The Prime Minister continues to shame us

The Prime Minister has been attempting to defend her handling of the meeting with the Malaysian Prime Minister, following his apparently quite forthright comments on the South China Sea.  She parrots a line about not taking sides in the dispute, but surely she knows that when you don’t take sides between a bully and his (or her) victim you side with the bully.  And when you say

New Zealand’s position on the issue had been “utterly consistent”, and the country had never taken sides, she said, adding all claimants should uphold international law, and the law of the sea.

and yet fail to point out which party –  the PRC –  consistently refuses to uphold international law in this area, you make yourself a party to the abuse, the aggression, aiding the new status quo in which the PRC has taken control.  It really is like not taking sides when Germany takes Czechoslovakia or Poland.

But perhaps journalists could also ask the Prime Minister to explain New Zealand’s absence from this list

Australia, Canada, and the European Union as a whole, but not New Zealand, are part of an approach to Beijing over the abuses in Xinjiang.

Life –  even foreign policy – really has to be more than the sums of the deals, or the sum of the donations.

The Government’s stance is these areas –  much the same as the Opposition’s –  shames us.

UPDATE:  A reader sends me this (I’m not sure from which publication)

“We decided not to sign it because we have raised concerns about the situation in Xinjiang directly with Chinese authorities,” a spokesman for Ardern told Newsroom when asked if New Zealand had joined the protest.

“New Zealand concerns have been registered by the Prime Minister with senior counterparts, including yesterday with Premier Li. Concerns have also been raised at officials’ level, including through New Zealand’s bilateral human rights dialogue with China, and at the UN in Geneva,” the spokesman said.

This is pathetic.     As if none of the other countries has made direct or bilateral comments, and –  as noted here –  other countries (including the US, UK, and Australia) were much more visible and vocal at the recent UN human rights review on China.   There are those old lines about “stronger together”, and people being known by the company they keep.   I don’t think trade agreements and the like should drive our policy stances –  our values should – but you have to wonder what the EU (with whom New Zealand wants to sign of an agreement) makes of a New Zealand government so supine it won’t join its (erstwhile) friends in this process.   Perhaps unilateralism is an option for the US, but it is the same Prime Minister who regularly reminds us, and the world, about the merits of acting together.  Just not when it comes to never ever upsetting Beijing?

Making the Trump administration look less bad

I’m no fan of Donald Trump.  He is unworthy of the office he holds, and almost every week there is new data to reinforce that view.   And if his character is unworthy, there is no offset in the way in which he attempts to govern or in the clarity and excellence of his thought or vision.

And yet, when it comes to the People’s Republic of China, our Prime Minister –  probably with the full support of the Leader of the Opposition –  manages, somehow, to leave the US Administration looking as though –  for the moment at least – it is on the side of the angels.   And as if it is our governments that are simply all about “the deal” –  be it an “FTA” upgrade, party political donations. or just students flowing to our public universities that have made themselves so dependent on not upsetting the thugs in Beijing.

Then there is Scott Morrison.  I guess he probably won’t be Australia’s Prime Minister for long, but a couple of weeks ago he gave a pretty good speech under the heading “The Beliefs That Guide Us”.  Sadly, I didn’t see it reported here at all (from the Australian media there is a good commentary on it here) but it comes in stark contrast to the way in which our governments (present and past) behave and talk (or simply refuse to talk).  Rhetoric is, of course, easier than action, but at least the words were good (emphasis added).

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

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

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

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

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

And what does Morrison regard as the “beliefs that guide our interests”?

We believe that the path to peace and liberty demands the pursuit of prosperity through private capital, rights to own property, entrepreneurialism and free and open markets. That is what lifts people out of poverty.

We believe that acceptance should not be determined by race or religion. Rather, we accept people by their words and judge them by their actions.

We believe in freedom of speech, thought, association and religion.

We believe in peaceful liberal democracy; the rule of law; separation of powers; racial and gender equality where every citizen has choice and opportunity to follow their own paths and dreams.

A fair go for those who have a go – that is what fairness means in Australia.

We believe in the limits of government – because free peoples are the best foundation to show mutual respect to all.

We believe in standing by our mates, side by side with nations that believe the same things we do.

Few or none of those things would be embraced by the People’s Republic of China, or the Party that controls it.  As he goes on to point out, by omission in listing the sorts of nations which do.

From the United Kingdom and the democracies of Europe to the United States and Canada. From the state of Israel to the city state of Singapore. From Japan and South Korea in North Asia to New Zealand, across the ditch.

He goes on later to observe, of Australia’s participation in various conflicts

We have done this because we believe it is right. Being true to our values and principles [will] always be in our interest.

Whereas, so it seems, in our Prime Minister’s mind (and that of her Opposition counterpart) not only are the two in constant tension, but the values and principles of this nation are constantly sacrificed to some short-sighted, limited, and mercenary conception of “interest”.    It is shameful to watch.

What of the US Administration?  You might think, as I do, that the focus on the US-China bilateral trade deficit is wrongheaded and economically illiterate.  Which isn’t to say that there are no real economic issues that it is right for the US Administration to take the lead in addressing –  with, so it appears, pretty widespread endorsement across the political spectrum in the US.  Even if you think –  as I generally do –  that intellectual property protections generally reach too far, and even if you recall that most rising powers have attempted to gain an edge by purloining the technology or insights of firms/countries nearer the technological frontier, China’s approach is particularly systematic, aggressive, and unacceptable.  It needs to be called out.  China doesn’t offer anything like an open market in many areas (services and investment notably), and if  –  in the longer-run –  those choices will mostly harm the Chinese, I don’t have any problem with a big and powerful country attempting to encourage change.  They are the sort of changes most in the West probably looked towards when China was allowed into the WTO.  It was clearly a sick (if opportunistic) joke when New Zealand agreed to deem China a “market economy”, when it remains far from that –  and, in many respects, getting further from it.

But it isn’t just about trade and investment.  Last month, the Vice-President gave a pretty forceful speech on the Administration’s approach to the People’s Republic of China.    There was a trade dimension

Over the past 17 years, China’s GDP has grown 9-fold; it has become the second-largest economy in the world. Much of this success was driven by American investment in China. And the Chinese Communist Party has also used an arsenal of policies inconsistent with free and fair trade, including tariffs, quotas, currency manipulation, forced technology transfer, intellectual property theft, and industrial subsidies doled out like candy, to name a few.

But there was so much more. The military position for example

And using that stolen technology, the Chinese Communist Party is turning plowshares into swords on a massive scale…

China now spends as much on its military as the rest of Asia combined, and Beijing has prioritized capabilities to erode America’s military advantages – on land, at sea, in the air, and in space. China wants nothing less than to push the United States of America from the Western Pacific and attempt to prevent us from coming to the aid of our allies.

Beijing is also using its power like never before. Chinese ships routinely patrol around the Senkaku Islands, which are administered by Japan. And while China’s leader stood in the Rose Garden of the White House in 2015 and said that his country had “no intention to militarize the South China Sea,” today, Beijing has deployed advanced anti-ship and anti-air missiles atop an archipelago of military bases constructed on artificial islands.

and systematic issues with a more individual impact

Nor, as we hoped, has Beijing moved toward greater freedom for its people. For a time, Beijing inched toward greater liberty and respect for human rights, but in recent years, it has taken a sharp U-turn toward control and oppression.

Today, China has built an unparalleled surveillance state, and it’s growing more expansive and intrusive – often with the help of U.S. technology. The “Great Firewall of China” likewise grows higher, drastically restricting the free flow of information to the Chinese people. And by 2020, China’s rulers aim to implement an Orwellian system premised on controlling virtually every facet of human life – the so-called “social credit score.” In the words of that program’s official blueprint, it will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven, while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

And when it comes to religious freedom, a new wave of persecution is crashing down on Chinese Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims…

Last month, Beijing shut down one of China’s largest underground churches. Across the country, authorities are tearing down crosses, burning bibles, and imprisoning believers. And Beijing has now reached a deal with the Vatican that gives the avowedly atheist Communist Party a direct role in appointing Catholic bishops. For China’s Christians, these are desperate times.

