The PRC, trade, foreign investment etc

Parliament’s Justice Committee today has the second (and final?) public hearing of submissions on their foreign interference inquiry.  The first such session was described to me by someone who watched it all as “just hopeless”, and accounts I’ve read don’t suggest any reason to doubt that take.  If there were signs of seriousness about the process, they seemed to be about trying to play down, or pretend there was nothing to, concerns around the PRC.   The acting chair had introduced the hearing by suggesting she would prefer not to hear names.     Her party, earlier this week, launched a foreign affairs discussion document in which they talked of their “friends in Beijing”.  What hope for a serious investigation.

Reports this morning suggest the Committee is just about to have another acting chair, with previous acting chair Maggie Barry deciding to leave the committee, and substantive chair Raymond Huo (who initially opposed any public submissions, claiming government departments could say all there was to be said) having belatedly recused himself, as someone about whom concerns had been raised, notably in Anne-Marie Brady’s paper.  In another sign of the unseriousness of the exercise, a senior National MP on the Justice Committee told the committee two weeks ago, when Brady appeared, that he hadn’t even read the paper.  I might not have expected all MPs to have done so –  although all should –  but a senior MP, actually sitting on the committee, part of National’s international affairs team…..

It is reported that National MP Chris Bishop is to be the new acting chair.   As I happened I was engaged with Bishop briefly on this issue on Twitter yesterday, when he politely took exception to my suggestion that the inquiry, especially around the PRC, was really a faux inquiry.   His claim was that

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and went on to ask the basis for my concern.   240 characters really isn’t the length for such discussions, so I simply pointed him to my submission to the inquiry, and in addition to some of the points above noted the Jian Yang situation.  Perhaps he was in earnest.  Perhaps his acting chairmanship will really mark some sort of turning point in the inquiry.  It would be great if it did, but it is hard to have any optimism given how deeply entrenched, especially in the two main parties, the wish to pretend there are no problems, and to just get on treating the PRC as a normal country (“our friends”) has become, from Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges down.

There was another example of the establishment approach in this area in the Herald yesterday, in a column by lobbyist and former trade negotiator Charles Finny, offering to “make sense of the US-China dispute”.  Par for the course for the Herald, general readers would not have any idea that Finny serves on the Advisory Board of the (largely taxpayer-funded) New Zealand China Council, set up to champion closer ties with the PRC (and never known to have said anything critical of the regime), and he is also chair of Education NZ, the government body charged with promoting export education, much of it to the PRC.   On a good day, Finny appears to be alive to some of the risks around the PRC –  he did after all go on national TV and suggest that he was always careful what he said around Jian Yang and Raymond Huo given their apparent close ties to the PRC embassy – and I suspect he is mostly a true-believer in the mantra of the “rules-based order” and of the ever-increasing web of preferential trade agreements New Zealand is party to.

But his “making sense of the US-China dispute” column didn’t make sense of it at all, because it totally failed to place the rising tensions in a wider strategic or political context.  It was, on his telling, all the fault of the Americans (“the Trump Administration’s ‘America First’ mentality), and not at all about choices made by the PRC.  Later in the article, Finny does actually note first that some of the approaches that bother him began under Obama (judges for the WTO), and that there isn’t necessarily much difference between the approach being adopted by Trump and that by Democratic Party contenders, which you would think might matter.  But instead all we get is a worry that New Zealand could see

enormous pressure on New Zealand to stop buying Chinese technology or to co-operate with Chinese universities or research entities,

(Shouldn’t any decent media outlet have thought at that point that Finny should have to disclose his Education NZ and China Council involvements?)

