Last night I went to a function organised by the Wellington branch of the Fabian Society, to hear Tony Browne speak on “China’s place in the world and New Zealand’s relationship with it”. Browne, as readers may be aware, was New Zealand’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China some years ago (2004 to 2009), when the regime was a bit less awful than usual.
Browne chose to make his speech off-the-record, so I can’t tell you what he said. That is a shame, and not because I would otherwise choose to make any “gotcha” points from what he said. It was an interesting address, and perhaps 100 people heard it, but for such a timely and important issue his perspective is probably one that more people should hear. There was nuance to some of his views and arguments – and perhaps more sign of perspective and some decency than, say, one gets from the New Zealand China Council (or our politicians).
Browne is no longer a public servant, and in that sense is free to keep his views private. But he is hardly just a retired public servant doing his garden in Waikanae. Since leaving MFAT he has taken on several roles that keep him close to the centre of things, even if just outside the official boundaries. On the PRC side, he is the chair of the PRC-funded Confucius Institute at Victoria University and (rather more grandly) sits on the international advisory body to the PRC authorities on the worldwide Confucius Institute progamme. Closer to home, he is Executive Chair of the Contemporary China Research Centre – the multi-university body, itself closely tied in to MFAT/NZTE interests, based at Victoria and which shares offices and support staff with the Confucius Institute. He’s also a member of the Council of the (largely) government-funded propaganda and advocacy body, the New Zealand China Council. And he is joint programme director for the ANZSOG training programme in New Zealand and Australia for rising Chinese Communist Party officials, itself organised in a contractural arrangement with the Chinese Communist Party. ANZSOG itself, as I’ve noted here previously, isn’t just some obscure academic body – this trans-Tasman arrangement is chaired by our own State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes.
I suppose that had Browne been speaking on-the-record he’d have spoken less openly. Which, in itself, tells us something, when it comes to issues like the PRC relationship, and interests.
You’ll have noted that the local Confucius Institutes – in addition to channelling Chinese foreign aid into the schools of an advanced country – run seminars to champion the perspectives of the PRC, in conjunction with various other PRC front bodies. No one, of course, supposes that the PRC runs the programmes out of the goodness of its heart.
And that the Contemporary China Research Centre – chair, board members, and director and deputy directors – have been totally silent on, for example, issues such as those raised by Anne-Marie Brady and more recently when various other academics stood up and called on the government to take more seriously the apparent efforts to intimidate Professor Brady. Go to the CCRC website and you’ll see prominently displayed next week’s conference on the (jointly promoted by NZ and the PRC) Year of the Chinese Tourist. Couldn’t queer that pitch I suppose. More generally, there is nothing there this year that might be seen to represent a serious contribution to the emerging debate around the PRC, its activities in New Zealand, and New Zealand’s relationship with that evil regime. And, of course, the CCRC is a content-provider to MFAT – an arrangement they wouldn’t want to jeopardise – no doubt training new generations of public servants to minimise the evil and maximise the deference.
And ANZSOG – seemingly more interested in the mechanism of government than the purposes (moral or otherwise) of such activity – no doubt wouldn’t like any flies in the ointment of its special relationship with the Organisation Department of the Communist Party. Perhaps the frameworks of the State Sector Act or the Public Finance Act come in handy in managing the abuses – in Xinjiang, Tibet, or China more generally?
But if we can’t talk specifically about Tony Browne’s views, as distinct from his interests, we can talk about one of his bodies, the New Zealand China Council. Recall that this body is largely taxpayer-funded, has the heads of MFAT and NZTE on the Board ex officio, as well as various other “worthies” mostly, it appears, with business interests in China. They also have an Advisory Council, with people like Jian Yang, Raymond Huo, the head of (Beijing-front) New Zealand China Friendship Society (and others). They are funded to promote the relationship with the PRC, which seems to involve (a) never ever saying anything critical (unlike the way real mutual relationships work), (b) trying to keep the populace quiet and on-board with the government and business project (“deals and donations; never mind the nature of the regime at home or abroad”). There never seems to be much rigour or analytical depth to their material – but perhaps one doesn’t expect that from propagandists.
