Shameless and shameful

On Monday, just across the road from Parliament, Victoria University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies hosted a lunchtime lecture from Professor Anne-Marie Brady.  The lecture was built around her Magic Weapons paper on the extent of Chinese government/Party influence activities in New Zealand (and elsewhere), and her shorter policy brief with some specific proposals for the new government on how to deal with the issue (I wrote about that latter piece recently here).     (Radio New Zealand also had a good interview with Brady this morning, prompted by the new legislation announced yesterday by the Australian government, as part of its efforts to deal with this official Chinese interference.)

New Zealanders owe Professor Brady a considerable debt of gratitude for, first, writing her detailed paper, and secondly for deciding to put it in the public domain (it was done as part of an international project on Chinese influence-seeking activities globally, and the papers by other scholars have not yet been made public).    Her paper has found a receptive audience internationally (and she mentioned that Francis Fukayama has underway work for a similar paper on Chinese influence-seeking in the US).

Listening to her, one gets the sense that she isn’t that comfortable in the public spotlight.  Many academics aren’t.   In her lecture the other day she felt the need to include a photo of her Chinese husband and her three half-Chinese children –  no doubt a push back against the sort of despicable pre-election attempt to discredit her and her research tried by the then Attorney-General.  It can be a lonely position for an academic when her expert and well-documented research runs head-on into a wall of political indifference (or worse), vested interests, and a media which seems not quite sure whether or not this is a “proper” issue even to be talking about.    It is not as if (I’m aware that ) anyone has seriously sought to question the factual basis of her paper, or has demonstrated major flaws in her analysis and reasoning.   It seems as if there is just a desperate desire that she, and the issue, would go away.    Absent that, the political and business elites simply want to pretend it doesn’t exist.   I hope she doesn’t just retreat to her study.

Her Victoria lecture the other day covered pretty familiar ground (although many of the attendees indicated that they hadn’t read either of her papers so much will have been new for them).     There was:

  • the active efforts (largely successful) of the Communist Party to get effective control of almost all Chinese language media in New Zealand (similar story in Australia) –  and thus the story of the issues she is raising goes unreported in that media,
  • the efforts of suborn former senior politicians, with roles that align their personal economic interests with those of the Chinese authorites,
  • concerns about political donations, especially from individuals/entities with close ties to the CCP, and the associated close ties between political party leaders and China,
  • Chinese government interests in influencing New Zealand, both to stay quiet on issues of concern to China, and to detach New Zealand from its historical defence and intelligence relationships,
  • China’s interests in Antartica,
  • Confucius Institutes, funded and controlled by China, as part of New Zealand universities, complete with restrictions on what can be talked about,
  • efforts to promote ethnic Chinese New Zealand citizens, with those ties to the Embassy/CCP, into electoral politics –  in New Zealand’s case, both Jian Yang and Raymond Huo.

Huo is now chair of Parliament’s Justice Committee – the same Huo who, as she pointed out, is responsible for Labour campaigning for the Chinese vote under a Xi Jinping slogan, and who – Professor Brady reports –  was present at a meeting in Auckland earlier this year in which Communist Party propaganda chiefs (“propaganda” is apparently a literal translation of the role/office) met with local Chinese language media to offer “guidance” on how issues of interest to China should be reported.   A serving member of New Zealand’s Parliament…….

Brady noted that the Communist Party’s United Front work has always been an integral element in how the Party works, but that the efforts are now being undertaken with an intensity and importance that is greater than at any time since 1949, when the CCP took power.  It is a China that has thrown off Deng Xiaoping’s injunction (post Tiananmen) that China should mask its growing power and bide its time.

When it came to the New Zealand government, in some respects I thought Professor Brady pulled her punches (although she was happy to note that she couldn’t understand how it was that National Party MP Jian Yang – self-confessed Communist Party member, former member of the Chinese intelligence services, and someone who has acknowledged misrepresenting his past on residency/citizenship application papers –  is still in Parliament).   I’m not sure how much of that is tactical –  giving the new government a chance, hoping to be heard by talking constructively.   I fear that any such hope is misplaced.

In just the last week we’ve had a couple of episodes that confirm that the new government is quite as craven –  indifferent, obsequious –  as its predecessor.

A month or two ago, at the time of the 19th Communist Party Congress, it came to light through the Chinese media that the presidents of both the National and Labour parties had been sending warm greetings and congratulations.   This last weekend, the Labour Party went one step worse.

The Chinese Communist Party held a congress in Beijing for representatives of such political parties from around the world (300 from 120 countries) as it could gather to its embrace.    Most of them were from developing countries.  Nigel Haworth, the President of the New Zealand Labour Party, attended.   Here is how one Chinese media outlet reported the event.

The CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High Level Meeting was the first major multilateral diplomacy event hosted by China after the recently concluded 19th CPC National Congress.

It was also the first time the CPC held a high-level meeting with such a wide range of political parties from around the world…..

During the closing ceremony, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi stressed that the meeting was a complete success with a broad consensus reached. He also said CPC leaders elaborated on the new guiding theory introduced by the 19th CPC National Congress.

“The innovative theoretical and practical outcomes of the 19th CPC National Congress not only have milestone significance for the development of China, but also provide good examples for the development of other countries, especially developing countries,” Yang said.

The Beijing Initiative issued after the meeting states that over the past five years, China has achieved historic transformations and the country is making new and greater contributions to the world.

It also highlighted that lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity have increasingly become the aspiration of people worldwide, and it’s the unshakable responsibility and mission of political parties to steer the world in this direction.

“The most important thing between the 18th and 19th CPC party congress was the belt and road initiative,” according to the Russian Communist Party’s Dmitry Novikov. “And the most important thing about the initiative is the economic cooperation among various countries. Such cooperation leads to the promotion of relations in culture and politics.”

And the President of the New Zealand Labour Party was party to all of this.    In fact, not just a party to it, but someone who was willing to come out openly in praise of Xi Jinping.

Here he is, talking of Xi Jinping’s opening speech  (here and here)

“I think it is a very good speech. I think it is a very challenging speech. I think he is taking a very brave step, trying to lead the world and to think about the global challenges in a cooperative manner.  Historically we have wars and we have crisis, but he is posing a possibility of a different way of moving forward, a way based on collaboration and cooperation.  Making cooperation work is difficult, but he think that’s a better way for mankind. I think we all share that view.”

It is shameful.     Probably not even Peter Goodfellow would have gone quite that far –  if only because there might have been some (understandable) rebellion in the ranks if he had gone that public.

This is the same Chinese Communist Party (and associated state) that

  • flouts international law, including with its aggressive expansionism in the South China Sea,
  • denies any political rights to its own people,
  • that is directly responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people (and which only just pulled back from its forced abortions practices),
  • lets dissidents die in prison,
  • has no concept of the rule of law,
  • persecutes religious believers (Christian, Muslim, Falun Gong or whatever),
  • actively interferes in the domestic politics of other countries in all manner of different ways,
  • and so on.

In her lecture the other day, Professor Brady mentioned Haworth’s comments, but this was one of the places she pulled her punches.  She asked, rhetorically, if we could imagine a New Zealand political party president attending a Republican Party convention and making such public remarks.   Or even a Russian political event.    At one level it is a fair point –  Haworth’s participation in this CCP event, and his positive comments, have gone totally unremarked in the New Zealand media (or from Opposition parties), in a way that would be simply inconceivable in those other cases.    But at another, it falls into the trap beloved of China-sympathisers and people on the left (one such academic at her lecture attempted this), of drawing a moral equivalence between, say, the United States and the UK on the one hand, and Communist China on the other.    A much better comparison would be to ask if we could imagine a major New Zealand political party President attending Nazi Party congresses pre-war or Soviet Communist party congresses?  And whether, even if it had happened, we would look back now with equanimity at associating so strongly with such an evil.  Such is the CCP.   The fact that certain New Zealand firms make a lot of money trading with them –  or that our political parties appear to raise large donations –  doesn’t change that character.

Former National Party Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, was apparently also at the meeting, speaking warmly of China’s One Belt One Road initiative (all about geopolitical influence).

Yesterday, we had yet more proof of how far gone the New Zealand authorities (and the new New Zealand government are).     As I’d noted a couple of weeks ago, Victoria University (specifically its China-funded and controlled Confucius Institute) and the New Zealand Institute for International Affairs put on a half day symposium (celebration?) of 45 years of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China PRC).   Not a word of scepticism or criticism was to be expected from the programme –  there wasn’t for example an opportunity for Professor Brady to present her work, and alternative perspectives on it to be heard.

Quite late in the piece, reportedly, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs agreed to be a keynote speaker at this forum, his first major speech as Minister.  Winston Peters had, in Opposition, occasionally been heard to express some unease about the activities of the PRC in New Zealand, including the questions around National Party MP Jian Yang (recall that even Charles Finny, former senior diplomat, noted that he is always very careful about what he says in front on Yang and Raymond Huo, given their closeness to the PRC Embassy).   In office, the Rt Hon Winston Peters not just tows the MFAT line, repeating the same obsequious words as former National Party ministers, he takes it up another step.

There was the published text, which was bad enough.   In entire speech he could only manage this, that might be pointed to for a modicum of self-respect.

New Zealand supports a stable, rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific region in which free trade and connectivity can thrive.  We urge parties to resolve disputes in accordance with international law, on the basis of diplomacy and dialogue.

New Zealand and China do not always see eye to eye on every issue; we are different countries and New Zealanders are proudly independent.  However,  China and New Zealand have a close, constructive and increasingly mature relationship.  Where we do have different perspectives, we raise these with each other in ways that are cordial, constructive and clear.

“New Zealanders” might be proudly independent, but it isn’t clear that our governments are.  At a New Zealand event –  so it wasn’t even a matter of talking politely in China itself –  our Foreign Minister can’t bring himself to name any specific concerns or risks (despite rising international unease, and the material documented by Professor Brady).   And if he ever has concerns he’ll raise them in “cordial” way………”cordial” and direct interference by a foreign power in New Zealand, undermining the freedoms of hundreds of thousands of our own people (ethnic Chinese) doesn’t strike me as the sort of words that naturally belong together.  At least in a country whose government retains any self-respect.

But then it got worse, at least according to the Stuff report of how Peters departed from his written text.

“We should also remember this when we are making judgements about China – about freedom and their laws: that when you have hundreds of millions of people to be re-employed and relocated with the change of your economic structure, you have some massive, huge problems.

“Sometimes the West and commentators in the West should have a little more regard to that and the economic outcome for those people, rather than constantly harping on about the romance of ‘freedom’, or as famous singer Janis Joplin once sang in her song: ‘freedom is just another word for nothing else to lose’.

“In some ways the Chinese have a lot to teach us about uplifting everyone’s economic futures in their plans.”