Finny’s approach seems to be that no matter the character of the regime, we should simply keeping on doing more trade, buying more technology, allowing more investment.  There seems to be no sense at all of anything around security risks –  be it Huawei, Hikvision or whoever –  no sense that, however the New Zealand government labelled it in a treaty, the PRC is no market-economy, but one with an ever-increasing role for a state with totalitarian aspirations and abilities.   Simply no recognition of the way the PRC has sought to inject its pernicious influence –  and don’t pretend it is just another state – into the affairs of all sorts of other countries, including our own, including our own ethnic Chinese New Zealand citizens.   Now, you might think Trump is going about tackling these challenges in a poor way – or perhaps won’t even follow through –  but that is a quite different matter from whether there is a real issue that needs addressing.   Finny –  and the New Zealand political establishment –  would, it appears, prefer to pretend otherwise.  And don’t pretend –  as some try to –  that this is just about another big country getting richer and stronger.   There would be nothing like the level of concern there now is across the US political spectrum if China were opening up, reducing the power of the state, reducing the power of the Party, stopping the threats to Taiwan, stopping corroding freedom in Hong Kong, demolishing artificial islands in the South China Sea, not engaging in state-sponsored intellectual property theft, not imprisoning a million Uighurs, not attempting to exert control over diasporas and foreign Chinese-language media, and so on.    Those are the sorts of things that should be concerning our MPs and ministers, but not one will utter a word.      (And by contrast I listened to an interview yesterday with Pete Buttigieg, one of the fairly left-wing Democratic contenders.  I can’t imagine he agrees with Donald Trump on almost anything, and yet on China and the risk and threats he was fluent and serious.  I was impressed.)

As it happened, a reader this morning posted a link to a column from the New York Times by the (often rather breathlessly enthusiastic) champion of globalisation Tom Friedman on the US/China issue.  I don’t suppose he is generally much of a Trump fan either, and yet

A U.S. businessman friend of mine who works in China remarked to me recently that Donald Trump is not the American president America deserves, but he sure is the American president China deserves.

and, for example,

But when Huawei is competing on the next generation of 5G telecom with Qualcomm, AT&T and Verizon — and 5G will become the new backbone of digital commerce, communication, health care, transportation and education — values matter, differences in values matters, a modicum of trust matters and the rule of law matters. This is especially true when 5G technologies and standards, once embedded in a country, become very hard to displace.

And then add one more thing: The gap in values and trust between us and China is widening, not narrowing. For decades, America and Europe tolerated a certain amount of cheating from China on trade, because they assumed that as China became more prosperous — thanks to trade and capitalist reforms — it would also become more open politically. That was happening until about a decade ago.

But, as he goes on to note, it simply isn’t now.  And New Zealand politicians seem to refuse to confront the implications of that, accentuating local issues that were already building (as one small but prominent example, Jian Yang was already in country –  told by Beijing to lie about his past –  and in Parliament before Xi Jinping took the top job).

In somewhat the same vein the government has a consultation open at present (submissions close tomorrow) on possible changes to the overseas investment regime.  I took the opportunity to make a short submission for two reasons:

  • first, I generally favour greater openness to foreign investment, but
  • second, the discussion document dealt (rather superficially) with national security issues and how the rules might best handle those.

These days, New Zealand does not get much foreign direct investment –  and especially not much in the way of greenfields new developments.  I don’t think the screening etc regime is the main reason –  mostly, I suspect, we don’t have that much foreign investment because (a) there are few opportunities here, and (b) for the same sorts of reasons business investment generally has been weak for decades (high cost of capital, high real exchange rate, high taxes on business profits –  in that case, especially for foreign investors).  But I’d generally favour a more liberal environment, for almost all industries and for investors of almost all countries.

It is also worth recognising that most of any benefit (to productivity in New Zealand for example) from foreign investment will come from investment by firms based in rich and advanced countries.  Of course, there might be rare exceptions –  a firm based in Zambia, Laos or El Salvador –  but they will be exceptionally rare (the best ideas, technologies, management systems etc) will be in the rich countries –  part of why they got, and stay, rich.  So I’d favour a pretty-much open slather approach to foreign investment –  existing assets or new –  for investors based in rich countries (the OECD membership might be a decent starting point, and one could add in places like Singapore and Taiwan.

