TVNZ’s Q&A programme yesterday had a short segment (and article here) on their continuing, unsuccessful, attempt to get National list MP Jian Yang to talk to them. It isn’t as if Jian Yang seems to have a particular thing against TVNZ – I don’t have too much problem if an MP refuses to deal with one particular media outlet – because for years now he has refused to talk to any English-language media, talking only to safe CCP influenced or controlled Chinese language outlets, who can be counted on to give him an easy and unchallenging time and not ask any awkward questions.
It is almost three years now since Newsroom and the Financial Times began to reveal Jian Yang’s past as a member of the Chinese Communist Party and long-serving member of the PRC’s military foreign intelligence system, where he’d been training spies. Over subsequent weeks it emerged that, whether he or not he had been straight with the National Party when they’d recruited him in 2011, he’d lied about his past in his applications for New Zealand residency and citizenship. In fact, challenged on the point he was quite open about it: he’d actively misrepresented his past because his CCP bosses had insisted on it when he first left the PRC. And people with his sort of background didn’t get to leave the PRC to do foreign study without the regime and Party being able to rely him. Jian Yang has claimed he isn’t a CCP member any longer – as if this was just a matter of letting an annual subscription lapse – but academic experts, including Canterbury University’s Anne-Marie Brady, have made the case that no one ever leaves the CCP voluntarily: you can be expelled, but once you’ve cast your lot in with them (and only a small minority of PRC citizens are CCP members, smaller than the proportion of Germans who were Nazi Party members) you are part of that movement for keeps. Jian Yang could, of course, remove the scepticism by openly criticising the evil regime – former Soviet spies who defected did that – but never once, in all his years in Parliament has there been as much as a hint of disloyalty to the CCP/PRC.
It was good to see Q&A make a story of Jian Yang’s (now) 2.5 years of refusal to talk to any English language media – not just about his past, but also about his present (eg his role last year in organising a meeting for Simon Bridges with Guo Shengkun, CCP Politburo member with responsibility for “domestic security” (think of those Uighur concentration camps, as just a start on intensifying CCP repression)). Or the way Jian Yang continues to associate closely with the PRC Embassy and all sorts of CCP-affiliated or United Front groups, the sort of conduct that had the sober former diplomat Charles Finny declare on Q&A a couple of years ago that given Jian Yang’s associations with the Embassy he was always very careful what he said in front of Jian Yang (or Labour’s Raymond Huo). Or perhaps it would be good if Jian Yang would answer questions around why several PRC migrants Q&A talked to about him refused to be identified on screen, explaining that they feared the reach of the CCP/PRC whether here or as regards family members back in China. Perhaps these people have nothing at all to worry about. But they certainly believe the regime is running protection for Jian Yang – a New Zealand MP.
Q&A also had a brief interview with Jamil Anderlini, the New Zealand who lived for a long time in Beijing and is now the Asian editor of the Financial Times, who claimed not just that our traditional allies look quite askance at the Jian Yang situation – the man was on Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee for a time – but that his contacts in the CCP suggested that the CCP itself treated the National Party as something of a laughing stock over this issue, the suggestion being something like “useful gullible idiots”.
Back when the Jian Yang story first broke, perhaps one could wonder if National themselves had been deceived by Jian Yang; not looking very hard, they’d not found anything, except someone to pull in the dollars for them. The Newsroom/FT story broke on the eve of the election and by then there wasn’t much National could do about him (and his list place) even if they’d wanted to. But that was three years ago.
Even then there was the despicable effort by a then senior Cabinet minister (Attorney General and minister responsible for the SIS and GCSB) at a candidates’ meeting to tar as somehow “racist” any questions about Jian Yang’s CCP/PLA past, going on to claim that Anne-Marie Brady was a xenophobe (“doesn’t like any foreigners at all”).