It is so remarkably reminiscent of the Western fellow travellers of the Soviet Union in decades past –  tens of millions might die, but not to worry, a new Jerusalem is on the way to being built.   Basic rights and freedoms might be trampled on, or simply not exist at all, but not to worry….what is freedom after all?

Personally, I don’t think the biggest issue in the China/New Zealand official relationship should be how the Chinese party/state treats its own people –  abominable as that is.  The issues people like Professor Brady are raising are about the direct, systematic, in-depth, interference by another country  –  a hostile power, run by a regime with mostly alien values –  in the domestic affairs of other countries.  Our own most of all.  International expansionism and defiance of the rule of international law might matter too.  And none of that has any connection whatever to improvements in material living standards in China.

And what to make of the nonsense claim that “the Chinese have a lot to teach us about uplifting everyone’s economic future in their plans”.  That is about as ignorant as it is offensive.

I’ve shown this chart before

Here is a chart showing GDP per capita for China, and a range of now-advanced Asian countries/economies.  I’ve shown each country’s GDP per capita as a percentage of that for the United States for each of 1913, 1950, and 2014, using the Maddison database for the 1913 observation and the Conference Board (which built on Maddison’s work) for the more recent observations.  Data are a bit patchy in those earlier decades, but 1913 was before China descended into civil  and external wars (from the late 1920s), and 1950 was the year after the Communist Party took control of the mainland.

asia gdp pc cf US

What stands out is just how badly communist-ruled China has done economically, and especially relative to the three other ethnic-Chinese countries/territories.  Substantial re-convergence has happened in all the other countries on the chart, but that in China has been excruciatingly slow.  A few buoyant decades (the aftermath of which we have still to see) struggle to make up for the earlier decades of even worse Communist mis-rule.

Or how about this one, using Conference Board data for real GDP per person employed (they don’t have real GDP per hour worked for China, but estimates are very low)?

china GDP ppe

Even on official Chinese data, the record is pretty poor: China barely matches Sri Lanka which was torn apart by decades of civil war, and doesn’t even begin to match the performance of the better east Asian economies (none of which has anything like the waste, the massive distortions, of China).   Surely China is best seen as a (potential) wealth-destruction story?  Taiwan’s numbers might be a reasonable benchmark for what could have been.  Taiwan threatens no one.

Just to cap an egregious speech, the Opposition foreign affairs spokesman indicated that he didn’t disagree with what Winston Peters had had to say  (well, after his government’s track record of cravenness, he would, wouldn’t he).

I came home from Anne-Marie Brady’s lecture the other day and pulled off the bookshelf my copy of The Appeasers, written in the 1960s by Martin Gilbert and Richard Gott, a heavily-documented account of British appeasement of Germany from 1933 onwards.    As I started reading, lots seemed to ring true to today.

Two situations are never fully alike.  For a start, New Zealand isn’t a “great power” and China is (as Germany was becoming again).    And Germany had little real interest in interfering in domestic British politics –  and there was no large German diaspora in the UK to attempt to corral and control.    But there is a lot of the same willed blindness to the evil that the regime represented.    In the 1930s, it wasn’t the bureaucrats who were the problem –  from the very first, British Ambassadors in Berlin recognised and reported on the nature of the regime, its domestic abuses and its external threats.     There were various forces at work it seemed –  a fear of Communism (and thus Nazism as perhaps some sort of bulwark against something even worse), unease and even guilt over some of the Treaty of Versailles provisions, the fear of new conflict (only 15 years after the last war), and often some sort of admiration for the order the new German government was bringing to things (and some philo-Germanism among many of the British upper classes).  As Gilbert and Gott summarise it

“Like alcohol, pro-Germanism dulled the senses of those who over-indulged, and many English diplomats, politicians and men of influence insisted upon interpreting German developments in such a way as to suggest patterns of cooperation that did not exist.”

Britain and France could (and should) have stopped Germany earlier.  New Zealand can’t stop China, of course, but we can assert ourselves, and reassert some self-respect, for our system, our freedoms, and for the interests of like-minded countries.    We can call out, firmly (not cordially) Chinese influence-seeking etc where we see it –  as the Australian government has been much more willing to do.  We can cease to pander to such an obnoxious regime that not only abuses its own people (including failing to deliver economically) but represents a threat to its neighbours, and which persists in seeking to interfere directly in other countries, whether in its neighbourhood or not, whether with large ethnic Chinese minorities (as NZ, Australia, and Canada) or not.  Our politicians shame us by their deference to such an evil power –  and frankly, one that has little real ability to harm us (as distinct from harming a few vested interests).

In her lecture the other day, and in her policy brief, Anne-Marie Brady called for our political leaders to insist that none of their MPs will have anything further to do with entities involved in the PRC United Front efforts.   That would certainly be a start –  though the Jian Yang stain on our democracy really needs to be removed altogether –  but it is probably a rather small part of the issue: we need political leaders who will recognise  –  and openly acknowledge –  the nature of the regime, and stop fooling themselves (and attempting to fool us) about the nature of the regime they defend, and consort with.   Perhaps our leaders are no worse than, say, British Cabinet ministers in the 1930s who enjoyed hunting with Hermann Goering, but if that is the standard they are comfortable with, New Zealand is in an even worse place than I’d supposed.   In their book, Gilbert and Gott quote from the former head of the British foreign service:

“Looking back to the pre-1939 era Vansittart wrote: “I frequently said that those who ask to be deceived must not grumble if they are gratified”

Indeed.

I said that I thought Professor Brady was inclined to pull her punches a bit.  Asked what New Zealand can do,  she began her response claiming that “Australia can be more forceful”.   No doubt Australia is, and will remain, more forceful –  we’ve seen in the DFAT Secretary’s speech, in the ASIO report, in the foreign affairs White Paper, and in the new legislation details of which were announced yesterday.  But “can” isn’t the operative word.   If trade is your concern, Australia trades more heavily with China than New Zealand firms do.  If distance is your concern, Australia is physically closer to Asia –  and the waterways of the South China Sea.  Our political leaders – National, Labour, New Zealand First, Green –  could speak out, could act forcefully.  But they won’t.

Shameless and shameful.

 

UPDATE: As I pressed publish, I discovered that I’d been sent a link to some other reflections on Peters and Haworth by China expert Geremie Barme.

 

 

 

 

Why do our politicians ignore PRC influence?

Our leading politicians appear quite unbothered about the rise of China and the way it is happening.   We don’t see emerging an open, free, peaceful, and democratic state  –  as with Taiwan, Korea or Japan.    We don’t even see something that looks like a large Singapore.    Instead we see a very large totalitarian party-state, suppressing most meaningful freedoms for its own people –  in ways reminiscent of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany –  and increasingly willing to use the combination of size and wealth (not high per capita, but there are a lot of people) to throw its weight around internationally, at times (as in the South China Sea) in flagrant and ongoing violation of international law.  It is increasingly well-documented that that strategy includes attempting to exert control over ethnic Chinese cultural and religious groupings and media outlets in other countries, to suborn (with all sorts of blandishments, whether financial, access, or whatever) key figures in other countries, and to exert influence on the domestic politics of other countries, including encouraging ethnic Chinese in other countries who have suitably close ties to the Communist Party to run for elective office in those countries.

It is easy for the world-weary, and those who want to avoid confronting the issue, to respond “but everyone does it; every country seeks to exert influence”.   And, no doubt to some extent or other, that is true.   And so we need to look to the character of the country, and political regime, in question.  The People’s Republic of China today still looks much like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, two of the more odious regimes (at least among large countries) in the 20th century.  We –  citizens and governments –  should be treating it as such.

Instead, all our political parties, and their leaders, seem determined to look the other way, to try to pretend –  even though surely they know otherwise –  that China is some sort of normal state.   Why, the party presidents of National and Labour were recently sending warm fraternal greetings on the occasion of the five-yearly Communist Party Congress.     Would they have turned up to the Nuremberg rallies as well?   I guess political fundraising is a difficult business, but you might have hoped that former Foreign Minister Phil Goff would walk away from a $150000 donation to his mayoral campaign from an offshore donor.  Perhaps such donations should be illegal?

And then there are the elected politicians.  We have two elected members of Parliament who left China as adults and settled in New Zealand.    One appears to have misrepresented his past in his residency/citizenship application, and certainly hid it from the public when he first ran for Parliament.  That past: membership of the Communist Party, and being a member of the Chinese military intelligence system, clearly sufficiently in the good graces of the Party to have been allowed to move abroad.  The same MP remains very close to the Chinese Embassy, and has never been heard to utter a word of criticism of Chinese government policy.   And ever since the story broke, just before the election, he has gone very quiet: refusing to account to the voters (at least as represented by the English language media).

The other member of Parliament is a less egregious, but still troubling, case.  Raymond Huo is a Labour MP, also apparently widely known to be very close to the Chinese Embassy.  Of him, Professor Anne-Marie Brady wrote

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.

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’.”  ……    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. ……. 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.”

So whose interests does Huo represent in our Parliament?  They are quotes from his own speeches/interviews, which I’m not aware that he has contested.  He has also been remarkably quiet since the Brady paper was published in September.

Recall that on TVNZ a few weeks ago, veteran diplomat (and now lobbyist) Charles Finny, who has been keen to stick up for both men and celebrate their membership in our Parliament, explicitly stated that he was always very careful what he said in front of either man, as he knew –  and given his diplomatic/trade background he would know – that they were both close to the Chinese Embassy.   If Finny always takes care what he –  just a private citizen lobbyist now –  says in front of Yang or Huo, how should ministers or senior opposition MPs react?

In fact, their reaction tends to be to pretend there is no issue.  Bill English has simply refused to answer any serious questions, referring journalists to Jian Yang as if he can answer questions about his own suitability for office, even if he were willing to make himself available for journalists.  The previous Attorney-General, and Minister for the GCSB and SIS, tried to pretend that any concerns were just racist or anti-foreigner –  as if no one could tell the difference between, say, Joseph Goebbels and Dietrich Bonhoeffer or between Xi Jinping and Liu Xiaobo.   It was pretty despicable.

Not that there was ever much hope that the Labour Party (or their partners) would be any different.  As Opposition leader, Jacinda Ardern sought to simply avoid the issue –  as, I suppose, you would when you had Huo on your list.  People who live in glasshouses and all that, I suppose.

And so it proves in government.   Last week, Raymond Huo was confirmed as chair of the Justice select committee of Parliament.    They do the triennial inquiry into the conduct of each election.  They handle legislation around such matters as political donations, the electoral system, the rule of law, and so on.    And the government is quite happy to have as chair of that committee, someone known to be close to the embassy of the dreadful People’s Republic of China, a government with little or no regard for the rule of law –  whether domestically or internationally.  Someone who channels quotes from Xi Jinping to win votes for Labour.  Who seems to think that China having more influence in New Zealand is a good thing.