For most of the poorer or smaller countries, I really don’t care much what the rules are.  Probabilistically, there is almost nothing at stake (at least in economic terms) in maintaining restrictions on Zambia, Laos, El Salvador (or 100 others) if that is what the political process demands.  But, equally, there isn’t much risk or downside to opening up to them either, especially if one is focused on the benefit of New Zealanders being (generally) able to sell to the highest bidder.

There are various odious regimes in the world.  Most them don’t matter much to New Zealand at all (thinking places like Equatorial Guinea).  But the PRC does and in my view we should –  while the regime remains as it is – be treating investment from there quite differently, for various reasons.    One is a straightforward economic one.  Almost any large PRC firm is either an SOE or has a significant element of state/Party control to it.  We spent years here trying to reduce the hand of the state in direct business operations in New Zealand.  State entities typically don’t run businesses well, don’t allocate investment efficiently, and so on.  There is no more likelihood (to put it mildly) that PRC state-controlled companies will do so than the New Zealand government ones will –  and at least the New Zealand government ones are ultimately answerable to New Zealanders.  Such investment is likely to be a net negative for New Zealand even if the price paid to the initial New Zealand vendor is higher than that vendor could have got from another –  private –  purchaser, whether from New Zealand or another country.

But the deeper reason is that the PRC is a big and powerful totalitarian state, that has repeatedly displayed aggressive intent, which has values antithetical to those of most New Zealanders.   Individual PRC buyers may well be perfectly decent well-intentioned people –  as plenty of 1930s Germans were too –  but a totalitarian state has, and repeatedly demonstrated, its leverage over its own people, by fair means and (too often) foul.  We would simply be ill-advised to allow PRC-associated interests to have significant investments in many sectors in New Zealand.  One could think of media or telecom companies, or tech firms.    The PRC banks operating here should be a matter of concern, especially if they get materially larger than they are now.   But the concern should range wider.  For example, the greater the control PRC interests have of elements of the dairy industry, the more difficult New Zealand might find it to be handle the sort of economic coercion the PRC has attempted to engage in re various countries in recent years.

And, of course, to circle back to my earlier point, it is not as if the PRC is one of the world’s advanced economies.  Productivity levels languish far behind even New Zealand’s modest levels, and everyone recognises the dependence the regime has had on industrial espionage.  Deep pockets aside –  with a mix of market and non-market motives –  how much genuine benefit to New Zealanders is there likely to be from PRC foreign investment over time?

It is possible that this sort of restrictive regime could come at some economic cost, in terms of lost productivity opportunities for New Zealand. My sense is that it would probably be quite a small cost, but we can’t be sure.  Perhaps more importantly, many precautions have a cost –  whether it be a national defence force, Police, anti-virus software, or a lock on your front door.  The PRC is a threat to New Zealand and countries like us, and we need to be willing to spend some resources (perhaps sacrifice some short-term opportunities) to establish some resilience to those threats.

But, of course, our elected “leaders” and business establishment figures have no interest in any of this.  For them, it seems, the character of the regime matters not a jot, it demonstrated track record at home, abroad, and in New Zealand matter not a jot.  There are deals to be done, donations to be collected, and  –  if there are any risks –  well that will be someone else’s problem another day.  And in the process they’ve allowed our political system to become corrupted, indifferent to the character of the regime, indifferent to the values of New Zealanders.  But their “friends in Beijing” are no doubt happy.

 

National on international affairs

The National Party yesterday released a discussion document on international affairs, complete with an online survey inviting your views on various questions around aspects of possible National policy.  If you want a fairly neutral, perhaps even sympathetic, treatment you could read Sam Sachdeva’s article on Newsroom.

