Goodfellow for National and Nigel Haworth for Labour –  have form when it comes to gushing over the PRC regime and its leader, Xi Jinping.  It keeps the donations flowing I suppose, and Goodfellow was the source of reported line that Chinese donors were less trouble than others.  Goodfellow is also reported as having business links with Jian Yang, including in the promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative, and –  as reported only relatively recently –  is closely involved in one of PRC-favourite Yikun Zhang’s promotional activities in New Zealand.

This story is about Goodfellow, who was apparently up in China last week, one of the

….attendees of a meeting held in Hangzhou, east China’s Zhejiang Province, on Friday.  The meeting to showcase Zhejiang’s achievements in high-quality development invited leaders and representatives of more than 80 political parties from over 30 countries.

The Chinese Communist Party was singing its own praises

Che Jun, secretary of Zhejiang Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), introduced the coastal province’s experiences in improving governance capacity to better serve economic growth, promoting innovation-driven development, nurturing new growth drivers while upgrading old ones, and building an ecological civilization.

and so was Peter Goodfellow

Noting China’s national rejuvenation is a good thing rather than a threat for the world, President of the National Party of New Zealand Peter Goodfellow expressed his willingness to strengthen friendly exchanges with the CPC and to actively participate in construction under the Belt and Road Initiative.

I’m sure we can all welcome China’s economic development, even as we note how badly the PRC lags behind Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, as well as Japan and South Korea.  But there was a time, not that many decades ago, when hobnobbing with the Chinese Communist Party was looked on rather suspiciously in New Zealand (I’ve just been reading James Bertram’s  slightly sickening account of his party’s trip to China in the mid-1950s, meeting with Mao and Chou En Lai just before the dreadful Great Leap Forward ), but now the president of our largest political party is wanting to work together with Communist Party, source of so much evil for the PRC citizens in the subsequent decades.  And no serious observer any longer pretends that the Belt and Road Initiative is anything much other than a geopolitical play.  Peter Goodfellow seems keen on pretending otherwise.

Probably from his perspective, so far so routine.  He – and his Labour peers –  probably do this sort of stuff all the time, long since detached from the sort of values their respective parties were founded on.  But it shouldn’t be normalised. It should be about as shocking as their counterparts in the late 1930s praising the Nazi Party and pledging to work together in its geopolitical initiatives.  Bad as the appeasers were, that would have been unthinkable then.  It should be again today.

But in a way what really struck me was the company Peter Goodfellow was keeping in this article.    There was Arshad Dad, Secretary-General of  (ruling) Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party.  There was Alsayed Mahmoud Al-Sharif, the first deputy speaker of Egypt’s House of Representatives, who was clearly very taken with the regime

….[he] said the experience of the CPC is worthy of deeper exploration.

“China, represented by Zhejiang, pays attention to the quality behind the speed in its development, continuously enhances its innovation and competitiveness, accelerates industrial transformation and upgrading, and opens up a unique, high-quality development path,” said Al-Sharif.

And Pavle Budakov, a Bureau member of the Socialist Party of Serbia.

But here’s the thing.  Pakistan is widely-recognised as something close to a Chinese client state, now deeply indebted to Beijing.    Egypt seems to be heading in somewhat the same direction, sucking in PRC money and labour (and “craving allies at a time when much of the world has recoiled from its brutal crackdown on dissent”) to build a new capital, and as for Serbia…..well, for a start the Socialist Party of Serbia was formerly the party of Slobodan Milosevic, and in an ongoing New York Times series on China (from whence the Egypt quote is taken), the Prime Minister of Serbia outdoes even Li Keqiang

Mr Li seeks to allay European worries that China poses a challenge to its rules. He promises that Chinese-financed projects will be awarded on the basis of competitive bidding.   “There needs to be open and transparent tendering”, the Chinese premier declares.

But the Serbia prime minister, Ana Brnabic, has just undercut that aseertion.  Asked moments earlier about the [highly-contetious, almost certainly uneconomic] high-speed rail from Belgrade to Budapest, she says Chinese companies have been promised construction work.  “China is a strategic partner”, she says.  “We are not putting out tenders”

Not even the deference that vice pays to virtue in pretending to a proper process.

Whether it is Beijing and the CCP, or these other regimes, our politics –  our political parties –  really should be better than that.  We had a long and honourable tradition, which our political parties seem only interested in trashing, along with the sort of values that underpinned this democracy, this society.

In closing, just two brief things.  The first is to encourage readers to view this short clip, sent to me by a reader.  It is the story of a (now) New Zealand Chinese family –  father and daughter.  The mother died in a PRC political detention facility, three months pregnant.  The regime wanted the father and daughter back (they’d got to Bangkok) but fortunately the then New Zealand government offered them refuge here.  They are still harassed by Beijing and its agents, formal or informal here, and threats made about family back in China.  Bravely, they are still willing to speak up and speak out, about their own awful experience.   I commented to the person who sent me the link

Powerful, sad, and yet a little hopeful too – that people aren’t willing to just give up and be quiet

Perhaps Todd McClay –  who repeats PRC propaganda about the Xinjiang internment –  could watch it, or Simon Bridges, or Jacinda Ardern.  These are New Zealanders.  And that is the regime to which you –  who purport to be “leaders” – give cover.  Surely they can’t really believe the regime is morally worthy at all, but perhaps it might be less shameful if that were their excuse, rather than “another deal, another donation”.  As Scott Morrison put it recently, in an Australian context, we have to be more than the sum of our deals.

