NZ Police help the PRC repression [UPDATE]

[As noted below, despite checking several websites, including that of the PRC Embassy, the first part of this post was clearly in error. Accordingly I have updated the title of the post.   The second, and more substantive, point stands.]

Like everyone else I guess, I’ve been following pretty closely the coverage of the Christchurch attacks.    And in the course of all that I’d noticed various statements of condolence from various overseas governments.  Some perhaps perfunctory (it is the sort of thing decent governments do), others genuinely shocked and heartfelt.  I found it quite moving that the UK government was flying flags at half-mast on Friday.   But there were also statements from the French government, the German government, the Canadian government, various arms of the US government from the President down, the Norwegian government, the EU, the Australian government, the Dutch government, and that was before we even got to various Muslim-majority countries, some of whom had citizens killed in the attacks.

But, it appears, nothing at all from the government of the People’s Republic of China.  It is not as if they are unaware of the attacks –  when I checked there was a story in the Global Times and, searching for the Dutch response, the story I found was actually on Xinhua.   As we are often told, New Zealand firms do more business with firms from the People’s Republic of China than with firms in any other country.  There are lots of PRC nationals living here.  And barely two years ago, the then government (in the form of Simon Bridges) signed up to some aspirational goal of a “fusion of civilisations” with the PRC (in the Belt and Road MOU).  There is lots of talk from both sides  – and their champions – about wanting relationships of “mutual respect”.  It is has never been clear to me why we would want to respect such an evil regme, but I’m not the Prime Minister, Opposition leader, or the New Zealand China Council.  They do.  They claim to believe the rhetoric, even though the evidence (globally) is that the PRC has no respect for any other country; just that some are useful to them at times.  They seem pretty clear-sighted about that; it is our leaders who are deluded and/or attempt to delude us.

Perhaps I’ve missed some message, but you can check the (typically very useful) PRC Embassy website for yourself.    I’d count on the China Council to have tweeted a link to any statement of condolences, but there is nothing there either.   There is simply nothing visible.  Perhaps (or perhaps not) there was some quiet behind the scenes statement to MFAT, but friends don’t hide messages of condolence in circumstances like these.

(UPDATE:  It appears I had missed a statement of condolence. Thanks to the reader who drew this to my attention.)

Of course, the PRC is open to a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” risk.  After all, as a matter of official government policy, the PRC authorities currently have interned, in concentration camp conditions, an estimated 1.5 million Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.    People have been physically abused in these camps, denied all rights, and some have even been killed.  There are credible reports of the PRC using imprisoned Uighurs as a source for the large-scale PRC organ transplant business.  But even with this record, it is still quite a lapse for the PRC to have offered no official condolences on the mass murder of 49 (Muslim) people in New Zealand.  One of those small things that helps bring home the sort of regime the PRC is, and they way view a country like New Zealand (hint: not at all as the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition would like us to believe).

(In fact, given that in Tarrant’s manifesto he explicitly states that the country he most admires is the PRC –  ethnonationalism and all that I guess – you might have thought the PRC authorities would have been going out of their way to offer condolences.  Except that…….they didn’t.)

As I noted the other day, our Police –  certainly with the acquiesence of MFAT, and probably with that of the government –  has made itself party to aiding and abetting the dreadful abuses in Xinjiang (and elsewhere): their Assistant Commissioner is a visiting professor at the

People’s Public Security University of China – the first foreigner to hold such a role.

The university is where China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) trains the elite of China’s police. …..

The Ministry of Public Security does this dreadful stuff, and our Police are signing on to help (not, of course, consciously re that particular aspect, but it is all one organisation, and Police and MFAT know very well what they do –  not just in Xinjiang, but as instruments of oppression right across the country).

Perhaps now, once they have a few spare minutes, it might be time for Mike Bush, the Police Commissioner, to reconsider and tell his Assistant Commissioner to pull out of his visiting professor appointment, and stop assisting in the oppression of (inter alia) Muslims in Xinjiang.    If he lacks the decency, the imagination, the moral compass to do even that, then it is about time that the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs get the Minister of Police in a room and tell him to instruct the Commissioner to discontinue that relationship.

The New Zealand Police aiding and abetting the PRC (absence of) system of repression was appalling enough a few days ago.  With 49 dead Muslims in Christchurch –  and not a word from Beijing – it is well past time for our authorities to come to their senses, and completely dissociate ourselves, and our people, from the oppression in Xinjiang.

(Perhaps some belated PRC message will finally come, but it is now 2:15 on Saturday and there is still no sign of anything.  Times like these help confirm who your friends really are.)

Almost unbelievable

I was about to settle in for the rest of the afternoon writing a review article of an interesting (but obscure) book on aspects of US monetary policy, when a reader sent me a link to an astonishing article from the New Zealand Police website.   In it we read

As he prepares to bring down the curtain on eight years as our man in Beijing, Assistant Commissioner Hamish McCardle has received a rare honour from his hosts.

He has been appointed Visiting Professor at the People’s Public Security University of China – the first foreigner to hold such a role.

The university is where China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) trains the elite of China’s police. …..

The university and the Royal New Zealand Police College have had a bilateral training relationship since 2016. ……

He says the university appointment is an endorsement of the healthy state of the New Zealand-China bilateral relationship, and “underscores the idea that New Zealand has values and ideas worth considering in the Chinese context”.

It also aligns with the aims and values of the New Zealand-China Friendship Society and the pioneering work of New Zealander Rewi Alley who fostered a life-long friendship with China from the 1930s.

I don’t have any particular problem with Police having a person in our embassy in Beijing.  The day job had “a focus on disrupting the flow of drugs and precursors to New Zealand”.  That sounds fine.

But in accepting this “honour”, have the Police, MFAT, and their political masters lost sight completely any sort of moral compass?

The People’s Republic of China is a country where the Chief Justice himself proclaims that the rule of law is not something for China.  The Party rules.   It is a country where the Ministry for Public Security plays a key role in imprisioning a million or more people in Xinjiang.  I’m sure they do basic policing work as well –  Chinese have road accidents, and break-ins just as we do –  but this is the New Zealand government actively participating –  on a ongoing basis – in making the repressive apparatus of the PRC state better and more effective at doing its job.  A big part of that job is an instrument of systematic repression –  political, religious, or whatever.    Political loyalty –  to the CCP – is, not surprisingly, a key element in recruitment, and presumably even more so at those studying to be “the elite of China’s police”.

And what about that weird stuff in the final paragraph of the quoted excerpt?  The New Zealand-China Friendship Society has been around for decades and long-served as a Beijing front organisation in New Zealand, right through the horrors of the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and on to their total silence today about repression in Xinjiang.    And Rewi Alley?   Well, he lived a fairly comfortable life in Beijing after the CCP took over, navigating this way through the thickets of changing CCP politics, reaching new lows when he published a jointly-authored book near the end of the Cultural Revolution defending the regime at its worst.  What possesses our Police to think these are “aims and values” to champion?   Why not, for example, the aims and values of the Tiananmen protestors, the Falun Gong movement, or the (underground) Catholic church?  But that wouldn’t fit the narrative I guess, of prostrating the New Zealand system before Beijing.

