Choices: New Zealand and the PRC

There was an article on interest.co.nz the other day from the New Zealand resident American geopolitical and strategic affairs consultant, Paul Buchanan.  In his column –  well actually even in the headline –  he argues that

New Zealand is facing a very tough choice between our security interests and our economic interests, and that choice may have to be made very soon.

This is, as he sees it, a choice between the PRC and that of the United States (and our traditional allies).

Perhaps, but I reckon Buchanan misunderstands the nature of New Zealand’s economic exposure to the PRC.  The economic interests involved aren’t those of the country as whole –  countries make their own prosperity – but rather of a relative handful of, perhaps politically influential, businesses (and universities)  And if there is a choice it is more likely to be between the sort of values and friendships that have guided this country for the last 100 years and more, and those of one of the most brutal aggressive regimes on the planet; a regime which, as this article highlights, is becoming worse –  more threatening to its own and others –  not better.  It should be no choice at all, unless our politicians are now quite without shame.  Values and beliefs –  the things that unite people, communities, countries, beyond just common material interests –  don’t appear in Buchanan’s story.

Buchanan sets up his article noting that New Zealand`s trade and security relationships had diverged.   He seems to present it as a matter of active choice, whereas I would see it –  at least on the trade side –  as a natural evolution.  There was no conceivable world in which the bulk of our firms` overseas trade (and it is firms that trade, not governments) would continue to be with UK counterparts, or even with Australian or US firms.   That is true in respect of both imports and exports.   Our previous position –  buying and selling from firms in a single dominant country –  was historically not the norm.   These days –  though you wouldn’t know it from Buchanan’s article –  our foreign trade is relatively unusually widely spread.  No single country’s firms –  not even the very largest or the very closest –  take or provides more than a quarter of our foreign trade.  And, unfortunately, our foreign trade is rather smaller, as a share of GDP, than it would be if our economy were more successful.   To the extent that one worries about trade with the PRC –  and some individual firms clearly should, having chosen to sup so large with the “devil – a much larger share of Australia’s trade is with PRC counterparts than New Zealand’s.

Buchanan presents New Zealand as caught on the horns of a dilemma, or as he puts it

…that makes the New Zealand’s stance more akin to straddling a barbed wire fence while standing on ice blocks rather than balancing between competing great power interests.

It seems he sees it as a choice because he has bought into the narrative, often promoted by the previous government, that somehow our (so-called) prosperity (weak productivity, shrinking tradables sector etc) owes much to the PRC.

On the one hand, the Chinese presence in New Zealand has been materially beneficial. But that has come with strings attached that are believed to compromise the integrity of New Zealand institutions. For its part, New Zealand’s Anglophone orientation has not recently paid similar material dividends even though it gives it a seat at the table in security meetings with our traditional partners.

But where is the evidence that, in anything other than a willing buyer/willing seller sense, New Zealanders as a whole have particularly profited from the relationship with the PRC?   Is there reason to suppose that more milk powder would have been produced, if PRC buyers hadn`t purchased it from New Zealand sellers?  It is a globally-traded product, and what isn`t sold in one place is sold in another. In that respect, it is a little like oil.   The same goes for many of our exports, which aren`t specifically designed from the Chinese market.  And no one supposes that the PRC is about to impose export bans on the sort of stuff New Zealand firms purchase from the PRC.

Trade is, generally, mutually beneficial, and so things that disrupt trade patterns are generally costly.  But the cost of any particular disruption can easily be overstated, especially in a bilateral relationship where total exports to a particular country (in this case, New Zealand to the PRC) total only around 5 per cent of GDP.   Dairy prices fluctuate from week to week and, quite a lot, from season to season.  On the other side, so do oil prices.  But economies have a lot of capacity to adapt, and instruments like monetary policy and a flexible exchange rate that help smooth the adjustment.  It isn’t always easy for particular firms –  but they’ve made choices about their exposures, and the failure to manage them effectively – but the focus of policymakers needs to be on the economy, and country, as a whole.

Buchanan sets up a looming almost inevitable choice, about rising US/PRC tensions (economic, but even more so strategic)

The question is therefore not a matter of if but of when and for/against who?

He offers this scenario of “going with” the PRC (although it isn’t entirely clear what specifically he thinks this choice would involve doing, or not).

Should New Zealand choose China, it will lose the security umbrella and suffer the diplomatic wrath of our most traditional and closest international partners. The consequences will be felt in a loss of trade and diplomatic ostracism, but most acutely in damaged security relations with other Western democracies. The Five Eyes listening posts in New Zealand will be dismantled and all of the highly sensitive equipment, to say nothing of archived records and stored data, will be removed under duress. This could prompt a revolt within the New Zealand intelligence community given its Anglophone orientation, and when coupled with “dark” influence operations by former allies could cause civil unrest amongst those disinclined to cast their lot with the Chinese. It could even lead to covert and overt hostile responses from jilted partners, who will likely discontinue military relations with New Zealand, including sale and supply of equipment. There will be a moment of national reckoning.

I`d certainly join any protests against such a choice – utterly morally reprehensible as it would be.  It would be akin to Marshall Petain treating with Hitler, with less excuse. It isn`t entirely clear why Buchanan thinks this opting for the PRC option is a realistic possibility though.   All he offers is economic coercion initiated by the PRC.

Should New Zealand opt to side with the US and its security allies, it will suffer serious economic losses as a result of Chinese retaliation. This has already been presaged by the PRC response to New Zealand’s support for the International Court of Arbitration’s ruling in favour of the Philippines in its dispute with China over island-building in contested waters, where state-controlled media editorials warned New Zealand over the consequences of siding against China (including in trade). More broadly, there is ample record of Chinese economic retaliation against countries that do not toe its preferred line on a number of issues, so New Zealand has both immediate and contextual reasons to see the writing on the wall.

This is all rather overwrought.   I’ve written previously about PRC attempts at economic coercion.   In a case that will have bothered the PRC far more than anything New Zealand could do, and where the PRC authorities had far more effective leverage, –  missile defence system being installed very close to the PRC – the central bank of Korea estimated an effect from PRC coercive measures of perhaps 0.4 per cent of GDP.

As I noted in that earlier post, a couple of industries –  one government-owned anyway (the universities) – have made themselves overly-dependent on the PRC.  A sudden stop on PRC students or tourists coming to New Zealand (the option that would hurt here and do least harm to PRC people themselves), would be very disruptive to those industries.  But those are risks they need to be managing –  and not just by persuading governments never to see anything upsetting to Beijing.     No matter what the PRC did, there is no sense in which the “writing is on the wall” for the New Zealand economy.   The next international recession –  whatever its cause – is more of an issue to worry about (especially as our authorities aren’t that well prepared).

So we can choose to abandon traditional allies, and abandon any interest in supporting democratic countries in the east Asia region, and in doing so abandon any sort of self-respect as a nation.  Or we could summon some self-respect, and perhaps give some lead (moral if not military) in pushing back against PRC intrusions abroad (including here specifically), and abuses at home.  But whichever choice our leaders ended up making –  and it should be no choice at all –  it isn’t one that seriously threatens our (rather attenuated) economic prosperity (let alone our physical security).

On which note, it was interesting to see that in a week the government had moved from being unwilling to name the villain in the South China Sea, to being a bit more explicit in the Strategic Defence Policy Statement released on Friday.  Even then, they can barely bring themselves to disapprove, and cloak there concerns in all sorts of rather laughable diplospeak such as the suggestion that “China is deeply integrated into the rules-based order”.  When it suits perhaps, but that is not at all the same thing –  what matters is the choices made when it doesn’t suit.  And those aren’t encouraging.

Also interesting to note the contrasts in the comments of two senior officials, one from New Zealand and one from Australia.  Our outgoing ambassador to the PRC, John McKinnon, was profiled in the Dominion-Post on Saturday.

Some have expressed unease over China’s expanding influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Canada’s Security Intelligence Service has claimed China is busy “co-opting political and economic elites” in New Zealand.

McKinnon makes it clear it is not a topic he will comment on; nor will he discuss current government policy towards China or the policies of the ministers he has served while in Beijing.

He also does not want to venture an opinion on whether China will move towards a more Western-style democracy.

“To understand the dynamic of what’s driving China now you have to understand where they’re coming from. It’s something they have to make their own decisions about and I can’t foreshadow what will happen.”

I’m enough of a bureaucrat to not encourage officials to speak out-of-turn openly. But clearly his masters also had no interest in him ruffling any feathers at all, even as the defence strategy document was being released.

And on the other hand, in his final days in his role, the outgoing head of the Australian defence forces comments thus

Defence chief Mark Binskin says Beijing’s broken promise not to militarise the South China Sea means it has squandered the trust of its neighbours and undermined its aspirations to regional leadership.

and

Asked about China’s trajectory since he took over in 2014, Air Chief Marshal Binskin agreed “it has changed” and cited the “very, very concerning” militarisation of features as well as “the influence of some nations starting to come down into the south west Pacific”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said during a 2015 visit to Washington that his country had “no intention to militarise” the artificial islands it had built in the strategically important South China Sea.

Air Chief Marshal Binskin dismissed Beijing’s claims that its placement of weapons on built-up features in the Paracel and Spratly archipelagoes were purely defensive and said other countries around those waters were entitled to stand up for their legal and territorial rights.

