Standing for what they believe in

There was a story on Stuff yesterday (in the Domininion-Post this morning) about Air New Zealand’s “generous provision” of free airfares to the New Zealand China Council.  The China Council, you will recall, is the largely taxpayer-funded propaganda body set up by the previous government to champion good and quiescent relationships with the party-State in Beijing, the People’s Republic of China.  “Good” relations with the PRC, of course, means never ever saying or doing anything they don’t like.  Friendships aren’t like that.

Air New Zealand’s funding for the China Council bothers me no more or less than the mindset that governs the whole relationship with the PRC, whether among officials, politicians, or business leaders (and if there are any exceptions, they keeep very very quiet).  It seems that, pure and simple, it is all about the money – whether trade deals, sales in the PRC, or the flow of political donations.  If Air New Zealand wants to fly to the PRC, it needs to keep sweet with the regime, and needs to keep the New Zealand government (and public) on the straight and narrow, not making difficulties for them, as far as possible.  If the China Council can help them do that, why wouldn’t they –  having decided to sup with the devil – provide support for those who can help their cause.  It isn’t done out of the goodness of their heart, but out of pretty cold commercial calculation.   And since the taxpayer has already been coerced to cover much of the China Council’s activities, it is probably pretty cheap PR expenditure.   Whether Air New Zealand is majority state-owned (as it is) or not isn’t really relevant.

I don’t suppose most people associated with the China Council really see themselves as getting involved to serve Beijing’s interests (there might be exceptions –  individuals on the Advisory Board with close ties to the regime, including its United Front organisations, and individuals on the Executive Board –  including our former Ambassador to the PRC and our former Prime Minister – who hold positions in regime bodies).  Probably most of them think of themselves as serving “New Zealand’s interests”, but people have a funny way of interpreting their own personal (or business) financial interests as being much the same thing as the “national interest”; perhaps the more so, more money is involved.  But whatever story they tell themselves, they nonetheless objectively do serve the PRC regime’s interests.  That is the effect of their involvement, their choices, their silence.

When you walk by evil every day, when your organisation exists to minimise and distract from evil, when you are indifferent to the values of New Zealanders, and the abuse of those values in the PRC, you serve the regime’s end.  It is as simple as that.  And for a regime that is among the most evil on the planet today –  certainly the most of evil of those who in any material way impinge on New Zealand.  Air New Zealand is part of that.  So are Don McKinnon, Jenny Shipley, Tony Browne, Grant Guilford, Cathy Quinn and the rest of them (including their hired gun and front person Stephen Jacobi).

I’m an economist by training, so I’m quite happy to sign up to the notion that trade is generally mutually beneficial for those directly participating.  But each of us, actively or passively, makes moral choices about those with whom we deal.   Big companies and their bosses, even more than individual citizens, have real and effective choices.  Those who associate themselves with a tawdry body like the China Council reveal the nature of their choices, of their values.

It is not as if the China Council exists to encourage real and open debate about the PRC and how New Zealand should engage with, respond to, and deal with it.   Such a body might, arguably, be a useful thing for taxpayers’ money to be spent on.   After all, it is a big country, and that sort of debate doesn’t even exist to any serious extent in our universities –  keen on their PRC students, (several) keen on the (PRC) Confucius Institutes, and where the Contemporary China Research Centre is chaired by someone who helps promote the regime agenda through the Confucius Institute movement.

But that isn’t the China Council.  The China Council is about keeping the (New Zealand) peasants in line and pandering to the regime in Beijing – that gala dinner, for example, for the new Ambassador.   To make out that the PRC is a normal, honourable and decent regime.

Where’s the evidence?   All around really.  Reports (pretty lightweight ones) championing one of the regime’s key geo-strategic initiative (the Belt and Road), public statements defending Huawei (and never any examination of the other side of that story), the constant attempts to trivialise –  or tar as racist or “xenophobic” –  any serious debate about the PRC and New Zealand.  This, as a reminder, was from their Annual Report last year

An, at times, unedifying debate about the extent of foreign influence in New Zealand risks unfairly targeting New Zealanders of Chinese descent