I’d be uncomfortable with an American or a Briton who had become a New Zealand citizen championing greater influence of their country in New Zealand.  But there isn’t a moral equivalence between the UK, the USA, and the People’s Republic China.  The latter is a force for evil.   And you will, it seems, never hear that from Raymond Huo.

But, of course, the National Party seems unbothered.  People in glasshouses, I suppose.

And then as if to bring the last few months full circle, there was an interview on Newsroom last week with the new minister responsible for the GCSB and the SIS (and various other portfolios, including those around electoral law), Andrew Little.  Buried down at the end of a lengthy interview, Little was asked about the issue of Chinese influence

One thing that Little is not concerned about is any perceived growing influence of China in New Zealand.

 

When questioned about the issue and Yang, Little will not reveal if he had received any related briefings but says he has no concerns.

“There’s nothing here that’s alerted me to any Chinese nefarious influence in institutions like universities…I know there’s often the line about political influence but our donations regime is pretty transparent.

“That’s a legitimate public debate right now because it’s [Yang’s background] been revealed, he said he didn’t know he was teaching spies? I can’t recall what his defence is, he’s made it into Parliament because the National party wanted him to be there, people are going to have to form an opinion themselves.”

Asked if Yang should have been allowed to stand for Parliament or if he should have been granted citizenship, Little says he does not have enough background to comment on the latter but was more comfortable with the National MP being an elected official.

“He’s a New Zealand citizen, that entitles him to stand for Parliament. There’s a variety of backgrounds. Sue Bradford, who was a regular radical protestor, took on the police, took on the establishment, she became an MP.

“I’d be very worried about saying there were criteria beyond citizenship that we should add to about whether you can stand for Parliament.”

It doesn’t look to have been the most searching interview ever, with no questions at all about Huo, but at least the journalist asked about some things.  And as he asks, Andrew Little is scampering for cover, and in the process insulting Sue Bradford (of whom I’ve probably never knowingly previously defended). Our minister for the intelligence services compares a former spy, member of the Chinese Communist Party, and someone with close ongoing ties to a heinous regime and its representatives in Wellington (the validity of whose citizenship he doesn’t feel comfortable commenting on), with a domestic activist and protestor exercising –  and perhaps occasionally stepping over –  her rights as a New Zealand citizen.  I’m not aware anyone has ever questioned Sue Bradford’s loyalty.

And even if Jian Yang’s citizenship is securely grounded, is this senior minister really serious about that final sentence?  I don’t suppose anyone is proposing amending the Electoral Act to provide specifically that (unrepentant) members of the Chinese Communist Party, past or present, and past Chinese spies, should be disqualified from Parliament.  I wouldn’t want to amend the Act to legally disqualify a whole bunch of other people either.   If some former apartheid South African BOSS agent had somehow got New Zealand citizenship, s/he might be legally entitled to run for Parliament but –  without some serious exercise in penitence and contrition –  I hope no serious political party would consider nominating him/her.  Graham Capill is probably eligible to run again for Parliament –  and I’m a Christian, and believe in forgiveness and restoration – but no party that nominated him would ever get my vote.  And so on.  The law can’t and shouldn’t try to cover all circumstances.  But decent political parties should be able to draw lines themselves.  Ours don’t seem to anymore  (our version of Roy Moore and John Conyers perhaps?)   There is no way Jian Yang should be in our Parliament at all, and if Raymond Huo won’t distance himself from the PRC –  and call out its evil and abuses, domestic and foreign, neither should he.   Decent parties simply shouldn’t select them (being list MPs, the public have little or no direct effective recourse).

These issues of Chinese influence in other countries aren’t unique to New Zealand  (there is a good recent podcast from an Australian academic on these issues in an Australian context) although from what I’ve read of countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United States, New Zealand is the only country yet with two MPs with these close PRC ties in our national Parliament.

Quite why our politicians aren’t bothered is a bit of a mystery.  There is clearly an element of not upsetting Beijing, and with it a desire not to rock the boat in ways that could have short-term economic cost through the trade ties of some large New Zealand entities with close traditional ties to our governments.   Perhaps the political donations are part of the story as well.   That’s the shameful side of the story.  Is this what it must have been like in the 1930s, when plenty of politicians wanted to smooth things over with Germany, and more egregious abuses just made the cause of appeaement seem more urgent?

But the other side must be that the voters just don’t care very much, if at all (as European populations didn’t for a long time in the 1930s).    Perhaps that is understandable.  There isn’t a lot of foreign news in our papers and other media, and certainly not on stories that deal much with China.  We don’t have good foreign affairs think-tanks, and on the one hand taxpayer money is devoted to keeping the good news stories flowing, and journalists value the opportunity of funded trips to China.  How, then, will the average voter know what our political parties make themselves –  and by extension us –  party to?

It doesn’t make it less shameful though, and it isn’t even clear what our politicians think they achieving in selling out our values, the principles our society is built on, in keeping quiet about China.  There is the mythology that somehow China makes us (or Australia) wealthy.  It’s nonsense of course.  China is a middle-income country with a badly distorted economy.  More to the point, countries almost always make (or break) their own fortunes.  I’ve pointed out before how small a share of GDP is represented by the exports of New Zealand firms to China.  Of course, that trade matters a lot for some firms, but it doesn’t matter that much at all for the nation’s overall prosperity.  Politicians seem to sell out our soul for the financial interests of a small group of exporters, whose interests are not necessarily our own.

No doubt, MFAT advisers periodically remind any minister tempted to acquire some backbone of the potential for China to disrupt the trade of New Zealand firms.   You can read the stories about Mongolia, Norway, the Philippines, and –  most recently – South Korea.  There is some potential for disruption –  the Chinese seem to have been particularly willing to cut off the tourist flow when a country steps “out of line”, and presumably the international student market is also vulnerable.  In both cases, blocking trade hurts the seller (NZ) but doesn’t make much difference to the buyers (Chinese tourists just go to, say, France that year).    But is this the sort of country we want to become, where we quail before the butchers of Bejing, rather than standing for our own values and institutions, and telling anyone who wants to export to China –  to deal with a regime on a par with Soviet Union or Nazi Germany – that they are on their own?   South Korean firms are learning now, having experienced the nature of the Chinese state, that diversification is prudent.

There seems little doubt that Chinese global influence will only increase, and that that of the United States will continue to diminish. Perhaps one day, the Communist Party will be toppled and that influence will be more benign, but that isn’t the prospect for now.  Particularly for a country as far from China as we are, that still leaves us with choices.  I’d rather our politicians (and public) decided to take a stand.  Dealing with the PRC –  dealing with Chinese entities on PRC terms –  on other that proper and limited diplomatic terms, should be no more socially or politically acceptable than pandering to the Germans was in 1939.

Not, of course, that there is any likelihood of our government taking a stand.  Flicking through the Herald over lunch I noticed an advert from a Chinese-government affiliated entity celebrating the “New Zealand China Young Leaders’ Forum” held on Sunday which, we were told, was “setting NZ up for a bright future”.  Just like China you mean?  No political freedom, no religious freedom, no freedom of expression, just the dominance of the Party (and a mediocre economy)?   The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang had, we were told, sent his greetings and the Chinese delegation was led by a Vice-Minister.   And guess who opened this forum?   Well, that was Michael Wood, Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister for Ethnic Communities.  I guess he was about as far down the official food chain as it was possible to get, but one likes to think that the British government wouldn’t have been sending a representative in 1939 to open some joint forum with, say, the Hitler Youth.

Our political leaders, apparently without exceptions (certainly none with the courage to speak out even timidly) disgrace us.

Speaking out or selling out?

There was a disquieting, if perhaps not unduly surprising, article in the Financial Times the other day.   New restrictions imposed by the Xi Jinping-led Chinese Communist Party regime, new measures to assert the dominance of the party (ideology, personality or whatever), just continue the pattern of the last few years.  Just recently, villagers in one province were being told to remove pictures of Jesus and replace them with pictures of Xi Jinping.   Leading academic publishers have been put under pressure –  some have given in to it – to remove access in China to all sorts of journal articles.  There was the requirement to establish Communist Party cells even in private businesses, whether foreign or domestic-owned.  There is chilling forthcoming “social credit scoring” regime to monitor and control hehaviour.

The latest article was about the new rules for foreign joint venture universities in China –  of which there are now, reportedly, some 2000.  Such joint ventures will, it is reported, be required to establish a Communist Party cell and –  more concerningly –  the party secretary in each ventures “will be given vice-chancellor status and a seat of the board of trustees”.   Many of these trustee boards require unanimous votes for major decisions, including senior appointments.   So much for the prospects of any sort of sustained academic freedom, and as the FT article notes even where there is explicit provision for academic freedom in joint venture agreements there is real doubt about whether those provisions will be honoured, or be effective (control the budgets, control the people, and there is a lot of incentive to just go along).

I haven’t seen the story reported in New Zealand yet, which is a little surprising given the close ties New Zealand tertiary institutions seem to have with China.  I’m not sure how many others have formal joint venture arrangements, but I recalled reading quite recently about how Waikato University is now offering degrees to Chinese students without them ever leaving China and so I looked up what was going on there.  Just this year, they launched a joint venture in China with Zhejiang University City College.  According to the deputy vice-chancellor

it was generally difficult to get permission to run these types of programmes in China, but the university’s 15-year relationship with ZUCC paved the way.

It would be interesting (but predictable enough really) to know how Waikato University is responding to the latest Chinese government control initiative.  How, for example, will they protect the academic integrity of the programmes they are running in China –  when the Party gets to veto all major decisions?  Perhaps the subjects that will be taught (Finance, Computer Graphic Design and Design Media) aren’t likely to be particularly politically sensitive, but the point of principle remains.   And with this sort of direct Party control over a significant Waikato subsidiary, one can only assume it is even less likely than ever that the hierarchy will be comfortable if any of their staff here are speaking openly in ways that upset Beijing.

But I don’t suppose we will be hearing any concerns voiced by the Chancellor (former Prime Minister Jim Bolger) or Vice-Chancellor of Waikato, or by Universites New Zealand.

There was an interesting commentary on this specific issue on an Australian “public policy and business innovation website”.    Australia’s leading universities –  generally much higher ranked than New Zealand universities –  appear to be much more engaged in this joint venture business than those here.

Monash University, for instance, is an institution that was at the forefont of the international student surge. It has a fully-fledged joint venture university with Southeastern University, a Graduate Management Institute in Suzhou part of the populous Yangtze River delta in middle of which sits Shanghai.

Most of the Group of Eight universities has at least one joint venture research institute, although some of these are “virtual”

As the commentary notes

The strategy reflects a broader project that was initiated under Xi several years ago to tighten state’s control over China’s already state-run universities, some of which were displaying a bit too much independent thinking for the control freaks in Beijing.