Beijing is also cracking down on Buddhism. Over the past decade, more than 150 Tibetan Buddhist monks have lit themselves on fire to protest China’s repression of their beliefs and culture. And in Xinjiang, the Communist Party has imprisoned as many as one million Muslim Uyghurs in government camps where they endure around-the-clock brainwashing. Survivors of the camps have described their experiences as a deliberate attempt by Beijing to strangle Uyghur culture and stamp out the Muslim faith.

And the sort of influence activities that Anne-Marie Brady has written about here

I want to tell you today what we know about China’s actions – some of which we’ve gleaned from intelligence assessments, some of which are publicly available. But all of which is fact.

As I said before, Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach to advance its influence and benefit its interests. It’s employing this power in more proactive and coercive ways to interfere in the domestic policies and politics of the United States.

The Chinese Communist Party is rewarding or coercing American businesses, movie studios, universities, think tanks, scholars, journalists, and local, state, and federal officials.

He explicitly championed Taiwan as an example of a better way –  a country, actively threatened by China, and which is not only free and democratic, but more prosperous than China.

As far as I can see a few people in the US quibbled at the margins, but there was no great dissent from the broad thrust of the speech. It characterises the regime, and its threat, in a way that many or most experts seem to regard as pretty descriptively accurate.  The PRC is a threat to its own people of course, but abroad –  to countries in the region who espouse the sorts of values Scott Morrison talked of, and in the internal political processes of countries like our own, Australia, or the US (and many others).

It wasn’t just a one-shot effort from Pence, who is representing the President at this week’s summit meetings.  In the Washington Post yesterday there was a report of new interview with Pence.  With political theatre in mind, the interview took place as Pence’s plane flew across the contested South China Sea.  The report included

The vice president said this is China’s best (if not last) chance to avoid a cold-war scenario with the United States.

In addition to trade, Pence said China must offer concessions on several issues, including but not limited to its rampant intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, restricted access to Chinese markets, respect for international rules and norms, efforts to limit freedom of navigation in international waters and Chinese Communist Party interference in the politics of Western countries.

and ended thus

I asked him what would happen if Beijing doesn’t agree to act in Asia in a way that can avoid a cold war with the United States.

“Then so be it,” Pence said. “We are here to stay.”

Who knows whether his boss really means it – or will still mean it in six months time –  but at least it was being said.   And there is an interesting article in today’s Financial Times, highlighting the apparent bipartisan support (including among business leaders) for a more robust stance.  There was also an interesting Bloomberg column which observed

Trump usually gets the blame (or credit, depending on where you stand) for souring relations. He’s not the real culprit, though. The man truly responsible is China’s president. Xi has altered the course of Chinese policy in ways that made a showdown with the U.S. almost inevitable, whoever sat in the White House.

Even that interview wasn’t all that can be set to the credit of Mike Pence in this sort of area: speaking out about manifest evil, actions that don’t align with the sorts of values countries like the US, Australia, and (once upon a time at least) New Zealand sought to espouse and –  rather imperfectly to be sure – operate by.  There was Pence’s meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, where he talked plenty bluntly and openly.

“The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse,” Pence said.

And then there is the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, our Prime Minister.

On the day the Chinese deputy foreign minister warned other countries not to “obstruct” China’s growing activity in the Pacific, it was as if our Prime Minister was just falling into line when, in an interview yesterday, she refused to even address the issue of China’s activities in the Pacific.

When she met Aung San Suu Kyi –  who, as far as I can see has no New Zealand economic “interests” to threaten –  her language seemed to be much more muted than Pence’s

“We, of course, share the concern of the international community around what has happened in Rakhine State, and the ongoing displacement of the Rohingya,” Ardern said following the meeting.

As the Newsroom report puts it

[Aung San Suu Kyi] has also been stripped of the US Holocaust Museum’s Elie Weisel award and Freedom of the City awards, which were revoked by Edinburgh, Oxford, Glasgow and Newcastle.

While in Singapore, Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Suu Kyi was “trying to defend the indefensible”.

But Ardern said she did not detect any defence from Suu Kyi during their meeting.

And US Vice President Mike Pence also had firm words for Suu Kyi during the pair’s meeting in Singapore.

“This is a tragedy that has touched the hearts of millions of Americans. The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse.”

Suu Kyi was brief in her remarks, saying each country knew their own situation best. “So we are in a better position to explain to you what is happening and how we see things panning out.”

Sounds pretty defensive to me.   When the Trump Administration and Mahathir Mohamad are more willing to speak out on human rights abuses than a New Zealand Prime Minister, something is very wrong.    “Kindness” and “empathy” might be her watchwords, but I didn’t suppose she meant them for tyrants and those who abet gross and systematic abuses.

And what of the PRC regime.  Here was how the Herald reported her

Ardern said before her meeting with Premier Li that she would be raising human rights issues with him but they were kept to the closed door session.

In her opening remarks she said: “New Zealand’s relationship with China is incredibly important to us. We see that relationship being incredibly important not just from an economic perspective but from a regional perspective.”

Only sweetness and light in public –  this, after all, from someone who only a few months ago pledged stronger ties between Labour and the Chinese Communist Party –  and if she politely indicated in private the odd area of possible difference, who really cares?  I’m sure the Chinese won’t.  After all, her party president is on record –  not behind closed doors – lauding the regime and its leader.

Has she ever said tried to lead ther discussion and debate at home about the character of the regime?   Has she ever said anything openly critical about one of the most dreadful regimes on the planet –  about its activities at home (a couple of weeks ago she said she “might” raise Xinjiang privately) –  and –  more importantly –  about its activities abroad, let alone its activities in New Zealand?  Even “small” things like, for example, the presence in our Parliament of a former PLA intelligence official, close to the PRC Embassy, who acknowledges misrepresenting his past to get into the country, and who has never once said anything critical of the regime.  Decent people shake their heads in disbelief (as I do each I write this), but not the Prime Minister.   Or arranging –  with the National Party –  to award a Queen’s Birthday honour to a non-English speaking Chinese-born businessman, who associates closely with MPs (and mayors) from all sides of politics, seems to arrange party donations (partly with a view to getting additional MPs into Parliament) and who the record shows is very closely associated with the Chinese Communist Party and the regime –  back in China, and here.

The local media seemed taken with the fact that Mike Pence was reported to have asked to be seated next to our Prime Minister at one of the summit dinners.  But strangely, while the local media talked up how the PM might raise such issues as steel and aluminium tariffs, or even speculated on the (manifold) political and personal differences between the two of them,  I didn’t notice anyone speculate on the possibility that China, and New Zealand’s rather shameful and supine attitude to the PRC, might have been among Pence’s list of talking points, amid the pleasantries and fine food.  I’m sure our allies welcomed the P8 purchases, and even the additional money New Zealand and Australia are (for how long?) throwing at the Pacific, but someone who won’t utter an open word of disapproval of such a regime, who won’t even speak out about the disgrace of Opposition MP, Jian Yang, who does nothing –  and refuses to openly take seriously –  the domestic interference issues is hardly someone showing any sign of living by those sorts of values that Scott Morrison enunciated in his speech.  And yet I suspect they represent rather well the values of most individual New Zealanders –  just not our political classes, who seem to act as if “values” are just some nice-to-have for other people, not something integral to how they live and act and speak.

It is pretty shameful when the Trump adminstration –  for now at least –  puts our country in such a poor light, on such a significant (and potentially a defining) issue. I remain sceptical about Trump’s willingness to follow through (on almost anything) or indeed about US administration’s willingness to pay much of a price to, say, defend Taiwan (and, if perchance, the trade strategy puts real pressure on, the temptation to action  – and distraction – there may only increase –  the Falklands weren’t invaded when Argentina was prospering).  The South China Sea is already, in effect, lost.  And no outsider can do much about China’s awful internal record.  But words still matter.  They express what we care about, what we value (more than just a deal).

