Pandering to the PRC

The capital’s daily newspaper the Dominion-Post had an editorial that must have warmed hearts in the Beehive and MFAT.   “Fawning” would not be too strong a word for it.

The handshakes appeared warm, the smiles generous. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the talks as constructive.  China’s President Xi Jinping said New Zealand was a “sincere friend and co-operative partner”, one of his country’s closest relationships with the developed West.

Job done. Trust restored. Many billions of dollars in trade secured

Trust?  In a regime responsible for so much evil at home and intimidation abroad (wasn’t it only this week PRC fighters were intimidating free and democratic Taiwan)?  Surely not even the PM and MFAT take that line seriously?  But I guess “trust” was more about what the CCP rulers were supposed to feel towards the New Zealand government, the Prime Minister having abased herself, and joined the principle-less ranks of New Zealand politicians dealing with the PRC and eager for some deals and donations.

Then there was a little lesson to dear readers not to expect governments to speak up on the abuses of the PRC.  There is “a great deal of money at stake” don’t you know, and it isn’t the done thing to speak up.  Know your place peasants, we act for the business community.

The newspaper channels the convenient, but false, line about how much power the PRC wields over New Zealand, oblivious to the fact that countries make their own prosperity. Individual firms who over-expose themselves to thugs shouldn’t expect backing from the rest of the community, let alone from our government.  Unless, of course, our government –  once known for rhetoric about “kindness” – thinks the thugs are just fine.

And then the fawning editorial departs completely from reality, trotting out the weird line touted by David Parker a few months back that somehow we could be a conduit between “two competing superpowers” as if (a) either side would be interested, and (b) the United States and the PRC were really much the same, moral equivalents.

But it was the NZME stable of media that was really all in with Beijing today.  In no particular order I noted these pieces:

First, John Key was back, talking about how “critical” the PRC relationship was and that nothing should be allowed to get in the way.    The government is told to mind its words, and there was the bizarre assertion that

“China is the only country effectively where have unfettered access to all parts…If we treat that relationship properly we will continue to prosper off the back of that.”

Setting aside the more general claimed that New Zealand “prospers” –  when it actually languishes and has closed no productivity gaps in the last decade, or two, or three –  ask services exporters about “unfettered access to the PRC” or potential foreign investors about “technology transfers”.

He goes on

The Former Prime Minister said people don’t need to be concerned by China’s involvement in New Zealand.

I guess he would say that wouldn’t he? He works for companies trying to do business in China, he worked closely with former PLA intelligence official, Jian Yang, in his caucus, and seemed totally content with the fawning adulation his party president Peter Goodfellow has given to  Xi Jinping and the regime.   And all those party donations must have come very much in handy.

The article ends

He said our relationship with China needs to be treated really carefully.

Even John Key seems to know this is a subservient relationship he champions, about deals and donations, not about any natural friendship or commonality of values.  Values are simply of no account, it seems, in a Key view of the PRC.

And then there was the Wednesday column from NZME’s columnist Fran O’Sullivan, who travelled to Beijing, courtesy of Air New Zealand –  a big corporate very keen to keep on good terms with Beijing.  That travel support was disclosed, but not the fact that O’Sullivan –  along with Jian Yang and Raymond Huo and others –  sits on the Advisory Board of the (largely government-funded) propaganda outfit the New Zealand China Council, or that she is head of something called the China Business Summit.   It wasn’t particularly fawning, but it was framed around conveying PRC messages, and a sense that New Zealand governments owed something to Beijing.  Certainly no sense of Beijing as something of a rogue actor, at home and abroad.  More gushy was O’Sullivan’s piece in the big “China Business” supplement to today’s paper.   It isn’t so much that O’Sullivan’s views are necessarily wrong –  appeasement will always have its defenders, in 1938 and now – as the total absence of any alternative perspective in the nation’s largest paper.