Party Committees were expanded and upgraded, and all students were made to take classes in Marxist-Leninist Theory with the usual rider of the version ‘with Chinese characteristics’.

So, in fact, Australian universities are already deeply complicit in compromised academic environments in the bewildering range of partnerships with scores of Chinese universities.

The author sees the whole thing ending badly, as it has for so many other private sector investments in China

Now the CCP has stuck an entire foot in to truly test the water to see how this could be stomached. But rest assured that further steps will have already been lined up to rollout for those who champion mammon over ethics.

The final result, and this is just a hypothesis based on the Party’s track record, will be fire sale with only one bidder.

For now, Australia’s universities are staying mum. Universities Australia offered a thoughtful and erudite contribution of “no comment.”

Doubtless the Group of 8 – and all the rest as well – are busily attending to duties in private, but at some stage they will have to say something without offending the Chinese.

It’s a classic Beijing trap: Stay silent and the West condemns you, speak up and Beijing cuts off your biggest revenue stream, Chinese students.

Or, in New Zealand, perhaps no one of note condemns you, because almost the entire establishment has simply chosen to do the kowtow.  But it is a reminder that when, for examples, universities stay silent, it is about continuing to do deals with the devil –  self-interest, blind (self-chosen) to the character of the people one is dealing with.  Do otherwise-decent people really have no qualms about the sort of regime they deal with and which, by their silence and their trade, they make themselves complicit with?

In the same vein, I happened to notice a forthcoming half-day seminar at Victoria University on New Zealand’s relations with China, marking the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations with the PRC.  It looked potentially interesting, and was free, and I wondered if I might go along.  But then I had a closer look.  Sure enough, the seminar is co-organised by the Confucius Institute at Victoria University –  recall that these Institutes (there are hundreds around the world) are funded by the Chinese government, and subject to extensive Chinese government controls.    The seminar is supported by the New Zealand China Council, New Zealand China Friendship Society and New Zealand China Trade Association,  groups from whom never a critical word (about China anyway) is heard.    You certainly won’t find Professor Anne-Marie Brady, or the sorts of concerns she has been raising, on the agenda, as one might reasonably expect in a forum organised by a body genuinely interested in open debate, critical scrutiny etc (eg an old-fashioned university).  You might agree or disagree with her on some or all issues, but the lack of open debate in such fora should be a concern.  Instead, Victoria University prostitutes itself.

Australia has its own problems in these areas, including –  as noted in the commentary above –  the desperate desire of universities for the money that comes from keeping quiet and getting on.  But I was struck over the last few days by a contrast between the New Zealand Labour Party in Parliament, and the actions of words of an Australian federal Labor MP.

When the list of select committee memberships came out the other day, Labour’s Raymond Huo was the senior government member on the Justice select committee.  This is the same Raymond Huo whose affinities with Xi Jinping Anne-Marie Brady has written up, and of whom Charles Finny –  former senior diplomat and now leading lobbyist – told us recently that he was always very careful what he said in front of Huo, knowing that he was close to the Chinese Embassy.

What is the Justice select committee responsible for?

The Committee looks at business related to constitutional and electoral matters, human rights, justice, courts, crime and criminal law, police, corrections, and Crown legal services.

Huo’s place on committee –  whether he chairs it, or an Opposition MP ends up doing so – doesn’t fill one with any confidence that the government might take seriously issues around foreign electoral donations, for example.

And, by contrast, there was a speech given the other day in Tokyo by Michael Danby, an Australian federal Labor MP (and member of the foreign affairs select committee), headed “China’s rise in hard strategic and political power”.    There is a lot of material in the speech, and when he gets to China’s political influence operations he draws at length from Anne-Marie Brady’s work.  He calls out the expansionist activities in the South China Sea –  about which barely a word is ever heard in our Parliament –  about the push to establish Chinese bases across the Indian Ocean, about repression of religion, restrictions in Xinjiang, attempts to control Chinese language media in other countries, the co-option of politicians and business people.  Even Jian Yang gets a mention.

Sadly, it is hard to imagine any of our MPs willing or able to engage at such a level, and so openly, in dealing with the issues raised by a large aggressive repressive major power.  It is true of all sides of politics, from what we observe.

Then again, Australia is the country where the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Frances Adamson, recently gave a pretty strongly-worded speech, clearly authorised by ministers, highlighting some of the risks around Chinese interference and what it means to be a free society, one with very different values from China.  Meanwhile, her New Zealand counterpart sits of the board of the government-funded China Coucil, which pumps out innocuous pap (avocados to China anyone?), sponsors seminars that avoid anything controversial, and only reinforces the sense that New Zealand’s elites have sold themselves out so much that they are almost afraid of their own shadows, and of standing up at all for the sorts of values that New Zealanders –  and probably many Chinese –  hold, but which the Chinese government counts as anathema.

 

 

 

 

Anne-Marie Brady’s new paper

Canterbury University politics professor Anne-Marie Brady has published today a follow-up to her substantial paper on Chinese party/government influence-seeking activities, particularly in New Zealand.   In the new short paper, published under the auspices of a NATO-funded project “Small States and the New Security Environment (SSANSE)”,  she poses specific challenges to our new government to do something about the issue, and the threat it poses to New Zealand and New Zealanders (including the many ethnic Chinese citizens).   Her abstract reads as follows

New Zealand—along with other nations—is being targeted by a concerted foreign interference campaign by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The campaign aims to gain support for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government’s political and economic agendas by co-opting political and economic elites. It also seeks to access strategic information and resources. China’s efforts undermine the integrity of our political system, threaten our sovereignty, and directly affect the rights of Chinese New Zealanders to freedom of speech, association, and religion. The new Labour-New Zealand First-Greens government must develop an internally-focused resilience strategy that will protect the integrity of democratic processes and institutions, and should work with other like-minded democracies to address this challenge.

When I read that “must” in the final sentence, of course I strongly agreed that it should be so, but was not at all optimistic that it will.

She summarises her key findings as

  • China’s covert, corrupting, and coercive political influence activities in New Zealand are now at a critical level. 
  • The New Zealand government needs to make legislative and policy changes that will better protect New Zealand’s interests and help to protect our nation against foreign interference activities more broadly.

Coming just a day after the news that a leading publisher in Australia had pulled out, at the last minute, of publishing a book on exactly these sorts of issues in Australia, it was a reminder that we aren’t alone in facing these issues.  Where we may stand alone is the determination of our political and business elites to ignore the issue, and just hope any fuss dies away quickly without too much upset to Beijing.

As she has argued already in her main paper, the active Chinese intrusion has become a much more serious threat in the last few years, under Xi Jinping

United front work has now taken on a level of importance not seen in China since the years before 1949, when the CCP was in opposition. The CCP’s united front activities incorporate co-opting elites, information management, persuasion, and accessing strategic information and resources. It has also frequently been a means of facilitating espionage. One of the key goals of united front work is to influence the decision-making of foreign governments and societies in China’s favour.

New Zealand appears to have been a test zone for many of China’s united front efforts in recent years. Australia has also been severely affected; and the government there has now made strenuous efforts to deal with China’s influence activities.

She links to a nice ABC article on the issue in the Australian context.  I’ve linked previously to an article on the law changes the Australian government is currently proposing.

Brady notes that New Zealand is of interest to China for both economic and geopolitical reasons.  Much of it is covered in the main paper, but some of these lines were new to me and some are apparently dealt with in her new book.

New Zealand’s economic, political, and military relationship with China is seen by Beijing as an exemplar to Australia, the small island nations in the South Pacific, and more broadly, other Western states. New Zealand is valuable to China, as well as to other states such as Russia, as a soft underbelly through which to access Five Eyes intelligence. New Zealand is also a potential strategic site for the PLA-Navy’s Southern Hemisphere naval facilities and a future Beidou-2 ground station—there are already several of these in Antarctica.

Whenever Chinese navy ships visit Auckland, I’m afraid I can’t help thinking of Soviet Union and Nazi Germany parallels –  surely we’d never have had their vessels visiting?  Would even our governments contemplate granting naval facilities to China –  an actively aggressive naval power?  I hope not.

Does it all matter?

Some of these activities endanger New Zealand’s national security directly, while others will have a more long-term corrosive effect. The impact of China’s political influence activities on New Zealand democracy has been profound: a curtailing of freedom of speech, religion, and association for the ethnic Chinese community, a silencing of debates on China in the wider public sphere, and a corrupting influence on the political system through the blurring of personal, political and economic interests. Small states such as New Zealand are particularly vulnerable to foreign interference: the media has limited resources and lacks competition; the tertiary education sector is small and —despite the laws on academic freedom—easily intimidated or coopted.

On that latter point, while Canterbury University has apparently stood up for Brady’s right to speak and write in ways that Chinese interests don’t like, that same university hosts one of the Chinese funded and controlled Confucius Institutes.

As she notes, New Zealand governments have embraced this relationship with China, something that intensified under the most-recent National-led government.

What should be done?  At an overarching level she says

The Labour-New Zealand First-Greens government must now develop an internally-focused resilience strategy that will protect the integrity of our democratic processes and institutions. New Zealand should work with other like-minded democracies such as Australia and Canada to address the challenge posed by foreign influence activities—what some are now calling hybrid warfare. The new government should follow Australia’s example in speaking up publicly on the issue of China’s influence activities in New Zealand and make it clear that interference in New Zealand’s domestic politics will no longer be tolerated.

Getting specific she calls on the government to

The Labour-New Zealand First-Greens government must instruct their MPs to refuse any further involvement in China’s united front activities.

That would be Raymond Huo I presume.

The new government needs to establish a genuine and positive relationship with the New Zealand Chinese community, independent of the united front organizations authorized by the CCP that are aimed at controlling the Chinese population in New Zealand and controlling Chinese language discourse in New Zealand.

And there is a list of six other specifics

  • The new Minister of SIS must instruct the SIS to engage in an in-depth investigation of China’s subversion and espionage activities in New Zealand. NZ SIS can draw on the experience of the Australian agency ASIO, which conducted a similar investigation two years ago. 
  • The Prime Minister should instruct the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to follow Australia’s example and engage in an in-depth inquiry into China’s political influence activities in New Zealand. 
  • The Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs should instruct the Commerce Commission to investigate the CCP’s interference in our Chinese language media sector— which breaches our monopoly laws and our democratic requirement for a free and independent media. 
  • The Attorney General must draft new laws on political donations and foreign influence activities. 
  • The New Zealand Parliament must pass the long overdue Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism legislation.
  • The new government can take a leaf out of the previous National government’s book and appoint its own people in strategically important government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs) which help shape and articulate our China policy, such as the NZ China Council and the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

I’m not sure the Commerce Commission is quite the right body to look at the effective Party/state control of the Chinese language media.  And I’m also not entirely sure how much confidence I would have in either the New Zealand intelligence services or DPMC, but I’m certainly supportive of the sort of direction she calls for.