 “I don’t think there is trust there … because [according to] all the reports that you see, they are militarising,” he said. “They’ll put a spin on that and say it’s only for defensive reasons. But … if you didn’t build an island, you wouldn’t need to defend it. If there are weapons on those islands, they are militarised.”

Asked what the militarisation was for, he said: “I think that they are looking to expand into there and I think it is quite obvious what their approach is.”

Not, sadly, the sort of thing one hears from New Zealand ministers or their senior officials.  But then, why would they, when they seem unbothered by Jian Yang as a member of Parliament, and where the parties seem to compete over which president can offer the most laudatory praise of Xi Jinping and the PRC.

Do our leaders –  National, Labour, New Zealand First, or Green –  care any longer about anything but the quiet life, and the next trade transaction? Do they feel no shame at all about associating with such a heinous regime?  If so, how would we know?  Thank goodness that wasn’t the approach of people like Michael Joseph Savage, Peter Fraser or their then Opposition counterparts.

The debate on PRC influence on Q&A

Late last week I posted as a standalone item the comments that Peter Jennings, director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (and former senior Australian defence strategy official), had made in response to my post about last week’s Asia New Zealand foundation roundtable on People’s Republic of China (PRC) influence/interference in New Zealand.   Jennings was pretty critical of successive New Zealand governments’ attempts to pretend there is no issue.

This morning someone pointed out to me that Jennings had been interviewed on TVNZ’s Q&A programme on Sunday, so I took a look.  His comments were pretty moderate (especially about New Zealand), and largely focused on the Australian situation, and the new foreign interference laws passed with support from both the Liberal-National coalition and the Labor Party.   He highlighted issues around political donations, the Sam Dastyari affair (Labor senator forced to resign over inappropriate activities in this area), and noted that, between Federal and state Parliaments, there was concern that Dastyari’s wasn’t the only worrying case.

Re New Zealand, he noted that New Zealand seemed to face similar pressures as Australia, and that things weren’t that different in Canada, in the UK, and in many EU countries, and that in his view it would be smart if New Zealand and Australia tried to align their approaches.   While noting that New Zealand and Australia had different geographies and different strategic imperatives, he noted some risk to the bilateral relationship (important to both sides) if our governments don’t take the PRC intrusions seriously.

Corin Dann, the interviewer, pushed back, suggesting for example that Sir Don McKinnon would see things differently.  McKinnon is, of course, head of the government-sponsored China Council, designed never to see anything concerning, never to say anything upsetting, about Beijing and its activities.   As Jennings noted, there is an interest in having an effective relationship with the PRC, but that all countries needed to recognise that there were downsides as well as upsides in relationships with such a massive power, in the process of being more dictatorial.   He argued that even if officials were confident they had things under control –  something he was explicitly sceptical of in his comments here –  it was important for governments to take publics with them, and engage in open dialogue on the issues, risks, and responses.

Dann again attempted “what-aboutism” – every country spies, there is no military threat etc.  Tell that to Taiwan –  or countries with lawful claims in the South China Seas –  was my reaction, but Jennings was a bit more emollient, simply pointing out that countries like ours did not engage in large scale intellectual property theft by cyber-hacking etc.

And finally, asked about the PRC backlash to the new Australian laws, Jennings noted that the PRC (and some its populist media) didn’t like the new approach, but that the relationship goes on.  He argued that there was a mutual interest in a “steady relationship”, and that the PRC would come to recognise that Australia couldn’t do less than say “thus far and no further”.   Given past PRC attempts at economic coercion (which I wrote about here) that seemed optimistic.

All in all, it was pretty emollient stuff, and there wasn’t even any material bad-mouthing of New Zealand governments –  an approach which, fair and accurate or not, tends to get the backs of New Zealanders up.

But it was still all too much for two members of the Q&A panel, political scientist Bryce Edwards and former Minister of Defence, Wayne Mapp.  The word “overwrought” appeared so often that one could almost use it to describe their reaction.

Edwards began claiming that there “no compelling evidence of a problem” in New Zealand, and asserted that the new laws continued Australia’s journey down a path towards being an authoritarian illiberal state, where people could no longer participate freely in political debate and protests.  To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what he was on about – and I hold no brief for the specifics of Australian legislation.  The BBC –  no right-wing authoritarian outlet – summarised the law thus

The laws criminalise covert, deceptive or threatening actions that are intended to interfere with democratic processes or provide intelligence to overseas governments.

They are designed to include actions that may have fallen short of previous definitions of espionage.

Industrial espionage – the theft of trade secrets – is among new criminal offences, while people who leak classified information will face tougher penalties.

The government also plans to ban foreign political donations through a separate bill later this year.

But I presume that what Edwards is on about is material in this Guardian article.   But even if the specific points the critics make were sound  –  and both government and opposition disagree with them – they are details, perhaps even important ones, not a challenge to the basic proposition about PRC activities and agendas in Australia and similar countries.

Former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp then joined in, claiming that Australia would not put any pressure on us to follow suit, because our political donations laws were very tight.  That would, presumably explain how former Foreign Minister Phil Goff was able to get a very large donation to his mayoral campaign from a PRC-based donor, through a charity auction organised by, among others, Raymond Huo?  I’m not disputing that the New Zealand laws are tigher than Australia’s, but here is the relevant section from my post on the Asia NZ roundtable last week.

There was clear unease, from people in a good position to know, about the role of large donations to political parties from ethnic minority populations –  often from cultures without the political tradition here (in theory, if not always observed in practice in recent decades) that donations are not about purchasing influence.  One person observed that we had very much the same issues Australia was grappling with (although our formal laws are tighter than the Australian ones).  Of ethnic Chinese donations in particular, the description “truckloads” was used, with a sense that the situation is almost “inherently unhealthy”.

Dr Mapp went on to claim that there was no need at all for new laws in New Zealand, lauded New Zealand’s role as a pioneer in relations with the PRC, and highlighted favourably the New Zealand government’s choice to eschew the term “Indo-Pacific” in favour of “Asia-Pacific”.   I can’t excited about that latter point –   New Zealand has no exposure to the Indian Ocean, and on the other hand Asia is a big place, including Israel and Syria as well as the east Asian bit.  But Mapp went on to declare that concerns about New Zealand were ‘overwrought” and that he would put his trust in his former National Party colleague Don McKinnon, over the perspectives of Peter Jennings.   The McKinnon approach, like that of the China Council more generally, has been to consistently pooh-pooh any concerns, and in the article I linked to a few lines back even asserted that

To suggest we are too scared or cautious to ever rock the boat with China is simply incorrect.

I think most of us –  agreeing or disagreeing with the stance –  will take the evidence of our senses over Don McKinnon’s make-believe.

At this point, Anne-Marie Brady’s work, and her Magic Weapons paper, finally came up.  Bryce Edwards volunteered that she had raised some points, especially about particular MPs (Jian Yang and Raymond Huo) and their closeness to PRC interests, that hadn’t really been debated, and which needed to be debated.  But this was all too much for Wayne Mapp, who asserted that we hadn’t had the debate because we didn’t need to –  the claims were all overwrought.  Weirdly he then went on to assert that we wouldn’t go down the Australian path because we don’t have overwrought debates like the Australians do.  One can only assume he was determined to keep it that way, and keep on avoiding debate and serious scrutiny of the issues.

So, for example, one can only assume that Dr Wayne Mapp, former Cabinet minister, former military intelligence officer, former law professor, and current Law Commissioner, is quite unbothered about such facts as:

  • his own party putting Jian Yang on its list and, through successive elections, never disclosing his past.
  • that past included study and work as part of the PRC military intelligence system, and
  • membership of the Communist Party
  • (experts point out that no one voluntarily leaves the Chinese Communist Party, and that given his military intelligence background he would only have been allowed to go abroad if was regarded as politically sound)
  • Jian Yang himself now acknowledges, after the media exposed his past, that he had withheld key details from the New Zealand immigration authorities, and that the PRC authorities had encouraged him to do so,
  • that in seven years in Parliament he has never once said anything critical about the PRC regime, whether about Tianammen Square or more recent abuses (domestic and foreign),
  • that a prominent former diplomat and lobbyist has gone on record of Jian Yang (and Raymond Huo) that both are close to the PRC embassy, and that he is careful what he says in front of either man.
  • or about the efforts of his own former Cabinet colleague, Chris Finlayson, to tar Anne-Marie Brady as some sort of xenophohic racist –  one of the more despicable events of the last election campaign.

No, according to Dr Mapp, there is no problem here, just a few “overwrought” claims.

But, as I’ve pointed out previously, calling things “overwrought” or “sensational” is no substitute for dealing with the specifics of Brady’s paper.  I’m not aware that anyone has rebutted anything much in her paper, despite plenty of opportunities over almost 10 months now.  They aren’t just about Jian Yang, or even Raymond Huo.  There are the party presidents grovelling to the regime, whether for fundraising or trade purposes.  There are things like a former MP trying to block out from local Council minutes any record of listening to citizens with an alternative view on the regime.  And it isn’t as if the issues and threats are all in past either –  I was told just this morning about a university which has, under pressure, withdrawn, permission to screen a documentary on campus about aspects of the PRC regime.  And much of it is about pressure on New Zealand citizens of ethnic Chinese orientation, unseen to most of us, but no less real for that.