The Herald was back to its fawning, if patronising to the PM, self in its editorial on the Prime Minister’s visit to Beijing.  The online title “PM makes a good start on China repair” casts her as some naughty schoolgirl who has now come to herself and made amends, as if there was ever anything to make amends for.   The Herald also did not like, one bit, the idea that the government might have dared to think that the PRC was not always a force for good, whether in the Pacific or the wider world.  As if it was channelling the People’s Daily –  then again, Beijing is reported to substantially influence the Herald’s Chinese language offshoot –  we read

In Beijing on Monday President Xi Jinping told the Prime Minister, “Our two sides must trust each other”. That is a message we must take to heart. Trust does not mean closing our eyes to possible risks but it means we should look for evidence of a threat rather than assume one is there.

No evidence of the PRC being an untrustworthy partner?  No, of course not.  Forget, shall we, small things like the GCSB joining other countries in calling out PRC state-sponsored intellectual property theft?  Or Beijing’s actions in pressuring Chinese language media here and in other western countries?  Or the intimidation of ethnic Chinese who speak up about the regime?  Let alone, the way Beijing operates around Taiwan, the South China Sea, or as regards it own people –  despite being party to all manner of international human rights covenants.  A trustworthy lot, the Herald reckons.  Yeah right.

They do get briefly descriptive

China is a monolithic state where ruling Communist Party controls every level of government and every sector of the economy. It is a nuclear-armed superpower and makes many of the world’s consumer goods.

I presume it was accidental that that first sentence was so all-encompassing that it must have included Huawei?

And then we get back to the cravenly creative.

Xi is more autocratic than any leader of China since Mao Tse Tung and is asserting China’s external interests more strongly. But he is doing so in proper ways, through diplomacy and development aid, notably the “belt and road” infrastructure schemes.

“Proper ways”!   None so blind as those who choose to look the other way.  If Taiwan or the South China Sea, or ethnic Chinese in New Zealand and other countries, don’t bother you, if state-sponsored intellectual property theft bothers you not at all, if widely-recognised attempts at economic coercion don’t bother you, then perhaps the Herald is quite right.  Most people will wonder if the text was just lifted from the People’s Daily.   And wasn’t “economic coercion” precisely what the China-panderers would have us worry about?

The first half of the very final paragraph might also have been lifted from a CCP propaganda sheet

China has been a superpower for a long time and it has not flexed its muscle much further than the South China Sea to which it has an historic claim.

“Historic claim” indeed –  a proposition for which there is very little evidence.  And might it be too much to have pointed readers to aggressive PRC activity in the East China Sea, its invasion of Vietnam in 1979, its confrontations with India –  as well as all that other interference and pressure touched on earlier.  Not the stuff friendly powers do.

But, channelling Beijing to the end, the Herald tells us that the PRC had “earned” trust (precisely how, they don’t attempt to explain) and that

Our Government now needs to show the Prime Minister’s one-day visit was not a one-day wonder.

Just stay flat on your face Prime Minister and the Herald and its business advertisers will be happy.

As I noted a bit earlier, there is a full 28 page China Business supplement to today’s paper.  It is pretty fawning from start (the front page leads with “Jacinda Ardern: Mission Accomplished”) to the end (the full page advert from Huawei).  There is the odd interesting piece in the supplement but not a word that might upset Beijing (or probably even MFAT and their front, the China Council).    The only bits I really wanted to highlights were two columns suggesting that it was simply illegitimate for New Zealand to express any serious unease about one of the most awful regimes on the planet.

There was a column by Todd McClay, National’s foreign affairs spokesman, who nailed his colours firmly to the mast last year talking of the Xinjiang “vocational training camps” (a million or more people in concentration and indoctrination camps) being no business of anyone’s but the PRC.   This time

Where we have differences, like the death penalty or South China Sea, we have learnt to raise them respectfully and diplomatically, directly between officials, leaders and ministers, and not via the media.   This is a respect that must be maintained.

