The China Council takes the stage

I have good memories of a young Don McKinnon.  It was early 1980, my first year at Victoria University, and Don McKinnon was a first-term National MP.  It was just a few months after the Soviet occupation/invasion of Afghanistan, and there was a strong push from many governments in the West against competing in that (northern) summer’s Olympic Games, to be held in Moscow.   Don McKinnon was invited along to articulate and defend the government’s stance. It was a pretty hostile audience as I recall –  the median student (or perhaps just the median of those who would turn up to lunchtime political meetings) was pretty left-wing (and of those who weren’t so left-wing not many had much time for the then Prime Minister, Rob Muldoon).  I no longer remember many of the details of the event, but I do recall McKinnon vigorously fighting his corner, and making the case that New Zealand athletes shouldn’t be part of one of tyranny’s great celebrations –  first Olympics in a Communist country) in the wake of such egregious aggression.   Those were days of considerably greater moral clarity about such regimes –  no doubt helped by the fact that there was not much trade with the Soviet Union, and our universities weren’t reliant on the Soviet market.

That was then.  Today’s Don McKinnon is full of years, knighted no less.  And any moral clarity on these sorts of issues appears to have been lost long ago.  For these days, Don McKinnon is chair of the (largely) taxpayer-funded New Zealand China Council, set up by the previous government to run propaganda around the People’s Republic of China, and help ensure that public discontent around supping with the devil never becomes too problematic.   Those aren’t their words of course, but the gist of the actual words they do use isn’t that different.     They don’t exist to do foreign diplomacy (that is what we have MFAT for), they don’t exist to do business (individual firms and universities for that, they exist to propagandise New Zealanders –  with our own money.

Mostly, the part-time Executive Director (of whom more below) speaks for the China Council.  But every so often –  perhaps whenever it seems as if a nerve has been touched – they wheel out the chair Don McKinnon.  There was an op-ed in the Herald this time last year, ably responded to by Simon Chapple of Victoria University –  a rare New Zealand academic willing to express scepticism.   Sir Don wanted us to “respect” the People’s Republic of China –  it was never made clear why, given the nature of the regime –  and if there were ever any issues well the great unwashed could trust the “relevant agencies” to deal with them (conveniently ignoring that fact that many of the issues raised by Anne-Marie Brady a few months earlier were not illegal –  they were questions of instead of right and wrong, surely matters for open debate.

Earlier this week Don McKinnon was back in the pages of the Herald.   Straw men abounded.    McKinnon opened with the Hauwei provisional decision taken by the GCSB.  You’ll recall that when decision was announced the China Council put out a statement lamenting the proposed ban.  I’m still a bit puzzled by that statement given that the chief executives of MFAT and NZTE sit on the Council’s Board and were presumably party to this public criticism of one of our intelligence agencies.

In his article this week, Don McKinnon has moved on a bit.

The substance of the decision is not for me to debate, but the risk is that it complicates the already complex management of the trade and economic relationship at a time of geopolitical tension.

but it really isn’t a much better stance from a former Foreign Minister, in a body largely funded by the taxpayer (not Huawei).   Shouldn’t he be lamenting the fact –  unquestioned –  that the PRC is engaged in far-reaching cyber-intrusions and intellectual property theft in much of the world, the sort of approach that might leave anyone cautious about letting a PRC regime-controlled company (as they all are) loose on a 5G network?

But what of those straw men?  This was the opening line of the article

The recent GCSB ruling in respect of Huawei must surely be a body blow for those who allege the Chinese Government and the Chinese Communist Party are influencing New Zealand’s policy-making.