And on these issues, the Trump administration at least has the words.  Jacinda Ardern –  and Simon Bridges –  sit cravenly silent.  It is as if, to upend Scott Morrison’s words, they think New Zealand is defined solely as the sum of our deals. It is shameful.

Some reading for Todd McClay

Perhaps naively, I’m still in shock at those comments the other day on the situation in the Chinese province of Xinjiang from National Party foreign affairs spokesman, former senior minister, Todd McClay.

“Abuses of human rights are a concern wherever they occur,” says National’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Todd McClay, “however, the existence and purpose of vocational training centres is a domestic matter for the Chinese Government.”

Perhaps the million of so spies forced into Uighur households should, in Mr McClay’s reading, best be described as intensive case management of needy families?

I’d come to take for granted that our members of Parliament – all sides –  pretty much knew the evil the regime was up to at home and abroad, but preferred to look the other way, keep quiet, and get along (careers to advance, Beijing to buddy up to).  I didn’t suppose that senior politicians  –  on the public payroll, not that of Beijing-affiliated entities (that’s for too many retired politicians, here and abroad) – would be so shameless as to literally run PRC regime propaganda for them.

But who knows. Perhaps Todd McClay really does believe the regime narrative?  In which case, there was a useful little exercise by a Dutch academic popped into my inbox yesterday morning, courtesy of the US think-tank the Jamestown Foundation, using fiscal transparency, PRC version, to illustrate what is going on.   I had no idea there was such transparency in China.

He begins

In August 2018, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed its concern at reports the PRC had detained as many as a million members of Muslim ethnic minorities in extrajudicial re-education camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). At the same meeting, the PRC flatly denied the existence of “re-education camps”, with United Front Work Department official Hu Lianhe arguing that “criminals involved only in minor offenses” are assigned to “vocational education and employment training centers to acquire employment skills and legal knowledge” (China Daily, August 14).

Perhaps that was what Todd McClay had been reading?

But the PRC government’s own budgets appear to contradict these assertions. Xinjiang’s budget figures do not reflect increased spending on vocational education in the XUAR as the region ramped up camp construction; nor do they reflect an increase in criminal cases handled by courts and prosecutors. Rather, they reflect patterns of spending consistent with the construction and operation of highly secure political re-education camps designed to imprison hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs with minimal due process.

It is tempting to reproduce some of his tables – I like tables but they might be detail too far.  But here are his summary observations from the Xinjiang government budget data

This article supports this conclusion through examination of official PRC budgetary figures, analyzing spending breakdowns at the regional, prefectural, and county levels to produce findings of unprecedented granularity. Among its most striking conclusions:

  • Spending on budget items that explain nearly all security-related facility construction rose by nearly RMB 20 billion (or 213 percent) in 2017
  • Vocational spending in Xinjiang actually decreased from 2016 to 2017, as widespread camp construction began.
  • Instead, camp construction has largely been funded by the same authorities that oversaw the recently-abolished system for re-education through labor.
  • Spending on prisons doubled between 2016 and 2017, while spending on the formal prosecution of criminal suspects stagnated.
  • Expenditures on detention centers in counties with large concentrations of ethnic minorities quadrupled, indicating that re-education is not the only form of mass detainment in the XUAR.

There’s more

The region’s so-called “vocational training” is arguably not substantially different from the former re-education through labor system, which was abolished because the PRC government deemed it inappropriate for a modern society governed by the rule of law (Zenz, September 6).

Moreover, Xinjiang’s so-called “vocational training” campaign has not actually improved employment outcomes among the campaign’s target population. Official reports note that in 2017, 58,500 “poor persons” found employment, 17 percent more than planned, but not a large increase from the 57,800 in 2016 or the 57,900 in 2015. The same figure for the first three quarters of 2018 was 38,800, equivalent to only 51,730 per year [6]. This data provides a powerful official counternarrative to what Xinjiang’s governor is claiming. Neither the 2017 nor the 2018 XUAR employment reports refer to the purportedly successful “vocational training centers”.

Before he concludes

These facts do not support the notion of a large campaign to improve vocational skills. Rather, the mass disappearances of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, beginning in early 2017, almost certainly resulted in their imprisonment in de facto political re-education institutions administered by public security or justice system authorities. It is safe to assume that in 2017, billions of renminbi were spent on these highly secure facilities, where individuals undergoing “training” are involuntarily detained for indeterminate time periods. Furthermore, budget figures indicate that it is unlikely that many of the so-called “criminals involved only in minor offenses” underwent formal trials. It is therefore entirely inaccurate to label them “criminals”. Often, their only “offense” is being Muslim.

Whatever “employment training” these facilities provide is, evidently, not administered or paid for by the vocational education system. This would explain why teacher recruitment notices for the newly constructed re-education system do not require tertiary degrees or relevant skills, in stark contrast to genuine vocational education (Zenz, September 6).

The actual employment benefit of the camps’ re-education “training” is questionable. Quite the contrary: the real goal of Xinjiang’s “skills training” campaign appears to be political indoctrination and intimidation.

In a way it is sickening to even have to write this bloodless stuff.  Every honest and decent person with the slightest interest knows what this campaign is about –  and it isn’t better job opportunities.  But careful work like that of Adrian Zenz helps remove any sort of fig leaf that people like Todd McClay might try to use for cover.

And what of those million spies forced on Uighur households? I’d urge you to read the full story, which ends with this chilling reflection

The tyranny that is being realized in Northwest China pits groups of Chinese citizens against each other in a totalitarian process that seeks to dominate every aspect of life. It calls Han “relatives” into coercive relations with their Uighur and Kazakh hosts, producing an epidemic of individualized isolation and loneliness as families, friends, and communities are pulled apart. As new levels of unfreedom are introduced, the project produces new standards of what counts as normal and banal. The “relatives” I spoke to, who did the state’s work of tearing families apart and sending them into the camp system, saw themselves as simply “doing their jobs.”

I believed them. For the most part, they simply did not seem to have thought about the horror they were enacting. No free press was available to them. The majority of the people I interviewed simply did not know or believe that the reeducation camps function as a Chinese-specific form of concentration camps where beatings and psychological torture are common, or that Uighurs and other minorities tended to view being sent to the camps as a form of punishment. Only one of the 10 Han people from Xinjiang I interviewed believed that the camps were functioning as prisons for people who were guilty of simply being in the wrong religious and ethnic categories. It is also important to remember when writing about Han civilian participation in the mass detention of Muslim minorities, as David Brophy and others have noted, that Han civilians who resist state policies toward Uighurs put themselves in serious danger. As one of my Han friends from Xinjiang told me, in this part of the world the phrase “where there is oppression” is met not with the phrase “there will be resistance,” but rather, “there will be submission.” Given the totalitarian politics of the Xinjiang police state, Han civilians in Xinjiang often appear to feel as though they have no choice but to participate in the state-directed oppression of Muslim minorities.

Citizens of totalitarian states are nearly always compelled to act in ways that deny their ethical obligations. In order for a grass-roots politics of Han civilian refusal of Chinese state oppression of Muslims to even be imaginable, what is taking place in Northwest China needs first to be accurately described. As Hannah Arendt observed decades ago, systems like this one work in part because those who participate in them are not permitted to think about what they are doing. Because they are not permitted to think about it, they are not able to fully imagine what life is like from the position of those whose lives they are destroying.

Perhaps Todd McClay thinks this is all made up too?  If so, I can only do that rare thing and urge him to read the strident ultra-nationalist spinoff of the People’s Daily, the Global Times, where the story a couple of days ago was.

1.1 million civil servants in Xinjiang pair up with ethnic minority residents to improve unity

Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has implemented the pairing and assistance program between officials and the ethnic minority citizens to promote communication and interaction among different ethnic groups in Xinjiang.

Until September 2018, some 1.1 million civil servants have paired up with more than 1.69 million ethnic minority citizens, especially village residents, People’s Daily reported on Wednesday.

The report said that various administrative departments, enterprises from the central government and military departments, including the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and Xinjiang Armed Police Corps, have made over 49 million visits to local residents. The number of activities themed “ethnics unite as a family,” held by these departments, reached more than 11 million.