It was a pretty extraordinary performance from Dr Mapp in particular.  As Jennings had usefully pointed out, it is not as if these issues are unique to New Zealand  But the sustained denial –  whether wishful thinking or a deliberate choice to look the other way –  of any issue, any risk, any problem, does seem to be something rather more specific to successive New Zealand governments and the Wellington establishment.  They seem willing to sacrifice self-respect, and any interest in our friends and allies in other democratic countries including in east Asia, for the mess of pottage –  some mix of trade for a few firms, and keeping the flow of political donations flowing.

The PRC and New Zealand: an Australian perspective

In response to my post yesterday about the Asia NZ Foundation roundtable on foreign interference/influence in New Zealand, I received this comment, which I’m elevating into a post of its own because of its source, and because otherwise only a small number of readers would now see it.

When officials are assuring you everything is under control, that’s the moment you know that everything is not under control. As a long-term New Zealand watcher I am deeply disturbed to see how the political and bureaucratic establishment in Wellington wants the problem of Chinese interference in domestic politics to be swept under the carpet.

The idea that the Australian debate on this topic is ‘unhelpful’ is simply ridiculous. Successive Australian governments have ignored the problem but now it has become so painfully obvious that Canberra has had no choice other than to take a stand and set some limits on Chinese Communist Party interference. I believe that a substantial reason why Canberra acted was because of the public focus on the problem.

China will continue to suborn the NZ political system unless your Government is prepared to push back. If the problem is not addressed in time this will become a serious problem for the NZ-Australia bilateral relationship.

My suggestion is that the Australian and NZ Prime Ministers should meet with their intelligence agency heads and have a frank, closed-door discussion about the extent of the problem of Chinese interference in both our countries. We can actually help each other here.

Pretending there is no problem, or failing even to utter Beijing’s name isn’t sophisticated statecraft, its just a failure to come to grips with a major problem for both our countries.

The comment is from Peter Jennings, who has been Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute since 2012.

Peter has worked at senior levels in the Australian Public Service on defence and national security. Career highlights include being Deputy Secretary for Strategy in the Defence Department (2009-12); Chief of Staff to the Minister for Defence (1996-98) and Senior Adviser for Strategic Policy to the Prime Minister (2002-03).

I’ll leave his much-more-informed comment as it stands, just observing of his suggestion of a meeting of our two Prime Ministers etc, that for such an event to occur there would have to be a willingness and desire among political leaders on this side of the Tasman to acknowledge and confront the issue.  In fact, what we see in public is a desire to minimise, or to deny that there are, any serious issues, and to refuse to deal even with issues in plain sight.

Foreign government influence, the PRC, and the Wellington establishment

Somewhat to my surprise, a few weeks ago an invitation dropped into my email inbox.   It was from the Asia New Zealand Foundation – a (almost entirely) government-funded entity, staffed at senior levels by former MFAT people, with a mission

to build New Zealanders’ knowledge and understanding of Asia. 

These are the people who occasionally run public surveys, the results of which are marketed to bewail how little people know about Asia.  I managed to get all the latest questions right –  including which (of 4) Asian countries the Mekong river didn’t flow through –  and did surprisingly well on one of their harder quizzes.  But I still can’t name which English counties the Severn river runs through, all the countries the Rhine flows through, or all the states the Mississippi runs through or between.  I don’t feel  particularly disqualified as a result.

The invitation?

You are invited to attend a roundtable discussion being hosted at the Asia New Zealand Foundation on the conversation around foreign influence in New Zealand.

It went on

After observing the unhelpful polarity in the discussion in Australia, the Foundation has given some thought to how it could support a constructive conversation in New Zealand, namely one which:

– encourages expert voices to speak freely;
– sets a constructive tone for challenging these assessments and perspectives, without acrimony.

It was to be what they described as a “Track 1.5” event (in this world, Track 1 apparently involves official to official dialogue, and Track 2 involves non-government people talking to counterparts, but this forum would involve both).   Senior officials would attend, and speak, while as for the others

this event will involve up to 20 members of the business, media and academic community who are thinking strategically about this issue.

We were told that “the Government is keen to hear participants’  views” on issues such as

How can government and others talk about foreign interference, and its response, in a way that is constructive and sends coherent messages to a wide range of stakeholders (ie government agencies, public, business, international partners and state actors)?

I was a bit surprised to be invited.  I don’t lay claim to any particular China expertise, but I am interested in New Zealand policy and politics, and I suppose I had been a little dogged (perhaps even annoying, including to some others who were on the invite list).  So, with a little trepidation and low expectations, I accepted the invitation.  Expectations were low because in the entire document that accompanied the invitation the People’s Republic of China didn’t rate an explicit mention, and because if anything the focus seemed to designed to be about all being nice to each other.

the purpose is to bring different voices to the table on what is a challenging but important issue for New Zealand – and to discuss how we would like to engage with each other moving forward.

The event was held under Chatham House rules.  And since they were rather sensitive on the point (even sending out a later reminder about letter and spirit), this is the explicit rule this post is written under

The Chatham House Rule will apply to this roundtable. This means that participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed. There will be no note or output of the discussions.

Of the attendees, perhaps all I can say is that it was a very Wellington audience –  a description, and a flavour, rather than a criticism.

Every though everyone in the room knew that meeting wouldn’t have been held were it not for the issues around the People’s Republic of China, there was a rather desperate desire apparent to avoid singling out the PRC.   Indeed, the meeting opened with a statement about wanting to “talk as much about the risk as about any risk actor”, and that together with a statement near the end about not talking about the “who” but the “what” tended to bracket the discussion.

We heard that the Prime Minister had said publicly that New Zealand had experienced Russian cyber-attacks, we heard reference to Russian use of chemical weapons, about “fake news” and RT, we heard about the US pulling out of the Paris climate agreement (which, last time I looked, was their perfect right) and about questionable new US tariffs.   On the other hand, National MP Jian Yang –  former member of the Chinese intelligence system, Communist Party member, someone who admits that he misrepresented his past to New Zealand immigration authorities because Beijing told him to –  would have been mentioned not at all, except that I mentioned him (to note the omission) late in the discussion.   Trade ties –  and the heightened exposure some New Zealand entities have created for themselves, knowing the risks, and in turn putting increased pressure on the New Zealand government to keep quiet –  also barely got a mention.   Specifics quickly get awkward and personal.

Speakers were keen to convince us that officialdom was right up with the play (the issue being “owned” overall by DPMC), and working hand in hand with our Five Eyes partners,  They weren’t, we were told, “naive and unprepared” but rather actively engaged in “detecting and countering interference” –  apparently some overseas partners are even envious of some of the telecommunications legislation implemented here a few years ago (an observation that should probably leave New Zealanders a bit nervous).  Any suggestion of a threat to our membership of Five Eyes is, we were told, “spurious”.  I presume that means “false”.

I guess I came away with the impression that officials think they are more or less on top of the outright illegal stuff.   One hopes they are correct.

My own concerns tend to be with stuff that is legal, or just overlooked.   And where political cravenness, fear, and good dose of pursuing short-term opportunities as if oblivious to the character of those being dealt with, seem to matter as much as any active direct PRC intervention here.  Stuff like, for example, the way our major political party presidents laud Xi Jinping or the CCP, or the way a major party campaigns with a Xi Jinping slogan, or the refusal of anyone prominent to ever say anything critical of the PRC in public.  Or the willingness of our public universities to take PRC funding for culture/language learning, with PRC controls over the sort of people allowed to teach (Falun Gong adherents need not apply, nor those pro-democracy, those favouring respect for Taiwan’s independence etc).  Or the way our trans-Tasman school of government is in partnership with the Chinese Communist Party.  Last week our political leaders went back and forward over what to say about the US border/illegal immigrant issues.  The political editor of our largest paper called for our leaders to show we had an “independent foreign policy”.  I’d have thought the treatment of the PRC was more of a test of that one.   South China Sea anyone?  Taiwan –  a prosperous democratic state increasingly menaced by a power we’ve signed up with in some “fusion of civilisations” vision –  anyone?

Or one might look for any sense of real concern for our own ethnic Chinese citizens –  especially those who despise the regime, or have few/no modern ties to the PRC –  whose media, whose cultural associations etc are increasingly in the thrall of regime-friendly United Front entities.  Or concern for the New Zealanders of Chinese ethnicity who face threats to families back in the PRC if they do make a stand, or speak out, on anything.

I’m not suggesting there were no direct references to the PRC at the roundtable, but it seemed awkward, rather than any sort of open or really honest conversation.  I’m sure everyone there knows the character of the PRC regime –  at home, abroad, and here.  But…it was clearly awkward to talk about, and no one wanted to name the PRC as one of the most awful regimes now on the planet –  between its external expansionism, defiance of international law, attempts to rewrite history, attempts to use diasporas to serve its purposes, domestic concentration camps (much of the province of Xinjiang), political and religious repression, organ harvesting, and so on, the Nazi Germany equivalent of our day.  If you won’t name the character of the bad actor, you are unlikely to be serious about resisting or responding.   It is hardly as if the goals of the PRC/CCP, including through the United Front organisations in (various) countries like ours, is any great secret.

Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised in a couple of areas.  There was clear unease, from people in a good position to know, about the role of large donations to political parties from ethnic minority populations –  often from cultures without the political tradition here (in theory, if not always observed in practice in recent decades) that donations are not about purchasing influence.  One person observed that we had very much the same issues Australia was grappling with (although our formal laws are tighter than the Australian ones).  Of ethnic Chinese donations in particular, the description “truckloads” was used, with a sense that the situation is almost “inherently unhealthy”.   With membership numbers in political parties dropping, and political campaigning getting no less expensive, this ethnic contribution (and associated influence seeking) issue led several participants to note that they had come round to favouring serious consideration of state funding of political parties.   I remain sceptical of that approach –  especially the risk of locking in the position of the established parties, or locking out parties the establishment doesn’t like – but it was sobering to hear.