Mr McClay and his party can choose to respect the butchers of Beijing if they choose, but don’t come asking for my vote while they do.  To him/them, it is all about deals and donations, and nothing else.  If he’d been the trade spokesman in December 1938 perhaps he’d have stressed how important it was to be respectful of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen and not let some local disturbance like Kristallnacht colour any sort of relationship.  It is sickening, and there is no evidence that the current Prime Minister is any different.   I thought this New Zealander studying matters Chinese at ANU put it well

(As it happens, I don’t think the PM should have been speaking out in Beijing,  She simply shouldn’t have been there, like some supplicant indifferent to the evil prepetrated daily by her hosts.)

And then there was the egregious but revealing column by a senior lawyer who is also involved in the China Council, repeating the myth that somehow the PRC is “critically important to our economic security” and offering a lecture concerned that New Zealand is “driving away” PRC investment in New Zealand –  and all that advisory work I suppose.

In business, we typically seek to avoid getting offside with a major customer.  If we have differences we tend to try to deal with those with great care with a view to preserving the business relationship beyond the immediate issue. Politicians may well disagree with me but I’d argue that fundamentally the approach should not be much different when we have a divergence of views or concerns with a major trading partner.

I guess if Ms Quinn wants to deal with thugs we probably shouldn’t prevent her from doing so.  But if you sup with the devil, or provide advisory services for the Mafia or its affiliates, don’t expect to be looked on favourably.  It is private firms that deal with Chinese companies, the New Zealand government – supposedly representing all New Zealanders, not just a few business interests – does not having a “trading partner”.  It is a government, not a business.  Private firms –  and the individuals involved –  must make their own calls about morality, but from reading article after article like this, it is almost as if they’ve chosen not to care.  Care or not, they make themselves complicit in what the regime does.   Private businesses, pursuing personal economic interests, shouldn’t be allowed to skew our foreign policy to their private ends.

It is all relentless.  Earlier today someone emailed me wondering how long it would be before the Herald was emulating papers like the Washington Post in publishing paid PRC propaganda inserts.   In the Herald’s case, why would the PRC waste money when they can get the one-sided propaganda for free?

[UPDATE: A reader points to People’s Daily material that the Herald is already running.]

But I guess it was a good day for the China Council, MFAT, and the Beehive –  unless, that is, readers actually stopped to think about the pap they are expected to swallow.

The Herald also made room today for a column from Labour MP, and chair of the Justice committee, in which he presents what can only be called a “creative reimagining” of the way in which he had led his Labour colleagues to block Anne-Marie Brady from appearing to discuss foreign interference, was backed in that stance by the Prime Minister’s office, until the blowback was just too great and he had to backdown and agree to open the inquiry to public submissions.  Amid the creativity, it was encouraging to read –  very belatedly – that Huo will recuse himself from involvement in the foreign interference bit of the inquiry (or does he just mean the Brady bits?) “to avoid any perceived conflict of interest”.



15 thoughts on “Pandering to the PRC

  1. Jacinda puts on a hajib – a symbol of Islamic male domination – and then trots off to a country imprisoning a million muslims in “re-education” facilities and the world loves her for it.


    Liked by 4 people

    • No problem here. That is because most Muslims are supportive of China taking legitimate actions to supress Islamic extremism.

      Most Muslims are not extremists and have no worries about Xinjiang. The OIC, the Pakistanis, the Saudis have voiced explicit and strong support for China.

      They hate the US and Israel far far more than they hate China –in fact most Muslim countries like China.

      That should tell you something about who Muslims around the world think is oppressing them.


      • The positive is that we are now talking about a million Uygurs, well fed and well looked after. Just a few months ago we were talking about 2 million Uygurs. That is a significant improvement over the 2 million Palestinians trapped in rather sad and impoverished conditions by Israel.


  2. Raymond Huo’s opinion article seems to have been removed from the NZ Herald website. Has he had his knuckles slapped? Google points to it at but it cannot be found there either. And it says Reddit has a link but I’m not a user. However his article in a physical newspaper is a splendid example of how to evade issues. For example what NZ and China can learn from one another about treatment of their Muslim minorities.