“The pairing and assistance program has been implemented for two years, which is a successful practice for Xinjiang,” Zhu Weiqun, former head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Besides promoting the unity of different ethnics in Xinjiang, Zhu noted that the program is beneficial to both the masses and civil servants in Xinjiang, as it helps officials get close to the grassroots level of Xinjiang society, bringing advanced technology and views to rural districts, which can solve their life difficulties and develop the productivity.

“It can also help officials of Xinjiang to improve their serving conscious and capabilities,” he added.

Zhu pointed out that the program should be insisted for a long time in accordance with the practical need.

The program began from October 16 in 2016, encouraging civil servants to interact actively with the masses in Xinjiang through various methods like pairing and regarding as relatives.

It is a sickening level of repression, intimidation, destruction of families, of faith, or cultures, and so on.  And that is before one gets onto the bird-like spy drones (which initially sounded a bit fanciful, but the story is fron a regime-sympathising Hong Kong newspaper) the movement restrictions, the forced organ transplants and so on.

That’s unambiguously sickening.  But so is senior elected politicians in a free Western state –  who know better – trying to minimise evil, spin the regime propaganda, and provide cover for one of the worst regimes on the planet.  Without any legitimate excuse whatsoever.



Perhaps standards are different in Rotorua?

When you think that our politicians can’t sink much lower when it comes to matters related to the dreadful regime in Beijing all one has to do is wait another day or two.

Stuff has a major piece (a double page spread in this morning’s Dominion-Post) about the situation of the Uighur people in Xinjiang province in China, focusing on the stories of some of the Uighurs now living in New Zealand.

But what I wanted to highlight was the reaction of our politicians, National Party foreign affairs spokesman (and MP for Rotorua) Todd McClay in particular (emphasis added).

Ardern’s office didn’t respond to questions. Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters is overseas and also couldn’t comment.

“Abuses of human rights are a concern wherever they occur,” says National’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Todd McClay, “however, the existence and purpose of vocational training centres is a domestic matter for the Chinese Government.”

McClay adds that “if credible evidence of human rights abuses came to light,” National would expect the government to “make representations to China through formal channels”.

The Chinese embassy did not reply to any questions about the issue.

So neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Minister would comment (in this era, being overseas is not a justification for saying someone “couldn’t” comment).    We saw the Prime Minister’s own feeble stance on this issue a couple of weeks ago

She said she might raise her concerns at a future meeting with Chinese officials, but made no firm commitment.

But McClay’s stance plumbs whole new depths.   Had he said “look, we know Beijing is an awful regime and often treats its citizens abominably, but we really want an upgraded FTA”, that would be bad enough, but at least it would be honest.  Instead he adopts the chilling language of the regime itself, suggesting that these (forced) internment and indoctrination camps are “vocational training centres”, and that the accompanying intense surveillance and control regime (electronic surveillance, let alone the government spies Uighur families are forced to host in their own houses) is just as nothing.  Does he suppose that the million of so people locked up in these centres are there voluntarily?  What bits of the evidence of systematic abuse and repression does he not believe?  Or, more probably, does he just not care?

All manner of brutal regimes have had Western apologists.  But history tends not to look very kindly on them.   And this man sits in our Parliament –  alongside Jian Yang –  aspiring to again be a senior Cabinet minister.  In my view, anyone that senior who sinks that low should never be allowed anywhere near the reins of government.  He disgraces himself, and disgraces a once-decent and honourable party.  The same party whose current leader last year, as a senior government minister, signed up with Beijing to some sickening aspiration to a “fusion of civilisations”.

To be clear, the current government seems no better, content to sit by as evil happens, even if not quite so sickeningly crass in their wording as Todd McClay.

As the Stuff article notes, more or less in passing, China’s human rights record has been under review in Geneva this week (part of a five-yearly review that all UN members face).   I’m no great fan of the United Nations or its associated bodies, and the Human Rights Council seems to be mostly a sick joke.  Nonetheless, these forums –  the Universal Periodic Reviews –  do pose the opportunity for other countries to ask (openly) searching questions about evident or apparent abuses.    A leading US China scholar wrote about it on his blog

On Nov.6, the People’s Republic of China underwent its third UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which is a peer review at the Human Rights Council of China’s human rights record. Each country, ridiculously, only had 45 seconds to speak! All eyes were watching if China’s mass incarceration of Muslims in Xinjiang and related repression outside the detention prisons would be criticized. Many countries did speak out, including the U.S., Canada, Germany and the UK. The only Muslim country that raised this issue is Turkey. It is shameful that Muslim countries and their regional organizations have done so little to date. The PRC cleverly lined up a large number of sycophant states to sing its praises and take time away from states that wanted to be critical. (All UPR-related documents are here at the UN’s website.)  The PRC has moved relentlessly to increase its influence over the Human Rights Council while the U.S. has withdrawn from it. Accordingly, many countries, including developing and authoritarian countries that rely on China’s economic ties, lavished high praise on China’s human rights achievements, instead of treating the session seriously.

But in addition to the 45 seconds, individual countries could lodge written questions.  Many did.    From our traditional allies, there was (a selection in each case)

The UK asking

  • When will the Government implement the recommendations made by the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination regarding Xinjiang Autonomous Uyghur Region, including to: halt the practice of detaining individuals who have not been lawfully charged, tried, and convicted for a criminal offence in any extra-legal detention facilities; immediately release individuals detained under these circumstances; eliminate travel restrictions that disproportionately affect members of ethnic minorities; and provide statistics on the numbers of those held involuntarily in the past 5 years?
  • What steps is the Government taking to ensure that freedom of religion or belief, freedom of movement, and cultural rights are respected and protected for all religious and ethnic groups in China, particularly those in Tibet?
  • What steps is the Government taking to ensure that lawyers, activists, journalists and human rights defenders including Wang Quanzhang, Yu Wensheng, Jiang Tianyong, Li Yuhan, Gao Zhisheng, Tashi Wangchuk, Ilham Tohti, Wu Gan and Huang Qi are protected from harassment, mistreatment and discrimination, and that those detained for merely exercising their constitutional rights are released without delay?

And the US

  • Can China provide the number of people involuntarily held in all detention facilities in Xinjiang during the past five years, along with the duration and location of their detention; the grounds for detention; humanitarian conditions in the centers; the content of any training or political curriculum and activities; the rights detainees have to challenge the illegality of their detention or appeal the detention; and any measures taken to ensure that their families are promptly notified of their detention?
  • Can China clarify the basis for its apparent criminalization of peaceful religious practices as justification to detain people in these political “re-education” camps in Xinjiang, as well as which officials are responsible for this policy?
  • Since the Chinese constitution guarantees religious liberty, what steps is China taking to stop the continued repression of religious freedom, such as increasingly strict regulations being passed or proposed on religious activity China has passed or proposed, the detention and mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners, and the church closure and demolition campaigns seen in multiple provinces throughout the country?
  • What is China doing to end the unlawful practices of torture, secret detentions, and detention without due process halt the practice of detaining individuals who have not been lawfully charged, tried and convicted for a criminal offense in including Wang Quanzhang, who has been held incommunicado for over three years without an open trial, and Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, who was released in 2017 and redetained in January 2018?

And Australia

·                 Paragraph 4 of China’s 2018 National Report states that “there is no universal road for the development of human rights in the world”, with the relevant section headed “human rights with Chinese characteristics”; in contrast China’s 2013 report stated “China respects the principle of universality of human rights”.

Does China still accept the principle of universal human rights, and if not, can China explain how its conception of human rights fits into the international human rights regime built on the concept of universality? Can China explain how “human rights with Chinese characteristics” differs from universal human rights, and if it does not, why it wishes to introduce this distinction?

 ·                 Australia is concerned about reports regarding the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang, and the lack of transparency and access for members of the international community, including monitors from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

What steps is China taking to ensure that the concerns raised by the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) are being addressed in an open and transparent manner?