A “body blow”?  Well, perhaps if anyone were claiming that New Zealand governments always and everywhere do what the PRC would prefer.  But I’m not aware of any serious participant in these debates who says that. Beijing probably wasn’t too keen on New Zealand purchasing the P8 aircraft, and would presumably prefer we opted out of Five Eyes too.  But they must be absolutely delighted that former PLA intelligence official, Communist Party member, Jian Yang still sits in our Parliament – even after all that background, and the active misrepresentations to the authorities, is in the public domain.  Or that when new defence policy documents include a few mild but honest words, the only criticism in the political sphere is from an Opposition leader –  himself having signed us up to an aspiration to fusion of civilisations – concerned that the government might upset Beijing.  Or that the government refuses to participate in joint Western efforts to protest the gross abuses in Xinjiang (which the Opposition describe, PRC style, as vocational training camps).  Or that Yikun Zhang, with clear and strong ties to the regime and Party can manage to be awarded –  with bipartisan support –  royal honours for services to New Zealand.  How they must have chortled when they heard that.  Or that both Ardern and Bridges are apparently so scared of a Beijing reaction that neither can manage a forthright defence of Anne-Marie Brady, or of ethnic Chinese New Zealanders being intimidated –  here in New Zealand –  by Beijing.

Don McKinnon purports to believe that none of this is an issue at all.  Apparently we once –  years ago –  mentioned the South China Sea, and that was quite enough.  As for political donations, there are plenty of serious people around –  even people with ties to his own organisation –  who evince unease about that situation –  about, for example, another former Foreign Minister financing his mayoral campaign substantially with anonymous donations from the mainland.   McKinnon isn’t stupid, and will know all this, so one can only conclude he doesn’t care a jot – about the integrity of the political system of his own country.   The 1980 version of Don McKinnon wouldn’t have tolerated a KGB/GRU officer –  never once heard to criticise any aspect of the USSR –  in our Parliament.  2018 Don McKinnon thinks Jian Yang’s presence in Parliament is just fine –  apparently any concerns are “unsubstantiated” (you mean the ones he himself belatedly acknowledged?) –  and has the man sitting on the China Council’s advisory board.

The whole thing is suffused with that determination never ever to upset Beijing –  and whenever anything might (eg Huawei) the emphasis is on the PRC perspective, not the New Zealand one.   This reaches egregious extremes in this observation

National security is important but so too is our increasingly multi-faceted relationship with China.

National security isn’t everything.  Civil liberties and our democracy matter a great deal too.  But for a former longserving Foreign Minister to suggest, in writing (presumably carefuly drafted) that national security is something we should compromise on to keep the regime in Beijing happy is…….extraordinary (and that is probably too mild a word).

And this is one of the problems with the China Council.  They do now often include a ritual line about our “very different values”.  It is there in this week’s article too.  But, strangely –  conveniently for them –  they never ever spell out the nature of those differences.  Doing so might require them to speak or write in a way that suggested disapproval of aspects of the PRC –  or, and I hope this isn’t so, a genuine belief that the PRC system is just as good as our own, only different, and simply nothing to worry about.  So we never hear about (say) the imprisonment of a million or more people in Xinjiang, about fresh attacks on Christians in China, about the widespread theft of intellectual property, about a regime so insecure images of Winnie-the-Pooh are being banned, about the absence of the rule of law, about real military threats to free and democractic Taiwan, about the absence of freedom of speech, or even about the lawless  revenge abductions of a couple of Canadians this week.  Nothing.  And why?  Because there are deals and donations to keep flowing, and none of these things matter a jot –  in the only sense that reveals importance, a willingness to pay a price (probably quite a modest one, if at all).

McKinnon ends with two more incredible comments.  The first was

The risk of overreaction in New Zealand is all too real, however.

Really?  With our supine political and business class, desperate as ever to play the issues down, and no doubt grateful to Sir Don for putting pen to paper.   Some sign of any reaction among our purported leaders would be worthy of note.  But then the China Council’s view of “overreaction” seems to be any reaction whatever –  just let us get on with the deals and donations.  Trust us…..

And at the very end

The short step from rational debate to panic can come at a heavy cost.

So never ever upset Beijing, or the thugs with the baseball bats will extort a price.  But,trust us……they really are good guys, we are better for dealing with them, they’re good guys.  Really.