There was also unease about the suborning of former politicians (jobs after politics), and the suggestion of a need for stand-down periods.  And there was something of a call for more open government engagement on these issues (not, obviously, direct intelligence matters).  One person contrasted the speech a few months ago by the Australian head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, highlighting some of the issues and risks, and the near-silence by our own senior officials and ministers.    But here I suspect there was a bifurcation between those who felt the government should be on the front foot playing down the issues, and those who felt it should be more open in recognising them and engaging in debate with New Zealanders about how best we should respond.  Of the taxpayer-funded China Council’s efforts in this area –  attempting to minimise or trivialise the issue – one participant observed that they had been “unsophisticated and unhelpful”.

I guess my sense was that few of the people at the roundtable were at all comfortable participating in wider public or political debate: many were or are bureaucrats, not accustomed to visibility or audibility.  And many of the non-government people had business or similar interests that would make speaking out difficult, and potentially threatening to finances and professional opportunities.  There wasn’t even much sign of robust debate around the table of the meeting itself –  occasional awkward observations typically being left to stand, with no response or debate (although this may partly have reflected time constraints).

Many seemed to feel a real distaste for the nature of the debate in Australia over the last 12 to 18 months.   One discussant pushed back, arguing that what was needed was a robust public debate, not just involving subject experts, but citizens, and that –  moreover –  some heat was often an inseparable part of shedding light, and that arguably the Australians had done the debate better.  I’m in that latter camp.   On the other side, someone plaintively quoted one of the participants in the Australian debate as accepting that he had occasionally overdone things on Twitter, but surely that is almost in the nature of the medium?   Civility is a considerable virtue, but it isn’t the only one, and sometimes civility and politeness can be a cover for avoiding really confronting issues.  It is fine to quote –  as someone did – the old line about playing the ball not the man, but people are the actors here:

  • Jian Yang, personally, is in our Parliament, is a former member of Chinese military intelligence, did misrepresent his past, is closely associated with the PRC Embassy,
  • Bill English and Simon Bridges (on the one hand) and Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters on the other sit silently by,
  • Chris Finlayson did openly attack Anne-Marie Brady (none of whose significant claims has been overturned or substantively challenged) as some sort of racist xenophobe,
  • Raymond Huo is closely associated with United Front bodies, and did adopt a Xi Jinping slogan for Labour’s campaign among the Chinese community,
  • Peter Goodfellow and Nigel Haworth do laud and magnify Xi Jinping and the PRC,
  • successive foreign and trade ministers make up stuff about our economic reliance on the PRC, and keep very very quiet whenever any awkward issues arise.

No one makes these people do any of these things. They choose to.   There are explanations perhaps, but not justifications.

In the end, I appreciated the invitation to the roundtable, and I did learn a few things.  But it didn’t leave me really any more confident than I had gone in that the establishment was at all keen or willing to have New Zealand stand up and do things differently, not just safeguarding our formal institutions (which probably aren’t that threatened), but with some self-respect, standing up for the sort of the values countries like our own have long stood for, and which the PRC/CCP is –  in many cases –  the antithesis.   Roosevelt’s four freedoms, and things like that –  on all of which the PRC either falls well short, or seems to simply regard them as “not applicable here”.

Then again, the real issue isn’t advisers per se, but the reluctance of successive elected governments to do or say anything that might prove awkward with Beijing.  Implied threats  – to individuals or to the economy (economic coercion and the like) –  are interference, even if there is nothing direct for intelligence agencies and the like to pick up on, and even if –  as in the case of economic coercion –  politicians are often excessively fearful.  Political donations may be part of that story, I don’t think they are anything like the entire picture.  And yet none of that was discussed.

 

 

Avoiding upset to Beijing: the Wellington establishment

A week or so ago I wrote here about some comments made by Jason Young, the (then) acting director of the Contemporary China Research Centre, which is based at Victoria University.   Dr Young’s contribution appeared to be to claim that any New Zealand debate around the People’s Republic of China, including its activities in New Zealand, was some sort of “fact-free zone” –  while ignoring all the facts in plain sight –  and to lament the absence of better quality debate, while not himself seeking to add much to it.  It seemed like an attempt to play distraction.

As I noted in that post

The chair of CCRC is Tony Browne, former New Zealand Ambassador to the PRC, who also just happens to be the chair of the PRC-funded (and controlled) Confucius Institute at Victoria University (CCRC and the Confucius Institute seem to share an administrator as well).  The CCRC itself seeems to work hand-in-glove with MFAT……and its advisory board is largely made up of public servants (MFAT, MBIE, Treasury, NZTE, Asia New Zealand Foundation) plus the chair of Education NZ and the former chair of the New Zealand China Trade Association.

It didn’t seem like an organisation that was ever likely to say anything critical…..and in the unlikely event it did, there would be repercussions all round.

A day or two later, Stuff had an article on the Contemporary China Research Centre, prompted (it appeared) by some mix of those Jason Young comments I’d been writing about and the announcement that Jason Young had been confirmed as director of the CCRC.  Young was, as one might expect, championing his institution

Young said the debate around the role China played in New Zealand, and the wider region, was more complex than had been discussed in the recent media reports and academic articles in New Zealand.

“Sensationalist claims about extensive Chinese influence in New Zealand highlight the importance of the knowledge and understanding the Victoria University of Wellington-led New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre (NZCCRC) brings to public debate,” he said.

“It is crucially important we have a New Zealand institute that can think about New Zealand interests and New Zealand needs and New Zealand values and New Zealand problems.

“Obviously, we can draw on what American, Australian and other scholars are saying, but there are unique elements that need to be addressed from a New Zealand perspective.”

The new head said the centre’s advantage was its independence, and ability to speak with “a New Zealand voice”.

At that point I began wondering how he could say all this with a straight face.   He doesn’t appear to have been misquoted or misrepresented either (I kept an eye on his Twitter feed and on the CCRC website and there were no corrections or clarifications) –  what Stuff quote him as saying appears to be what he believes.  Remarkable what one can come to believe when one’s job (and recent promotion) requires it.

To their credit, Stuff picked up the point about the close ties betwen the PRC-funded Confucius Institute at Victoria and the CCRC.

The centre shares a location, chairman, and administrator with the Confucius Institute, which is funded by the Chinese Government.

Chair Tony Browne told Stuff the institutes operated independently.

Rebecca Needham, director of the Confucius Institute at Victoria, said she wouldn’t stand for any political influence from the Chinese Government.

So let’s try to unpick this a bit, including the web that ties together MFAT, the CCRC, Tony Browne personally, the Confucius Institute and so on, in ways that make it exceedingly unlikely that the CCRC will ever be able to (or interested in) providing detached critical commentary on any threat posed by the PRC.   When he speaks, Dr Young is likely to be expressing his real views, but he’ll have been chosen for the role in no small part based on the inoffensiveness (to his patrons and sponsors, and their funders –  in Beijing and the Beehive) of his views.

Take the connection between the CCRC and the Victoria University Confucius Institute.  It isn’t just that they share a:

  • location
  • administrator
  • chairman

which seems quite a close tie, all things considered.  I went back the other day and read the Annual Reports of the CCRC, and this is what I found.

From the first report in 2009

12. Confucius Institutes. The Centre has supported and facilitated the working on the establishment of a Confucius Institute at Victoria University. Canterbury University is also establishing a Confucius Institute in Christchurch.

and from the 2010 Annual Report

confucius

That was Xi Jinping himself.

The two bodies seem to operate hand-in-glove.  It is hardly likely that the NZ CCRC –  chaired by Tony Browne –  will ever be publishing critical material on the PRC, which would make difficulty for, say, the Confucius Institute, chaired by the same Tony Browne, and funded by the government of the PRC to propadandise for the regime in our universities and schools.   Presumably not even Dr Young or Mr Browne would pretend that the CCRC could ever be a source of critical scrutiny of the Confucius Institute programme itself  (which has raised serious concerns in other countries, to the extent of a number of universities discontinuing the programme).    NZ CCRC and the PRC are partners in all but name (in addition to the various formal partnership arrangements CCRC has with PRC universities and government agencies).

What else do we learn about the CCRC?    From the 2017 Annual Report

The Centre has continued the successful partnership with the China Capable Public Sector Programme, managed and funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for officials from across the public sector.

The Masterclass is an intensive five-day course on China designed and taught by the China Centre. It is exclusively for public sector workers and is delivered through a series of introductory talks and roundtables, followed by scenario-based activities. This year the Centre has put on two Masterclass events with excellent feedback.

It looks like a worthwhile programme, but it is also a significant business arrangement and financial arrangement with MFAT, who will be most unlikely to welcome anything that rocks the boat (and I’ve heard that MFAT/CCRC have been quite selective in which perspectives get presented at these courses). I don’t suppose CCRC would be running MFAT’s course for them had they ever openly made life difficult by casting doubt on the “never ever upset Beijing” line that seems to guide officials and ministers.

From that same annual report we also find

The Centre’s Executive Chair [Tony Browne] has continued in his role as a member of the Executive Board of the New Zealand China Council. He has also been appointed to the International Steering Committee of the Silk Road NGO Cooperation Network.