And you’ve never seen the China Council engage with the substance of Anne-Marie Brady’s work, never heard them express concern about the apparent threats to Brady’s physical safety, never heard them express concern about the regime control of most of the local Chinese language media, never ever heard them express concern about human rights abuses –  on the most egregious scale – in the PRC, and never heard them express concern about the growing evidence of PRC attempts to interfere in countries around the world, about the threat to Taiwan, or the militarisation of the South China Sea.  We’ve never heard them express concern about PRC attempts at economic coercion –  other perhaps than encouraging pre-emptive submission.  They just aren’t a serious body.  They are a cynical propaganda body –  largely paid for by your taxes and mine – serving the business interests of those involved, and –  in effect –  the wider interests of Beijing,  The test: when there has been any clash between the interests/values of the regime and the interests/values of New Zealanders, have they ever openly sided with the latter?  Not once (that I’m aware of).

If the private sector was stumping up all the funding for this lobbying and propaganda effort, we might just call it freedom of expression I suppose.  If you choose to sell your soul, then (within limits) I guess you can champion your cause.   As it is, taxpayers’ money –  and the choices of successive New Zealand governments –  is being used to serve the personal interests of these businesses, and of the political parties concerned.   I’m not suggesting private or public companies should be banned from doing business in the PRC, but they should be told much more than is common anywhere that they are on their own.  Dine with the devil if you must, be take a long spoon, and don’t be asking for support from the rest of New Zealand.   But we’d be better off as a country –  have rather greater moral clarity –  if there was less business undertaken with the PRC, given the nature of the regime.  There might be a modest economic cost –  but it would be modest – but let’s be grateful that business interests weren’t allowed to distract us from eventually standing up and taking on the Nazi regime 80 years ago.  The parallels with the PRC today are almost too numerous to list.

But, of course, it isn’t just businesses that have sold their souls.  Successive governments and political parties are at it too –  recall those National and Labour party presidents off in China praising the regime.  This one seems to be no different in substance.

Yesterday a local Labour Party supporter dropped into my letterbox a Labour brochure headed “Our plan for New Zealand”, replete with photos of the Prime Minister.  I might write about the (lack of) economic substance in another post, but what caught my eye was this page.

ardern 2

The Prime Minister promises to “make New Zealand proud”.  How?  “By continuing our tradition of standing up on the world stage and upholding our values”.

And we are supposed to take this seriously?  A Prime Minister who will not talk openly about Xinjiang, who will not talk openly about the abducted Canadians, who will not talk openly about the militarisation of the South China Sea or the growing threat to Taiwan, who will not talk openly about the regime’s intellectual property theft, who says nothing about Jian Yang, who never utters a word about the sustained persecution of Falun Gong followers, Christian believers, civil rights activists and so on, and who won’t even stand up pro-actively in defence of Anne-Marie Brady.  If she herself won’t speak about, she also shows no sign of welcoming or encouraging those who do.

She probably isn’t any worse than the other lot (Todd McClay and the “vocational training centres” that are really no concern of ours), although her approach is made all the more nauseating by the pretence to representing something better –  all that talk of kindness, empathy, values, and so on.   The best test of a person’s values is how they choose to act.  Evidence to date is that our Prime Minister shares much the same “values” as the China Council –  don’t rock the boat, never stand for anything other than commercial interests (and party donations).  What you won’t pay a price for is in no serious sense a “value”.

I read this morning an article from the Italian site Bitter Winter.   Perhaps I could commend an article like this to the Prime Minister and to Mr Jacobi (or to Simon Bridges, Christopher Luxon, Don McKinnon, Tony Browne, Jenny Shipley, Jian Yang, Raymond Huo and the others).

One Christian who was previously assigned to work in a brick kiln described his working environment. “The brick kiln’s temperature can reach 60 or 70 degrees Celsius (about 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit). If prisoners are careless, they will be scalded, and their hair will be scorched. The prison authorities do not provide temperature-resistant shoes. Prisoners must stand on one foot, shifting from the left to the right. If someone spends too long on one foot, he will get burned and develop blisters. New prisoners couldn’t even last for five seconds before having to run out of the kiln. But whenever the manager saw someone running out, he would flog them with a pipe.”

Heavy labor made this Christian think about death. One time, after he tried to commit suicide, the team leader disciplined him by beating him and shocking him with an electric baton.