Presumably Mr McCardle is a perfectly decent chap, and probably won’t think of trying to import PRC methods to New Zealand policing on his return?  But did he not in the seven years he has been lecturing at this university already,  or does he not now, feel any qualms of conscience at all about abetting evil?  Because that is a big part of what the Ministry of Public Security, elite and otherwise, actually does.

And what of our subservient and deferential politicians?   Does the Minister of Foreign Affairs really feel comfortable with this “honour”?  ( I assume his officials at MFAT think it is just wonderful).  What about the Minister of Police?  Or the Prime Minister?

Or Simon Bridges or Todd McClay?  Or do all our MPs just think it is totally fine –  quite an honour in fact –  for the New Zealand government to be helping the PRC better repress its citizens, better repress freedom, free expression, free worship, free assembly or whatever?

It is a small thing in a way.  But a succession of individually small things build up to a narrative of a government system –  from the top down –  more interested in getting along, and supporting, this evil regime doing its work –  mercenaries, in effect, for trade deals and political donations –  than in representing the interests, values, and traditions of New Zealanders.   For Mike Bush and the New Zealand Police it seems that the values of the China Friendship Society and Rewi Alley count for more.

That’s shameful.

Kudos

I’ve been quite critical of the New Zealand China Council, which uses taxpayer money to champion an emollient, in effect subservient, relationship with the People’s Republic of China.  Doing so, of course, serves the business interests of the other corporate and academic members of the Council.   Whatever the intent, I’ve argued that their approach serves the interests of the PRC, one of the most awful regimes on the planet.

As part of that I’ve noted that it has been hard to find any examples of a case where the China Council has ever said anything critical of the PRC.  They will benignly note, in principle, that our systems differ, our interests differ, but will never articulate specific areas where they are critical of the PRC stance on anything, whether directly affecting New Zealand or otherwise.

And so it is only fair for me to draw attention to a welcome, if somewhat surprising, exception.

A couple of days ago a group of US foreign policy experts issued a joint statement calling for the immediate release by the PRC of Michael Kovrig.

You may recall that Kovrig is the Canadian former diplomat who was detained in China just before Christmas, apparently as “retaliation” over the detention and extradition proceeedings against the Huawei CFO in Canada.  No charges have been laid, and Kovrig is being held without access to a lawyer and with little consular access either.    It looks a lot like a state-sponsored abduction, presumably intended both to intimidate foreigners more generally, and perhaps as some sort of “bargaining chip”.

Late yesterday, I noticed that that tweet (above) had been retweeted by Stephen Jacobi, the Executive Director of the New Zealand China Council, with this comment added.

jacobi

Not only does he associate himself with the call by the US foreign policy experts, but he goes further, adding an unequivocal call also for the release of Michael Spavor, the second abducted Canadian.

Sure, this message isn’t being sent out on the China Council’s own Twitter account, but when you are the chief executive of a body, writing about areas closely related to your employer’s interests, no one is going perceive very much difference.   The Executive Director of the China Council, their high profile public spokesman, has made a public statement that can only be read as unequivocally critical of actions of the PRC.   There might be some price to pay –  perhaps a certain barely-detectible frostiness when next he encounters the PRC Consul-General? – but he did it anyway.

For a picture of what sort of detention Kovrig and Spavor are undergoing, you might want to read this article from someone who was subjected to the same treatment:

The law in China allows for these disappearances. Yes, as reported, Michael’s whereabouts are being kept secret. Yes, he will not be given access to a lawyer. But more so, even China’s prosecutor, who is supposed to monitor these secret detentions, will be denied the right to visit him. In a database that the NGO Safeguard Defenders keep, for which I’m the director, we have never come across a single case where the prosecutor has visited, even though it’s prescribed in law that they should.

Mr. Kovrig, and Mr. Spavor, and future American and European victims can, without any court order, be kept incommunicado, in solitary confinement, for six months. Actually, solitary confinement is only half true – he will have two guards sitting inside his cell 24/7, working in six-hour shifts. These guards, most of whom are civilian-dressed trainees for the Ministry of State Security, will not be allowed to speak to him, but will take notes on his every single movement. They will also stare him down as he uses the toilet, or when he is (rarely) allowed to shower.

Numerous foreign governments (including all our Five Eyes partners) have weighed in in support of Canada and the detained Canadians.  But not New Zealand.

I wrote about the contemptible silence of our government a couple of months ago

Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters head the New Zealand roll of shame on this issue, since they are the most senior figures in the current government.   But the shame isn’t just theirs.  There is no sign of anything from Simon Bridges, Paula Bennett (perhaps both rather keen on those donations Yikun Zhang was arranging?), or Todd (“vocational training centres in Xinjiang) McClay.   Nothing from the Green Party or ACT leaders.   Nothing from the Minister of Justice (rule of law and all that). And of course nothing from our PRC-born and educated MPs.  In a decent society, they’d be at the forefront of condemning the abuses in the land of their birth.  In our society, it seems to be just fine that they keep very very quiet –  a silence that suits Beijing –  and help ensure that the donations keep flowing.  Perhaps a journalist might consider asking Raymond Huo his opinion on the abduction of the Canadians.  He was, after all, formerly a lawyer with a leading local law firm, and now he chairs the Justice select committee in Parliament.  You’d hope the rule of law meant a lot to him.  But, like his bosses, deferrring to Beijing, and never ever upsetting the murderous rogue state, appears to matter more than the rule of law, or standing by our friends and allies when they (almost inadvertently in Canada’s case) incur the wrath of a tyrant.

By their utter silence, on this as on so many other PRC issues, our MPs and ministers dishonour this country and its people.   Cowering in a corner, deferring to Beijing, is simply unbecoming people who purport to lead a free and independent country.

But credit where it is due.  Well done Stephen Jacobi.  On this, an example to others.

An establishment perspective

John McKinnon is a quintessential New Zealand establishment figure.  He fairly recently returned from a second stint as New Zealand’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, and between those two stints he was first Secretary of Defence for several years and then head of another of those taxpayer-funded influence organisations, the Asia New Zealand Foundation.   And that is not to speak of the extensive family connections, including his brother, the former Deputy Prime Mininster, former Commonwealth Secretary-General, and current chair of the (largely) taxpayer-funded New Zealand China Council.

Having relatively recently retired, McKinnon is now free to speak more openly than during his official career.

