The China Council disgrace themselves and shame us

It is only a couple of weeks since the (largely) taxpayer-funded New Zealand China Council, which in its Annual Report –  signed off presumably by the heads of MFAT and NZTE (who sit on the Board) – was recently deploring what it regards as the “unedifying debate” about the extent of foreign (PRC) influence in New Zealand, was out in public with this lament

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.

It didn’t seem to bother them that our intelligence services might have had serious concerns about threats to New Zealand’s national security. No, the bother seemed to be that a PRC company, under the thumb of the party/State (as all PRC companies are by law), had had it plans frustrated.   Surely, an outfit that had the interests of New Zealand and its people first and foremost would have been pleased to hear that any such threats was being stymied?   But then it has never really been clear whose interests the China Council, and its Board and staff, serve.  No doubt at least the public servants involved try to tell themselves they are really working in the interests of New Zealanders –  by pandering to Bejing at every opportunity –  and as for the rest of them (business people, MPs) why would they greatly care about New Zealand interests when personal interests are advanced by using taxpayers’ money in an attempt to keep the population quiet and Beijing happy?  We are told that both MPs, for example, have close ties to the PRC Embassy and to various PRC United Front bodies.  Jian Yang goes further than that –  not only a former PRC intelligence official and a Communist Party member, but he seems to spend inordinate amounts of his time –  paid as a New Zealand MP –  in some mix of business and propaganda in the PRC (in league with his party president Peter Goodfellow).

These people seem to have no values, represent no moral perspective, that might underpin New Zealand and its freedom and political system. They seem to act as if the PRC is just another normal country. More likely, of course, they know it isn’t and yet they just don’t care. There are deals to be done, donations to flow. And in the China Council’s case, our taxes are paying for it.

But what caught my eye over the weekend were a couple of tweets from the China Council’s Executive Director, former diplomat, Stephen Jacobi.  It is a personal account, but when you are the chief executive there is no credible distinction.

I’m no great fan of Destiny Church or Brian Tamaki, but in this single tweet Jacobi diminishes himself even further.   A New Zealand citizen, keen to have a programme he is promoting run in prisons –  but who hadn’t even got round to applying for funding/permission –  represents a threat apparently far exceeding that of the People’s Republic of China.  Yeah right.

Whether it is the theft of intellectual property, the intimidation of Anne-Marie Brady, the threats to ethnic Chinese New Zealanders (and the attempts to divide their loyalties), the way in which our political system is compromised by donation flows from people with close PRC associations, the presence in Parliament of Jian Yang (in particular) and Raymond Huo – neither of whom has ever uttered a public word critical of one of the worst regimes on the planet –  the presence of PRC-government funded workers (selected for political loyalty/reliability) in our school classrooms, the partnerships our universities have formed with this regime, and the way they’ve exposed themselves to economic pressure and threats from the regime, the way our mayors (and MPs) seem to fall over themselves to associate with the PRC, or a Leader of the Opposition who seems not to like non-binding agreements except when they aspire to fusing civilisations with the PRC (it was his signature on the BRI agreement last year)……and that’s just some of the stuff at home, let alone what they do in other countries and to their own people.   The PRC is, quite simply, consequential in a way that Destiny Church is unlikely ever to be, even in New Zealand. And, of course, Jacobi knows all this, but he has a job to do….and never mind about the facts or the threats.

The previous tweet –  actually retweeted –  on Jacobi’s feed was perhaps equally telling about how the powers that be in New Zealand see things

The Confucius Institutes, part of the PRC government’s worldwide programme attempting to influence opinion in their favour (or at least neutralise it) –  instruments of PRC foreign policy,  hosted and highlighted by the New Zealand consulate in Chengdu (where these people who labour for Beijing were visiting for the worldwide conference of the Confucius Institute movement).  I guess it is a bit confusing when your former senior official, Tony Browne, former New Zealand Ambassador to China, now sits on the global advisory board for the Confucius programme, advancing Beijing’s interests (while helping run training programmes for rising Communist Party officials).  The Newsroom article this morning on some of these issues is worth reading.

(I guess MFAT has form in these area. I’ve just been reading Anne-Marie Brady’s book about Rewi Alley and was struck –  if perhaps not surprised –  by the way New Zealand government’s were attempting to use that shameless fellow traveller and apologist, who openly defended and championed the PRC through the worst of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, to advance their dealings with a vile regime –  the same party, same regime as now, just better suits and better technology.)

How much better for our taxes to be used to expose New Zealand kids, and New Zealand citizens, to the nature of the regime which, in sheer brutality and suppression of human freedoms, must now rank among the very worst we’ve seen?  But I guess that might disrupt the trade opportunities of the people on the China Council’s boards.  Deals might not go through, donations might be interrupted.  Well, frankly, values are things for which you are willing to pay a price. And it isn’t clear that China Council has any such values – and none of them ever utter any.