The China Council?  The (largely taxpayer-funded) advocacy group, on the board of which sit the chief executives of MFAT and NZTE, to champion the relationship with the PRC, apparently by never ever saying anything critical, and pooh-poohing anyone else who does.

As for the Silk Road NGO Cooperation Network, it appears to be another PRC government facilitated body.

Tony Browne, the former New Zealand Ambassador to Beijing, must be a busy man.   I remembered that I had met him once.   Among his many hats is that he is co-director of the China Advanced Leadership Programme, run by the Australia-New Zealand School of Government (itself a partnership involving various Australian universities and Victoria University).

The China Advanced Leadership Program (CALP) is an annual three-week program for Chinese officials, delivered in Australia and New Zealand. The aim of the program is to develop productive relationships between high level public officials of Australia, New Zealand and China.  The program has been operational since 2011 and is delivered across multiple Australian and New Zealand cities.  The program is made possible due to ANZSOG’s relationship with the Organization Department of the Chinese Communist Party.   

It must be a quite a revenue-generator for the universities concerned.

Who attends

Who are our participants?

Senior and emerging Chinese public officials from central and provincial governments – Up 25 senior officials in China are carefully selected by ANZSOG’s program partner, the Organization Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. The Organization Department occupies a unique role in the hierarchy of the Chinese government – it oversees appointments of all key positions within the administration. Previous delegations have included Vice-Ministers from the Central Government, Party Secretaries, City Mayors, and Directors-General.

All, quite explicitly, CCP members.

Who speaks?

Contributors

ANZSOG brings together the highest levels within government, business and academia in Australia. Previous contributors have included Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers of Australia, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Governor-General of Australia, state Premiers, the Treasurer, former Prime Ministers, Chief Justice of Australia and other top political leadership, CEOs of federal and state government agencies, business and industry bodies. The program provides a world-class learning opportunity in Australia and New Zealand for senior Chinese officials. Past contributors include The Hon Susan Kiefel AC, The Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, The Hon John Howard OM, AC, The Hon Bob Carr and The Hon John Brumby AO.

And me.  I don’t think Graeme Wheeler ever quite got the message about the PRC.  The organisers were keen to have him speak, and twice the job got passed down the line, ending up with me.    The day I last spoke, they’d also had John Key, Gerry Brownlee, Phil Goff and Iain Rennie speaking.  It is all taken very seriously.   (If anyone is interested, I got the Reserve Bank to release the text of my 2014 address, on the evolution of economic management in New Zealand over almost 200 years.  I think I avoided upsetting the visitors or being nauseatingly obsequious.)

You might suppose that being a partnership between numerous Australian universities and Victoria University, ANZSOG wasn’t of much moment in New Zealand.  In fact, the state and national governments are members.  And of the Board, three are New Zealanders –  in the chair is Peter Hughes, the current State Services Commissioner.  And what of ANZSOG’s ties with the PRC?  It isn’t just a commercial relationship involved in running that course.    Instead, ANZSOG lists as “affiliate partners” a small number of agencies including

Affiliate partners

It is all terribly cosy.  The presence of the Chinese Communist Party speaks for itself.  But CELAP describes itself as

China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (CELAP), a Shanghai-based national institution, is funded by the central government and supervised by Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee.

Does it amount to much?  Probably not, but it is hardly a sign of governments ready to take a detached, and perhaps critical, approach to the PRC, or to foster such free and frank perspectives among their own public servants.

Reverting to the Victoria University Confucius Institute, the director Rebecca Needham was quoted in that Stuff article as saying that

she wouldn’t stand for any political influence from the Chinese Government.

And no doubt that is quite true as written.  But presumably she doesn’t count as “political influence” the sorts of prohibitions in these arrangements that, for example, screen the Mandarin language teaching assistants for their own political and religious soundness (Falun Gong need not apply)?   Perhaps, since she is a skilled and experienced bureaucrat, the “Chinese government” in that quote does not include the entity in the PRC that funds the Confucius Institute?  The Office of Chinese Language Council International (colloquially Hanban) apparently describes itself as a “non-government and non-profit organization”, but is chaired by a PRC vice-premier and reports to the PRC Ministry of Education.

Apparently, the directors of these Confucius Institutes are typically appointed by the host institution, not by anyone in the PRC.    And yet, when your institution is launched, here in Wellington, by Xi Jinping, when your institution depends on ongoing PRC funding, lets not be cute and suppose that anyone slightly risky –  or ever needing “political interference” to do the “right thing” –  would be appointed to the job.

And what of Ms Needham?  When I looked her up, it turns out that she was a long serving MFAT staffer, including a stint as New Zealand Consul-General in Guangzhou, leaving MFAT only a year or so ago.   Remarkably, despite serving now as the director of a PRC funded entity, devoted to the advancement of PRC interests in New Zealand, she is listed on the MFAT website as part of the “China Capable Public Sector Community of Practice”   which

brings together a core group of China experts from across the public sector who provide input and advice to the CCPS programme and connect people to share knowledge, learn, and collaborate around common concerns, problems, opportunities, or interests regarding New Zealand’s engagement with China.

The rest of the list is made up exclusively of current New Zealand public servants.   It looks like a good initiative, and the role of this “community of practice” is described as

The role of the CoP is to:

  • Act as a trusted advisor to agencies to inform strategic thinking, broad policy direction, and operational issues on China matters when invited
  • Provide advice and guidance on the New Zealand perspective and China context in the development and delivery of CCPS curriculum initiatives
  • Share knowledge and experience through participation in CCPS curriculum activities
  • Foster networks with China experts across the sector
  • Model a collaborative approach to develop a cross-sector mindset on China capability.

But Rebecca Needham works for an organisation funded by the government of the PRC, devoted to the advancement of various PRC interests in New Zealand.  Did MFAT not even recognise the potential for conflict, for differences of interest or views?

And, of course, Needham shares a location, an administrator, and a chairman with the Contemporary China Research Centre.

To repeat, no one should look to the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre for any independent perspectives on the PRC, or its relationship with New Zealand.   That will, presumably, serve the government and MFAT (and perhaps Beijing) well, but sadly it will also mean that even when the CCRC does put out good material, or host worthwhile workshops, that might offer some (fair) perspectives on Beijing, its contribution will be tainted by the knowledge that it would be most unlikely to ever offer anything on the other side.  The CCRC is neutralised by construction, and by appointments (chair, director, board members), by business dealings, and by association.

And thus we’ve heard nothing from it on, say, the presence in our Parliament of a former member of the Chinese military intelligence establishment, former (?) member of the CCP, close associate of the PRC Embassy and various United Front organisations, who misrepresented his past to voters, who acknowledges that he misrepresented his past to New Zealand immigration authorities at the encouragement of his former PRC masters.   None of those facts is in dispute.  And the silence, or attempts to play distraction, by the CCRC, the China Council, and so on is deafening, and sadly telling.

Economic coercion PRC-style

The great fear that seems to pervade official circles in New Zealand (bureaucratic and political) is “what could China do to us if ever our government upset Beijing”, whether that involved speaking out forcefully against PRC military expansionism, doing something about Jian Yang, meeting highly-respected pro-democracy leaders from Hong Kong, pushing back against PRC control over local Chinese-language media, or whatever.

No one supposes any threat is military in nature.  What seems to worry people is the possible economic cost.      Governments led by both major parties have retailed (and perhaps believe) the nonsense that somehow New Zealand was “saved” by the PRC in the last recession, or that our alleged prosperity (no productivity growth in the last five years, and the shrinking relative size of our export sector) owes much to the good graces of the butchers of Beijing  If Xi Jinping should once avert his glance, our economy would be imperilled.   It is never openly stated quite that explicitly, and perhaps even the more thoughtful believers would use more-moderate language, but you get the gist.

All self-respect is long gone by this point.  Generally, if you find yourself over-exposed to someone else (some person, some business, some country), and especially one of questionable character, the prudent thing to do is to gradually reduce your exposure, diversify your risks, and regain your (perceived) freedom to act in accord with your values.    But when it comes to the PRC, prevailing opinion –  ministerial speeches, taxpayer-funded lobby groups, and so on –  seems to be that we should double-down, increasing our exposure to a country that they know to be an international thug and bully.  Thus, for example, our commitment to the geopolitical vision represented in the PRC Belt and Road Initiative, a scheme now being actively promoted with your own taxpayer dollars.

This mental model ignores a whole bunch of relevant points:

  • mostly, individual countries make their own success and their medium-term prosperity does not depend on the fortunes or favours of a single other country, no matter how large.   We (and Australia for that matter) were rich –  further up international league tables –  when China was mired in its own self-destructive behaviours,
  • the share of New Zealand GDP represented by trade with the PRC isn’t especially large by international standards, and
  • much of what we do sell is relatively homogeneous products traded on world markets.

(None of which is to downplay the risks to the world economy and New Zealand if something were to go seriously wrong in the PRC economy –  something I wrote about several years ago when still at the Reserve Bank ( Discussion note 2014 what if China slowed sharply ) most of which still seems valid – but that is a different issue, where the New Zealand government’s political stance towards the PRC is largely irrelevant.)

I’m also not attempting to minimise the PRC’s willingness or ability to play the bully-boy and attempt to exert coercion over New Zealand should our government ever find within itself a modicum of courage and self-respect.   These are people who play rough: with tens of millions of their own people dead at the regime’s hands, a whole province these days functioning much as an open air concentration camp, why stop at the odd sovereign independent country?  They haven’t.