On Saturday, McKinnon was interviewed on Newshub Nation about the relationship between the New Zealand government and the authorities of the People’s Republic of China.  It was fairly soft interview – so he was never put on the defensive – and the former ambassador was fluent and endlessly emollient. In many ways, it was quite impressive.  MFAT will have appreciated it, as will senior figures in both government and opposition.  He did far better in spinning a quasi-official line than either the Prime Minister or the Minister of Foreign Affairs could have done.  The Executive Director of the China Council was particularly impressed

And to many, what McKinnon had to say  probably sounded quite plausible.  He has an impressive way with words, sounding very calming without actually saying much.  Thus, we shouldn’t read “too much” into the long-delayed visit for the Prime Minister to Beijing, but presumably it is okay to read something into it.  “It will happen” we were told, but “not necessarily soon”.

The relationship was not, in his words, “in trouble” but “changes are afoot, in China, in New Zealand and in the world”.  “Navigating the relationship” has become “more difficult, more complex”.    There was the occasional reference to our “very different” political and social systems, but it wasn’t clear that Mr McKinnon thought these differences should make any difference to the relationship.  There had been, we were told, lots of conversations in private about things like the South China Sea and it was, on his telling, “helpful” (to whom, for what) to have these “private diplomatic exchanges”.   Treating the PRC –  arch-abuser of human rights, military expansionists of this century –  as some sort of normal country, we were told that New Zealand ‘respects’ PRC concerns, even if we don’t always agree.  Which sounds good I suppose until one remembers what sort of concerns they have –  taking Taiwan, imprisoning a million people in Xinjiang, systematic denial of political or religious freedom, claims that overseas ethnic Chinese have obligations to Beijing, state-sponsored intellectual property theft, and so on.   (Why, if they were serious about an open and reciprocal relationship, the PRC might even have condemned their former national and former intelligence official, Jian Yang, for bringing the good name of the PRC into disrepute by misrepresenting his past on his immigration/citizenship forms.)

And so the emollience went on. It was good that David Parker had been invited to, and would attend, next month’s Belt and Road Forum –  this PRC geostrategic initiative, that seems to have contributed to the intensified repression in Xinjiang.  Good for what one could wonder, except perhaps to reinforce the message last month when the Prime Minister made obeisance to Madame Wu.    Don’t worry, we’ll come quietly.

What of the sought-after upgrade to the preferential trade agreeement with the PRC?  It was not, the former ambassador thought, “at risk” but was “challenging” –  which does have the feel of reframing and re-expressing much the same thought.   It was, he accepted, harder than in 2008.

And the interview ended on an upbeat note.  We might have a very different background and history but the PRC could quite reasonably claim to have (the old line) lifted more people out of poverty than any other society in history.  Which isn’t much claim to fame when (a) you are the biggest country (population) in world history, (b) you immiserated your people (indifferently allowing tens of millions to die) for the first thirty years of your regime, and (c) even now, the material living standards of your people languish far behind the leading east Asian economies (including the one facing a constant military threat from you).  McKinnon did note that, of course, human rights matter.  In what sense –  given the rest of the interview –  wasn’t clear.

Between interviewer and interviewee it was in many ways an impressive performance.  Had many people been watching, who were not familiar with the story beyond recent headlines, it would probably have served the cause of emollience –  go back to sleep, nothing to worry about here.  As it is, I suspect it mostly had value for making those who’ve already thrown in their lot with the “never ever upset Beijing” line feel a bit better on a Saturday morning.  Thus Jacobi’s praise.

In a sense, you can’t blame McKinnon too much.  He’s been a career diplomat, and if he had some hand in shaping the New Zealand government’s approach to the PRC over the years, mostly he has been sent abroad to do the bidding of successive governments. MFAT might be a problem, but responsibility ultimately rests with successive governments. McKinnon on Saturday was about as on-message as he no doubt was throughout his stellar career.   And you can’t really expect him to answer questions he wasn’t asked: not only was there nothing about Taiwan or Xinjiang (“don’t you find shaming, Mr McKinnon, to serve governments that keep quiet in face of such evil?), let alone the PRC activities closer to home, or Messrs Jian Yang and Raymond Huo.  That will have suited the government and officialdom.  But McKinnon is still evidently very much with the programme.  I don’t suppose political party donations are his focus, but trade will have been….and other stuff only to the extent it couldn’t be avoided.  Perhaps when his older brother retires he’ll be considered as next chair of the China Council?

The bottom line for now is that there doesn’t seen to be any material disruption to trade or related matters.  If PRC student numbers and residence visa numbers are down, that has been underway for some time, and most likely not related at all to the recent heightened “complexities” in navigating the relationship.  That’s mostly good of course, and yet the great flurry of concern last month –  led from the craven National Party side –  was a reminder of how readily New Zealand governments seem able to be brought to heel, at the merest hint of a fluttering of the feathers.  That is more concerning.

The interview with McKinnon reminded me of a speech he had given late last year, after he had retired, to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs.  I meant to write about it at the time, but one thing succeeded another and I’d never got round to it.

The speech is worth reading. It is interesting, and much the most impressive example of its genre (New Zealand establishment re the PRC) I’ve read.  Rereading it today over lunch I was struck by that same effortless emollience we’d seen in Saturday’s interview.  He is very skilled, and still very much the bureaucrat –  he’s retired now, but it was hard to see anything in the speech that he might not have said as Ambassador in Beijing.  And so much skill was devoted to minimising, time after time, the evil of the regime in Beijing and its representatives and champions.

Predictably, the New Zealander Rewi Alley who lived in Beijing for decades under the PRC and wrote propaganda defending its evil gets a positive mention.    Any possible “unfair exploitation of the multilaterial trading system” is “beside the point”. If there is any worry in New Zealand about what Beijing gets up to here, well that seems to be of concern mostly for making life tougher for bureaucrats and politicians (“making for a more complex China policy making environment than we have had hitherto in this country”).    Endlessly understanding too, passing on the message that Beijing “would be troubled” if any measures singled it out –  that suggestion again, that the PRC is just another normal state.    The elevation of Xi Jinping Thought wasn’t a concern, but a sign that “China can evolve”, and while he couldn’t exactly bring himself to praise the decision to remove the term limits for the PRC presidency, he wouldn’t criticise it either, and noted that it did have the upside of aligning the state rules with those for the Party.  He’s good is McKinnon.

He goes on to note that the PRC is now “an internationalised society, where information abounds”.  Just so far as that is information the Party wants people to have, but a shame that the blocks on various social media platforms, major foreign media websites, let alone the re-intensified censorship of domestic opinion didn’t get a mention.   “Arbitrary actions by the state” might look odd to New Zealanders but, he tells us, we have to understand what China has gone through.   The other side of the civil war eventually turned itself into a robust prosperous democracy, but even in retirement McKinnon couldn’t acknowledge the relevance of that.