The thing that really staggers me about the China Council is that with all those senior figures and all that taxpayers’ money the quality and depth of their propaganda and advocacy is so limited.  They might have good practical arguments to make on some points, but making them should involve engaging substantively with the sort of detailed concerns being raised.  The China Council has never made any attempt to substantively engage with Anne_Marie Brady’s paper –  and, shamefully, has been totally silent on the apparent attempts to physically intimidate her (and thus to scare others).  And they are fellow New Zealanders.

As it happens, there was another good example yesterday of our cowering “leaders”.  Newsroom has an account of MFAT’s appearance at a parliamentary select committee, where much of the discussion seems to have been around the PRC, the “FTA”- upgrade, and so on.  I’m not going to excerpt the story, but read it and all you sense is fearfulness from both sides –  if the Opposition is critical it is that the government might have upset Beijing.  There is no sense of self-respect, no sense of values that matter, just a backdrop of deals and donations –  and that weirdly misplaced view about the significance of the PRC to New Zealand’s economic fortunes so actively fostered by yet another former Foreign Minister, Murray McCully.

And, finally, I must have hit a bit of nerve somewhere near the China Council.  After a post the other day, this tweet appeared on the Executive Director, Stephen Jacobi’s feed.

Which was a bit odd really.  I went back and looked at the post in question.   And I couldn’t find any examples of me calling him names.  I did note that “he appears to be Christian” but as on his Twitter page he calls himself an Anglican, and was tweeting a photo of an Advent service, that didn’t seem an unreasonable deduction.  And as one Christian to another, it can hardly count as name-calling.

So I had a look back at any of my other past posts I could find when I’d written about Jacobi (here, here, here, here and here were the ones I could find).   And yet anything resembling name-calling seemed thin on the ground (which was relief, because it is something I try hard to avoid –  perhaps not always successfully).   In one of those early posts I introduced Jacobi this way

The Council employs a part-time Executive Director, Stephen Jacobi.  He spent considerable time at MFAT, but from his own account his focus was Europe and North America (including as our deputy high commissioner in Canada) and in trade negotiations.  Since leaving MFAT in 2005 he has run his own consulting firm, and been employed as the public face of various trade-related bodies, including serving as Executive Director of the NZ US Council from 2005 to 2014.  He is articulate and readily available to the media, but has no specialist expertise in China or (indeed) on the workings of New Zealand democracy.   That isn’t a criticism –  after all, neither do I –  just to note that his arguments, and evidence, need to be reflected on and carefully examined, perhaps having regard to the interests that are paying him, not as coming from an expert authority in the area.

And that still seems right, and fair.  He is a paid lobbyist and advocate –  propagandist wouldn’t be too strong a word.  Those are, more or less, job descriptions.  I’m sure he believes most or all of what the job requires him to say.  It is just a shame that the institution for which he works seems to have abandoned all sense of good and evil when it comes to the PRC.

But in the search for anything that might resemble name-calling, I did across lots of arguments, analysis, and some evidence. I don’t particularly expect Jacobi or the China Council to engage with me –  although I’d be happy for them to do so – but the thing is that they don’t engage with China experts (notably Anne-Marie Brady) either.  Instead, they play distraction, suggest racism is at work, call debates “unedifying” rather than engage in them, or  –  as in this case –  suggest that all there is is name-calling.  With so many resources at their disposal, that approach doesn’t exactly redound to their credit.  With the politicians on side perhaps it doesn’t matter for now, but such large disconnnects between the values of a people, and the attitudes and practices of their “leaders”, are unlikely to last forever.  It was Scott Morrison who only a few weeks ago observed that we –  citizens of free and democratic countries –  have to be more than just the sum of our deals.  Or, as I added, of our political party donations.