Are these people any worse than our political “leaders”?  Perhaps not –  although probably no elected politician would be quite as crass as Mr Jacobi –  but that is a standard so low, it is barely even worth considering.

At a personal level, Mr Jacobi appears to be a Christian himself.  This appeared on his Twitter account yesterday

There probably aren’t many Anglicans in the PRC, but I’m sure Mr Jacobi is well aware of the mounting campaign by Xi Jinping to domesticate, sinify, and (preferably) eliminate religion – Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or whatever – from China.  When the largest country in the world adopts that sort of approach –  not just around religion – it is a threat to us all.   As another more famous Anglican once put it

No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne

I’ve recently subscribed to a newsletter, Bitter Winter, from an Italian think tank on religious freedom (or lack of it) in the PRC.  These, perhaps, are the sort of evils our universities willingly partner with.   This is the sort of stuff our officials and politicians simply ignore.  But then these are the same people who disgrace themselves singing from the Party songbook about “vocational training” in Xinjiang.

That’s religious freedom.  Then there is political freedom (lack thereof), freedom of speech, freedom from surveillance, the rule of law, and so on. Not one of these the PRC has, or even claims to aspire to.  And yet MFAT, our politicians, and the China Council –  all funded by tax dollars – seem content to treat the PRC as a normal country, run by basically decent people, rather than as an evil regime with no moral core, a regime from which every decent person should keep their distance, and a regime which every decent person should avoid putting themselves in the thrall, and under the threat, of.

It isn’t even as if there is the excuse of novelty –  Nazi Germany was five years old in 1938, not 69 years old.   We know very well what the PRC regime is like –  even those who defend it know, even if they prefer to pretend otherwise. We could (and should) choose a distant and formal relationship –  if your firm wants to deal with Beijing, don’t expect help from the government –  but instead the deals and donations seemed to have warped any sense of decency, in ways that would have been unimaginable 45 years ago when New Zealand was first establishing diplomatic ties with the PRC.



Where have real house prices risen and fallen?

The QV house prices indices for November for each of the territorial local authority areas were released last week.  Much of the headline coverage is around the fact that in the last year Auckland prices have barely changed, while those in places like Dunedin, Invercargill, Palmerston North and Whanganui have shown double-digit rates of increase.  Even Wellington prices rose 7.4 per cent –  something brought home to me when a house across our driveway went for $2 million recently (a very big house).

Cycles are often not in synch from place to place and I’ve sometimes found it an interesting reference point to look back and see how (real) house prices have changed since the peak of the previous surge upwards in house prices, in mid 2007.  That, of course, was just before the onset of the last recession in New Zealand.

Here is a chart showing (mostly) the cities

house prices 2018 1

Auckland is, of course, still far worse –  total real increases (as well as levels) –  than any of the other cities.  But I was interested in a couple of things.

First over the (little more than a) decade. the increase in real house prices in Dunedin is well above that in many urban areas, and about the same as the increase in Wellington prices.  In the absence of population pressures, that Dunedin increase took me a bit by surprise.

And second was Christchurch.  There was a big rise in Christchurch prices a few years ago –  housing was in genuinely short supply following the earthquakes –  but looking back to before the recession and earthquake, and forward to today, Christchurch house prices haven’t increased in real terms very much at all.   Christchurch city has had less population growth than, say, Auckland or Wellington, but is still estimated to have 6 per cent more people than it had in 2007.

Much of the population growth (about 75 per cent of it) in greater Christchurch since the earthquakes has been in the Selwyn, in particular, and Waimakariri districts.  People sometimes talk about how responsive the two councils’ policies have been in facilitating this growth.  There is clearly something to that, but it is worth noting that neither locality seems to offer anything like the sort of easy ability to build and develop land that we can observe in many fast-growing places in the United States.  Real house prices in Selwyn, for example, have risen by about 20 per cent in the last decade.  And there is are enormous amounts of flat land in Selwyn.

And my other chart is of the TLAs at the bottom of the scale –  the places where real house prices are still lower than they were at the peak of the boom in 2007.

house prices 2018 2

Not, it seems, because (say) land use laws were freed up and the cost of bringing new houses to market has fallen.  In some of these places, prices are probably now below replacement cost (at least on existing land use regulation).    Most, if not all, look like the sorts of places that would benefit from the sort of much lower real exchange rate that I remain convinced has to be a part of any successful economic adjustment in New Zealand –  not that either main party seems to have any interest in effecting such a transition.

It is a sad and shameful record for our politicians.  One neither hears them talking of a goal to get house prices back down again, nor sees them implementing or advocating policies that might make a credible long-run difference.  I guess it won’t greatly matter for the kids of people like the Prime Minister or the Leader of Opposition, but what about the kids of the rest of us? It saddens me to listen to my kids talking about how difficult they think it will be to ever afford a house (in places with decent jobs), but it angers me how (practically) indifferent our political leaders –  central and local – seem.