What of suggestions of PRC interference (“a very contentious debate”) in other countries, and with ethnic Chinese abroad?  Well, none of this should be at all surprising we are told (apparently because a few overseas resident Chinese many decades ago had previously played a role in developments back in China), and shouldn’t (it seems) be troubling to us (or, presumably, the ethnic Chinese, citizens of other countries, on whom the pressure is put).  On that sort of logic, presumably it would be just fine for New Zealand to be seeking to interfere in the domestic politics of the UK –  look at the difference those Brits made here.

As for New Zealand

I have more confidence than some that in New Zealand [I don’t presume to speak for other countries] we have the wherewithal in terms of our law, practices and values to respond if we need to, and to deal constructively with both allegations and facts of interference, whatever country they come from, and so far as China is concerned, in a manner which is in accord with the mutual respect that subsists between us.

But Jian Yang is still in our Parliament, not (at least in public) something that seems to bother either main political party.  Raymond Huo does still chair the Justice Committee and the electoral inquiry.  Wealthy business people, with close ties to Beijing, secure royal honours, in effect for services to Beijing.  The Chinese language media is largely controlled from Beijing.  Ethnic Chinese here comment on the climate of fear many face if they speak up at all.    But the former Ambassador is confidence there is nothing to worry about.  After all, their government respects us (yeah right) and our governments respect them (well, do the kowtow).

And still it goes on.  There is a recognition that New Zealand and China disagree on the South China Sea (although has our current PM ever stated a substantive view on that?) but then the construction and militarisation of artificial island is itself relativised with the totally irrelevant observation that (good guys like) “the Dutch are past masters at it”.  Antarctica?  Anne-Marie Brady has written extensively about PRC interests in polar regions, and some of the threats that poses. For the former Ambassador, just a case of “China is now more present in …Antarctica than it was 10 or 20 years ago”.

New Zealand apparently has little interest in such issues as theft of intellectual property, subsidisation of SOEs, access to the Chinese market for services exporters –  someone else’s problem apparently.  Meanwhile, in perhaps the most obeisant quote in the speech  there was this

New Zealand, as a country which invests in and benefits from the international rule of law, has expectations of China, as it does of other great powers.  That they will comport themselves appropriately, especially towards those who have less power than themselves.  That is the true mark of greatness.  It is pleasing to see how China has responded to these expectations

Unbelievable. The same state that only two months later our own intelligence services would accuse, in a joint effort with other countries, of state-sponsored intellectual property theft.   Most observers believe the recent cyber attacks on Australian political parties and the Parliament was directed from, and for, Beijing.   One could go on of course.  Some “marks of greatness”.

Relativising to the end, we are told it is important to realise how different we are

China is of course very different from New Zealand…  It is important to realise this, as without this understanding we can be blindsided by aspects of China, especially in areas such as the definition and protection of human rights and the like, where our values are very far apart, and where we see or hear of developments in China which are at odds with those of our own.

It isn’t as if Chinese people want repression, abhor democracy, regard the rule of law of law as some irrelevant concept, and have no interest in speaking up and speaking out.  The big differences that count aren’t those between New Zealanders and Chinese citizens, but between New Zealanders, decent people of all races and ethnicities, and the PRC Party/state.  It is as if the retired Ambassador is invoking some quaint trope about the inscrutable oriential, rather than just playing defence for a near-totalitarian evil regime, lest any concerns threaten the flow of dollars (deals and donations).

McKinnon ends noting it doesn’t matter how much we agree (actually, it usually does –  decent enduring relationships, between individuals and states, are usually based on a set of shared values) but on how much “mutual respect” and “mutual benefit” there is.   Ambassador McKinnon can respect the butchers of Beijing –  this 60th anniversary year of the suppression of  the Tibet rebellion, 40th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, 70th anniversary of the regime itself – but I suspect few New Zealanders would choose to do so.

I’m a retired bureaucrat myself, so I can admire the technical skill of a well-honed, nicely rounded, piece of bureaucrat-speech: it is fluent, apparently thoughtful, and emollient.  And yet in a cause that decent people really shouldn’t be championing and defending.  You can –  as McKinnon does –  seek to relativise and minimise almost anything, but to what end?  Other than keeping the deals and donations going.

Late last year, I ran this extract from a speech by the (soon to be former) Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison

Our foreign policy defines what we believe about the world and our place in it.

It must speak of our character, our values.  What we stand for. What we believe in and, if need be, what we’ll defend. This is what guides our national interest.

I fear foreign policy these days is too often being assessed through a narrow transactional lens.   Taking an overly transactional approach to foreign policy and how we define our national interests sells us short.

If we allow such an approach to compromise our beliefs, we let ourselves down, and we stop speaking with an Australian voice.

We are more than the sum of our deals. We are better than that.

Wouldn’t it be great if our politicians really acted as if they believe that, especially in their dealings with the PRC.  And found a new crop of officials at MFAT who would effectively implement such a policy.

On refusing to hear from Prof. Brady

[Note that this afternoon Huo backed down and is now inviting Brady to appear.  While welcome, it is pretty chaotic –  the PM’s office supported the ban this morning –  and hard questions should be posed to all the Labour MPs involved, including the PM. If/when she appears it will be extensively covered by domestic and foreign media, with almost every story prefaced by “in the appearance the committee chair tried to prevent happening at all…]

Perhaps it went down well in Beijing, but it is hard to imagine it did so anywhere else. Even China Council Advisory Board member and China Business Summit co-chair Fran O’Sullivan tweeted that it was a mistake.

fran

My own tweet of the Herald’s article on the story, noting that it seemed almost literally unbelievable (but nonetheless true), was retweeted by quite a range of PRC-focused journalists and the like, and many others have drawn attention themselves to this extraordinary mis-step (the most charitable possible interpretation) by our PRC-deferential government.

Yesterday, the four Labour members of Parliament’s Justice select committee voted to block Professor Anne-Marie Brady from appearing in front of the committee as part of its investigation into foreign interference in our election.   That committee is chaired by Raymond Huo, who has close associations with various PRC United Front bodies, and was personally responsible for adopting a slogan of Xi Jinping’s as Labour’s campaign slogan among ethnic Chinese communities in New Zealand.

After each general election, Parliament’s Justice committee undertakes a review.  They invite public submissions, an opportunity for people to raise issues of concern (eg bizarre laws that mean that despite huge volumes of advance voting, you can say anything partisan you like on all those days, but are subject to very tight restrictions on so-called “election day”).  Each time, the committee makes a choice about a particular area to focus on.

This time round public submissions closed last September.  In October –  note that October comes after September –  the Minister of Justice (who is also responsible for the intelligence services) wrote to the committee encouraging it to focus on foreign interference issues.   The committee adopted the Minister’s suggestion.  This was, to repeat, after the opportunity for public submissions had already closed.