And what of New Zealand?   Perhaps our diplomats used their 45 seconds in a courageous and searching intervention?  But there was no sign of any advance written questions.  No sign our government cares even a little.

It isn’t even as if this is some left vs right issue.  Human Rights Watch and the United Nations are alarmed by what is going on, but so (according to a piece in my inbox this morning) is the libertarian think-tank the Cato Institute.     Can we make a difference?  On our own no, although us speaking up (even quietly) would probably lead Beijing to sit up and take a bit of notice – if even their pet Caucasians (a description someone passed on) are willing to speak, perhaps we need some different tactics? – but sometimes you just have to do what is right.

I’m going to end as I ended a post last week

The Churchill quote – from his famous ‘iron curtain” speech – is very apposite, but in the specific New Zealand context, and the way our politicians court the regime and fear doing or saying anything even slightly controversial, the commentator’s own line was a nice place to end.

It comes back to the values, not bank balances, we want to have for ourselves and for our children.

Perhaps ethics, morality and decency mean something different in Rotorua. But I’m pretty sure it isn’t that.  It is just that they seem to mean something different at the top of our two main political parties.

The PRC and New Zealand: bits and pieces

For anyone who hasn’t yet listened to it I recommend Anne-Marie Brady’s interview with Wallace Chapman on Radio New Zealand last weekend.  Half-hour interviews are pretty rare, and this one gives a good flavour of the issues and concerns she has been raising since the publication of her Magic Weapons paper last September.  I’m not going to go over old ground again, but in listening to her I found four points worth noting:

  • she has been surprised by how slow the New Zealand official reaction has been to the material revealed in the Magic Weapons paper,
  • in discussing the Chinese-language media here, she noted that the Chinese Herald had initially reported her paper and also some of Matt Nippert’s Herald articles about Jian Yang.  She heard later that the editor had been called to Beijing to be straightened out, and that fresh people had been sent in.  There been no repeats of such deviations from the Party line (the PRC strategy to “harmonise” foreign Chinese language media with the line from Beijing) since.    She noted in passing how large the Chinese-language media is (in a population of only around 200000) , contrasting that with the straitened circumstances of the mainstream media in New Zealand.   “Who is funding them”, she asked.  The implied – if unstated – answer was pretty clear.   She sees this situation as itself a breach of New Zealand’s sovereignty.
  • she was asked about the description of New Zealand as the “soft underbelly of Five Eyes”.  As she noted, this wasn’t her description but the sort of line she heard repeatedly from the capitals of our traditional allies.  Of all that was in the paper, she suggested that this was the line that had riled official Wellington most.
  • asked about the (as yet unresolved) burglaries of her house and office, she was cautious about how much she said, but was clear that in her view there were unmistakeable indications of Chinese government involvement.

Brady’s paper is essential reading for the specific New Zealand context.  In the last week or so I’ve read a couple of other papers about the international situation, which I’d also recommend for anyone interested.   There is a paper from a researcher for a Canadian think-tank, “Hard Edge of Soft Power”, which I thought was an exceptionally clear description of the issues and challenges for countries like ours (and written for a general intelligent audience, whereas Brady’s paper (as released) was an academic conference paper and draft book chapter).  And then there was the original research from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute on the way in which Chinese military academy researchers have increasingly been using collaboration with Western universities (notably the UK, Australia, and Canada) to tap, and develop, potentially highly sensitive military technologies (summary here, including a link to the full report).

In terms of background resources, I just noticed that the Asia Media Centre here has a timeline of coverage on the PRC influence issues, with links to lots of the articles that have appeared over the last year or so.

Meanwhile the New Zealand government and opposition blithely act as if there is no reason for any concern.  They know what is going on, of course.  But they just don’t care.

Occasionally there are a few suggestion that things might be a little different, at least as far as our foreign and defence policies are concerned.   On the count, I noticed a post on the (relatively new) Point of Order blog (set up by a group of veteran political journalists).    The post (“Peters leading NZ away from trying to balance relations with US and China”), was clearly rather well-informed (probably from the Minister himself).   There we learned that

Led by Foreign Minister Winston Peters, the Coalition government has eased away from the previous National government’s ready accommodation with China and the presumption that NZ could easily balance United States and China relations to a more hard-nosed approach.  Several elements have contributed.

First, a powerful pro-Beijing faction in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has lost influence.

Second, the present government is more attuned to current geopolitical shifts in NZ’s immediate north-west. Now there is a new, sharper understanding of the implications of a move by China into contacts with NZ’s immediate Pacific environment such as the Cook Islands.

It went on

Many New Zealanders   who cherish  their  country’s  “independent” foreign policy  have  little   idea   of  how  active   China has been  in  spreading its influence  into  this region.  Even  within  the  Labour and  Green  parliamentary  elements of the  government, where anti-Trump  feeling is dominant,  the  realignment of  NZ towards the stance  of    its  long-time closest  partners  may not  yet be fully understood.


But it is clear  Winston Peters   has been  instrumental  in the policy  revision  in Wellington, moving   NZ  in its attitude  to Beijing back towards that of  its closest  partners…….

The intelligence community is relieved by the government’s attitude. Before the general election, the National government seemed unwilling to accept or acknowledge the extent of Chinese penetration despite the growing indications of influence in NZ Chinese media and the apparent interventions of Chinese agents in NZ academic circles.

My reaction at the time was much as it was when the Defence strategy document was released a few months ago “well, that is all very well –  and I welcomed the P8 purchases – but I will believe it means anything much when I hear it from the Prime Minister”.  She, after all, leads the largest party in the government, and – together with National –  her party is deeply complicit in the kowtowing to Beijing, at home and abroad.     The Prime Minister was never heard from on the defence strategic issues.

In a sense, I didn’t have long to wait this time. In her weekly interview on Morning Report on Tuesday the Prime Minister was asked about Chinese overt and covert influence activities in the Pacific and in New Zealand and whether she had any concerns.  Kim Hill –  the interviewer –  explicitly referenced the situation in the Cooks and Nuie (touched on in a Sunday-Star Times story) and Anne-Marie Brady’s work.   It is hardly a secret that China has been very active in the Pacific (both Melanesia and Polynesia) and is widely thought to be sounding out possibilities for future naval bases etc.

And what did our Prime Minister have to say?  She burbled on about the “realm territories”  –  officialese for the unusual constitutional position of the Cooks and Niue – trying to somehow allay any concerns solely with the irrelevant observation that the two countries had had diplomatic relations with China for some years.   She said she didn’t want to single out any individual player –  as if, you know, someone other than Germany was threatening Czechoslovakia in 1938 –  and talked only about how we (New Zealand) needed to up our game in the Pacific regardless of what anyone else was doing.  Of New Zealand and China, she claimed that our relationship was “broad, complex, and vital”, but with no sign that she had any concerns whatsoever.   Of course, she asserted that New Zealand policy would always be made in New Zealand’s interests, and then went on to adopt the juvenile phrase beloved of the New Zealand left “we will always take an independent foreign policy”.  What, even when we face common interests and threats?   She somehow managed to avoid engaging on the domestic issues – be it donations, Jian Yang, collaboration between universities and the PRC, the break-in to Anne-Marie Brady’s house, the attempts to control the local Chinese language media, to suborn or silence ethnic Chinese New Zealanders.  Just nothing.

Winston Peters can talk a good talk to friendly –  but not widely read –  journalists, and even when he meets Mike Pompeo or Marise Payne. Perhaps it will even temporarily ease some of the behind the scenes pressure on the government, to stop lagging behind in taking the PRC influences activities more seriously. But until the Prime Minister is on side, openly engaging with the public we can safely assume nothing much we change about the corruption of our system and society –  National and Labour hand in hand.

(One reader observed to me yesterday that to listen to the Prime Minister on such issues it is rather like a Palmolive ad –  “squeaky clean”, nothing to see here.)