    The very first sentence contains “”… this is not to deny real differences in our values and political systems. “” My reaction was to wonder what he means by ‘our values’. Does ‘our’ apply to NZ or China or Labour or the Communist Party of China?
    While he is entitled to be concerned that conflict between NZ and China may lead to anti-Chinese feelings he seems to be unable to distinguish between the Party that governs China and the people of China. Most Kiwis of Chinese origin have no difficulty telling them apart. His concerns are a somewhat over stated; when the Chinese authorities turn planes round or cancel tourist conventions at embarassingly short notice the people of New Zealand did not adopt anti-Chinese sentiments they merely thought it was politicians playing games in a childish way.


  3. China Business supplement does contain a photo with the caption “Surveillance cameras are common in China collecting data on residents”. And in the article about China catching up with USA on Artifical Intelligence it says “”the country’s leaders are not reluctant to use AI for social and political control. For example both AI-driven facial recognition (even used to catch jaywalkers) and “social credit” – an AI driven credit score that factors in social behaviours – are already in use.”” I enjoy the harmless peccadillo of jaywalking and I wouldn’t want Phil Goff to get the Chinese govt system because it wouldn’t take long for library card and my gold AT Hop card to stop working.


  4. Following your comment “And might it be too much to have pointed readers to aggressive PRC activity in the East China Sea, its invasion of Vietnam in 1979, its confrontations with India – as well as all that other interference and pressure touched on earlier. Not the stuff friendly powers do.””, it would be useful to put this into some sort of perspective. How many countries has that “friendly power”” the US invaded, usurped, undermined or interfered with since say the end of WW2? The Chinese aggressions do not seem so egregious in comparison. Would be interesting to obtain the views of some Vietnamese, Chileans, Cambodians, Iraqis, Palestinians and many others on how they view the balance?


    • Perhaps also ask the Vietnamese if they’re as sanguine as you seem to be about China’s claims and activities in Vietnam’s rightful territorial waters. And Palestinians?

      For a tiny nation with one of the largest EEZs in the world, you would think that New Zealand would have a vested interest in the sanctity of territorial rights, but nope, never so much as a peep. The silence is almost as deafening, and demonstrates as much, if not more, craven cowardice as the government/fawning media silence re: China’s treatment of Muslims.


    A Newsroom article that is not particularly exciting does contain some common sense advice for our Universities from the maker of the film.

    “” China had a “strong foothold” in New Zealand, and there was a need to openly discuss the issue of the influence of the Chinese Communist Party. “Confucius Institutes are just the tip of the iceberg.”
    While there may not have been interference by China in New Zealand’s universities, that did not mean there would not be an attempt to in the future, she said, adding that it was important to put in place safeguards to ensure transparency.
    Last month, the US Senate recommended that unless there was “full transparency regarding how Confucius Institutes operate and full reciprocity for US cultural outreach efforts on college campuses in China”, those operating in the US should be closed.
    Meanwhile, UK thinktank the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and security Studies (RUSI) published a paper recommending universities encourage Confucius Institutes to make operations completely transparent, especially their contracts and finances; deny Confucius Institute staff a say in university matters or China studies faculties; and be more alert to and resist interference in intellectual debate/freedom, such as attempts to bar topics or speakers. “”


    • Confucius Institutes were closed in several US State Universities last year. Precisely because they were recognized as being under the control of the CCP. When you think about it, they also provide a vehicle whereby intelligence operatives from China can identify and seek to recruit students as agents. An old tradecraft the Soviets used at Oxford and Cambridge in the 1920’s & 30’s.


  6. Unfortunately there are numerous NZ politicians, business and media people, (Key,Bridges,O’Sullivan to name just a few), who put “prosperity” above morality. No moral compass. As long as their bank balance is getting fatter, they don’t care who the country cuddles up to and calls a “friend and partner”. The behaviour of some of these people brings into question just where do their loyalties lie.


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