According to the media reports, Professor Anne-Marie Brady of Canterbury University, recently wrote to the committee and asked to be heard as part of its inquiry.    The committee voted yesterday, splitting on party lines, to refuse.    This was, we are told, on “narrow procedural grounds”, or in the words of Mr Huo the chairman

huo

If we don’t tell you (in fact don’t know ourselves) we are looking into the subject until after the normal date for submissions has closed, somehow it is your fault if you didn’t read Andrew Little’s mind and make a submission anyway.   After all, it is such a trivially unimportant issue and your view so lacking in usefulness, that why would we even think about making an exception and taking up your kind offer to come and testify, sharing your professional expertise in the area.

Huo and his Labour colleagues on the committee (Ginny Anderson, Duncan Webb and Greg O’Connor, each of whom one might have expected more from –  one a lawyer, two former Police employees) are acting disgracefully.  They dishonour Parliament and our democracy.

I’ve been a bit sceptical about this inquiry all along.  When National MP Nick Smith suggested a few months ago a foreign donations ban, and noted that the intelligence services would be invited to talk to the Justice Committee inquiry, I wrote this

So a committee chaired by Raymond Huo, he of various United Front bodies, he who chose a slogan of Xi Jinping’s for Labour Chinese-language compaign in 2017, with a senior National MP promoting only the narrowest reform (while [still] providing cover for Jian Yang) will invite the intelligence agencies to provide advice on foreign influence issues, but in secret.   Perhaps –  but only perhaps, because the fact of this hearing might be used to simply play distraction – it is marginally better than nothing, but we don’t need intelligence agencies to tell us there is an issue around the PRC. Both main parties know what they are doing –  who they associate with, who they take money from, who they honour, who they seek closer relations with, and who they refuse ever to criticise, no matter how egregious the regime’s abuses.  All the minor parties keep quiet and go along too.

I’m still more than a little suspicious of National in this area, but credit to them for pushing the Brady (non)appearance to a vote, and championing the importance of outside perspectives –  even awkward ones for them –  being heard.  Next thing you know they’ll be disowning Jian Yang.  But no, silly me….

It seems from the various news articles that Labour MPs only want the intelligence services to testify to the inquiry.

The Committee had asked the Security Intelligence Service, the Government Communications and Security Bureau and the National Assessments Bureau to appear.

“As committee chair, I am satisfied that the correct procedure has been followed and that the agencies will keep the committee well informed about any issues of foreign interference that may arise,” Huo said in a statement.

Of course the intelligence services –  while no doubt exercising some integrity in their comments –  work for (Labour) cabinet ministers.  And many of the sorts of issues Anne-Marie Brady has raised, in particular in her Magic Weapons paper , aren’t primarily matters for the intelligence services at all, but more about political culture and integrity.  For what it is worth, whenever in my career I dealt with the National Assessments Bureau, it further undercut my confidence.

It has always been a slight mystery why the government, in the form of Andrew Little, initiated this foreign interference focus to the post-election inquiry.  After all, very soon after becoming minister for the intelligence services Little was on record as regards the PRC saying words to the effect of “move right along, nothing to see here”.   Like his leader, he’s never expressed any concern about a former PRC military intelligence official sitting in Parliament, actually in the government caucus for six years.

Perhaps all they really wanted was some cyber-focused thing, perhaps building off all the stuff around Russian social media activity in the lead-up to the US election.   Perhaps there is even something useful they can do in that area, but it is like digging in pursuit of hidden treasure while ignoring the issues and risks that are in plain sight.   It was, after all, former diplomat and now lobbyist, Charles Finny who observed on national TV that, in view of their close ties to the PRC Embassy he was always rather guarded in what he said in front of either Raymond Huo or Jian Yang.   Large political donations flow to parties from New Zealand citizens with close PRC regime ties.  The mayor of Auckland was elected with heavy financial support from a large offshore (PRC) donor.  One (now) prominent regime-associated political donor managed to gets a Queen’s Birthday last year, supported by both main parties.   Senior figures in Chatham House fora express open concern about the reliance of the main parties on PRC-sympathetic funding.  PRC interests now dominate the Chinese language media in New Zealand.  Perhaps the public servants have some perspectives on these and other issues, but public service perspectives are not (and never should be) the only ones being heard by MPs.

I initially wondered if this block on Brady was simply Raymond Huo going off reservation. He doesn’t seem to be regarded as the best of the bunch in the Labour caucus.  Nick Smith even suggested the Prime Minister might intervene

Smith said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern needed to intervene and ask the Labour members of the committee to reconsider their decision.

But, as Newsroom reports, the Labour MPs on the committee appear to have the full backing of the Prime Minister

A spokesman for Ardern echoed Huo’s comments, saying: “Our position would be that this is a procedural matter for the committee and that the various agencies presenting are well placed to provide information on foreign interference and the threat of it.”

Simply extraordinary.  Either captured by the public service and/or by those trying to tap the PRC-related markets (deals or donations).  Someone still not interested in serious and open examination of the issues.  Another Prime Minister more interested in deferring to Beijing, never ever saying anything upsetting if it can possibly be avoided, than in shedding light on the issues in New Zealand, and advancing the decency and integrity of our political system.  The same Prime Minister who has never made a robust defence of Anne-Marie Brady, facing physical attempts to intimidate her for doing her job.  Pretty shameful really, if perhaps now par for the prime ministerial course.

Labour will take, and have already taken, quite a bit of flak over this blatant refusal to hear from Professor Brady.  Invited to testify to the Australian Parliament, our own main governing party (party of the Prime Minister, party of the minister for the intelligence services) is apparently too scared to openly face her in our own Parliament.  What an extraordinary situation.  One wonders what the Minister of Foreign Affairs –  in fine voice often in opposition, silent as a lamb in government –  makes of this choice by his senior coalition partner?

If the Prime Minister or Andrew Little really are behind this ban, they must be very worried about Professor Brady might say, and the coverage it might get.  Why otherwise would you block her?  If her arguments and evidence were so easy to dismiss and rebut, where better than at a parliamentary inquiry (with all the resources of the public service to support the government).  They’re clearly scared.

Professor Brady’s paper isn’t primarily, or even largely, about Raymond Huo. In many respects, he is a bit player.  But here for ease of reference is what Brady wrote about the chair of Parliament’s Justice Committee, appointed by our Prime Minister.

National’s ethnic Chinese MP Yang Jian, Labour’s Raymond Huo, and ACT’s Kenneth Wang have had varying degrees of relations with united front organizations in New Zealand and the PRC embassy.

and

Even more so than Yang Jian, who until the recent controversy, was not often quoted in the New Zealand non-Chinese language media, the Labour Party’s ethnic Chinese MP, Raymond Huo霍建强 works very publicly with China’s united front organizations in New Zealand and promotes their policies in English and Chinese. Huo was a Member of Parliament from 2008 to 2014, then returned to Parliament again in 2017 when a list position became vacant. In 2009, at a meeting organized by the Peaceful Reunification of China Association of New Zealand to celebrate Tibetan Serf Liberation Day, Huo said that as a “person from China” (中国人) he would promote China’s Tibet policies to the New Zealand Parliament.