She mentions the ASIO report.   As an example of the more realistic hard-headed mentality now afoot in Australia, consider this extract from the Director-General’s overview in the latest ASIO Annual Report

During this reporting period, ASIO identified a number of states and other actors conducting espionage and foreign interference against Australia. Our investigations revealed countries undertaking intelligence operations to access sensitive Australian Government and industry information. We identified foreign powers clandestinely seeking to shape the opinions of members of the Australian public, media organisations and government officials in order to advance their country’s own political objectives. Ethnic and religious communities in Australia were also the subject of covert influence operations designed to diminish their criticism of foreign governments. These activities—undertaken covertly to obscure the role of foreign governments—represent a threat to our sovereignty, the integrity of our national institutions and the exercise of our citizens’ rights.

You will look in vain for anything similar in our SIS Annual Report.  Then again, the Minister for the SIS was the same Chris Finlayson who was reduced to personally attacking Professor Brady at a recent election meeting.

I’m also sympathetic to her call regarding appointments to the New Zealand China Council and the Asia New Zealand Foundation.  Over the last couple of months I’ve kept an eye on the China Council’s Twitter feed: it is little more than just a propaganda feed, accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative, and more given to adulation than critical analysis.    Between the preferences of the (previous) government, and the personal economic interests of many of the key figures involved, perhaps it isn’t too surprising.

But it is also why I’m not very optimistic Professor Brady’s calls will come to anything.   Foreign policy –  perhaps especially towards China –  has been depressingly bipartisan –  and there is little sign on these sorts of issues that the Greens or New Zealand First are really any different.   Why would our new Prime Minister be inclined to do things differently when her own party president was just recently offering congratulations to the Chinese Communist Party on the occasion of the recent 19th Party Congress?  The Labour mayor of Auckland was apparently the recipient of large offshore Chinese donations to his election campaign.  I gather that Helen Clark has rubbished the sorts of concerns Professor Brady has raised.

And the National Party Opposition won’t be pressing her to –  not only do they have a Communist Party member in their caucus, but their party president was also offering warm fraternal greetings to the butchers of Beijing.   The system seems to be corrupted already, so what motivation does anyone inside it have to start to turn things around?  Perhaps external pressure might help –  if he had any political standing left himself, Malcolm Turnbull might well turn the fire back on the New Zealand government, and question the way it was allowing New Zealand to be used in Chinese party/goverment interests?

As Professor Brady notes, the standard response is always along the lines of

It has often been said that New Zealand is not important to China and that if we offend the Chinese government we risk our trade with them. It is simply not true that New Zealand is not important to China. And when our national interests may be threatened, the government should be prepared to weather temporary short-term blow back, for long-term political and economic gains.

And as I’ve pointed out previously, Australia does much more of its foreign trade with China than New Zealand does, and countries make their own prosperity.  China hasn’t made New Zealand, or Australia, rich: our own people and own resources have done that.  But the firms –  public and private –  with a direct vested interest in keeping on good terms with China have access and political clout.  One of things we need to remember is that the interests of businesses (and universities) who deal in countries ruled by evil regimes, are not necessarily remotely well-aligned to the interests and values of New Zealanders.   Selling to China, on government-controlled terms, isn’t much different than, say, selling to the Mafia.  There might be money to be made.  But in both causes, the sellers are enablers, and then make themselves dependents, quite severely morally compromised.

And if I were ever remotely hopeful that the sort of changes Professor Brady (admirably) calls for might come to pass, there was just another reminder of how our elites view these things.  At a corporate function last week, former Prime Minister John Key

…spoke at length about New Zealand’s relationship with China. “As PM I went to China seven times and everyone knows that I’m a massive China fan. I think the opportunities are enormous, the country is amazing, and the leadership is doing extremely well,”

I guess the leadership is doing “extremely well” at securing its own position, advancing China’s interests (over against the rule of international law) in the South China Sea, in expanding their influence in countries like our own, in extending the reach of the Party ever further in China itself, and pressing on with the chilling social credit scheme, to give the state ever more control over the populace.  Oh, and the small matter of an ever-more-distorted credit-driven economy that can’t even come close to replicating the material living standard available in the freer democratic bits of east Asia.

The system –  our system, as well as theirs – is corrupted.  Their corruption and destruction is conscious and deliberate.

It all also leaves me slightly uneasy about a comment I saw from Professor Brady suggesting that any inquiry needed to take place in secret.  Perhaps there are some national security issues where secrecy would be important, but if there is any hope of sustained change it can probably only come from something that happens openly, and which enables New Zealanders to see what their leaders have done –  pursuing some mix of a warped view of national interest, and of private and personal business interests.   Who, after all, would the secret reports be delivered to, but the same political leaders who have allowed this suborning of our system, and our people, to go on.  Someone wrote to me yesterday that ” this isn’t an oligarchic or anti-democratic society”.  That’s right.  But it can be a supine one, too ready to ignore what doesn’t affect most of us (non-Chinese New Zealanders) very much on a day to day basis.

UPDATE:

If you refuse to open your eyes, or read, it is hardly surprising you might not see anything.

Andrew Little, the Minister Responsible for the SIS, said he was not aware of any undue Chinese influence.
“I don’t see evidence of undue influence in New Zealand, whether it’s New Zealand politics, or New Zealand communities generally.

“We have a growing Chinese community. We have a strongly developing trade relationship and diplomatic relationship with China. I don’t think those things, on their own, connote undue influence.

“If there’s other things she says constitutes undue influence, we’d have to know what that is.”

 

“I’m always very careful what I say to either man”

It was to the credit of TVNZ’s Q&A show –  probably our leading current affairs television programme –  that yesterday they gave some time to the question of the Chinese Communist Party (and state) activities in New Zealand.

The centrepiece was an interview with Canterbury University politics professor Anne-Marie Brady, about her recent substantial paper Magic Weapons: China’s political influence activities under Xi Jinping, which had a particular (and mostly well-documented) focus on New Zealand, and the great deference shown by much of the New Zealand establishment towards a brutal and expansionist regime.  And it was preceded by an interview with Beijing-based New Zealand economist Rodney Jones on various topics including (CP)TPP, China’s own political and economic direction (including the increasingly visible and dominant role of the Communist Party), and some of the concerns raised in Brady’s paper and in the Financial Times/Newsroom disclosures about the background of National MP –  and Chinese Communist Party member –  Jian Yang.

Jones noted –  and of course I largely agree with him –  that we should consider it simply unacceptable to have a member of the Chinese Communist Party as a member of our Parliament (noting the point various other commentators have made –  you only get to leave the Party by death or expulsion).  Same goes for former serving members of the military intelligence establishment of a regime such as that of China.   Jones called for bi-partisan agreement on these points between the National and Labour parties.  Formal accords don’t have a great track record, but frankly any political party that took serious our heritage as a longstanding open and free democratic society would not even consider having such a person in their ranks.   As I’ve noted previously, I’d make an exception for someone with Jian Yang’s background who has now genuinely “seen the light”, is willing to openly disown and criticise the regime he was once part of, wanting nothing now to do with the representatives in New Zealand of such an evil regime.   Oleg Gordievsky was a hero, and rightly honoured as such.

Professor Brady noted that China’s influence-seeking activities in countries such as ours operate on multiple levels (all documented more extensively in her paper).  She noted the way in which almost all the Chinese-language media in New Zealand is now under the thumb of the Chinese Communist Party.   She highlighted the issue of political donations, and the way in which our electoral finance laws allow large donations, including from foreign individuals and foreign-controlled entities, to find their way –  often anonymously –  to political parties.  She has previously noted the way that many former senior politicians now hold directorships and other positions in ways that either directly serve the interests of China, or (at least) provide a severe economic disincentive to ever saying anything that might displease China –  noting yesterday that in at least some cases these people will have got into these roles barely aware of the wider context. And she drew attention to the extraordinary way in which our business and political elites go out of their way to pander to such a dreadful regime.    She noted that the presidents of both the National and Labour parties, and various heads of universities, had been issuing positive statements around the recent 19th (Communist) Party Congress –  in a way which, as she noted, one could never imagine happening for a US political party convention.  I couldn’t find a record of vice-chancellors’ statements –  although given the amount of fee income they derive from Chinese students, and the (Chinese-controlled) Confucius Institutes  several allow as part of their universities, what she says wasn’t a great surprise.  As for Peter Goodfellow and Nigel Haworth, that did surprise me a bit, but sure enough a quick search took me to Xinhua/China Daily stories under the heading “Global chorus of praise for party leadership”, with quotes from these heads of our two largest political parties (along with those from various parties in other countries), prefaced this way

The ongoing 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China has received messages of greeting from foreign leaders, political parties and organizations around the world. They speak highly of the Party’s leadership as well as China’s socioeconomic development and global contributions, and express full confidence that the CPC will lead China to even greater success. The following is an edited summary of these messages.

These people –  these parties –  are a disgrace, selling out their (our) birthright for a mess of potage.    All the more so at a conference which set the public seal on the ascendancy of Xi Jinping, whose term in office has been marked by ever-less freedom, an ever-more instrusive state, a much more internationally aggressive foreign policy……as we see the stepped up United Front Work programme of influence-seeking in other countries.  It is as if our political parties had lost any sense of self-respect.

Brady urged New Zealand to take the issues more seriously, and to look to work closely with Australia and Canada, countries which face similar issues to those in New Zealand –  and where the governments have been more willing to confront the problems.   She highlighted the quote from a Chinese diplomat that appears in her paper

after Premier Li Keqiang visited New Zealand in 2017, a Chinese diplomat favourably compared New Zealand-China relations to the level of closeness China had with Albania in the early 1960s.

As she noted, we should hope that this was very far from true.  Albania had been the most isolated member of the eastern-bloc then, and we should not be comfortable as the most isolated member of the western-bloc now.   In making that comment she was probably alluding to the reports of growing unease among our traditional partners about the closeness of New Zealand governments (and our political/business establishment) to China.

But in many respect Brady was mostly traversing –  although presenting it to a wider audience –  ground that her fascinating paper has already made familiar.  My main reason for writing this post was some mix of astonishment and further dismay at the panel discussion that followed the Brady interview.   There were three panellists: Josie Pagani (who has Labour affiliations), Laila Harre (former Alliance Cabinet minister), and former diplomat and now lobbyist Charles Finny.   Add in the presenter, and they were all falling over themselves to play down any sort of issue –  with the possible exception of something around political donations, with Laila Harre using the opportunity to make the case for state-funding of political parties.