20 thoughts on “The China Council takes the stage

  1. Hi Michael

    I appreciate your willingness to highlight issues concerning the PRC’s influence in New Zealand, and the various tax payer assisted organisations that serve no real purpose other than to act as an indigenous propaganda arm of the one party state. That former politicians and high ranking civil servants have agreed to shill for the PRC (in exchange for remuneration) reinforces your view that we value ‘deals and donations’ over moral principal. It reflects very poorly on those you have named, and I wonder if this is the legacy Don McKinnon would have imagined for himself in 1980.

    Which leads me to suggest that by now you will have almost certainly upset these and other people whose mission is to provide unrelenting good news about our relationship with the PRC. We have seen foreign actors take steps in the past to silence dissenting voices, I’m thinking France and the Rainbow Warrior, and potentially the events surrounding Anne-Marie Brady.

    They will have worked out that you don’t scare easily, so the next best option will be to determine if you are able to be brought off with a remunerated but meaningless role like the one accepted by Sir Don and his colleagues on the China Council. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Just to be clear, as I understand, people serving on the Board (and advisory board) of the China Council either do so ex officio (heads of MFAT and NZTE) or unremunerated. Of course, being on the board – getting access to using taxpayer money for “propaganda” – often enables them to serve more effectively in other roles for which they may well be remunerated (eg most of the business people on the Council). Jacobi himself is paid, but he is doing an executive role.


  2. Thanks for the useful references. I’ve never had much time for McKinnon and I have absolutely none now. These people make one ashamed to be a New Zealander. We can only keep these issues alive in the hope of influencing public opinion so that their propaganda falls on fallow ground.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks Michael.

    the Chinese communist party is very good at bribery. corruption will follow anywhere their power expanded.

    just have look at how Huawei bribed Australian politicians, which is only the tip of an iceberg.

    “The researchers found that Huawei paid for 12 Australian federal politicians to travel to Huawei’s headquarters in Shenzhen between 2010 and 2018. Expenses included business-class flights, local travel, accomodations, and meals. Politicians included Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, and former Trade Minister Andrew Robb.”

    “Taiwanese media reported in 2012 that former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Raja Pikesa had stepped down because of accepting Huawei’s $100,000 bribe. ”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Michael,

    I have been with this site quietly for quite a while. I posted a “suspicious” response yesterday because I did not know where to start with. As a Chinese New Zealander, I feel frustrated upon the things happening in recent years, somewhat similar to your feelings.

    Don’t think of too much about those people. To me, they are the same as those “New Zealand Chinese” who only act and speak for the Chinese government while living on new Zealand soil.

    You may know that among 200,000 Chinese here, only around half are from mainland china. And among mainland Chinese, less than half are CCP representatives or followers. So the majority consider themselves as “Chinese New Zealanders” who hardly comment on any state affairs, instead of trying hard to live happily as other kiwis do here.

    Only a small group of Chinese would speak and act on behalf of the Chinese communist party (CCP). They also like to criticise on NZ government policies etc. and use big words such as racism and discrimination to show their strength. they are not New Zealanders and never willing to be New Zealanders.

    We can see Jian Yang’s stance from his behaviour no matter how often he emphasised that how much loyalty he devoted to NZ.

    Thank you very much for all your effort and wish you a very merry Christmas.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. ….cracking; perhaps its time for a Working Group on “NZ values” – noting politicians seem to be consumers of ideas (I recall reading a doc by the Treasury written mid 80’s – I”ll dig it out if I find it…); until then, to my eye, ‘Made in China’ will likely remain a key aspect of 25 December…


    • Quote from your link:
      “” Is Yang a “mole”? If so, he’s no better or worse than the myriad of current or former senior members of our nominally conservative, once staunchly anti-Communist, party riding the Chinese gravy train. As Brady fearlessly details, the likes of Don Brash, Ruth Richardson, Jenny Shipley, John Key and Judith Collins all have extensive business ties to the totalitarian state.
      The comparative silence from the Government on these issues is more disturbing still. With Interpol and the New Zealand SIS both investigating the Brady break-ins and 200 international experts signing a petition calling for her protection and the defence of academic freedom within democracies, our prime minister has chosen to put trade before principle. In the best traditions of David Lange wilting before French intimidation, Chinese terrorism is countenanced. “”

      Good to find some straight-talking in the media for a change.