But it wasn’t just a second-tier figure, perhaps caught on the hop in a meeting he didn’t really want to be at. In the last three years, National has had three leaders: Bill English (who was then Prime Minister), Simon Bridges, and now Todd Muller. They’ve each had plenty of time to think carefully and hard about Jian Yang and where their interests and loyalties lie. And each of them – there is nothing to tell them apart on this issue – has provided complete cover for Jian Yang. In fact, Jian Yang has been promoted. He clearly isn’t a caucus highflier, but he keeps rising a bit further up the caucus rankings, he now chairs a parliamentary select committee (perhaps not a very important one, but we have someone with his background chairing a government administration committee?) and the National Party Board has picked him out for a favoured position on National’s list for this year’s election (recall that Jian Yang has business interests with National’s president, the ever-obsequious (to Beijing) Peter Goodfellow). One of National’s most senior MPs shares an office in Auckland with Jian Yang.
The real issue now isn’t about Jian Yang’s own choices, but about the rest of our political system (and much of our media for that matter). It clearly suits Jian Yang to avoid any English-language media – he is, after all, elected by all National Party voters, not just a few CCP-aligned ethnic Chinese one – but if the leadership of the National Party had even an ounce of decency on these issues it really wouldn’t be Jian Yang’s choice at all. It would be as simple as “front up, honestly and fully, pretty whenever you are asked, and if not well forget about any caucus seniority, in fact forget about a list place at all at the next election”. No one doubts that if any of that succession of leaders had wanted Jian Yang to be accountable to the public and to voters he’d do so, or he’d be gone. So his silence is the silence of Bill English, Simon Bridges and now Todd Muller. The same “leaders” who’ve been, for example, utterly unbothered by Todd McClay’s defence of the Uighur concentration camps, and who utter not a word about the activities of the PRC/CCP at home, abroad, or here. Totally sold-out.
It is a marker of just how deep the decline of New Zealand has become. As I noted in a post shortly after the first Jian Yang revelations, at no time from the 1950s to the 1980s would it even be conceivable that we’d have (any of the mainstream parties would have) allowed a former KGB/GRU officer, still maintaining close ties to the Soviet Embassy, to have served in our Parliament. There was some moral clarity back then about what we believed and stood for, and what that evil empire stood for. (Of course, Labour in particular tolerated Bill Sutch in top positions).
But now whatever values some individuals may perhaps still have, they seem to count for less than appeasing the CCP/PRC, and prioritising party funding and the interests of a small group of New Zealand corporates (and universities) over the values of most New Zealanders. I’m particularly hard on National, both because Jian Yang is National MP and because I’m the sort of person who might normally be expected to mostly vote National. But also because all three of those recent National leaders have suggested that, in one form or another, they are Christians – English at least was known to be a practising Catholic. The PRC regime ruthlessly persecutes the Christian churches, and yet that draws forth not a word from either the senior figures in the National Party or from the lesser lights among the Christian members of the caucus (let alone prominent incoming ones like Luxon, who ran a business that chose to pander to the regime). The persecution of the churches has not yet reached the stage of the Uighur concentration camps, but then National members won’t stand up or speak out on that either – not even junior MPs who might be plausibly deniable for the leadership.
But it isn’t just National. Every other party in Parliament (and those out of Parliament) seem about as bad. The biggest of those parties is, of course, Labour. A Labour member has been Prime Minister almost ever since the first Jian Yang revelations. And not a word of condemnation or complaint has come from her either, not one. No Labour MP has ever been heard to deplore the fact that we had a CCP member closely linked to the PRC Embassy sitting on the National benches of Parliament, chairing a select committee no less. It is as if the Prime Minister is more interested in being kind to Jian Yang, kind (subservient) to Madame Wu, and utterly interested in the integrity of New Zealand politics or the values and political traditions of New Zealand. And again, not even any junior caucus members have broken ranks, not even once. The strong suspicion has to be that Labour cares no more about decency and integrity than National, and is probably just a bit envious that National has been better at pulling CCP-linked donations (although is that changing now that Labour is in office?) And why be surprised? After all, Labour has Raymond Huo in its ranks, with well-documented United Front involvements, and they just put another United Front person in a winnable position on their list. And all those corrupted corporates and universities, only interested in the next dollar, will be in the ear of ministers urging them always to appease, never to take a stand. And of course, National and Labour together have shown no interest in any serious reform of the electoral finance laws to meaningfully prevent foreign political donations, let alone the sort of self-denying ordinance that recognises that some donations – even from New Zealand citizens – simply should not be taken, no matter how many dollars are on offer. And Labour was principally responsible for the travesty of the select committee inquiry on foreign interference risks (even though the biggest issue is less about foreign interference, and more craven domestic subservience).