Huo works very closely with the PRC representatives in New Zealand.  In 2014, at a meeting to discuss promotion of New Zealand’s Chinese Language Week (led by Huo and Johanna Coughlan) Huo said that “Advisors from Chinese communities will be duly appointed with close consultation with the Chinese diplomats and community leaders.” Huo also has close contacts with the Zhi Gong Party 致公党 (one of the eight minor parties under the control of the United Front Work Department). The Zhi Gong Party is a united front link to liaise with overseas Chinese communities, as demonstrated in a meeting between Zhi Gong Party leaders and Huo to promote the New Zealand OBOR Foundation and Think Tank.

It was Huo who made the decision to translate Labour’s 2017 election campaign slogan “Let’s do it” into a quote from Xi Jinping (撸起袖子加油干, which literally means “roll up your sleeves and work hard”). Huo told journalists at the Labour campaign launch that the Chinese translation “auspiciously equates to a New Year’s message from President Xi Jinping encouraging China to ‘roll its sleeves up’.” However, inauspiciously, in colloquial Chinese, Xi’s phrase can also be read as “roll up your sleeves and f..k hard” and the verb (撸) has connotations of masturbation. Xi’s catchphrase has been widely satirized in Chinese social media.  Nonetheless, the phrase is now the politically correct slogan for promoting OBOR, both in China and abroad. The use of Xi’s political catchphrase in the Labour campaign, indicates how tone deaf Huo and those in the Chinese community he works with are to how the phrase would be received in the New Zealand political environment. In 2014, when asked about the issue of Chinese political influence in New Zealand, Huo told RNZ National, “Generally the Chinese community is excited about the prospect of China having more influence in New Zealand” and added, “many Chinese community members told him a powerful China meant a backer, either psychologically or in the real sense.”

and

During his successful campaign for the Auckland mayoralty, in 2016, former Labour leader and MP, Phil Goff received $366,115 from a charity auction and dinner for the Chinese community.  The event was organized by Labour MP Raymond Huo. Tables sold for $1680 each. Because it was a charity auction Goff was not required to state who had given him donations, but one item hit the headlines. A signed copy of the Selected Works of Xi Jinping was sold to a bidder from China for $150,000. A participant at the fundraiser said the reason why so many people attended and had bid strongly for items was because they believed Goff would be the next mayor.  In individual donations, Goff’s largest donor, giving $50,000, was Fuwah New Zealand Ltd, a Chinese-owned company building a 5-star hotel on Auckland’s waterfront and working closely with the New Zealand One Belt One Road Promotion Council.

and

In June 2017, at the Langley Hotel in Auckland, the State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office hosted an update meeting to discuss the integration of the overseas Chinese media with the domestic Chinese media. In attendance was Li Guohong, Vice Director of the Propaganda Department of the State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, and other senior CCP media management officials, representatives of the ethnic Chinese media in New Zealand, representatives of ethnic Chinese community groups, and Labour MP Raymond Huo.  Update meetings (通气会) are one of the main ways the CCP relays instructions to the domestic Chinese media, in order to avoid a paper trail. Party directives are accorded a higher status than national law.

For someone who claims that his activities and involvements are all fair and proper and just the sort of thing one expects MPs to do, he and his masters certainly act –  in the Brady affair –  as if there is something to hide, something that might leave them rather uncomfortable.

That is supposed to be the point of parliamentary scrutiny, parliamentary inquiries.  But not, it appears, in this country, on these issues.  Better to keep Madame Wu happy than bother overly much about our own people, their interests, and their system of government.  It is still an odd call though.  Professor Brady shows no sign of being intimidating or stopping her work. If it refuses to engage and examine the issues she is raising, Parliament reveals itself the problem more than the people we can look to for the solution.  Oh, but I forgot, according to the government there is no problem.

 

The China Council defends itself

After my interview on Morning Report yesterday about Jenny Shipley and the New Zealand China Council, the Executive Director of the China Council Stephen Jacobi was tweeting that it had been a “hatchet job”.    This morning Radio New Zealand interviewed him: he observed that my comments, noting that the China Council in effect served as a propagandist for Beijing’s interests, had “put me off my muesli”.

It was a fairly soft interview that really did nothing to dispel the suggestion that the China Council – substantially funded by the government, with two very senior public servants on the Board –  serves, in effect, as a propagandist for Beijing’s interests.  The fact that the people involved probably think they are primarily serving their own commercial interests, and perhaps even some warped conception of the national interest, doesn’t change that.   Unfortunately, the interviewer didn’t ask Jacobi for a single example of a case where the China Council had been critical of the PRC.  For the record, I haven’t been able to find a single example.   Around a regime so egregious –  in the way it operates at home, in other countries, in New Zealand, in commercial and in political spheres –  that really tells you all one needs to know.   It looks a lot like a body solely motivated by deals, dollars, and donations, and using public money to try to keep the public quiet.   When you treat as normal a regime that represents so much that is evil, you serve their ends, even if that is not necessarily your conscious intent.   A well-publicised gala dinner for the emissary of the CCP/PRC, just helps make that more egregious.  Supping with the devil, without even a desire for a long spoon.

But the interview probably was useful in explaining to listeners some of how the China Council works.  It is an incorporated society, sponsored by the previous government, with substantial government funding (and senior public servants on the Board).  The rest of the funding comes from the corporate or individual members of the Council, who are able to leverage the government funding to advance their business interests around the PRC (not necessarily directly –  as Jacobi notes, Fonterra doesn’t need the China Council to handle its relationship with the PRC –  but in managing the climate of opinion in New Zealand, attempting to neutralise any criticisms of the PRC).  There is no PRC government money involved, but two of the Executive Board members also hold positions in PRC-sponsored entities in China (the Confucius Institute worldwide programme and the Boao Forum).   One of the Advisory Board members was a former member of the PRC military intelligence system, and a Communist Party member.

Jacobi claims that the China Council works for all New Zealanders and in the national interest. You might have supposed that that is what we have the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (even NZTE) for, and what we elect politicians for.  The former work to politicians, and the politicians themselves we can toss out.    The China Council seems more about trying to articulate a view of the national interest that happens to suit the commercial imperatives of those involved.  Of course, it is pretty well-aligned with the views of senior figures in both main political parties, which boil down to “if at all possible, never ever say anything that might upset Beijing”, while cowering in the corner even when friends and allies (or fellow New Zealanders) are under attack.  If a life worth living is about more than just dollars, it is a pretty sick conception of a “national interest”, although easy to see how it might be in the narrow individual business interests of some firms, universities etc.   Jacobi claimed that none of the people involved would allow themselves to be duped or a mouthpiece for a foreign government.  At one level I’m sure that’s true: they aren’t duped, they are simply prioritising their commercial interests over any sense of decency, or of the integrity of our own political and social system.   These things just don’t matter (enough) to them.