Take, for example, the ongoing disgrace of Jian Yang.   It is pretty bad that our immigration and citizenship officials appear to have done nothing about his acknowledgement a year ago that he misrepresented his past –  in the PLA military university –  when applying to move to New Zealand (not only has he acknowledged misrepresenting his past, but claimed –  as if in defence –  that the Beijing authorities had told him to do so).  It is worse –  frankly extraordinary – that a former PLA intelligence official, member of the Chinese Communist Party, someone never once heard to criticise any aspect of PRC policy (despite its heinous human rights record, expansionist foreign policy etc), sits in our Parliament –  defended by the National Party, and accommodated (left unbothered, not criticised) by the Labour Party (and all the other parties).  When did the party of the decent centre-right middle classes come to be the party that covers for such a person, simply (it appears) for all the donations he manages to pull in, and despite his ongoing close associations with the embassy of Communist China?

As part of the new podcast series by John Campbell, TVNZ yesterday released a podcast on Chinese influence in New Zealand, including the cases of Yikun Zhang (he of no English, very close Communist Party ties, donations and –  nominated by both parties – honours) and Jian Yang.    I was among those Campbell interviewed, along with Tze Ming Mok (an Auckland ethnic Chinese commentator, of Singaporean/Malaysian background) and Clive Hamilton, the Australian academic.   There isn’t a great deal that is new in the podcast, but the detail I thought was telling was Campbell’s effort to give Jian Yang a chance to talk.  He went to the constituency office Jian Yang shares with Paul Goldsmith.  Jian Yang was in the office, but simply refused to come out to talk.  He is apparently still quoted reasonably often in the Chinese-language media but simply refuses to explain himself to his majority English-speaking electors.  It is shameful, but it is also telling.  A decent man would want to front up and tell his story. A decent party would insist on it.  A decent opposition party would repeatedly highlight any failure to do so.  I wonder what Paul Goldsmith –  seemingly an otherwise decent National MP –  makes of his office mate’s refusal to talk?

A reader who is fluent in Chinese sent me a couple of snippets on Jian Yang.

In one of the …. files released last Oct by the immigration office under OIA , Jian Yang declared he entered to Luo Yang University in 1978 and graduated in 1982 where he obtained a bachelor degree of English Study.

When I checked the background of this university in Chinese source, I found this university (Luo Yang university) wasn’t even founded until 1980 which means the university didn’t exist in 1978, the year Mr Yang declared he started his university education.

Here is a brief introduction of the Luo Yang university in Chinese in Wikipedia which I have translated into English.

Luoyang University, is It was a Tertiary institute that existed between 1980 and 2007. The school was funded in September in 1980 through World Bank education loan and Luoyang City council, and was a full-time polytechnic. In 1997, Luoyang University began the construction of a new campus at Luolong District, south bank of Luo River. In 1999, Luoyang University moved to the new campus. The old campus still has the Luoyang University Adult College and some ancillary facilities. 

Before 2006, Luoyang University is a polytechnic level institute. The school had tried to upgrade to university level several times, but not successful. In 2007 Luoyang University merged with another polytechnic Luoyang Industrial Polytechnic, and became a university level institute called Luoyang Institute of Science Technology.

The certificate that Jian YANG submitted to the immigration office seems a official document issued by the university and that has left a question: why the university would take a risk to make a statement which is apparently again the fact?

Either the certificate itself didn’t come from the university but was made up by someone else or Jian Yang was assisted by the university for a purpose to cover up his military background.

Again, in serious and decent countries these matters would be taken at least as seriously as the dodgy Czech currently (and rightly) under investigation.

I was sent a link to a debate hosted by a local Chinese-language TV station during last year’s election among ethnic Chinese candidates from four different parties.   Among them were Jian Yang, and an ethnic Chinese (Malaysian born) candidate for the Maori Party.     I was sent a translation and brief commentary on an exchange between these two (at about 1:03)

Jian Yang was challenged by Maori Party’s Chinese candidate, Wetex Wang (a Malaysian born Chinese), asked if he has done anything about introducing foreign investment to help the local economy in his 6 years sitting in parliament.

Below is a translation of Jian Yang’s answer.

Our Yili Group, built milk powder factory here. Our Mengniu Dairy, that is, Yashili International Holdings. These enterprises came to New Zealand, in fact they have all contacted with me, including our largest waste disposal factory, Waste Management, is invested by Chinese. We all contacted with (them). I went to their companies to introduce New Zealand’s policy, why New Zealand is a good place, why you should come to New Zealand.

My reader notes

(Please note that Jian Yang in the video has kept referring those Chinese companies as  “Our Yili, Our Mengniu, Our Waste Management” which sounds like he is a CCP official.  This is quite strange for me. Even if Jian Yang is an ethnic Chinese, he is a NZ politician. I would not imagine Kiwi politicians would refer those Chinese companies as Our.. Our…Our… instead, they would say Chinese Yili, Chinese Mengniu.  Apparently, Jian Yang still positions himself as a CCP representative but sitting in a foreign political circle.)

Perhaps a small thing in its own right, but put it together with his background, his ongoing close ties to the PRC Embassy, his refusal to talk to the media, his refusal ever to say anything critical of the PRC, it makes my reader’s point that there is little sign that Jian Yang –  despite serving in the New Zealand Parliament –  prioritises New Zealand interests and perspectives.      And our government seems unbothered.

Of course, there is always the alternative perspective. I noticed the China Council –  New Zealand government paid champions of and apologists for the People’s Republic of China –  tweeting a link to this article by a New Zealand living and working, and publishing, in China.   He champions the China Council and concludes

There’s no quick fix, and it will definitely take time and effort, but the sooner the world understands that China and the Chinese people are just like the rest of us, the sooner the world will reap the sweetest fruit that trade liberalization and economic globalization can grow.

Probably many Chinese people do have much the same aspirations, but the Chinese people have no freedom of expression, no freedom of religion, no ability to change their government, often not even freedom of movement, no benefit of the rule of law.   Not just like us at all.  It is the Chinese government we –  and they –  have to worry about.   There were fellow-travellers and sympathisers writing from Berlin in 1938, or from Moscow throughout the Cold War too.  But most New Zealanders  –  and then both the government and the opposition (National and Labour) – knew better.

Our leaders should –  and I hope one day will –  hang their heads in shame at what they brush over, and consciously look past, just not caring, so long as the donations and deal keep flowing.










On the background of Zhang Yikun

Last week the original Chinese version of the article below appeared in the Chinese-language magazine Beijing Spring.  It is about the background of Zhang Yikun the (non-English-speaking) Auckland businessmen who suddenly emerged into the public spotlight recently when Jami-Lee Ross released a tape of a conversation with National Party leader Simon Bridges.  Zhang Yikun had, it appeared, arranged/facilitated a set of donations to the National Party, totalling $100000, and had discussed with Bridges and Ross the possibility of another ethnic Chinese MP, apparently naming as a possible candidate one of his own employees/associates.  Once the spotlight fell on Zhang Yikun it turned out that he had had extensive associations with senior figures in both main New Zealand political parties.  And both he and his associate appear to have extensive involvement with the PRC’s United Front programme.

The article was written by Chen Weijian. The full version of his article, in Chinese, is here.  When it appeared Anne-Marie Brady described it as a “must read”.  The English translation below was done by Daisy Lee, an Auckland-based China researcher (with a few suggestions from me to improve the flow for an English-speaking readership).     The translated version omits some detail that is in the original article, and reorders some material (but from the fuller version I’ve seen, this version omits nothing that is central to his case).   I offered to make the translation available here.

I asked for some biographical material and this is what I received

Chen Weijian is Auckland-based prominent Chinese political commentator.

He is the chief editor of online pro-democracy magazine Beijing Spring. The magazine was established in the United States in 1982 and the current president is Wang Dan, one of the most visible student leaders in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

Immigrating to New Zealand in 1991, Chen Weijian and his brother Chen Weiming  published the weekly Chinese newspaper “New Times” from 1996 to 2012.  Chen Weiming is a famous artist and sculptor known for his works of the 3-meter bronze statue of Edmund Hillary and 6.4 meters tall Goddess of Democracy.