The word “racist” was never explicitly mentioned, but the panellists and presenters seemed to live in terror of being denounced as “racist” if they raised any concerns about a foreign government’s activities in New Zealand.    It was, after all, exactly the approach taken by (now) senior Opposition MP (and former Attorney-General) Chris Finlayson, who then added in a touch of personal abuse of Professor Brady for “good” measure.   Pagani expressed concern that there was “an element of singling out individuals” (MPs Jian Yang and Raymond Huo) about the paper, and the presenter chimed in with the suggestion that no one raises concerns about (American-born and raised) Greens minister, Julie-Anne Genter.

I’m not sure about anyone else, but I’ve explicitly addressed the Genter situation here previously.  Had Genter worked for the American military intelligence system, and spent her time hob-nobbing with the American Embassy, articulating American positions on issues, I’d have many of the same concerns as I have about Jian Yang (with the –  not trivial – difference that the United States is a historic friend and ally).  It probably wouldn’t be appropriate for such a person to be in our Parliament, as we could not be confident that their national loyalties lay exclusively with New Zealand.  But here’s the thing: no one has ever raised a shred of evidence to suggest that Genter’s past or present includes anything of that sort.    (Personally, I’d be reluctant to vote for someone for Parliament who had immigrated from anywhere as an adult, but there is still a material difference between Jian Yang –  and Raymond Huo –  and Julie-Anne Genter.  And the important differences aren’t about skin colour or sex, but about demonstrable patterns of conduct.)

But the most vocal, and egregious, of the panellists was the lobbyist Charles Finny.  He has sallied forth in defence of Jian Yang previously, and I wrote about his comments here.   He’s a lobbyist, whose livelihood, depends on “getting on” with the main political parties –  which does make one wonder about TVNZ’s judgement about having as a panellist someone who will be ever-emollient at best.  He knows a great deal about China, but can’t afford to say what he knows openly.

Here is some of what I wrote about Finny’s previous effort in defence of Jian Yang.

Finny’s article is headed “Time for NZ political parties to take the migrant vote seriously” (actually I was pretty sure Labour had been doing just that in South Auckland for decades), but his focus is on the ethnic Chinese vote, and Jian Yang.

On the last day of the Westie experience [some years ago] I was introduced to a National Party candidate, Dr Jian Yang. He was teaching in the political science department at the University of Auckland. We talked about his academic background, about what he had done in China before leaving for Australia (where he completed his PhD at ANU), about the China-New Zealand relationship and about the Chinese Embassy and Consulate network in New Zealand.

It was clear Dr Yang was very well-connected to the leadership of the Chinese communities in New Zealand, as well as to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China and its Auckland Consulate. He also had significant connections in China, both to government figures, and to the business community. This was the first of many meetings I have had with Dr Yang. We have met in his context as a MP, as a member of select committees and at social functions. We have travelled together to China and elsewhere as part of official delegations. It is my understanding that Dr Yang has become one of National’s most successful fundraisers, in much the same way Raymond Huo is important for the Labour Party’s fundraising efforts.

Did they, one wonders, back in 2010/11 discuss Yang’s background in the Communist Party and his teaching role in the Chinese foreign intelligence services?

What is astonishing is that one of New Zealand’s most-experienced China experts is, at least in public, untroubled by any of this: the close connections to a foreign government’s embassy, even as he serves as a member of the New Zealand Parliament, or the key role he describes both Yang, and Labour’s Raymond Huo playing in party fundraising?  Not that many decades ago, the convention – perhaps not always rigorously observed – was that elected politicians stayed well clear of party fundraising efforts, for good reasons to help maintain the integrity of the parliamentary system.

Finny is in full defence mode for Yang (and presumably Huo).

But it was a strange campaign period, with political players employing various strategies. Among the twists and turns, a rather strange and well-coordinated analysis/investigation was undertaken and then reported by Newsroom and the Financial Times about the past of Dr Yang. Subsequent coverage has led to calls for Dr Yang’s resignation.

Now, I have been involved in politics long enough to know that there are few stories of substance to emerge in the middle of an election campaign by coincidence (particularly ones that are so thoroughly researched). This was a story suggested by someone who had an agenda of some sort – and the timing was intentional.

If 10 days before an election isn’t a reasonable time to ask questions about a candidate’s background. I’m not sure when is? And it isn’t as if, to date, anything those media outlets reported has been disproved or refuted?

And Finny has nothing at all to say about Professor Brady’s paper, the timing of which was determined by the dates of an international conference she was presenting at. As he talks up – no doubt correctly – the importance of the migrant vote, surely suggestions that a major foreign power might be actively engaged in attempting to control most of the local Chinese-language media, and Chinese cultural associations, might have been worthy of some mention?

In his comments yesterday, Finny went further.   He confirmed that he had known right back in 2010/11 that Jian Yang had served in the Chinese military intelligence system.  The voters, of course, were not so fortunate, until Newsroom and the Financial Times finally revealed that background a couple of months ago.

Finny confirmed that he knew both Jian Yang and Raymond Huo, the latter less well.  He observed that he thought it was great that we had Chinese MPs, and had no problem with them being in our Parliament.  But then he went on to note that he was always very careful what he said to either man, because he knew that both of them were very close to the Chinese Embassy.  One could only shake one’s head in some mix of astonishment and despair that a leading former diplomat is just fine with having two people in our Parliament whom he doesn’t feel confident about talking openly to, apparently because he thinks that anything he says could end up back at the Chinese Embassy.    Out of his own mouth…….

There was a belated (and lame) attempt to cover himself, as Finny observed that “many of us are close to other countries’ embassies.  I don’t suppose that anyone has concerns that if someone in public life in New Zealand talks to Charles Finny that whatever they say might end up with the American, Australia, or whatever embassy he had in mind.  There is quite a difference between having a good working relationship with the embassy of another country –  probably quite important if you are involved in trade lobbying etc –  and having divided loyalties.  Charles Finny served New Zealand for decades as a diplomat, and I’m sure no one has reason to doubt his national loyalties.  Were he to move to the United States, get elected to Congress, and maintain very close ties to the New Zealand Embassy, Americans might reasonably have doubts (in that hypothetical).

Finny also attempted to defend Jian Yang and Raymond Huo by suggesting that their first loyalties might well be to New Zealand, but that they would have views about how New Zealand’s interests might be best served.  I suspect Arthur Seyss-Inquart had views about how Austria’s best interests in the 1930s were served too, or Jozef Tiso in Slovakia.  It is a defence almost impossible to take seriously.  We need to know that our MPs have a national loyalty only to New Zealand, and the best interests of New Zealanders, and not to an advancement of a foreign power’s view of those interests.

After all, if (private citizen and lobbyist) Charles Finny is always “very careful” about what he says in the presence of Jian Yang or Raymond Huo, how much more uneasy should we be our the presence of these MPs in the caucuses of our two main political parties (one previously in the government caucus, the other now)?   Should those MPs’ peers always be “very careful” what they say in the presence of Yang and Huo?  Finny’s advice would appear to be so.    Both serve on select committees, which benefit from departmental briefings –  indeed, given the shortage of experienced Labour MPs, Huo will almost certainly be chairing a select committee this term.  Would Finny regard it as acceptable for these men –  who he is “always careful” with – to serve as ministers in our government?  In any of these fora –  caucuses, select committees, Cabinet (or travel with senior ministers) –  there is likely to be information or angles that the Chinese Embassy would regard as valuable.  I’m not suggesting either man passes on such information: it was Finny who appeared to make that claim.  It was an extraordinary concession.

As for Josie Pagani claiming that there was “an element of singling out individuals”, well in a way she is correct.  Brady’s paper singles out specific individuals about whom there are specific reasons for concern –  the exact opposite, for example, of tarring an entire community.  Here are the some of specific paragraphs from Brady’s paper.

On Jian Yang she has several pages of material, including

As widely reported in the New Zealand and international media in 2017, Yang Jian worked for fifteen years in China’s military intelligence sector. It was a history which he has admitted he concealed on his New Zealand permanent residency application and job applications in New Zealand,104 as well as his public profile in New Zealand—at least in English sources.

However in an article in the People’s Daily (Renmin ribao) magazine, Huanqiu renwu (Global People) in 2013, which was republished in a number of websites, Yang Jian gave an extensive interview detailing aspects of his earliest years, his career in China, and subsequent activities in Australia and New Zealand. Yang Jian entered the PLA-Air Force Engineering College to study English in 1978; he taught at the same college for five years after graduation, trained at the People’s Liberation Army Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute for his first Masters degree, studied for a year at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for US-China Studies at Nanjing University, and after that, from 1990 to 1993 taught English to students at the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute who were studying to intercept and decipher English language communications.

Yang Jian does not mention his 15 year career and studies with the PLA on his National Party online cv, and it also does not appear on the online cv provided for his profile when he was a lecturer at the University of Auckland. But he did provide this information in a cv in English to be circulated to Chinese officials which he gave to the New Zealand Embassy in China, preparatory to a visit to China in 2012, the year after he entered parliament.  And a Chinese language report promoting the setting up of the National Party’s Blue Dragons organization (an ethnic Chinese youth group within that party), highlights his studies at the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute, while not mentioning any other details about his working life or other tertiary studies when he was living in China. The Financial Times speculated that these selective mentions of his past links with the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute were meant as a “dog whistle” to the Chinese community in New Zealand.

She goes on to note to his role as key fundraiser, access to material that someone with his background would never get as an official, and noting that “Yang is seen at most official events involving the PRC embassy and the ethnic Chinese community in New Zealand.”

And of Huo she writes

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 …..[expletive deleted] 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 these are people establishment figures like Charles Finny think are just fine to serve in our Parliament?   Even if they do choose to be “very careful” about what they say in these presence of these MPs?  Extraordinary.

Of course, both Jian Yang and Raymond Huo continue to lie low.  TVNZ approached them for comment –  and I suspect would have been only to happy to have broadcast an interview with either.  Jian Yang apparently had nothing to add to what he has already said –  including that he had falsely represented his past on immigration or citizenship papers because the Chinese authorities told him to –  and Raymond Huo was quoted as rejecting “any insinuations against his character”.  Perhaps he should take that up with Charles Finny.

It was pretty extraordinary when, in the previous Parliament, Todd Barclay refused to front the press, or be interviewed by Police.  But at least there was his right to avoid self-incrimination in a potential criminal context to consider.  For two newly-re-elected MPs to simply refuse to front serious questions about their past and present activities, raised by major media outlets, serious academics, and (now) a leading lobbyist and former senior diplomat is just extraordinary.

What is perhaps more extraordinary is that they are presumably doing this on advice.  No one doubts that if the whips and party leaders told them to front up (or else), they would do so.  So we can only assume that the party leaders are complicit in their refusal to front up to the voters.