I had a look yesterday at the rules of the China Council

china council rules incorporated society

I was interested to learn that, for a body set up and sustained by the government, allegedly to advance the “national interest”, actually it is a self-perpetuating oligarchy.   You can only join this Council (not the Executive Board, but the society itself) if you are invited to do so by the Executive Board.  And who appoints the Board?  Why, the Board itself appoints its own members.    In a genuinely private organisation that might be just fine  (their choice) but this is a publicly-funded, government-sponsored body, where two of our most senior public servants themselves sit on the Board.   Don’t expect (for example) Anne-Marie Brady to be showing up on the council any time soon –  a Council that can’t even bring itself to express concerns about the way a New Zealand citizen, expert on the PRC, appears to have been harrassed and worse by people rather more directly attempting to serve PRC interests.

As I said, it was a pretty soft interview.   Jacobi was asked about my suggestion that the Council never ever says a word critical of the PRC.  He parried this by observing (correctly enough) that they do note from time to time that there are differences in our systems, and that he even says (again from time to time) that the way we interact with the PRC needs to take account of our values.    But it just doesn’t make any practical difference, and neither Jacobi nor his masters (on the Executive Board or in Wellington) seem to want it to.  Such things shouldn’t get in the way of the dollars (whether exports or political party donations).    When news of possible ban on Huawei emerged, the China Council’s statement seemed a lot more concerned to protect Huawei than it did about the national security etc of New Zealand.  When the GCSB was issuing a statement about PRC state-sponsored intellectual property theft, the China Council was totally silent –  not a press statement, not a tweet nothing.    When serious concerns have been raised by Jian Yang’s past, included acknowledged misrepresentations on his immigration/citizenship forms, the China Council goes into bat for this former PRC intelligence officer, keeps him close on their Advisory Council, and repeatedly attempts to invoke the x word.   When public debate, led by the work of Anne-Marie Brady, gets going, the China Council can only lament it.  It never substantively engages –  for example with the specifics of Brady’s work.  And that is the sort of thing I mean when I say that the China Council (whatever their individual subjective intentions) objectively serves Beijing’s interest and ends.

As I said the other day, there might well be a place for some public funding for a serious think-tank or independent body devoted to serious analysis, research, and debate around the nature of the relationship with the PRC.  It is a big and a powerful country, with values very much not our own, and there are all manner of dimensions to a relationship.  The China Council is nothing of that sort –  in its own purpose statements, it is an advocacy body, championing ever-closer relationships with a regime so evil, with no serious interest in exploring risks, threats, or downsides.  That serves Beijing’s interests.

Towards the end of the interview Jacobi was asked about the position of Jenny Shipley on the China Council’s Executive Board.  Jacobi attempted to parry that by suggesting it was above his pay grade (a matter for the Executive Board) –  which might leave one wondering why Don McKinnon (the chair) didn’t front up instead.   Jacobi told us that McKinnon had spoken to Shipley, but said that he wasn’t aware of the content.    With a full week having now passed since the High Court judgment was handed down, and with the Prime Minister not willing to express any concern, it looks as though she is going nowhere.  In fact, Jacobi went on to speak highly of Shipley (former Prime Minister, “widely respected in China”), and to note that the China Council is not a financial institution or a commercial organisation.  That’s true.  It is more than that; it is a New Zealand government sponsored organisation.    I’m sure there is some fondness for Shipley in Beijing –  cover for Jiang Zemin against protestors all the way through to interviews declaring how wonderful the Belt and Road Initiative is.   But this is someone who presided over the failure of a major company in New Zealand, allowing it to trade for years while insolvent, failing in her basic duties.   That isn’t acceptable conduct in New Zealand.  A person with that track record –  perhaps especially when a former Prime Minister –  shouldn’t be holding high-profile semi-government appointments.  For her to keep on doing so tells you about the Prime Minister’s, the Foreign Minister’s, and the China Council’s Board and Executive Director’s values and priorities.  Again, it wouldn’t appear to be decency and integrity.

As it happens, skimming through the China Council rules I came to the section headed “Expulsion”.  It had this provision under which the Board could expel a member

expulsion

Seemed to cover the Mainzeal situation and the recent High Court ruling quite well.

But if the self-perpetuating business and political people on the China Council board –  including the Secretary of Foreign Affairs no less –  think Shipley’s ongoing presence among them isn’t unbecoming or damaging to their interests, it really probably tells you all one needs to know about the tawdry China Council, simply pursuing the dollars and always looking away from the evils –  at home, abroad, and here –  of one the worst regimes on the planet today.  Propanda isn’t just telling upbeat lies, it can include minimising evil and treating as normal and respectable the perpetrators of those evils.

But quite at home with Ardern, Haworth, Bridges, McClay, Goodfellow and the rest of our political “leaders”.

Postlude

In a post the other day, I ran an extract from this article about PRC forced labour camps from the Italian site Bitter Winter.  A prominent New Zealander later told me it had shaken him.  Here is another extract

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.”

This sort of thing is just fine by the China Council, Jenny Shipley, or Stephen Jacobi?  Or do they just not care.  Hard to tell which is worse.

We can’t fix other countries.  We can demand some self-respect and decency around how we do things here.   Neither Jian Yang nor Jenny Shipley has any place near a China Council that really served New Zealand interests, consistent with New Zealand values.

 

Shipley and the China Council

Last week I wrote a post about Jenny Shipley’s position in the wake of the High Court judgment against her and other directors of Mainzeal.

I noted then that her position as chair of the local China Construction Bank was almost certainly untenable.  Even if, for some reason, the owners (the parent bank) had still been happy to have her, the Reserve Bank could not have allowed her to remain in her post and still retained any credibility around its “fit and proper person” regime. The Mainzeal board, chaired by Shipley, had continued trading for years with negative equity, with only the weakest suggestions of possible support from the parent.  Corporate law is designed to protect creditors from that sort of corporate (mis)governance.

Shipley has now announced that she will be leaving the China Construction Bank board.   We don’t know how much of a role the Reserve Bank played in that departure. No doubt they would hide behind the Official Information Act (or worse, section 105 of the Reserve Bank Act) and refuse to tell us.  That is a shame: it is a lost opportunity to demonstrate to the public that the regime has teeth when it comes to seriously problematic individuals. Mind you, I guess it might also leave them open to questions about how it is that they were happy to have Jenny Shipley chairing a New Zealand bank for the last several years, as more and more information about the Mainzeal situation emerged.