In late 1970s when Chen Weijian lived in Hangzhou city of China,  he founded a private magazine Silent Bell which was banned by the Chinese government as illegal publication.

On my reading, the author’s key point is that the evidence of Zhang Yikun’s close association with the Chinese Communist Party, and the high regard in which he is held by the Party, is crystal clear.  Among that evidence is his very rapid ascent in various significant organisations that are part of the party-state’s overall United Front programme.

Chen Weijian’s article reinforces my view that New Zealand political parties and political leaders should steer well clear of those individuals like Zhang Yikun who are so closely associated with the Chinese Communist Party; a Party that is the source of so much evil at home in China, and which seeks to control the Chinese diaspora (and turn it towards Beijing, challenging the ability of migrants to become loyal to the country they’ve settled in) and to neutralise political opinion in countries around the world, including New Zealand.   There is no sign that such people –  and Zhang Yikun appears to be one of the most important of them in New Zealand –  have the interests of New Zealand and New Zealanders at heart in their interactions with, and donations to, our political parties.  And yet our politicians court him, and honour him.

If it is of use to anyone, I have put the text below in a separate document available here

State patriotism by Chen Weijian Oct 2018


State patriotism 

By Chen Weijian

4 June 1989 was a bloody day that cannot be erased in Chinese history. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) opened fire on unarmed students whose blood stained Tiananmen Square. 29 years later, on the same day, a New Zealand overseas Chinese leader, former PLA member Zhang Yikun, received the New Zealand Order of Merit.

On September 12th, Zhang Yikun was formally honoured at Government House. The news was even covered by China’s CCTV: a star in the overseas Chinese community was on the rise. But while awaiting his spectacular future,  Zhang Yikun this month burst into public view in New Zealand following his undeclared $100,000 donation to National Party.

The question of what political donations are legal and illegal is a matter for the relevant authorities. What I want to talk about is Zhang Yikun’s political background in China and the role he has been effectively playing in New Zealand as a “patriotic overseas Chinese” leader.

In his motherland, China, Zhang Yikun has held quite a few resounding political titles which distinguish him from all the other community leaders of the CCP’s United Front organisations in New Zealand.

In 2012, Zhang was elected as the vice chairman of Hainan Provincial Federation of Industry and Commerce.

The website’s home page says the Federation is a group of people’s organisations and chambers of commerce under the leadership of the CCP.  It is a bridge between the Party and the government to connect with the private sector.

That all members of the Federation must serve the party’s interest was explicitly addressed by Sun Chunlan, the minister of the United Front Department, when she spoke at a national training conference in July 2017 to the chairmen and party secretaries from all of the provincial Federations of Industry and Commerce.

She said then that “where the work of the Party and state is progressed, the Federation of Industry and Commerce should organize the  majority of people in the non-public economic organisations to follow”.

Zhang Yikun’s superior, the chairman of this Federation, is a famous businessman, Chen Feng, the co-founder and chairman of the Chinese conglomerate HNA Group.

HNA is known in New Zealand after the Overseas Investment Office declined its $660 million bid to acquire ANZ Bank’s UDC Finance last December.

Ranked No. 205 on Forbes 2017 China Rich List at $1.7 billion, Chen Feng is also a former PLA member.

It is unclear if Zhang Yikun’s wealth in China can be compared with Chen Feng’s holdings in HNA,  because on several Chinese websites Zhang is only declared as the chairman of Hainan Lian Sheng Fa Industrial Co., Ltd.  and there is no information about the company’s financial position.

However, one thing is certain: Zhang Yikun is not a normal business person, otherwise he would not have been able to become the vice chairman of the Hainan Provincial Federation of Industry and Commerce.

In Hainan province, Zhang Yikun plays an important role in another United Front Organisation, the Hainan Provincial CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference ) where he was promoted to the Standing Committee in January 2013.

A Brief History of the CPPCC in its website explains that the CPPCC, established in 1949, is a creation of the CCP which combines the Marxist-Leninist theories on united front, political parties and democracy, with China’s concrete practice.  In its new century and new stage of development, China’s united front has further expanded and become the broadest possible patriotic united front composed of all socialist workers, builders of the socialist cause, and patriots who support socialism and the reunification of the motherland.

Five months after he was elected in the Standing Committee of the CPPCC, Zhang Yikun was nominated by the United Front Work Department of the Hainan Provincial Committee as a “ Builder of the Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.”

At the top of a list of criteria, any potential nominee is required to have good political quality, resolutely support the leadership of the CCP and the socialist system, the party’s line, and its principles and policies.

Chen 2Southland District Mayor Gary Tong says Zhang Yikun, posing here with John Key, is well known in central government.

While Zhang Yikun has been diligently fulfilling his political responsibility in China, he has also been highly committed to the United Front Work in New Zealand.

Although he has been in New Zealand for nearly 20 years and is still unable to speak English, it has not affected him networking with politicians.  Gary Tong, the mayor of Southland, who is currently travelling with Zhang in China, said that Zhang is well known in central government and has close links to high level ministers and MPs. They include National Party leader Simon Bridges, former PM John Key, party president Peter Goodfellow, Deputy Leader Paula Bennett, Auckland Mayor and former Labour leader Phil Goff , current Justice Minister and former Labour Party leader Andrew Little and other senior politicians.

Chen 3Auckland Mayor Phil Goff at Zhang Yikun’s house wearing a gifted Chinese costume.

Among them, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, who was in Hong Kong on 4 June 1989, and saw the massacre on live broadcast TV. The experience had moved him and he has showed sympathy for activists in the past.  For example, when Wei Jingsheng, a famous Chinese democracy activist visited New Zealand, Goff invited him to lunch at Parliament. Times have changed, and though Goff is still particularly fond of China, his favour now seems to rest with interests associated with the CCP.

In New Zealand, Zhang appears to have been almost fated to succeed. He is admired by many immigrants who have been working hard for small achievement. Zhang talks of his own success quite modestly, as if “ I was not intending to pursue wealth, but prosperity just landed on me without my intention”.

Zhang Yikun was born in a village called Nigou in Puning County of Guangdong Province.   In 1990, at the age of 18, he joined the People’s Liberation Army in China. Joining the army was an opportunity for a rural youth to get out of the countryside. In his brief time in the army, Yikun was promoted to the headquarters.   In 1992, he was discharged, and started to work at the government of the Hainan Provincial Special Administrative Region. The fact that he was able to transfer positions implies that he was already well-regarded, since only those who were could get such transfers.

In 1996, Zhang Yikun was sent to the (prestigious) Chinese Academy of Social Sciences for postgraduate study. This in-service postgraduate program is specially designed by the CCP for the training of its officials. Having joined the army at age of 18, his education was at most an intermediate level. What led to him, an official with only an intermediate school education, being sent to an institution for higher education? We can only speculate.

Soon after his arrival to New Zealand in 2000, he ran his own restaurant called “China Yum Cha Restaurant”,  located at a premium location near Princes Wharf in Auckland. Unlike most Chinese immigrants who start washing dishes and cutting vegetables, Zhang directly became the boss of a large-scale restaurant (and subsequently opened another two restaurants). He had never run his own business in China nor apparently had any opportunity to make extra money. His monthly wage was just 800RMB in 1996. A large investment was required to finance this restaurant, so we can wonder where did the money came from?

Since then his business has becoming extremely successful. He has successively founded New Zealand Huanglian Group Ltd, HLG property Management Ltd, New Zealand Huanglian Natural Food Ltd and KCC Construction Ltd. The penthouse of 175 Queen St Auckland, the most expensive commercial building in New Zealand, has become the heart of his business empire. His business has developed to encompass multiple fields and multiple countries.  Activities include property development and management, export and import, commercial investment.  Several overseas offices have been set up in Hainan province, Guangdong province, Hong Kong and Thailand.

After establishing his business empire, Zhang Yikun began to build his career as an overseas Chinese community leader. Unlike Steven Wai Cheung Wong, the former head of the United Chinese Association in New Zealand,  who had to cultivate his relationship with the Chinese consulate for some years for his dreamed position, Zhang Yikun’s political promotion has been as astoundingly rapid as his commercial success.