The living conditions in prisons are deplorable. Prisoners often eat vegetable-leaf soup with insects floating in it. As a result of malnutrition, they often feel dizzy and do not have the strength to work.

To ensure that prisoners complete their work even when physically exhausted, the prison authorities resort to torture.

The interviewees report that prison guards incite the more vicious prisoners to discipline other inmates. Thus, it is common to be beaten by “prison bullies” when someone fails to complete the task. Mr. Zhu told Bitter Winter, “If a prisoner cannot complete their task, the prison guards will tie the prisoner’s hands and feet to an iron fence, and they are forced to stand continuously except during meals. Whether in winter or summer, they remain continually tied up for three or four days and aren’t allowed to sleep.” In order to avoid corporal punishment, Mr. Zhu had to work hard to complete his production task.

I don’t suppose any of those people would be comfortable reading this sort of stuff (perhaps Jian Yang would be different –  he actually worked for the regime for years) but squirming slightly uncomfortably as you read it means nothing if you don’t –  when you can – do or say something.  There are plenty of areas in which I disagree with much of the consensus opinion of those who hold power in New Zealand, but what really upsets me about the PRC issue is the utter practical indifference to stuff these people all individually and privately know and agree is evil; stuff they’d not even considering supporting here.  And yet each of them choose –  by their actions and their passivity –  to give cover to such evil, on large scale and small.   They compromise themselves –  and they take our money to do it.

One day, I guess, they’ll be judged before the bar of history –  as the appeasers of the 1930s, the fellow-travellers with the Soviet Union were – but in the meantime I guess they’ll keep the dollars (deals and donations) flowing.  And evil will prosper just a little more because of choices those people make.

33 thoughts on “Standing for what they believe in

  1. The mainland Chinese diaspora is totally loyal to the regime, With a few opposed. But why is Nz flooding the country with PRC migrants when they are not loyal to Nz. This can’t end well.

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    • Now the flood is bringing in more Indians than Chinese. The flotsam and jetsam of Brits and Polynesians is never ending to. My two Melanesian family members who are only alive because of the NZ health service are examples of migrants who have great loyalty and appreciation. Immigration at a rational rate and the problems go away.

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      • Yes you have said in the past the pride your family have in nz. I was at the cricket the other week and the majority of my fellow kiwis were supporting india waving Indian flags. Will india or china ever have a white member of parliament post 1947 or a European represent them in sport? Maybe their governments could have affirmative action to get Europeans working for govt departments in India and China like we do. I have no loyalty to nz anymore.

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      • I read a Chinese migrant comment just yesterday, “these days, when someone yells go home to China, it is regarded not as a racist insult or derogatory but actually as good advice.” The job and career prospects are now considered better in China for young skilled graduates.

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      • Hendo, according to NZ statistics, 70% of NZ population is white and 15% Maori with the remaining 15% split between Indians, Chinese, Polynesians etc. You have to ask, why are the 85% whites and Maori not on the cricket grounds cheering NZ?

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  2. Michael

    We humans maintain a significant capacity for delusional self-justification in the face of such evil.

    – If I resigned from the China Council, someone else would just take my place.
    – China is a sovereign nation state, its internal policies are its own business.
    – Change is best effected by keeping the door open and dialogue continuing.
    – I personally loath the use of torture but it’s not just China, America does it too.
    – We are quietly making a difference behind the scenes.

    Etc. ad nauseum.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed. Lots of that sort of thing, and quite a bit too of “I don’t care, someone else’s problem, I have profit targets to meet”. University vice-chancellors (represented on the China Council board) are among the worst, given what universities were once supposed to stand for.

      And, of course, we all – being human – have our own blindspots and thinks we delude ourselves about to justify our choices, our (in)actions.

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  3. Another attempt to distill one of your articles to a short quote:- “” greater moral clarity “”..

    Yesteday the NZ Herald published an article that I rate the most wrong headed they have ever published. It was headlined “Learning to love North Korea”. See https://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=12208174
    It did contain a single sensible sentence “” Research shows recognising others’ concerns as valid is key to resolving long-term conflicts. “‘ – well if you leave the words ‘as valid’ out it makes sense. The entire article reminded me of my father saying how when he grew up apologists would say ‘Hitler got the trains to run on time’.

