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.