Anyway, it appears that the China Council held its annual meeting last week. We are told that they “raised the bar” at the AGM, although it isn’t clear what that means, assuming it isn’t just a reference to the drinks afterwards. We are also told that the Chairman’s report was approved unanimously – which seems an odd thing to emphasise in a press release, at least outside places like the PRC. And what was in Don McKinnon’s report? We are told about their work championing (New Zealand’s involvement in) Belt and Road. We are told about how much propaganda is still needed (emphasis added)
The Council’s survey, undertaken in February 2018 and released later in the year, is the first to benchmark New Zealanders’ attitudes towards the relationship with China specifically, including the relationship as a whole, trade, investment and culture. The survey revealed a pleasing level of support for the relationship but showed there is more work for the Council to do to ensure it is understood properly
The way these taxpayer-funded “worthies” see it presumably?
But probably the key, and most telling, paragraph was this one
An, at times, unedifying debate about the extent of foreign influence in New Zealand risks unfairly targeting New Zealanders of Chinese descent but has not detracted from the value which the relationship with China delivers in terms of cultural diversity, wealth creation and jobs.
Feel the lofty condescension. Perish the thought that academics, commentators, citizens, residents – native and ethnic Chinese – might actually want to debate the relationship, and challenge the deferential narrative that Sir Don and his “worthies” want to reinforce. No specifics, no evidence, no reference to (for example) the many ethnic Chinese here who want nothing to do with the regime or what it represents, some of whom are courageous enough to speak out. No sense that there are any issues, choices, or tradeoffs, just the great unwashed getting in the way of making money and collecting party donations. Perhaps it isn’t really surprising, but you’d sort of hope that such an eminent Board – top tier public servants, senior academics, senior business people etc – would pride itself on being able to tackle substantive isses substantively. But clearly not this lot.
The Council plumbed new depths of obsequiousness (to Beijing that is) this morning, when they released a statement on the Spark/Huawei 5G situation. The words are those of Executive Director – former MFAT official – Stephen Jacobi, but it appears to speak for the Council, so we must assume that the chief executives of MFAT and NZTE are party to this position. The statement opens
The New Zealand China Council is disappointed to learn plans for Huawei’s involvement in the development of Spark’s 5G network have been put on hold.
Not, note, disappointed to learn from the New Zealand government’s own GCSB that their assessment is that Huawei 5G equipment raises national security issues/threats. It is as if they are spokespeople for Huawei and for the PRC.
Executive Director Stephen Jacobi says the Council would not wish to see the decision complicate efforts to expand the trade and investment relationship with China.
One would like to think that observation was directed at the PRC. After all, they (PRC) assure people that Huawei operates quite separately from the Party/state – despite those new laws, and the presence of CCP cells in all significant PRC companies. But it doesn’t seem likely that was the intended emphasis.
“We are not privy to the GCSB report and therefore cannot comment on its substance. We note the Government’s reassurance that this decision is about the security of a certain technology rather than about China. Even so, we are concerned that the decision may have repercussions.
Pretty clearly aimed at our government and the GCSB, despite – as they concede – having no information on the substance of the security issues.
They go on
“We hope the relationship is resilient enough to withstand occasional differences of view. We understand Huawei is committed to finding a way forward, and we hope a resolution can be reached that is acceptable to all parties.
Wouldn’t you hope that, first and foremost, any issues are resolved in ways the safeguard New Zealand’s national security, present and future? Most people would, but I guess not those committed to deference to Beijing.
“Meantime, we need to continue to focus on building a relationship with China which reflects our respective values and interests and delivers value to both parties,” Mr Jacobi says.
Power, aggression, and self-assertion regardless of borders and citizenship on the one hand, and deference – to the point of kowtow – on the other.
Reasonable people might take different views on the Huawei provisional decision. Few if any of us have any basis for reaching a technical view. But this statement – including from two of our most senior public servants – seems aimed at deliberately undercutting the GCSB stance (a New Zealand government agency), queering the pitch for ministers, and seems concerned more about the interests and attitudes of Beijing – and the ongoing sales (and party donations) of its members – than it is about the national interests, national security, and values of ordinary New Zealanders. But then they have Jian Yang and Raymond Huo inside their tent, so why should we be surprised.