    This paragraph would be better written by one of your Chinese readers. I’d assume the average Chinese citizen is enjoying a life that is better than their parents and grandparents, there will be nationalist pride is seeing China succeed on the world stage at sport and manufacturing and political influence. The Chinese curse is ‘may you ive in interesting times’ so they will read about Trump and Brexit and the Ukraine and Kashmir and the West’s problems with immigration and ethnicity with a sense of quiet superiority. The kind of article you quote about will not be available and even if it was available it would be ignored by the majority (just as New Zealanders including myself avoid thinking about pigs in crates and chickens in metal cages).
    President Xi is both more intelligent and more capable of contemplating moral issues than any of our politicians. His older sister committed suicide when his family was denounced during Mao’s cultural revolution and he suffered seven years of hard labour; logically he must have an almost religious dedication to making China great again. He would take your valid criticisms and say ‘the end justifies the means’ and if we quibbled he could point out that that is what the Christchurch police commander is doing when arming all police: risking lives in the hope of saving them.

    Trying to understand China and its leaders makes sense. It should also make us really cautious.

    There is no reason for our govt to make a big public denoucement of China but we should be supporting other western countries when they publish valid criticisms of specific Chinese actions. Our relevant select committees should be interviewing Anne-Marie Brady and we should be quietly refusing to finance organisations that are always predicatably uncritical of China.

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    • I saw that dreadful NK piece yesterday – can only agree with you.

      As for the “average Chinese” you might well be right. There was probably considerable pride in the Soviet Union in the late 50s too.

      As for the Chch Police commander, (in my view) he should be called to order. Armed Police walking the streets is not what I want my country to be, and Police will grab any opportunity to strengthen their hand.

      Largely agree with your final para. I probably would favour us taking a lead – since we have much less to lose than, say, countries closer to China – but I’d be fairly content if the balance shifted, if party leaders encouraged some backbenchers to speak out, if we closed Confucius Institute, defunded the China Council, and united in clearing out Jian Yang (and probably prosecuting him for the past misrepresetations on his immigration/citizenship forms – I’ve got harder line on this as time has gone on; 18 mths ago I’d have been content if he quietly disappeared into academic obscurity).

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      • The specific problem with that NK piece is the unwarranted sense of superiority of the minor academic who wrote it. The media ought to be telling dumb Joe public that North Korea is a country and that it has a government!

        The Soviet Union could choose pride in Sputnik and Botvinnik just as NZ can be proud of votes for women and a decent rugby team. What deeply troubles me is the manipulation of the public into worshipping their leaders – when Stalin died people wept in the steet. Almost every Russian family having at least one member or friend who had been imprisoned or died directly because of Stalin yet they wept in the street!

        My own view of China has also hardened over the last year; partly pieces by you and others on the internet, partly fear of their social credit software developments (I wouldn’t trust anyone, even myself, with the potential power of the system they are developing), partly the counter productive actions of their government for example delaying processing of fish at customs – it reveals a rather childish side to the Chinese establishment that is at odds with the respect they are desperate to attain.

        The falure of backbenchers to speak out is astonishing when you consider the weird and trivial things they do make statements about.

        Jian Yang is the albatross around the neck of the National party. They either have to strongly defend him or dump him and that will get harder to do as time goes by.

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      • There’s something striking about the concentration of power
        Jian Yang will never be drafted as Leader of the National Party
        at some point the arrogant “Born to Rules”
        Will anoint “Judith Oravida Collins” as Leader in waiting
        She will be pulled down and destroyed within a week of her appointment

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      • ‘We have much less to lose than, say, countries closer to China…’ Our politicians and those working in & for the China organisations mentioned here would have us believe that much rests on us kowtowing…much. NZ did OK prior to the FTA with China, didn’t we?, and I understand you believe it would not be a disaster for the country if China did muck us around in the trade arena, in that others would buy our stuff if not them. Can these politicians & persons with an axe to grind show me how much better off the country is compared to the ‘dark ages’ pre-FTA? I’m not seeing it in any real standard- of- living sense…or am I not looking in the right places?

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      • Last year several US State Universities closed down the Confucius Institutes that were on their campus for the simple reason they were recognized as a mouthpiece of the PRC. Why similar scrutiny has not reached those CI in NZ is probably due to the usual “too big to offend” advice government gets from the NZCC and other compromised parties.