The focus now turns to Shipley’s role on the Executive Board of the New Zealand China Council.   In my earlier post I commented on this only briefly

As for Shipley’s membership of the executive board of the China Council……surely that tawdry taxpayer-funded body that sticks up for Beijing at every turn, has Jian Yang on its advisory board, defends Huawei, and won’t stick up for Anne-Marie Brady is just the place for her?  Then again, if the government doesn’t want the last vestiges of any credibility its propaganda body still has to be in shreds, they should probably remove her too. 

Shipley has clearly been very much in the good graces of Beijing over the years.  It wasn’t long ago that she had actually been on the parent board of the China Construction Bank, and she is now on the board of the regime-sponsored Boao Forum.   She has a long history of giving cover (literally in this case) to Beijing, going back to her brief time as Prime Minister.   Even that interview she gave to the People’s Daily back in December suggests a strong (and useful to Beijing) alignment between her public views and the preferred stances of Beijing.

But it isn’t clear whose interests are now really being served if she remains on the Executive Board of the China Council –  except perhaps those like me who poke the stick at this taxpayer-funded pro-Beijing advocacy and propaganda body.

Perhaps it suits Beijing to have such a tainted individual on their tame domestic lobby group.  See, democracy  and ‘doing the right thing’ is so enfeebled in New Zealand that our friend gets to retain her public position despite the very evident systematic poor governance on display at Mainzeal.   Perhaps, but Shipley’s failings are now sufficiently evident –  and will now always be associated with her name – that is doesn’t look as though it would really help the cause of keeping New Zealanders lulled into obliviousness about the nature of the regime.  The China Council is supposed to look like a bunch of decent public-spirited New Zealanders.

For similar reasons it can’t really be in the interests of the China Council itself for Shipley to stay on.  All the other, individually decent, people who sit on the Executive Board will be tarred by association.  You can’t so fundamentally mismanage a major business, resulting in huge losses for many people as a result of choices that were irresponsible and probably illegal, and expect to keep right on in prominent governance roles.    It wasn’t one small mistake early in someone’s career, but a big and very costly mistake for someone with the seniority and experience people should have been able to count on.  Shipley might still be well-connected in China, but there are other people with connections (if not, I’m sure Madame Wu at the PRC Embassy could help with introductions).  And everyone knows that neither corporate governance nor political governance in the PRC operate to the sorts of standards we expect in New Zealand.    If the China Council really wants us to believe that they champion New Zealand standing for New Zealand values, standards, and interests –  not just pre-emptively submitting to Beijing’s preferences – it should be in their interests too to get Jenny Shipley off their board, and quickly.

In a sense who owned Mainzeal shouldn’t be that relevant here –  the failure of the directors was alarming and unacceptable whoever the shareholders had been – but the fact that the firm was owned by someone originally from the PRC, and with extensive interests back there, just strengthens the argument around appearances.   The suspicion has been that, in effect, the China Council serves PRC interests more than those of New Zealanders.  A harsh critic might suggest something similar (perhaps unfairly) about the Mainzeal board.

And it shouldn’t be in the government’s interest for Jenny Shipley to remain on the China Council board either.  I was staggered at the way the Prime Minister the other day sought to avoid any responsibility or any involvement.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was earlier asked whether she had any problem with Shipley being on the New Zealand China Council. She said it was not an appointment the Government had any role in.

The rules of the incorporated society that is the China Council are not readily available, so I’m not sure quite what the formal mechanism is for appointments to the Executive Board.  The China Council’s website also doesn’t say.   But it shouldn’t matter greatly.  The government pays

The Council receives approximately two thirds of its operational funding from the New Zealand Government through an annual grant from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 

[UPDATE: The latest set of accounts suggest just under half now, but with the government clearly the single largest funder.]

and very senior government officials serve on the Executive Board with Shipley.

The Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Chief Executive of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise are both ex officio members of the Executive Board.

It is a creature of the New Zealand government and the Prime Minister simply can’t avoid responsibility.  I wonder what the Foreign Minister –  no fan of Shipley –  thinks?  Is the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade really comfortable serving on an Executive Board with someone like Shipley?

Perhaps there are discussions going on behind the scenes, but after a week since the judgment was handed down, it is quite inappropriate that Jenny Shipley is still on the Executive Board of this prominent government-funded body, and that the Prime Minister won’t express a view on the appropriateness of Shipley’s position.

I was debating this point with someone the other day who argued that if the Prime Minister expressed a view she would open herself to attacks from the National Party (presumably something about inappropriate interference, or upsetting (Todd McClay’s, Jian Yang’s, Peter Goodfellow’s friends in) Beijing).   Well, maybe, but I wouldn’t have thought Jenny Shipley, in her current position, is someone even National would want to touch with a barge pole.  Are those the sorts of business governance practices National wants to defend, in public?  I can’t imagine so.

And so if the Prime Minister won’t express concern about a senior figure, found to have grossly underperformed in a very prominent governance position, it risks looking as though (a) the Prime Minister isn’t bothered by such misconduct (generally) or (b) remains more interested in not upsetting friends of Beijing and Beijing’s sensitivities than about defending acceptable standards of corporate governance and decency here in New Zealand.  She associates herself with all the tawdriness of the China Council –  defences of Huawei, silence on Jian Yang, silence on Anne-Marie Brady, and a general reluctance ever to articulate New Zealand interests when, as inevitably happens, those sometimes clash with those of the PRC. Perhaps it buys her an easier life in the short-term.  In the longer-term it further corrodes whatever reputation for decency she might once have had.  It simply shouldn’t be in her interests, or that of the government, for Shipley to remain on the China Council board.  And no one really doubts that – as the agency holding the purse strings –  if she wanted Shipley gone she would very soon be gone.

Whatever other contributions Jenny Shipley may have made over the years, her record at Mainzeal now means that she diminishes the standing and reputation of any body or individual that continues to use her in governance roles, or which support her in such roles.  Foremost among those now, the Prime Minister and the China Council itself.   As one expert noted in the Dominion-Post this morning, the market has ways of taking care of these issues – Shipley (and her other fellow Mainzeal directors) might now struggle to get directors and officers liability insurance.   But those mechanisms can’t protect us when it comes to public bodies. Only leadership protects us there.  But at present there seems to be a void – an abdication – where leadership on this issue should be.

I did an interview with Morning Report on this issue this morning.  If they put the audio up I will link to it.  [UPDATE: In fact, here it is.]

UPDATE:  A reader has pointed me to where the constitution and rules of the China Council are online (details in a comment).  It appears that the Executive Board is self-selecting and self-perpertuating

CC rules

The point remains that if the Prime Minister, representing by far the largest funder, wanted Shipley off the Executive Board (a) she would almost certainly be gone quite quickly, and (b) even if she wasn’t, the PM would have made clear her refusal to countenance the standards of corporate governance on display in the Mainzeal case.