Earlier this week, a US think-tank, the Centre for a New American Security, released a fascinating study on China’s Use of Coercive Economic Measures. The think-tank appears to be quite well-regarded, and has among its senior figures various people who served in the Obama administration.   The study appears to be a pretty careful description and assessment of the way the PRC has attempted to use economic coercion on a serious of democracies over the last decade, and to draw some lessons from those experiences.

They looked at seven such episodes:

  • a 2010-2012 episode in which the PRC halted rare earth exports to Japan (at the time, China accounted for 97 per cent of world production) over a specific incident related to the Japan/PRC dispute over the Senkaku islands,
  • the PRC’s measures against Norway (concentrated on salmon exports) over 2010-2016 after the (private) Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo,
  • the PRC’s use of additional quarantine controls on the Philippines from 2012 to 2016, throttling agricultural exports (especially bananas), over the Philippines defence of its South China Seas claims, including those later upheld under the Law of the Sea by an international tribunal,
  • PRC attempts to coerce South Korea in 2016/17, with the intent of encouraging South Korea to reverse permission for deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system,
  • the PRC’s attempt to punish Mongolia for hosting a 2016 visit by the Dalai Lama,
  • pressure around the 2016 Taiwan elections, in which the PRC objected to the winning party and acted to cut back tourist numbers, and
  • the current pressure being exerted on Australia, via warnings to overseas students (and, although this study doesn’t mention them, delays in clearance of eg wine imports from Australia).

This isn’t the sort of thing normal countries do.

(The study also touches on the PRC pressure on Iran and North Korea, episodes which, while interesting, are a bit different from those involving democracies.)

 

There are other examples, including direct coercion on companies, and some telling snippets about the general approach

During the Hu Jintao era [when, as a whole, the PRC was less assertive than it has become under Xi Jinping], meetings between a head of state or head of government and the Dalai Lama led, on average, to a reduction of exports to China of between 8.1 percent and 16.9 percent. Trade subsequently recovered during the second year after the visit.

I haven’t got space to go into all these episodes in detail (all the material is there on pages 42 to 49 of the report), but there are a number of interesting points that emerge:

  • the clever targeting of politically salient sectors.  The coercive measures were rarely applied to sectors directly related to the issue that was directly bothering the PRC, but rather where they thought they could get leverage  (the Norwegian example was an extreme case, given that the initial “offence” wasn’t even done by the government,
  • coercive measures are rarely officially announced, allowing plausible deniability, and also calibration of any escalation and de-escalation,
  • measures are rarely applied in sectors where coercion could directly hurt PRC entities themselves.   As the authors note of the Korea example, there were 43 retaliatory measures taken by the PRC, estimated to have knocked 0.4 per cent off Korean GDP last year, but “Beijing made sure not to target Korean sectors where economic retaliation might harm China’s own supply chain” (thus, China still imports 65 per cent of its semiconductors),
  • where possible, the coercive measures involve restrictions not amenable to complaints to the WTO (where the PRC loses such complaints it has altered its behaviour to comply).  Tourism has been an obvious example, and perhaps the foreign students case in Australia.  More generally, “China typically imposes
    economic costs through informal measures such as selective implementation of domestic regulations, including stepped-up customs inspections or sanitary checks,
    and uses extralegal measures such as employing state media to encourage popular boycotts and having government officials directly put informal pressure on specific
    companies.”
  • in many cases –  but not always –  China wins (at least in the short-term) and the targeted countries adjust, often in a rather craven way.   Those that yielded did so in the face of rather limited overall economic costs (but large concentrated costs in a few sectors).

As an example of the victories, here is the report on Norway

Finally, China has achieved symbolic victories even when the practical impacts of coercive economic measures appear to be limited. For example, after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, China retaliated by banning imports of Norwegian salmon. The import ban appears to have had little real-world impact, as Norway found alternative markets and appears to have routed fish to China via third countries.  Yet, as part of restoring normal relations with Beijing in 2016, Norway nonetheless issued a public statement acknowledging China’s “sovereignty” and “core interests” while Beijing hoped that Oslo had “deeply reflected” on how it had harmed mutual trust.

There were limits even then

Initially, China also requested a secret “nonpaper” with a more strongly worded apology, but then-Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg denied the request as at odds with Norwegian foreign policy.

But reality was craven enough

In its rapprochement with Norway, China achieved both its deterrent and public apology objectives. In 2014, Norwegian officials declined to meet the Dalai Lama. When the two countries normalized relations in 2016, China obtained a formal, public apology. Norway acknowledged China’s “sovereignty” and “core interests,” while Beijing hoped that Oslo had “deeply reflected” on how it had harmed mutual trust.  The salmon trade resumed. Upon Liu’s death in July 2017, Norway’s more muted statement compared to its European neighbors’, could be viewed as a sign of the continuing deterrent value of the Chinese policy A few weeks later, the countries revealed progress in their free-trade agreement negotiations.

Between coercion and inducements (stick and carrot), the Philippines government greatly softened its stance around the South China Sea.

Of Mongolia –  84 per cent of whose exports went to the PRC –  the authors note

After initially standing up to Chinese coercive measures, Mongolian leaders eventually relented. As part of the rapprochement between Ulaanbaatar and Beijing, Mongolian leaders, like Norway, offered a public apology.  They expressed regret for the invitation and emphasized that they would no longer host the Dalai Lama during the government’s term. Chinese leaders said they hoped that Mongolia had taken the lesson of not interfering in China’s “core interests” to heart.

South Korea went ahead with the THAAD deployment, and any concessions seem to have been modest and face-saving more than substantive.

South Korea eventually relented to Chinese pressure in October 2017 by issuing a list of assurances, the “three no’s,” on further missile deployment and military alliance with the United States. Korea officials argued that these assurances were a reiteration of long-standing policy, suggesting the advantages China can gain from informal measures that give it flexible off-ramps from economic pressure rather than tying it to specific—and falsifiable— results.  Additionally, though China did welcome the development, it still urged Korea to “follow through” on its statement and did not lift the pressure as quickly as it has in other cases of coercion. As of February 2018, more than four months after the rapprochement, tourism was still 42 percent lower than the previous year and Lotte still had not received relief from the regulatory pressure.

In the Japanese case, strong international support (EU and US) combined with WTO remedies meant the PRC didn’t win –  although domestic political imperatives may well have been served by stirring up anti-Japanese popular sentiment.

The specific pressure on Taiwan around the 2016 election doesn’t appear to have “worked” but is presumably still just part of the long-term PRC goal to isolate and weaken Taiwan, and exert pressure on firms (Taiwanese and international).

As for Australia, it is probably still early days (the article I linked to above appeared only yesterday).  Whatever the PRC has yet done –  plausible deniability and all –  is only a token of what they could yet do, if the Australian government continues to push back against PRC influence activities in Australia, and against PRC military expansionism.  For the moment there is no sign of the Australian government backing down, and bipartisan concern about PRC influence activities assists their position (as, presumably, does the coming election) but, equally, pressure from the sectors that are, or could yet be, targeted must be building.

The authors of the CNAS report are not optimistic that the PRC will become any less willing to use these coercive techniques; if anything, the continuing relative rise of China’s economic fortunes could increase the willingness, and perhaps ability, to exert pressure on individual firms, business and political leaders, and countries, blended perhaps with inducements (trade agreements) and other blandishments.

They offer a series of recommendations, many of which are quite US focused (and, as they note, for various reasons the US has not yet been subject to PRC coercive efforts yet).  Many of the recommendations focus on better understanding the issues and risks, at a detailed levels, raising awareness, and encouraging a forceful and supportive response to the PRC when other countries are targeted.  The advice for private sector companies is to take steps to ensure that they are not unduly reliant on PRC suppliers or the PRC market.   In the end, other countries (especially small countries) can’t stop the PRC attempting to act the bully-boy, but success (giving in) will only encourage the thug, and so there is something important about building resilience, reducing exposure, and being willing to take a stand alongside whoever the PRC picks off, rather than cowering in a corner, thankful that the bully has chosen someone else this time, and determining to be even more submissive next time the government engages with the PRC.

What does it all mean for New Zealand?

I hope our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has already been thinking hard about these case studies and about the lessons for New Zealand, and that in doing so their response is to advise the government on reducing exposure, not doubling down and living in the sort of fear of the battered wife –  too scared to leave, unable to resist.

But we don’t see any sign of that sort of approach, at least when our ministers and Prime Ministers (advised by officials) speak.  This is, after all, the regime that our government last year signed an agreement with, supposedly working towards a “fusion of civilisations”.

There is no point pretending there are no areas of vulnerability, if our government ever took a stand, even rather politely.  Quarantine and other related rules could be enforced rather more tightly.  I don’t suppose milk powder is a big risk –  the Chinese need it, and would only have to buy it from somewhere else if somehow trade with New Zealand was disrupted.  But higher-end lamb exports might be –  fresh product, not consumed by the mass Chinese market.  But I still reckon that the biggest, and most obvious, area of vulnerability is around export education and tourism, exports actually delivered here, rather than in China.  There are plenty of other places in the world for Chinese tourists to visit for a year or two, and other places –  often with better-rated universities –  for PRC students to study.   Put a ban on group tourism to New Zealand, or issue official warnings about safety here etc, or raise difficulties about landing rights and the numbers coming would be disrupted quite materially.  Being a small country –  and selling nothing critical to Chinese supply chains –  we might be a good case to try to “make an example of”

These sorts of threats aren’t some existential threat to our economic health and wellbeing –  recall the central bank estimate of a 0.4 per cent of GDP effect in Korea last year –  but they could be a big issue for some operators in the industries concerned.  As the Taiwanese example illustrates, tourism source markets can change, and can even do so relatively quickly (although perhaps as a long-haul destination the challenges are a bit greater here), especially if public money were put behind marketing campaigns.