Sadly, that wouldn’t be very surprising.    Bill English tells the media they will simply have to talk to Jian Yang, while knowing that Jian Yang is refusing to front up to any English-language media.  And questions as to whether is appropriate to have a Communist Party member and former Chinese intelligence officer in his caucus, and as a key fundraiser, are really matters for the leader.  In fact, in the post-election reshuffle, Jian Yang actually won a small promotion –  now National Party spokesman on statistics.

The current Prime Minister and the leader of the Green Party are totally silent on the matter.  And although our Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs did utter the odd concerned noise before he took office, there has been nothing since.    The latest line –  reported by Newsroom –  now that he has rejoined the establishment  is that

However, Peters said he did not raise the issue with [Chinese foreign minister] Wang, blaming previous governments for not taking action.

Perhaps, but you are the government now, and the issues haven’t gone away.   Perhaps even more incredible –  or par for the course –  was this

Peters said he had never wanted an inquiry into China’s influence in New Zealand.

“I raised two things, I said the fact the Australians had expressed serious concern and that this was, in terms of the Brady report, a highly internationally recognised thesis and finding – I didn’t ask for a full-scale public inquiry and I’m not asking for one now.”

However, a press release issued by Peters on September 19, titled “China’s Growing Control in New Zealand Must Be Investigated”, quoted Brady as saying “a special commission was needed to investigate China’s impact on our democracy”.

Which might be slightly less concerning if there was any sign, even a shred, that the Minister of Foreign Affairs or the Prime Minister were taking the issue seriously in private, and were willing to do anything about it.

Is there really no political figure, in our entire political system, willing to stand up for the interests and values of New Zealanders, for our heritage as one of the longest-established democracies in the world?  Or to recognise, and openly call out, the nature of the Chinese regime?  Hard to believe really –  decades ago our then Labour government was at the forefront of resisting the appeasement of Germany – but for now the evidence seems to point in one direction, and it isn’t encouraging,

 

 

Jian Yang again/still

In September, a couple of weeks before the election, the Financial Times and Newsroom published a story about the National MP Jian Yang.  The story revealed that Yang, who lived in China until age 32, had been a member of the Chinese Communist Party, and a member of the Chinese military intelligence establishment, and suggested that Yang –  formerly a member of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee –  may have been investigated by the Security Intelligence Service.    Questions were raised as to how much of this background the National Party had been aware of when they first selected him in 2011.  None of it had been known to the voters at the time.

The story got a day’s coverage in various local media and then largely went cold in New Zealand, even though it was just before the election, and although it happened to coincide with the release of a major paper by Canterbury University politics professor (and China expert) Anne-Marie Brady, raising substantial and documented concerns about the influence China was seeking to exert in New Zealand, both through the (former) Chinese diaspora (people in public life like Yang and Labour MP Raymond Huo), among Chinese New Zealanders, and (for example) through the recruitment of various prominent New Zealanders to well-remunerated roles in which they might be either well-disposed to Chinese interests, or at least unable/unwilling to voice any concerns about China’s activities and policies.    Professor Brady herself summarised the issue thus

This policy paper examines China’s foreign political influence activities under Xi Jinping, using one very representative state, New Zealand, as a case study. New Zealand’s relationship with China is of interest, because the Chinese government regards New Zealand as an exemplar of how it would like its relations to be with other states. In 2013, China’s New Zealand ambassador described the two countries’ relationship as “a model to other Western countries”. And after Premier Li Keqiang visited New Zealand in 2017, a Chinese diplomat favourably compared New Zealand-China relations to the level of closeness China had with Albania in the early 1960s. The paper considers the potential impact of China’s expanded political influence activities in New Zealand and how any effects could be mitigated and countered.

Yang himself has largely avoided the media.    But papers released under the Official Information Act confirmed that he had not told New Zealand authorities about his involvement with Chinese military intelligence, instead suggesting he had worked and studied at some quite different institutions.   Asked why, he responded that the Chinese authorities had told him to do so when he had left China (years earlier), and that was the way things were done in China.   That only heightened the concerns.

I wrote various pieces about the issue, noting (for example) that we should no more regard it as acceptable to have in our Parliament a former Chinese Communist Party member, former member of China’s military intelligence, someone who continues to hob-nob with the Chinese embassy, and who has never said a public critical word about Communist China (even as Xi Jinping increases the repressiveness of the regime) than it would have been to have a former KGB/GRU party member, associating closely with the Soviet Embassy, in our Parliament in the 1970s.  No one would have countenanced the latter.  It remains staggering –  and alarming about either the blindness of our elites, or the extent to which they’ve been suborned  (eg Yang is acknowledged as a major National Party fundraiser) –  that the Yang situation still appears to be regarded as acceptable in many quarters.

My own direct involvement was pretty tangential, when at a local candidates meeting a couple of days before the election, I asked a senior National Party minister –  Attorney-General and Minister for the SIS no less – about why it was acceptable to have such a person as a National Party candidate and MP.    Disgracefully, Chris Finlayson suggested that any concerns were just racist and that Professor Brady just didn’t like any foreigners.  Almost as disgracefully, the candidates of the other parties sat mute.

The story has had continued coverage abroad, including a nice New York Times piece a few weeks ago.  Serious –  pretty liberal –  international media such as the NYT and FT have taken the story seriously.    Our own media was slow to.  No doubt that suited the politicians –  at least those of the major parties.

But this week, the story seems to have gathered a fresh head of steam.   Our new Minister of Foreign Affairs, who had  previously talked on the need for an inquiry, by last week was avoiding questions on that topic, suggesting instead that the media could give the issue some more coverage.   And so, no doubt coincidentally, they did.

First, there was a substantial article by Matt Nippert in the Herald. Nippert notes that his article drew on “interviews with diplomatic and intelligence sources over the past month, including several with current security clearances”  –  which is surely less impressive than it sounds, as huge numbers of people in Wellington have security clearances (I did for years) –  but those sources seem to have added only a bit more colour, rather than revealing anything substantially new.    Nippert’s article is organised around what he calls “three unanswered questions” regarding Jian Yang:

  • What is Luoyang University?  This is the institution Yang claimed he had studied and taught at, rather than disclosing from the start that for much of his time he had actually been at a People’s Liberation Army academy.
  • Did Yang have access to sensitive materials (as an MP, member of the foreign affairs committe, and as –  otherwise junior –  MP accompanying John Key and Tim Groser on official trips to China)?
  • Why the official silence?

I’m not sure these really are the biggest issues now.   We know –  because Yang told us –  that his citizenship or residency applications details were (deliberately) misleading.    That is probably quite serious at a personal level, and probably warrants more from government departments than we’ve had to date.

Both Internal Affairs and Immigration NZ have said the revelations about Yang’s background and apparent lack of disclosure were not grounds to review their handling of the matter. A spokesman Immigration NZ went as far as to say “no new information has come to light which would warrant an investigation”, despite the facts being novel enough to warrant front-page coverage last month in the London-based Financial Times.

But, frankly, it seems like a second-order issue.  A man with his background, and ongoing associations, should not be a New Zealand MP, whether or not his citizenship application was all in order.

As for the information Yang may have been exposed to, even Nippert’s sources aren’t really alarmed.

Another source said Yang’s background – and closeness to New Zealand’s PRC embassy – was well-known in senior Wellington circles and had led to self-censorship. “I’m sure everyone is aware of that, and would be careful about what they say in his presence,” the source said.

“Would Jian have seen the briefing papers that were given to John Key? Almost certainly. He sat up the front of the aircraft with the Prime Minister and his advisers – I can’t imagine for a moment he didn’t have access to it.”

The source said this briefing document – unlikely to include top-secret classed intelligence from the Five Eyes network – would have been given a classification of confidential or higher.

In other word, just not that sensitive, even on the government’s own official classifications.

If there was  particular risk to New Zealand interests around his official position it was probably much more about the possibility that he might have one day become a Minister of the Crown.

The Herald tackled the third question –  the official silence –  in an editorial on Tuesday.

International media have rightly shown a keen interest in the affair.  But locally, interest – and answers – have been strangely muted. Neither National leader Bill English nor Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern seemed willing to address the issue during the election campaign. NZ First’s Winston Peters initially demanded an inquiry, but has gone silent on the matter since his elevation to Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Ardern has inherited a role that includes oversight of New Zealand’s intelligence agencies and will undoubtedly have been briefed on the Yang situation. She needs to reassure herself and then, in appropriate fashion, the public that the matter has been – or will promptly be – properly addressed.

But again, the issue of the intelligence services seems to be rather of a red-herring.     Yang, after all, now certainly has no access to anything particularly secret –  he’s an Opposition backbencher.  On the other hand, Raymond Huo –  who appears to also be closely associated with China’s United Front Work Department efforts in New Zealand –  is part of the governing party.    As Professor Brady puts it

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’.”

How sick is that? Invoking associations with Xi Jinping.

As a citizen, what worries me isn’t so much backbenchers giving away New Zealand secrets to China –  apart from anything else, they generally won’t have such access –  as the way in which such Members of Parliament seem to act as if the interests and views of the increasingly oppressive Chinese government and Communist Party are things for them to advance in New Zealand.   That is an issue both main parties look as though they need to confront, rather than being an issue primarily for the intelligence services.  Migrants should be welcome, once they become citizens, to be elected as members of Parliament, but it is probably particularly important for such members to be clear –  not just in words, but in conduct –  that their loyalties are only to the interest of New Zealand and (all) its citizens.  If Chris Liddell  –  a New Zealander on the White House staff –   spent lots of time hob-nobbing with the New Zealand Embassy, the US might reasonably wonder whose interests he was serving.  If Julie-Anne Genter does (which I’m sure she doesn’t) something similar with the US Embassy here, the same concerns would appropriately arise.  And recall that China is not just any country; it is today’s Soviet Union. A threat to all sorts of countries, including the free ones of east Asia.

Our main non-commercial media outlet, Radio New Zealand, was very late to the issue.  But this week they too have done their bit.   First, Bill English finally faced a reasonably searching interview on the subject (on Morning Report).  It was an astonishingly feeble performance, featuring repeated refusals to answer questions in any way other than “you’d have to ask Dr Yang that”, when the leader of the National Party knows that Yang has refused to make himself available for a proper interview, and for weeks has refused to answer any questions (Nippert’s experience as well).    The former Attorney-General, who claimed it was all racist, still holds a senior position in Mr English’s caucus.

And then there was John Campbell, who in his inimitable style last night illustrated the repeated refusal of Yang –  an elected member of Parliament –  to front the media.  According to Campbell, Radio NZ has been trying to get him to talk every day for weeks.  Calls simply go through to voicemail and are never returned.  Radio NZ even went to Yang’s house, but couldn’t get past the (unanswered) buzzer at the gate.