Anastasia Lim isn’t a New Zealander. She is a Chinese-born Canadian actress who a few years ago won the Canadian competition to qualify for the Miss World finals.  She hasn’t been afraid to speak out about China’s human rights abuses –  including the forced organ transplants – and was thus banned from China (and thus the competition finals) in 2015.  If the PRC hoped to silence here, the ban only seemed to draw attention to her and her cause.  She pays a price –  her family back in China is scared to talk to her – but seems undeterred.  She is visiting New Zealand briefly next week.  Auckland readers might be interested in this  Monday evening screening of an award-winning film based around real-life PRC events,  at which she will host a question and answer session.  Perhaps Winston Peters could drop in, and listen to another courageous ethnic Chinese voice speak up about the regime in Beijing.

 

23 thoughts on “Known by the company they keep

  1. Many Chinese New Zealanders are from Taiwan, Hong Kong or from South East Asia (Peranakan Chinese) and many are mainlanders who came here before 1949, often many years before. And increasingly in New Zealand, many “Chinese” are in fact people of mixed origin.

    To conflate ‘Chinese’ with the PRC as our Foreign Minister does is not only incorrect but arguably racist.

    And as for the lines about saving and working hard and long term planning, well, that was just weird.

    But then Winston is weird… a lion in opposition and a lamb in government.

    Liked by 3 people

      • I disagree, you are too cynical. Money is a big deal if you are poor but once you have savings and an income over about $100,000 you can afford to have principles. Note how Bill Gates & Warren Buffet are content to give some of their wealth away. Anyone in Winston’s position is not significantly motivated by money; much more likely to be motivated by status.

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      • Notice that Winston Peters is a career politician and do not have the billions to give away and also in his final years. When he retires which could be in a few years he will be facing another 20 years to maybe 30 years of retirement on Universal super and whatever a savings pension plan would pay which means he would be lucky to get $30k/$40k a year. $360k a year currently would be rather difficult to give up to play hardball with the Prime Minister.

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  2. A lot to take in here and much to share with those who may not subscribe to your excellent blog Michael. The pro-PRC commentariat have been out in force and obviously coordinated this week, a veritable roll of dishonour. Pleased to see however the government is unwilling to allow the compromising of the 5G network.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is the GCSB that has suspended the 5G rollout with Spark. Watch how our Labour government will scramble to get Huawei back on track. Andrew Little has already started to check the specific technical issue that the GCSB has a problem with and for Spark to address that specific technical issue.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t know the relevant legislation at all, but this article seems to suggest that is still just an “opening bid” and that it was GCSB’s call (rather than the government’s)
    https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2018/11/28/341641/gcsb-decision-isnt-the-end-of-the-road-for-huawei

    “The TICSA process could ultimately end with Little being required to make a decision on whether to approve the network, but Little said the process was “nowhere near that point at this stage”.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Incredible that Spark couldn’t seem to care less about compromising NZ communication networks. They seem keen to overturn the initial position – if so this would be completely unconscionable on the part of Spark.

      Huawei is a state subsidised telecom company with a CCP cell embedded in its management structure according to US documents and is thoroughly beholden to the CCP. It is not just about the real possibility of security vulnerabilities – the Chinese equipment is required by law to have backdoors to allow infiltration and monitoring of its own citizens by the government. Why should it necessarily be any different in the systems they sell overseas? Another factor that gets less attention is that should there be some falling out or even conflict in future we could be severely disadvantaged if they were able to snoop on or disrupt our (and our allies’) communications. The US has been warning countries at some length about this for several years now.

      To those who say we should consider or might be forced to make a strategic choice between the US and China in future: ponder whether you would be more comfortable at the presence of a US carrier group parked off our coast or a Chinese one. (Chinese navy, at least in numerical terms, is apparently bigger than the US navy now and growing fast.)

      Anastasia Lin is an incredibly courageous young woman who isn’t afraid to speak out about an ongoing human rights tragedy, quite a bit worse in my view than Xinjiang, namely the forced organ harvesting of imprisoned dissidents and religious believers that has by all accounts been carried out on an industrial scale over nearly two decades. I suppose it would be to much to hope for our “principled” and “independent” foreign policymakers to ever speak out about this. I’d recommend listening to her Oxford Union speech too.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Thank you for the information about Ms O’Sullivan and her personal interests in keeping the Chinese government happy. Her article is acceptable after the appalling introduction. Anne-Marie Brady published an academic essay that was appreciated by a small number of fellow academics whereas Ms O’Sullivan is published in our most popular newspaper.