In a way, the export education industry worries me more, especially the universities.  Last year, half all student visas were issued to Chinese students, and foreign students make up a huge share of university (and PTE, and some schools) income, in a system in which domestic fees are capped at (typically) below long-run average cost.   Universities and polytechs are government agencies, but ones with their own agendas to serve, and empires to preserve (Waikato, for example, has a degree-granting arrangements in China itself, presumably at risk of regulatory enforcement changes quietly implemented by the PRC, and several have Confucius Institute where they receive direct PRC funding).

A prudent industry would not have so many eggs in one basket, particular a basket controlled by a regime that has shown willing to act the international bully (one might have a quite different view if half the student visas were going to German students, Korea students, or Canadian students).  A prudent industry would be stress-testing itself (and its prime domestic funders and regulators would be insisting on such stress-testing) and adjusting its marketing accordingly.   But a rent-seeking one, knowing the feebleness of our governments, will continue to pull in the revenue from Chinese students knowing that (a) they can put a lot of pressure on governments to go along, and never upset Beijing about anything, and (b) even if things go wrong on that score, the financial risk will really lie with the government itself, not those who now run the universities (who would no doubt run an effective marketing and political campaign about how NZ students would suffer without a government bailout.

We might be small, and thus vulnerable on that count.  On the other hand, we are a long way away –  New Zealand is just a great deal less important to China than, say, the issues around Korea, Mongolia, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines.   And in aggregate we just aren’t that exposed to specific Chinese markets (even allowing for the fact that the PRC is a large part of the world economy now).  Even a bad year or two is just that –  not the abandonment of all future prosperity.

But we’ve allowed a couple of industries –  one highly-subsidised, through the immigration connection –  to flourish, and politically salient sector risks to develop, which now depend on the New Zealand government cowering in the corner and never upsetting Beijing.    Neither industry is at the leading edge of productivity growth –  indeed, our services exports in total are smaller now as a share of GDP than they were 15 years ago – but the probable political clout is undeniable.  It should be a matter of priority for any self-respecting government to look to reduce those specific exposures, encouraging greater resilience in the respective industries, so that one day we could have the courage to stand for what we believe –  assuming that among the political classes, belief is still about something more than the last trade dollar, and the next political donation.   In time –  one hopes, in a day (decades hence) when freedom comes to China –  we should aim for a relationship of trust and mutual respect, not one of the battered wife cowering in the corner.

(But as I reflected on this issue, my admiration increases for successive New Zealand governments decades ago –  most notably that led the Prime Minister’s predecessor Norman Kirk –  who were willing to openly take on France over atmospheric nuclear tests in the Pacific.)

Playing distraction on the PRC

On Newsroom on Friday there was a rather soft article giving a platform to an academic with a pretty strong vested interest in a “nothing to see here, move right along” approach to the People’s Republic of China.

Jason Young is acting director of the Contemporary China Research Centre (CCRC), based at Victoria University.  The chair of CCRC is Tony Browne, former New Zealand Ambassador to the PRC, who also just happens to be the chair of the PRC-funded (and controlled) Confucius Institute at Victoria University (CCRC and the Confucius Institute seem to share an administrator as well).  The CCRC itself seeems to work hand-in-glove with MFAT, seems to get considerable direct funding from government departments, and its advisory board is largely made up of public servants (MFAT, MBIE, Treasury, NZTE, Asia New Zealand Foundation) plus the chair of Education NZ and the former chair of the New Zealand China Trade Association. (None of this, of course, was in the Newsroom article.)  I’ve heard some stories about the role of MFAT in blocking anyone who might prove awkward from consideration for the role of Director.

Perhaps the NZ CCRC does some good work, and holds the odd interesting conference, but when push comes to shove it is hard not to see it as a taxpayer-funded front for the “nothing to see here” line that our politicians and business elites seem committed to.  In that respect, it is perhaps worse than the New Zealand China Council –  which openly functions as a taxpayer-funded advocacy group, while the CCRC hides behind the veneer of academic independence, integrity etc.

In Friday’s story, the first of Jason Young’s comments was largely pretty reasonable.   Asked about the recent testimony in the US and the papers published by the Canadian intelligence services,  he noted –  as I have –  that

Jason Young…. suggests both the Canadian and US reports are based in large part on the ‘Magic Weapons’ report published by Canterbury University professor Anne-Marie Brady last year.

Brady’s report, which detailed concerns about China’s attempts to influence migrant communities and take over ethnic media among other issues, received media coverage at the time.

However, Young says the latest round of coverage has done little to advance the case made by Brady.

“For many of us it’s just more hype around the same types of questions without new evidence.”

Perhaps “a repetition of the same claims in an increasing number of overseas fora” might have been a less-loaded description than “just more hype”, but lets not quibble too much.

Young goes on

Young believes the debate in New Zealand is becoming counterproductive, with opposing sides staking out increasingly polarised positions on the topic.

“We’re not talking about empirics, we’re not furthering the debate, all we are having is a more extreme and radicalised position being put forth…[and] we don’t talk about the bigger issues.”

Which prompts three thoughts:

  • first, if you are the director (even acting) of the Contemporary China Research Centre, surely you might have some responsibility for participating in, and actively facilitating debate, and exploration of the evidence, issues, and risks?    And yet, there is almost nothing of that sort coming from the CCRC.    They seem more focused on getting public servants properly house-trained.
  • debate?     We have a debate?   There isn’t much sign of one in New Zealand at all, most academics maintain a stony silence, and the contrast in that regard with Australia is particularly striking (whether or not you happen to agree with the current, more sceptical, stance of the Australian government).
  • As for empirics:
    • well no one doubts (because he has acknowledged it) that Jian Yang is a former member of PRC military intelligence structure, a member of the Chinese Communist Party, who also acknowledges that he misrepresented his past on New Zealand immigration forms, reportedly at the encouragement of the PRC authorities.  Jian Yang sits in New Zealand’s Parliament.
    • no one doubts the effective PRC control of almost all the Chinese language media in New Zealand,
    • no one doubts that a former Foreign Minister received a large donation to his mayoral campaign –  auctioning, of all things, the works of Xi Jinping –  from sources in the PRC,
    • no one doubts the ties of senior Labour backbencher Raymond Huo to United Front organisations, or his role in adopting a slogan of Xi Jinping’s for Labour’s ethnic Chinese campaign last year,
    • Charles Finny –  former senior diplomat, and himself on the CCRC advisory board –  observed on TVNZ last year that he knew both Jian Yang and Raymond Huo were close to the PRC Embassy and thus he was always careful what he said around them.
    • we know that several of our universities, and a number of high schools, take PRC money and allow the PRC to control appointments, and the content of teaching.
    • even abstracting from the Confucius Institute concerns, we know that our universities have made themselves very financially dependent on PRC students.
    • we know –  it is on public record –  that the presidents of both the National and Labour parties have been praising the Chinese Communist Party and Xi Jinping.
    • we know that a number of former politicians have ended up in well-remunerated roles in PRC-related entities, and that their continuation in such roles is inconsistent with ever saying anything remotely critical of the PRC.
    • and we know that our senior politicians –  whether in government or (in the National Party’s case) in Opposition – never ever say anything critical of the PRC regime (in stark and noticeable contrast to the sort of approach their predecessors took to, say, apartheid South Africa, pre-war Germany or Italy, the Soviet Union, and so on).
  •  So we could debate, for example, the risks and significance of joint research agreements New Zealand universities enter into with PRC institutions –  technology transfer, by fair means or foul, being a well-known PRC priority – or we could debate party fundraising in New Zealand, where the limited evidence might be open to various interpretations.  Evidence around cyber-attacks isn’t made public.  But there is still lots of hard factual material to be going on with.    And it is not as if most of the PRC activities are unique to New Zealand –  even if perhaps no other advanced country yet has a former PRC intelligence operative in Parliament.

Young goes on

Young says the Government’s messaging on the issue has been “quite minimal”, influenced in part by the sensitivity of allegations related to espionage or foreign influence and the role of our spies.

“The Government has got a responsibility to set China policy, to engage with China, and also have ground rules.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made some steps in that direction, he says, pointing to her recent speech at a China business summit outlining her view of the region and the kind of relationship that was needed.

It would surely be more accurate to say that the Prime Minister –  like her predecessors –  seems to simply wants to pretend there isn’t an issue (a very different stance than that taken by her Australian Labor counterpart, Bill Shorten).    If, perchance, in the quiet of her heart she really does deplore the regime, and worry about its activities here and elsewhere, she owes it to the public to promote an honest open conversation.  But, so far, all the evidence is that she is just unbothered –  she has uttered not a word about Jian Yang, she promoted Raymond Huo, and so on.   Remarkably, the New Zealand airforce is conducting exercises with the PRC air force this week –  the same airforce that not a couple of weeks ago was landing long-range bombers on illegally constructed “islands” in the South China Sea (to not a word of concern from New Zealand).