It reflects shockingly poorly on almost everyone in political life involved in this situation:

From the National Party side:

  • Jian Yang
  • Bill English,
  • Peter Goodfellow, President of the National Party,
  • Chris Finlayson, and
  • the rest of the caucus, not one of whom has been willing to break ranks (although Radio NZ did claim senior National Party sources were becoming increasingly uneasy).

And what of the new government?

  • There is the Prime Minister, who has never uttered a disapproving word, in the election campaign or since, about Dr Yang (not even about his silence),
  • The Minister of Foreign Affairs,
  • The leader of the Green Party, a party which appears not to rely on lots of diaspora fundraising, who is often strong on protecting our sovereignty, and yet who raised no concerns,
  • Raymond Huo, who surely some media should ask for a proper interview.

And then, of course, there are the obsequious members of the New Zealand China Council, and former leading figures in the National Party with a personal economic interest in keeping quiet.

Jian Yang’s political career is probably now effectively over.  Perhaps he’ll linger for a while, but it is inconceivable that he could rise any higher.  It is a disgraceful reflection on New Zealand, and on the National Party – and those other parties who could have spoken out and didn’t –  that an unrepentent Communist, unrepentant former intelligence services member of a hostile, expansionist government with a total disregard for human rights, sits in our Parliament still.  And simply refuses to face the media.  But that particular damage is probably done, it is just now a matter of tidying up the mess at some point.

The bigger questions would seem to be about the political and business culture that has been so indifferent to the specifics of Yang, and of Huo, to political fundraising from foreign sources, and to the sort of influence-seeking activities –  both among New Zealand Chinese citizens and in the wider political and economic system –  that Professor Brady has highlighted.    Professor Brady’s paper raises issues that really should be addressed in a proper inquiry, but also in some considerable soul-searching among New Zealand’s political and business elite about how New Zealanders’ interests, and reputation, as a free and independent state are best-served, and how best we –  and similar countries –  resist the inroads the Chinese Communist Party is making and, we can assume from the last Party congress, will only continue to seek to make.  As I noted in an earlier post, trade has muddied the waters: we had a clearer-eyed perspective on the Soviet Union than we seem to have about Communist China, a state on whose fortunes various elite institutions/companies and their chief executives (but not New Zealand’s overall fortunes) depend.   Perhaps our media too might ask themselves some questions, about what took them so long, made them so seemingly reluctant, to ask the hard questions about these issues.  Overseas comentators have been willing to, but the involvement of much of our own media seems quite halting and reluctant at best.

 

Australia does better than us

I’m old-fashioned.  Key bureaucrats should mostly be seen and not heard.  Officials advise, ministers decide.  And ministers are the ones we get to hold to account, weakly or otherwise, through the political and electoral process.

The chief executive of New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade doesn’t appear to give many speeches, at least not on-the-record.  That is, mostly, as it should be.  But the Secretary of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson, gave a very interesting address in Adelaide the other day on Australia and China.  It was sufficiently clear and forthright that one can only assume she had the full endorsement of the Australian government.

The speech was given in a slightly odd context.  It was the annual lecture of the Confucius Institute at the University of Adelaide.    There are hundreds of these Confucius Institutes in universities around the world (several in New Zealand),  funded by the government of the People’s Republic of China to promote the interests of China. A couple of years back

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) called for agreements between Confucius Institutes and nearly 100 universities to be either cancelled or renegotiated so that they properly reflected Western values of free speech.

“Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom,” the AAUP said in a statement, urging US universities to “cease their involvement” with the institutes unless major reforms are instituted.

China’s network of 300 Confucius Institutes – including 11 branches in on British university campuses – can be a lucrative source of funds for universities but are exempt from many of the basic rules governing academic discourse.

They are designed to project a favourable image of China’s ruling Communist Party around the world through language and cultural programmes, but are allowed to restrict discussions of topics unpalatable to China’s ruling Communist Party such as the occupation of Tibet.

The University of Chicago has shut their Confucius Institute over related concerns.

But if Frances Adamson didn’t tackle that specific issue head-on (and had some polite remarks to her hosts), what she did say was pretty blunt, even if none of it should have been controversial in a free, open and democratic society reflecting on its relationship with an expansionist repressive authoritarian state that is moving further away from, not nearer to, the sort of values that have shaped the West.

While we are complementary economies, there is no getting around the fact that Australia and China are very different places, with different political and legal systems, values and world views.

A pretty simple statement, but I’m not sure I’ve seen its like from our own leading ministers and officials.

Partly this is because the closer we get, and the more we interact, the more we need to account for and manage the differences between us – differences that cannot be wished away but that should not prevent the further development of relations between us.
This emphasises the need for a healthy dose of tolerance, for mutual respect and for openness to the patterns of give and take that underpin any successful relationship.
We understand the hesitation in China to ‘air the laundry’ so to speak.

Australians are happy – perhaps too happy sometimes – to tell each other exactly what we think.

This of course reflects different cultural attitudes:

In China, the thinking is that proper friends will not say things that offend;

Whereas in Australia, a willingness to be frank is proof of a genuine friendship.

These characteristics apply as well to our government-level interactions, something that both sides have come to recognise (though not necessarily always accept!).

Each of our approaches has utility, and we will need large measures of both respect and candour as we conduct the far-sighted diplomacy necessary to bridge our differences and progress our common interests.

Both approaches, the saving of face and the preference for frankness, also have shortcomings.

For our part, Australians should, and I am sure will, be authentic and true to our own selves, while respecting the practice of others.

Australia is a pluralistic society: a place where open debate, individual rights and freedoms are the foundation upon which we have built our political and economic systems. We are a society that thrives on the competition of ideas.

The health and vibrancy of Australia’s democracy is fundamental to our national success – it helps explain why migrants come to our shores and why they can succeed based on their talents and hard work.

And to students, in the context of various recent reports in Australia of a minority of PRC students, and PRC-dominated Chinese students associations, trying to suppress discussion

And here I want to address my remarks to those of you who are international students:
We want you to experience our contest of ideas and participate fully in it, as it is part of what constitutes an authentic Australian education.

You have paid your money; you are surely entitled to the full experience.

No doubt there will be times when you encounter things which to you are unusual, unsettling, or perhaps seem plain wrong. And can I tell you, as someone who has studied overseas in three different continents, if you aren’t encountering strange and challenging things you aren’t getting out enough! So when you do, let me encourage you not to silently withdraw, or blindly condemn, but to respectfully engage.

The silencing of anyone in our society – from students to lecturers to politicians – is an affront to our values.

Enforced silence runs counter to academic freedom. It is only by discussion, and of course discussion which is courteous, that falsehoods can be corrected.

Respectful and patient discourse with those with whom you disagree is a fundamental skill for our ever-more-connected contemporary world.

and to a wider audience

There has been much attention in recent months to the quality and reliability of news and information available to us.

We have seen accusations of ‘fake news’ and we have seen attempts at untoward influence and interference.

This is worrying and is being taken seriously in a number of countries. In our case, the Prime Minister has said: “The sovereignty of Australia, the sovereignty of our democratic processes, free from foreign interference is a matter of the highest concern.”

The Australian Government takes seriously its responsibility to ensure a robust legal framework within which free and open debate is protected and can flourish. That work is proceeding.

As well, Governments themselves must expect, and invite, scrutiny of their actions and their policy positions.

As China becomes more important to Australia’s future and to that of the world, it follows that there will be more scrutiny of China, including the ways in which it seeks to exercise influence internationally.

All of us here, as participants in a free society, have responsibilities as well.

It is our responsibility to challenge and question ‘fake news’. We can readily reduce the risk of being manipulated by seeking out collateral and confirmatory information, by testing through a second opinion.

And when confronted with awkward choices, it is up to us to choose our response, whether to make an uncomfortable compromise or decide instead to remain true to our values, “immune from intolerance or external influence” as Adelaide University’s founders envisaged.

The prospect of public scrutiny is an excellent discipline, and a vital corrective for our political culture and our institutions, including our universities.

We want to ensure these institutions remain secure and resilient.

Our success depends in part on the legal framework, but also on the attitudes and responses of all of us when exposed to unexpected pressure.

And in contrast, what do we have in New Zealand?   Almost none of our political party leaders has been willing to comment in any substantive way on the concerns raised in the recent paper by Professor Anne-Marie Brady.    The leaders of the National Party, the Labour Party, and the Green Party seem totally unbothered about –  and unwilling to substantively discuss – having as a member of Parliament a (now) acknowledged member of the Chinese Communist Party and former member of the Chinese intelligence services, who is now widely credited as one of the National Party’s chief fundraisers.  Speeches on China topics by our own Ministers of Foreign Affairs seem mostly to take on a fawning and deferential tone, as if they are afraid of asserting, or embarrassed by, our own values.  And the Attorney-General was just reduced to making stuff up (lies) and personal attacks on institutions raising concerns.

The speech by the Australian Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been widely reported in the Australian media – and she’s just a (very senior) bureaucrat.   And what of New Zealand?

It remains striking, puzzling, and more than a little disturbing, just how little media attention either the general or the specific issues have received in the New Zealand media.    There is a column in this morning’s Herald by Bryan Gould, former Vice-Chancellor of Waikato University and former UK Labour MP prompted by the Brady paper (I’m told the column is on line but I couldn’t find it UPDATE:  here).   In it Gould opens thus:

The Herald’s readiness to report the important conclusions of University of Canterbury research into links between China and past and present New Zealand politicians and their family members is to be commended.

Surely in a serious country with media doing the job of providing searching scrutiny, it wouldn’t be cause for self-congratulation, but something just taken for granted?  A leading academic raises serious concerns about the extent of a powerful country’s influence in New Zealand and he seriously suggests that it might not be reported by the country’s largest newspaper?

It would be interesting to know whether the issues have been reported in the Chinese Herald (I gather not), but even if we stick to the English language media, just how much reporting has there in fact been?  I found a total of two stories in the Herald, one (on a quite specific element) on Stuff, nothing on Radio New Zealand (a non-commercial broadcaster with an extensive news and current affairs operation), a single story of Newsroom, nothing on TVNZ and nothing on Newshub.  Perhaps I missed the odd story, but what is striking is not the New Zealand coverage of the issues and concerns, but the lack of coverage and lack (apparently, thus far) of any sustained follow-up.    (And has the New Zealand media ever looked searchingly at those Confucius Institutes?)

The contrast with Australia is striking, worrying, and sad.  I don’t really buy the stories of extreme economic vulnerability to China, but if anything Australia’s direct economic exposure is a bit larger than ours.  And yet officials, ministers, and media in Australia are willing to speak up, and have an open and vigorous debate on the issues.  Reasonable people might differ on appropriate policy responses, but who is seriously going to defend the deafening silence as the way in which a free and open society should handle such issues?