The China Council plumbing the depths

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.

They conclude

“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.


24 thoughts on “The China Council plumbing the depths

  1. When you are speaking off the record in front of 100 people. It is essentially a public forum I would have thought and should be on the record. What happened to open reporting in NZ and the right to free speech by the NZ media? Why should Tony Browne be let off because he may fear China? Why would you expect Yang Jian to publicly denounce China publicly but do not have the same expectation of Tony Browne to spill his guts publicly?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I largely agree re the off-the-record (altho major govt officials like Orr do the same thing). But I think there is an important difference between Browne and Jian Yang: one is a member of Parliament and that carries higher expectations of accountability. His background is also such that questions have arisen more naturally about where his loyalties may lie.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. The Washington Post had an interesting story today by a CPC apologist discussing Skynet. As usual he trotted out the old line that China needs to have these controls because it’s a big country and has a corruption problem.

    No mention of the fact that the corruption problem might be caused by their political and judicial system or the fact that Taiwan and Singapore have limited issues with corruption.

    20 years ago, Westerners would have bought this bunk as their knowledge of China extended as far as Panda’s, Sweet and Sour Chicken and fortune cookies.

    But today we are wising up.

    Our political class has been co-opted and corrupted. And now they’re being exposed…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. James Bond and Ian Fleming
    Might sound paranoid .. just Wondering if you have begun placing damp hairs across your closet doors and powdering the catches of your briefcase when you leave the house


  4. No, altho at around that time there was a degree of western optimism – perhaps never that well-founded, but previous leaders were different than Xi – about the path the PRC might be on.

    It was about the time of my longest trip to China – helping run a course with the iMF for Chinese central bank staff (the current PBOC Governor was in attendance, as a senior local official) – and rereading my diary of that trip recently I was a bit surprised how indifferent I seemed to be to the political situation, repression etc. I recall being taken aback to find a big church, with a cross on it, right next to the hotel and course venue (in a provincial city).


    • Not too sure why you would be taken aback? There are 36 Churches in Shanghai in just one city. The Christian presence is significant enough for the Pope to be able to negotiate with the CPP. Certainly better than our own situation where our churches are being converted for Islamic studies.


  5. “” unedifying debate about the extent of foreign influence in New Zealand risks unfairly targeting New Zealanders of Chinese descent “”. Sadly there is some truth in this. On other forums I see rather casual remarks about people of Chinese appearance in NZ. For example frequently ill-informed generalised comments about elderly Chinese collecting NZ super.

    However this blog is edifying. It criticises severely but specifically. It makes it clear that the Communist Party of China is not China and that Jian Yang may or may not have primary allegiance to the CCP but his public statements to date have made it impossible to judge.

    Another point made here but rarely elsewhere is that trade and investment do not require deference or a change to our values. This afternoon I bought a mobile phone for under $30; that is a bargain and it was probably assembled in China but seriously it would make no difference to me where it was made; maybe the next one will be made in Korea or India or Finland. This morning I was investigating intricacies of MSSQL2017 database triggers in an attempt to help a friend selling aircraft parts worldwide – he doesn’t care which country gets his parts so long as he’s paid (invariably in US$).


    • That seems to me a very generous perspective – overly so. Every single issue (superannuation, climate change, gay rights, tax, whatever) that is the subject of serious political debate gets some unedifying comments, whether in Stuff comments, social media or whatever. But in this case they are trying to imply that the thrust of the debate/criticism is “racist” – especially as there is no addressing the substance (let alone the non-PRC ethnic Chinese involvements) at all, however briefly. Perhaps in their partial defence, many of these people spent careers as rarefied bureaucrats and probably never had much exposure to open and robust public debate – foreign affairs has mostly been pretty non-partisan for decades – and they probably find open democracy, in all its messiness, rather alien.


      • Lets distinguish. The thrust of the criticism is often racist and from 2nd hand sources some of the reverse criticism (Chinese complaints about western civilisation) is also racist. However the debate is not and cannot be racist – either there is evidence for organ harvesting or there isn’t; either China has a valid claim on Tibet and the China Sea or it doesn’t; either one in ten Uyghur’s are held in camps with barred gates and armed watchtowers or they are enthusiasically accepting education. Those who do not wish to discuss these matters will try to use the race card but facts are facts and are judged by debate.