Young’s contributions conclude this way

More generally, Young says the discussion about China needs to be based more on evidence and less on “hyperbole”.

“If someone is claiming New Zealand is the weak link in Five Eyes, what is the claim based on and what is the evidence behind that?

“The argument that New Zealand has somehow changed its security position in relation to Chinese influence, where’s the evidence for that? I can’t see any basis for it.”

It’s not that there’s nothing to talk about, he says: given China holds very different views to New Zealand and other countries, there are valid areas of concern.

But ensuring those concerns are backed up with evidence is critical to stop the debate from losing shape, he says.

Personally, the Five Eyes arguments (generally) seem to me like a bit of a distraction.  But so, in a sense, do Dr Young’s comments more generally.  There is plenty of hard evidence to be going on with, and a real reluctance apparent among the establishment to turn over stones lest awkward stuff might be uncovered.  Dismissing the sorts of issues that Professor Brady, and some others (including Newsroom, who first broke the Jian Yang story) have been raising as “hyperbole” itself looks like another attempt to play distraction, and avoid the real issues.  I’m sure Dr Young –  and Tony Browne, and Steven Jacobi, and the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the leaders of the Greens and New Zealand First –  all know the character of the PRC regime:  evil at home, expansionist abroad, working to neutralise and/or divide countries like New Zealand or Australia (or Greece, or the Czech Republic, or…or….or) –  but they seem not to care one bit.  Or, if they really do care, to be so afraid, and to have lost any sense of self-respect or regard for New Zealand values, that appeasement has just become their watchword.  It is shameful.

The Newsroom article in which Dr Young is quoted also talked to another academic keen to downplay the issue; this time an Australian one, James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia-China Relations Institute, a think-tank based at a university in Sydney, and funded by large donations from two recent PRC migrants to Australia.

“The New Zealand government’s line tends to be to dampen reports down, but in Australia it goes in the opposite direction,” Laurenceson says.

He also suggests New Zealand has been more willing than Australia to scrutinise the allegations of foreign interference, and is unequivocal about which approach he favours.

“I can’t point to one single advantage of the approach Australia has taken,” Laurenceson says

What he means is that the New Zealand government prefers to ignore the issues altogether and, at least in public, pretend there is simply nothing to see.  In Australia, by contrast, an Australian (Labor) Senator was forced to resign for his close ties to the same billionaire who funded ACRI.  In Australia, in a bipartisan effort, the intelligence and security committee has recently released a 400 page report on the planned new laws designed to limit foreign government intervention and influence activities.   Yes, some Australian exporters appear to be paying a price, but sometimes doing the right thing –  standing up for your own country and its values, not just for the next dollar –  will cost those who parley with evil.  While Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges, aided and abetted by taxpayer funded bodies like the China Council and the CCRC, pretend there is just nothing to see.

There was a nice contrast to the New Zealand approach in The Australian newspaper on Saturday, in a column by their respected foreign editor Greg Sheridan.  For example

The last couple of weeks are a good indication of things to come. The range of our disagreements with Beijing in this period has been­ ­bewildering.

Beijing hates the foreign interference legislation. It hates that [Liberal MP, Andrew] Hastie under parliamentary privilege named a Chinese national resident in Australia as the suspect in a US case regarding a bribe paid to a former senior figure at the UN. It hates the fact that Canberra prevailed on Solomon Islands to refuse a Chinese bid to build an underwater internet cable. It hates that US court proceedings revealing alleged Chinese bribes in Papua New Guinea were front-page news in Australia.

It hates that Defence Minister Marise Payne rightly criticised the deployment of long-range bomber aircraft into islands that Beijing has illegally occupied in the South China Sea. It hates that, Beijing having ordered ­Qantas to refer to Taiwan as ­“Taiwan, China”, Payne said ­Qantas should not be bullied by governments and that Australia had “always called Taiwan, Taiwan”.

Beijing also didn’t like Payne’s reiteration of Canberra’s longstanding position on disputed territories in the South China Sea at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue, nor did it like her pointedly saying that countries should be allowed to express such concerns without being intimidated, coerced and bullied by other nations.

Beijing, like everyone else, understood who she was talking about.

In all these matters, the Turnbull government has taken the only position any self-respecting government could.

A self-respecting government, but not a New Zealand one.

After I’d read the Newsroom article, I found a recent podcast of a discussion between Jason Young and James Laurenceson.   It was another attempt by Jason Young –  remember all that taxpayer funding at stake, and those close ties to the Confucius Institute –  to play down the issues in New Zealand (to be clear, I’m not suggesting Young’s views are determined by financial incentives, but that he holds the role he does because he holds views that aren’t going to rock the boat with MFAT, the government, or the PRC).

In the course of the discussion –  in which he also highlighted the difference between New Zealand and Australia, in the depth of commentary and debate over there, without apparently seeing any role for people like him to take it deeper here – he attempted to draw a distinction between influence and interference.  But again, it was all about an attempt at minimalisation and trivialisation.  He accepts that PRC influence-seeking activities go on here, but then minimises that by suggesting “everyone does it” –  as if the character of the PRC regime is something we should be indifferent to, relative to say the UK, France, Germany, India, Singapore or whoever.  The issues aren’t just about process, but content, character, and so on.  As far as “intervention” is concerned, Young asserted that the “bar was not yet met” on such claims.  Perhaps that is a definitional issue, but when there is a former PLA intelligence operative in our Parliament, when another MP uses Xi Jinping slogans to advance his party’s cause (himself being associated with various United Front bodies), and when our politicians (and academics apparently) are too scared to speak out –  we never had a problem criticising South African apartheid or French nuclear testing – I think we all know that interference has happened.  Just because the mugger with the baseball bat doesn’t actually hit you, doesn’t mean that when you handover your wallet, the mugger hasn’t interfered.

Finally, as if to make Jason Young’s point about the greater depth and seriousness of the debate and analysis in Australia, there is even a better class of material to debate.  Professor Hugh White is an academic at ANU, former deputy head of Australia’s Defence Department, and a long-time writer on strategic issues in east Asia and Australia.  He has been criticised for, as some argue, being too ready to assert that Australia needs to recognise that the the PRC is already, or soon will be, the dominant power in East Asia, and re-align accordingly, making nice with the PRC and moving away from the US.

But he had a bracing short commentary out a few days ago, Australia’s real choice about China

Australia’s problem with China is bigger and simpler than we think, and thus harder to solve. It isn’t that Beijing doesn’t like Julie Bishop, or that it’s offended by our new political interference legislation, or that it’s building impressive new armed forces, or staking claims in the South China Sea. It’s that China wants to replace the United States as the primary power in East Asia, and we don’t want that to happen. We want America to remain the primary power because we don’t want to live under China’s shadow.

And that’s a big problem for Beijing. Its ambition for regional leadership isn’t something the Chinese are willing to compromise. Nothing—not even economic growth—is more important to them. So our opposition is a big fault line running through the relationship.

This shouldn’t come as news. China’s ambition, and the problems it poses for Australia, have been unmistakably obvious for a decade, but most of us have been in denial about it.

ending, after noting his real doubts that the US is willing to pay a price to retain its position

…at the end of last year, the government announced new laws to prevent covert political interference, clearly aimed at China.

That’s when China decided to exert a little pressure. It didn’t take long for Canberra to get the message. By early this year, Turnbull and Bishop were already backpedalling hard. They tried to deny that the foreign interference laws were aimed at China, talked up China’s positive contribution to the region, and even took the remarkable step of repudiating Washington’s new tough language about China as a rival and a threat.

But Beijing hasn’t been assuaged, and so the pressure is still on. It isn’t much so far—at least compared to what they could do if they wanted to cause us real pain. But it’s enough to remind Canberra—and the rest of us—what national power means. It means the capacity to impose costs on another country at relatively low cost to oneself, and China now has that in abundance. We’re being warned.

This problem isn’t going to go away, so we have to make some choices. Now we know that China is serious, what price are we willing to pay to resist it, and how far are we prepared to go? Those choices must be based on a realistic assessment of China’s power and ambitions, and of the cost we will incur by opposing them.

We haven’t had that kind of realistic assessment until now, in part because it has been so easy to accuse those who recognise the reality of China’s power and ambition as advocating surrender to it. That is, of course, absurd. And now, perhaps, we can put this absurdity behind us and start seriously to discuss how to deal with the biggest foreign policy challenge since at least World War Two.

It isn’t clear that the issues are really any different for New Zealand, including because of the absolute importance of our relationship with Australia.  But there is no New Zealand politician or, it seems, academic willing to actually make this straightforward point, and lead a debate about the implications, and choices, for New Zealand.  Perhaps where I depart from White is that I think he overstates the economic threat the PRC could pose to either New Zealand or Australia, other than in the short-term and in a handful of sectors that have dealt with the devil and left themselves over-exposed. Countries make an sustain their own prosperity.

But isn’t that the sort of debate and analysis one might hope for from a body labelled Contemporary China Research Centre. Or the sort of leadership one might hope for from our politicians.  New Zealand’s current approach –  keep silent, pretend there isn’t an issue, lie (in essence) about the character of the regime, and appease like anything –  wasn’t the right approach in the 1930s, and isn’t likely to be now.  It is a shameful betrayal of our interests, our values, and –  not incidentally –  of our friends in the free and democratic parts of east Asia.