The big issue isn’t really Jian Yang. National could have found a way of quietly getting him to retire and found some less obviously egregious replacement. The bigger issue is that National had no interest in doing so, and Labour no interest in criticising them for not doing so. They pay no price for acting as, in effect, the agents of the CCP in New Zealand (even as they all no doubt tell themselves that somehow what is in their best interests is also in ours). It was good that Q&A did the clip they did, but it is hardly mainstream TV (the programme mainly for the handful of political junkies). Other journalists have from time to time asked Jian Yang for an interview, and been equally unsuccessful, but there is almost never any follow through. The PM and the Leader of the Opposition front up for media interviews every week, perhaps even most days, and there is no pursuit of this issue, there is no campaign in the pages of the Herald or the Stuff outlets. Nothing. The evils of the CCP/PRC just isn’t one of those things that exercises or concerns establishment New Zealand. It is disgraceful.
A few weeks ago the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China was launched, comprising legislators from a range of western countries with concerns about the PRC, and from a range of places on the usual left-right political compass. This was from their website
Developing a coherent response to the rise of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as led by the Chinese Communist Party is a defining challenge for the world’s democratic states. This challenge will outlast individual governments and administrations; its scope transcends party politics and traditional divides between foreign and domestic policy.
The assumptions that once underpinned our engagement with Beijing no longer correspond to the reality. The Chinese Communist Party repeatedly and explicitly states its intention to expand its global influence. As a direct result, democratic values and practices have come under increasing pressure.
When countries have stood up to Beijing, they have done so alone. Rather than mounting a common defence of shared principles, countries have instead been mindful of their own national interests, which are increasingly dependent on the People’s Republic of China for crucial minerals, components, and products.
No country should have to bear the burden of standing up for fundamental liberties and the integrity of the international order by itself.
The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China has been created to promote a coordinated response among democratic states to challenges posed by the present conduct and future ambitions of the People’s Republic of China. We believe that the natural home for this partnership is in the freely elected national legislatures of our peoples. Coordination at this level allows us to meet a challenge that will persist through changes in individual governments and administrations. We firmly believe that there is strength in unity and continuity. By developing a common set of principles and frameworks that transcend domestic party divisions and international borders, our democracies will be able to keep the rules based and human rights systems true to their founding purposes
It was sadly notable that at the launch there were no New Zealand MPs, even though (so Anne-Marie Brady reported) numerous of them had been approached. It was interesting, and perhaps a little encouraging, that last week Simon O’Connor (from National) and Louisa Wall (from Labour) joined this initiative. O’Connor is currently chair of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and Wall is a member.
But count me more than a little sceptical. It has the feel of some sort of deal worked out between National and Labour, for a bare minimum degree of association, announced belatedly. There is no statement from O’Connor or Wall about the nature of their concerns with the PRC – at home, abroad, or here – and, of course, no journalist appears to have asked them for comment (or reported a refusal to comment). Is O’Connor really comfortable with having a CCP affiliated member, close to the PRC Embassy, who refuses to engage with voters or the media, and who has never ever said anything remotely critical of the PRC as a member of his caucus, someone who could be a junior minister if National is elected? MPs are usually only too ready to criticise people on the other side. How comfortable is Wall about Jian Yang or National’s extreme deference? Or has the Labour Party hierarchy told her to simply sign up and then keep very quiet? I’d like to be wrong on this – I was briefly encouraged by the O’Connnor/Wall news – but so far there is nothing to suggest I am.