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  4. Nice commentary Mike.

    I guess Labour are instinctively drawn to criticising our traditional allies, our friends and our kin. It’s so much easier to poke at the United States of America when they have a clown as President and you know there will be no retaliation from them.

    The Communist Party of China are pure evil. They’re militaristic, chauvinistic, racist and they have designs on both Australia and New Zealand. Their economy is also built on quicksand… and when it has its inevitable day of reckoning we will be dragged down with them.

    Our leaders are sleepwalking us into a potential catastrophe.

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    • If you object to our current political leaders then who is there to replace them with? Who would want to do such a terrible job where everyone attacks you and any rational statement is searched for misleading sound bites? Where your success depends on your marketting rather than your substance. At least as a computer programmer I could admit to having made errors.

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      • Bob, what you say is sadly true. Very often the wrong people are attracted to the job, and the best are are not interested for the reasons you outline.

        I would find it refreshing for any politician to admit a mistake. Heck I made one back in ’67. We need to be reminded that our politicians are human and share our limitations and weaknesses. They are unable to bring the Kingdom of God here on earth – it’s not within their gift or their mandate.

        And yet all too often they are forced to carry the weight of a nations expectations.

        Mind you, if they stopped promising the impossible things might improve. I have a slight concern that there is a tendency for many of them to believe their own press releases, which makes them not only vulnerable, but potentially dangerous.

        Yet this is where we have landed.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not convinced it is a “terrible job”. Hugely demanding of course, which is probably as it should be.

        There is a vacuum inviting to be filled by some compelling alternative political force/person…..says he, without much optimism that anything will fill the gap any time soon.

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      • The media in nz would not allow an alternative movement to succeed. I prefer direct democracy so our politicians are bypassed.

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      • With a backbench pay of $170k and a cabinet pay of $320k plus accommodation allowance perks that allow most of our MPs to own an extra dwelling and all that is required of the job is the ability to shake hands, smile at the camera and state that they cannot interfere with the actual officials that run the country, seems like a rather cushy job.

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  5. The Hurt ….. during the week it was also revealed …..

    Richard Yan of Mainzeal and Richina was revealed as a PRC supporter (possible PRC member) (probable PRC sleeper) who planned to acquire a vineyard property on Waiheke Island and develop it as a playground for PRC patricians

    Yan arrived in NZ in 1981. One assumes after 37 years here he has obtained NZ citizenship. The Mainzeal judgement discloses that Yan siphoned money out of Mainzeal, transferred it to China to fund the acquisition of an organisation called Shanghai Leather which is now worth $700 million. It is claimed that Yan cannot repay the money to Mainzeal because of restrictions on transferring money back out of China

    Yan and Jenny Shipley are shareholders in Shanghai Leather

    A test of the bona-fides of the China Council would be for them to assist Yan to return the money back to NZ for the benefit of aggrieved subcontractors and creditors

    So, the unanswered question is who were the funders of the proposed Waiheke Island development. It couldn’t possibly be Yan because his funds are tied up in China in Shanghai Leather

    Old saying “be a doormat once – be a doormat forever”

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    • People like Richard Yan and Ji Hong Lu, who recently lost $12 million in support of the “100 lovers” a NZ production of live stage performances are more con men and opportunists who were in NZ at the right place and the right time as China opened up. They only have loyalties as far as to grease the wheels to expediate their respective con jobs.They act as intermediaries and made huge sums matching up NZ businesses with China businesses.

      I am more concerned with individuals like Deyi Shi who can buy up Hotchkins mansion for $39 million, purchase the Ardmore Airport, purchase gold mining operations, purchase Swamp Kauri now valued in excess of $70 million and buy the ANZ pentagon building on prime Princess Wharf waterfront with Southern China Airlines as a anchor tenant. This is real Chinese money and the question is who are the chinese funders? Now they have a ex NZ military man for a CEO. What networks does he bring to the table?