        My second point was about treating China as a country like any other with potential value for both exports and imports. When the bamboo curtain was lifted it did make sense to form associations and educational instituts and even use tax payers money to form a China council – before achieving the benefits of trade or even appreciation of Chinese art forms we had to learn something about China. That has been achieved; NZ now has a substantial Chinese population and most Kiwis seem to have had holidays in China. We have a good idea what China is like.
        It comes as little surprise that failure to consider buying Chinese communications equipment causes threats to exports of our lamb whereas other countries without China’s central control could not make that kind of threat credible. It is just one more risk for NZ businesses involved in international trade to cater for. Probably less onerous than estimating the risks involved in trading with PNG.
        Since NZ now knows China and NZ certainly doesn’t know PNG maybe it is time to replace the China Council with the PNG Wantok council, replace the Confucius Institutes with labs for 817 Melanesian languages; I’m sure your children would find learning Pigin easier than Mandarin and prefer the wide range of PNG art forms and dances over the narrower range from China. In PNG every day is different; major problems but it is never boring – ideal for young Kiwis.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not going to concede the first point, at least when it comes to the intelligent debate. I only just noticed where the China Council put the comma in their statement – the emphasis is on the debate being unedifying, only modified with an “at times’. These people want to tar the intelligent debate – akin to that going on in various other countries – and prefer slurs to engagement (the relevant para was the only reference in the Ann Report to the debate – it was just the intro to a fuller discussion.)


      • Bob,I think there are certain countries banned from being able to buy aircraft parts so your friend needs to be aware of banned countries. The most notable at the moment would be North Korea.


      • The complexities are mind blowing – many American customers just don’t want the hassle of filling in the import forms so he sells to a dealer in Florida; most of the business is now brokering so often the part never sees NZ.
        My point remains you can’t easily sell to USA or China without some local knowledge. Once acquired no problem.


  6. 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.

    Cracks me up how people get so riled up about immigrants. Especially them chinese.

    Dime loves em – i like their food, i like their [censored], i like that they only seem to commit crimes against each other, i like that they have made me a fortune in property, i like that they built me a kick ass house.


    • Not sure why we pick out the Chinese in terms of cultural diversity, wealth creation and jobs when most of them are actually Asians from a diverse range of Asian countries. But in terms of the Auckland strip clubs, say Showgirls or The Penthouse owned by the Chow Brothers, the girls are not any from China but mainly from, Europe, UK, South America and mainly from provincial rural New Zealand. I even met my daughters Montessori pre school teacher from the USA in Showgirls many many years ago when showing some visitors the tourist sights of NZ.


  7. They, the nest of NZ pro china institutions, are out of their depth; in them is an extraordinary admixture of smugness, hubris, and political antirealism.

    This seems partly based on a strong notion of New Zealand exceptionalism and technocratic mastery of trade-Tim groser- ( and recently exemplified by the bizzare notion we can be a broker between the superpowers). Apparently having an independent foreign policy and honest broker image exempts us from the normal happenings of international affairs.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Did you see this Michael?

    Auckland fares badly in quality of life survey

    “JESSICA Let’s talk a little bit about that population spread. Why are so many people moving to Auckland?

    PAUL Well, Auckland – there’s an agglomeration effect, so the bigger Auckland becomes, there more attractive it becomes. It becomes more attractive economically, but it also becomes more attractive as a place to live. And so we’re seeing the sort of perimeters of New Zealand, the regions, beginning to flat-line, so they’re not growing, and we’re now beginning to see the first of regions beginning to decline. ”


  9. The NZCC’s public comments leave me flabbergasted – seems to be almost like prostration than kowtow. This kind of craven deference in the face of genuine multiple security concerns makes me wonder if these people will be the ones holding open the gates to let the invader in if push ever comes to shove.

    This looks to be a little bit out of date but lays out the the US’s security concerns regarding Huawei clearly:

    Liked by 2 people

    • I thoroughly agree Matt. These people would sell their grandmothers to slavers if they could make a quick buck. New Zealand’s political establishment is rotten.


  10. Spoonley seems to contradict himself weekly. He said migrants and Chinese are not responsible for House price inflation. Then he says at a public lecture that we should thank them for making us rich through property.


    • Could be the $2 billion every 12 months that the government pumps into house price liquidity through it’s social welfare accommodation supplements because it refuses to build enough social houses?


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