In 2015, he formed the New Zealand Chaoshan General Association (CGSA),  for people from Chaozhou and Shantou district of Guangdong province, and has taken the role as the chair of the International Chaozhou Federation after two years.

Undoubtedly, Zhang Yikun is treasured by the senior Chinese politicians or he wouldn’t have been given this significant role to unite those wealthy ethnic Chinese who are valuable to the CCP in their attempts to expand China’s global influence.

As just one example of his connections, on 3 September 2015, Zhang Yikun was invited to Zhu Ri He military base in Inner Mongolia to watch the military parade. He stood on the viewing platform watching the armed forces marching, various new types of military vehicles and missiles in the parade, and the aerial display. He emotionally said, “as a military officer, seeing the country is strong, (my) feeling of pride is rising.”

In New Zealand, he has been frequently visited by high level Chinese delegations. On 8 June 2018, his former comrade, Luo Baoming, the former party secretary of Hainan province, now the vice chairman of OCAC (Overseas Chinese Affairs Office) was warmly hosted by Zhang Yikun and his CGSA in Auckland.

At the reception dinner party, the two Chinese MPs who have made such a contribution to the New Zealand-China relationship, Jian Yang and Raymond Huo, witnessed how this senior OCAC official praised Zhang Yikun.

“The fulfilment of China’s dream needs the overseas Chinese community leaders like president Zhang Yikun who has the strength and passion for the state patriotism”.

State Patriotism! Here we have Jian Yang, former officer lecturer of a PLA spying school, and his fellow PLA veteran, Zhang Yikun, both members of “New Zealand Veteran Association” (Zhang Yikun is the president of the association), standing together to welcome a high ranking Chinese communist official, is it a coincidence?

Chen 4Jian Jian Yang (far right) and Zhang Yikun (second from right ), the two former PLA members greet Luo Baoming, the vice chair of OCAC

If the above is not enough to set the scene, here is another photo. This one was taken on 30 August this year in Beijing. Zhang Yikun is staring at the display wall of propaganda and listening. The display wall is themed in communism red, titled “Always Go With the Party” and next to it is the symbol of communism, the hammer and sickle.

Chen 1 Zhang reading the “Always Go With The Party” display banner in Beijing on 30 Aug 2018

The New Zealand government granted him a high honour on 4 June, the day the whole world commemorates the young students whose lives were taken by the evil party. Zhang Yikun, the former PLA member, carried his honour back to Beijing to express his love to the party.

Is his beloved country New Zealand or China?  There is nothing wrong if he says he loves China.  But in reality, he loves the Communist Party and is following the steps of the party forever. Of course, we can’t simply conclude just from a photo that he wants to follow the party all the way. For that, we should see what he has done in the past and what he is doing now.

The revelation of Zhang’s donation has brought back to fore stories that had been dormant for a while. The National MP Jian Yang, exposed last year for his hidden past as a PLA intelligence officer and teacher in PLA spy school, and later sitting in the Foreign Affairs committee of Parliament.  And now, another (former) PLA member, Zhang Yikun has emerged on the stage.

New Zealand is the land of the long white cloud, often described as the last pure – uncorrupt – land in the world. Unfortunately, it has been polluted by CCP’s Human Common Destiny. The clean-up of the pollution may have begun, but completing it will take time.

Is that the best you can do Prime Minister?

There was a headline on Newsroom this morning “Ardern softly raises concern over Uighurs”.  That sounded interesting, even if that “softly” word was a bit of a giveway.  Here is what the article actually said

Ardern told media at her weekly post-cabinet press conference that she was concerned by the Uighur’s plight, although she had not recently been briefed on the subject.

She said she might raise her concerns at a future meeting with Chinese officials, but made no firm commitment.

“Generally speaking we take the opportunity to raise issues of concern,[but] it would be pre-emptive to say what I would discuss,” she said.

Presumably she was asked a question and had to say something.  That she was “concerned” was about as weak as you could possibly get –  by contrast her Labor counterpart in Australia yesterday managed a “gravely disturbing”.    The Prime Minister apparently went on to play down the issue further by specifically noting that she hadn’t been briefed recently.  When a Prime Minister cares about an issue, the briefings will come quickly.

And then, in case anyone (businesses, donors, Yikun Zhang or the like) was worried that she might have said too much, when asked if she would raise her concerns with the Chinese government she couldn’t muster more than “I might”.

This for one of the gravest and most large scale abuses in modern times, being committed by a Security Council member.  And the Prime Minister having called only recently for “kindness” to be some watchword of policy.   Not much on display if you are a Uighur.

The Newsroom article, which seemed to be doing as much as possible to put the Prime Minister in a good light, ended with this comment.

Ardern flagged human rights concerns in a recent meeting with Li Xi, the Party Secretary of Guangdong Province, who visited earlier this year, as reported by Newsroom.

And so I clicked through to that article to refresh my memory.

“We acknowledged of course we are both countries on different development paths, that the nature of our political systems, but that we’ve always as our two countries found ways to discuss those differences in a way that works for our relationship, and I put human rights under that category,” Ardern said.

The detention of Uighur Muslims in Chinese “re-education camps”, the subject of concern by a United Nations panel, was raised under that banner, Ardern said.

Asked of Li’s response to the human rights issues, Ardern said: “It was heard and received.”

I suppose it is good to know it was mentioned, but a mere mention in a private meeting hardly seems likely to bother Beijing.  And hardly likely to reassure New Zealanders that our elected “leaders” actually care much about the imprisonment of a million people, for little more than being who they are, let alone the more recent report of those Uighurs not in prison having regime spies forced on them, living in their houses to report on their attitudes and behaviours.

As it happens, we have a PRC perspective on the Prime Minister’s meeting last month with Li Xi, available on the PRC embassy website.  This was the meeting where, so the PRC reports, the Prime Minister suggested strengthening relations between the Labour Party and the Chinese Communist Party (emphasis added)

New Zealand is ready to deepen bilateral cooperation with China in economics and trade, tourism and innovation, strengthen party-to-party exchanges

Isn’t there quite enough obsequious praise of Xi Jinping, courting of CCP-connected donors etc from Labour figures already?

Of course, the PRC account doesn’t mention the Prime Minister raising any human rights issues (which isn’t to suggest they weren’t mentioned) but how seriously do you suppose they would have taken any concerns anyway when they can report that the Prime Minister said this (again, emphasis added)

Ardern said New Zealand and China have something in common in improving people’s wellbeing, protecting the environment, and enhancing coordinated development, adding that the development strategies of both sides are highly compatible, with broad room for cooperation.

I guess at the most reductionist level there is something to the first point: both governments probably do want to lift the wellbeing of their people, although in the PRC case even that is arguable (control and submission to the interests of the Party seems more paramount).   But it is a statement that is devoid of meaning, or moral content, when you contrast what a free and democratic society might mean by such statements, and what a regime that runs mass concentration camps, allows little no religious freedom, little or no freedom of expression, and no lawful vehicle for changing the government might mean.   As for “development strategies” being “highly compatible”, is the Prime Minister giving a nod of approval to strategies that involve widespread theft of intellectual property, the absence (boasted of by the chief justice) of the rule of law, growing state control of even private companies (let alone a massive credit-fuelled, and highly inefficient, domestic boom that ran for some years)?  It is just shameless pandering.

I don’t suppose the PRC is going to change any of its policies because New Zealand expresses disapproval, but what we hear from the Prime Minister and from the PRC’s reports gives us no basis to think the PRC would even believe that New Zealand governments cared.

Which is a good opportunity to include this tweet I noticed yesterday from someone abroad who comments on China issues.

The Churchill quote –  from his famous ‘iron curtain” speech – is very apposite, but in the specific New Zealand context, and the way our politicians court the regime and fear doing or saying anything even slightly controversial, the commentators own line was a nice place to end.

It comes back to the values, not bank balances, we want to have for ourselves and for our children.