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  6. I think of it as the “China Delusion”. We deluded ourselves into thinking our relationship with China was “special” because we had been so clever and so “flexible”. We were flattered by the serious attention the PRC seemed to give us, with endless Ministerial visits and delegations and the odd acrobatic troupe. Here we were: the first western country to sign an FTA with China. Little matter that we gave away the shop, eg on land ownership and the right for Chinese nationals to work here, in exchange for a partial and progressive rollback on dairy tariffs China which insisted on keeping to protect the Chinese dairy industry, and an open market for goods that China would very likely have bought in the absence of any FTA, according to the price. Winston Peters was wise not to support it. The delusion was eagerly fostered however by the sinophiles in MFAT whose career prospects had never looked better. And of course the politicians were glad to begin receiving donations from Chinese sources. Never look a gift horse in the mouth. The corrosion has been extensive but I believe the delusion is under pressure as many people start to finally realize they don’t like being bullied by a thuggish, totalitarian regime. It’s really important to keep getting the information and analysis out there as you, Michael, are so ably doing.

    And now a story from the annals of paranoia. A few months ago I joined Twitter to send Anne Marie Brady whose acquaintance I had made in the past a message of support via my smartphone. A few minutes later and for the rest of the evening I received harassing calls on my phone with no one answering from the other end. Each time I blocked a particular number, calls would come from other numbers – it was “whackamole”. All the numbers appeared to be Sydney-based. It happened again a few weeks later when I tweeted on a post Anne Marie had made. Make of it what you will.

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    • I find it amusing whenever, China’s trade with NZ is quoted as being $28billion and therefore we must tread carefully. What they don’t mention is that imports from China is around $13 billion and exports to China is $15 billion which means China needs to be as nice to us as we are with them.

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    • China’s strong limits on immigration follow on the policies of Japan and South Korea, which also did not allow in many immigrants during their economic booms. But also like those countries, an aging population will mean pressure to open up. Japan and South Korea have both turned to foreigners to make sure the working-age population is large enough to keep the economy humming. China, too, may soon be forced to embrace the one change it hasn’t been ready for.

      Bob, note that it is interesting that the article points to a aging population for increased immigration diaspora. Perhaps NZ is just for once ahead of the thinking curve in planning for our aging baby boomers.

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      • ggg in regards to the cricket comments, Australia has fanatic support among the Anglo population but we’re also outnumbered by indians this summer. I think kiwis lack nationalism. Multiculturalism promotes breaking down the nation state and nationalism..Unless you are a migrant. I’m bitter that we are giving nz away to the third world. How is a small nation of anglo settlers so attractive? I maintain only Anglo societies create order and compassion.

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  7. Bob, I don’t agree with the NK piece, but I know the academic and she is far from minor in Korean Studies. It’s actually a step up from our news media which tends to quote generic political scientists or the impressions of young people who took a holiday in North Korea.

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    • Fair enough – I was never bright enough to be an academic. All she needed to say was if there is a war a North Korean will mourn a dead family member just as much as we would mourn our family. It is always worth being reminded we are all human – certainly would be a help in the middle east.
      However to write an article about North Korea and not mention kidnapping Japanese teenagers and taking them by submarine to North Korea to educate your spy school or to mention murdering the leader’s brother at an airport with a nerve agent or torturing an American student to death for stealing a poster is misleading your readers.. When I tell people about PNG and its many unique and wonderful features I would be doing my audience a disservice not to mention crime.

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  8. GGG

    Those stats are correct but I’m in Auckland and those stats are not true for Auckland. I’m devastated my home town is so cosmopolitan. Most cities have been much earlier but I grew up in the 70s and 80s and Auckland was nothing like it is now. in fact not even close. I can’t think of a country so determined to change its population so quickly. Breaks my heart really considering I can’t live in UK like your kids despite being of pure british ancestry. If life shows no mercy then I won’t.

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  9. The proprietor of a popular tourist stop in Cromwell observed that “Europeans are everywhere”. Could it be that there is a trade-off between European and Chinese tourists. Japanese are advised not to travel to NZ during the Chinese New Year?

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  10. I well remember seeing a video interview of the ever smiling Don McKinnon about China. Big Don’s soothing words were to the effect of “the Chinese (CCP) might not share all our values, but hell!, there’s money to be made!”
    The other phrase that is often repeated is “China is too important a market to…..” You can add whatever word to like to finish that statement, but it’s code for shut up about human rights and China criticism as we are a small country who can’t afford a conscience.

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