      Liked by 1 person

    • David: Simple question how did you find this article. Your link works fine and allocates it appropriately to Stuff’s ‘National’ category. It has very few comments. And I think that maybe because it is impossible to find from the Stuff menu.

      Go to Stuff, take the first option at the top menu ‘National’ and it displays a screen with 9 main stories starting with a shark attack at present. Then under the top nine is a heading “more top stories” and there are another 10 articles; it is usually where the older stories go before they get removed. Cannot find the article. Am I paranoid or am I missing something obvious?


  6. Hi RealChinese,

    Nice to have your perspective here.

    I think the CPC attempts to drive a wedge between people of Chinese descent and others and then attempts to claim to speak for all Chinese. So it’s nice to see your comments above.

    I agree with your assessment. Many Chinese have been in New Zealand for a long time. Some, many many years before the founding of the People Republic. Many New Zealanders of Chinese descent are Peranakan or Hong Kongers or Taiwanese and their links to Mainland China are fairly limited.

    From my perspective, I’m a huge fan of Chinese culture and I have many friends who are ethnic Chinese. But having observed the People’s Republic up close, having visited Beijing many times in a business capacity meeting senior administration officials and having studied the history of the CPC, I find them deeply frightening.

    People like Don McKinnon are apologists not for China, or for the Chinese People, but for the Communist Party of China. I personally view people like him as treacherous fools and fellow-travelers of the CPC.

    Don McKinnon would do well to read the history of Nationalist China and the infiltration and corruption of the Nationalist Government by the CPC. Their methods have not fundamentally changed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had reason to phone a Chinese Kiwi acquaintance today and after my initial greeting she replied – “I thought you were my neice Jennifer”, so I said “Wouldn’t you have been speaking in a Chinese language?” and she replied “My neice and nephew refused to speak anything except English as children growing up in NZ although she has made an effort to learn some Cantonese as an adult”. It is easy to forget how long some Chinese have lived in NZ and how varied their back grounds are..

      Except for those who break the law (possibly instigating break-ins of Prof Brady’s house and office) I have little resentment to the mid-range Chinese bureaucrats who are pushing the CPC agenda in NZ. They are merely doing their job earning a living to maintain their families; I cannot blame them for supporting the CPC since that is the only party available to them. I can almost admire how successful they have been at infiltrating our naive political parties and academic establishment.
      My irritation is with the New Zealanders who wilfully ignore what is happening. “”The short step from rational debate to panic can come at a heavy cost””; the really heavy cost will come if and when we lose our independence to act on behalf of all New Zealanders everywhere and of whatever origins.

      I was puzzled why Ms Ardern wanted to visit the States and meet Trump and I’m similarly baffled as to why our govt is so keen for her to go to China. Would our diplomacy be more successful if done at lower levels?


      • Why were you puzzled that JA would want to meet the President of the USA? It doesn’t seem like a strange thing to do.
        A visit to the ideologically possessed, virtue signalling halfwit Trudeau? Now there’s someone it would be a complete and utter waste of time talking to; you already know what he is going to say.


    • Is Cambodia, like Trinidad and a slew of inconsequential micro-states, one of those that has been coerced or cajoled into not recognizing a distinct Taiwan?


    • Rather like Kim Dotcom (yet another NZ resident where the politicians overruled their dept of Immigration to approve his residency) who is under threat of being deported to USA despite his German origin and now NZ residency and his never being in the USA when a crime was committed and the crime he is accused of not being a crime in NZ at the time it was committed.


  7. Somewhat buried on page 43 of the Sunday Star Times is an excellent and surprisingly forthright article (at least in this self-censoring environment) on “Five Eyes focus on China Threat”.


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