    Your article made me wonder about the name of the party that rules China. So checking the dictionary and then Wikipedia:

    Communism – a theory or system of social organization in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.

    In political and social sciences, communism (from Latin communis, “common, universal”) is the philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of the communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money and the state.

    Given the disparities of wealth and income in China and the way neither money nor state has withered away, they are badly named. But then NZ has its problems with party names: ‘Labour’ who are content to ignore worker exploitation so long as it is foreigners and ‘National’ which isn’t a bad name if we knew which nation they are serving.

    Liked by 3 people

    • China is fascist “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralised autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition”

      Liked by 5 people

      • It does GGS, as does state control of industry, commerce and banking, extreme levels of direct surveillance and control over individuals, suppression of religion and political opposition and the use by the state of torture, internment and murder. While those things are also a feature of the totalitarian Marxist states, the abandonment of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” puts China firmly in the fascist camp IMHO.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Michael

    Thanks again for an excellent column. One thing I’m interested in is your basis for the ‘1930s silence’ comparison. Seems to have come up a few times now. The comparison feels to me superficially attractive because of a number of comparable actions taken by the regimes concerned, but perhaps limited from there on out.

    As I say, I’d be very interested in your take, because in similar vein to a previous comment of mine, I wonder if un-expanded use of such strong language might allow overly-easy dismissal of (what I consider to be) your fantastic work on this issue. Sorry if I may have that articulation it in a previous post.

    Thanks

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    • Fair point/question

      I’ve used the Nazi parallels partly just to wake people up to the extraordinary nature of Jian Yang sitting as an MP (we’d not have let a former Gestapo – or similar Soviet – person sit in our Parliament in days gone by – unless perhaps they’d defected and were now speaking out against the regime.

      Parallels are never exact (and I am talking about say 1938 Germany, not about the middle of the awaful war that regime launched) but whether one looks at repression and persecution at home, expansionist activities abroad (SOuth and East China Sea, constant threats to Taiwan – probably seen a bit as akin to Austria and the Sudeten Germans), or just the Party-state nature of the regime, the parallels seem reasonable. In some cases, the PRC scores worse – including perhaps the huge industrial espionage and influence/interference activities in a growing number of countries.

      I’m of course aware of Godwin’s Law – first person to introduce Hitler to an argument loses. It is valid if one is talking about trivial abuses (eg plastic bag bans), but not when one sees a regime – and Western appeasement of it – that looks increasingly and distressingly similar to quite a lot of the Nazi regime. Forced organ transplants and Dr Mengele anyone? Xinjiang camps and the (pre-war) German concentration camps? Persecution of Muslims and Christians on the one hand, and Jews (and dissenting Christians) on the other?

      Liked by 3 people

      • Perhaps a better comparison would be what reaction their would be if an American who worked for the CIA, lied on his residency application at the behest of the US government and was now an MP.

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      • I think the Xinjiang camps are perhaps more modelled along the US Guantanamo detention camps at its peak with its waterboarding and isolation torture techniques to root out intelligence from likely Jihadist muslim extremists amongst the Muslim Ugyer population. The main difference is that these camps also have large libraries and have a actual communist propaganda re-education component.

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      • A pretty sickening remark. Yes, the US does seem bad stuff. Our own government does bad stuff- take Peter Eliss, imprisoned and never had his conviction overturned for heinous crimes he almost certainly didn’t do – but comparing that with the mass imprisonment of perhaps 1m people, the extreme electronic surveillance of the rest, the suppression of Islam, the imposition of PRC spies in people’s houses, well……it is sickening.

        Debate all you want as to how, if at all, the West should respond to the evil, but don’t try to minimise it with scarcely relevant what-aboutism.

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      • I think the regime is open for negotiation.

        The Vatican said that it had reached a provisional deal with the Chinese government to end a decades-old power struggle over the right to appoint bishops in China. Under the deal, Pope Francis recognized the legitimacy of seven bishops appointed by the Chinese government. Because they had not been selected by the Vatican, they had previously been excommunicated.

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  6. One point I’d add to this conversation. Every significant organisation has a CPC cell embedded in it.

    If you visit a SOE or a major business in Beijing or Shanghai you will notice that on the floor plan next to the lift will be a floor set aside for the Party cell. This is universal.

    Their job is to ensure business follows Party directives. Often the senior CPC member is as, or more, important than the senior management.

    Also, almost all of the key people you meet will be Party members.

    When I was travelling to BJ regularly, I just assumed that everyone I met was a Party member and that the conversations were either recorded or were subsequently written up.

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    • In China, the Red Party is like the exclusive club that you need to be a member of if you want to advance in your career and financially. In order to join, it starts in your youth, by joining the Youth Red Party, you need to demonstrate that you are the best in your group, best intellect, best academically, and best all rounder including community services and also in sports to join.

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