I suppose one should welcome a major Opposition party putting out discussion documents on significant areas of policy –  when they speak, voters can learn something both from what politicians say and what they choose not to say.  Who knows, but perhaps one day they will have one on the shocking decline in our relative productivity performance, something presided over –  or actively delivered –  by successive National and Labour led governments.

Reading National’s document you get a pretty strong impression of a party that wants to create an impression that values, human rights etc actually matter to them.  It is there on the very first pages, in the introduction from Simon Bridges.

The story of the last century, apparently

From fighting aggression, advancing democracy and human rights, strengthening development, and promoting a more secure and prosperous multilateral rulesbased
system, we have overcome the tyranny of distance to act as a model global citizen.

Not quite clear to me what the “tyranny of distance” has to do such issues.  In wars it was mostly a great help –  too far away to invade or bomb.  But set that to one side, note that reference to “advancing democracy and human rights”.

Bridges goes on

National supports an independent foreign policy that works in the best interests of New Zealand. That means promoting shared values,

Sounds promising.   And there is more

We must be bold in our defence of the interests of our country and vigilant in the protection of the values we hold dear.

and

Our voice internationally means little if it does not authentically articulate our values.

and

This document outlines a vision from National on how to chart our course in the world, consistent with our core values

Introductions are easy.  Anyone with a fluent pen can write one.  In fact, National has another one – an introduction from their Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson Todd McClay.

He wants us to believe that he cares about values too.

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I’m not going to quibble with much of that.  Mostly it sounds quite good.

In fact, there is still more in a similar vein.

“We must always remember that we act on behalf of New Zealanders. Everything we do on the world stage must reflect their interests and values.”
Todd McClay
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs

and

We must use the tools of diplomacy to advance democracy, protect human rights, and promote inclusiveness around the world. First and foremost, foreign policy needs to be used to advance the interests of New Zealand.

We are committed to enhancing New Zealand’s hard won reputation as an honest broker and considered voice and as a proponent of peace and human rights across the world.

All of which was sounding quite good until we got to the next paragraph, under the heading “Defending our values”.    Even it begins reasonably enough

Over recent years, there have been many examples of aggressive and violent actions
by state and non-state actors around the world. New Zealand must uphold our values in confronting such aggression.

What did they have in mind?  As it happens, they do move from the general to the specific.

The conduct of Russia towards Ukraine and their use of nerve agents in the United Kingdom; recent terror attacks in India and Sri Lanka; and the abhorrent disregard for democracy and human rights in Venezuela are examples that reach the threshold demanding New Zealand’s swift and strong condemnation. To not do so risks creating confusion and uncertainty with our friends and allies.

Spot any important omissions there?   A hint?   Biggest country in the world, first or second biggest economy, increasingly repressive (across a huge range of dimensions) at home, expansionist abroad, known for intimidating diasporas, for state-sponsored intellectual property theft, and so on.

Why yes, that would be the People’s Republic of China.  In fact, in a couple of weeks won’t it be 30 years since the PRC authorities murdered thousands in and around Tiananmen Square, and don’t those same authorities today suppress any hint of a mention of what they did?

“Demanding swift and strong condemnation”?  Distancing ourself from such a regime, in honour of the values we (claim to) champion.  I’d have thought so, but clearly National doesn’t.

A couple of pages on, National’s document gets into a discussion of specific countries    They don’t actually have the gall to suggest that there are shared values with the PRC –  curiously, at least in the document, only the United States and the EU are explicitly described as having shared values with New Zealand –  but they begin

Our relationships with China and South East Asian countries must be respected and
maintained. In an environment of competing priorities, greater weight must be afforded to those relationships.

Nothing at all about values now, or distinguishing between countries that live something like those values, and those (the PRC most notably) that simply disclaim any such interest.   Deal with the PRC if you must –  and keep those donations rolling in – but don’t ask voters and citizens –  who actually hold those values you talk about –  to “respect” your shameful relationship with them.

There is a specific section on China.  It is the full kowtow.   The strange boasts about

We share many firsts with China – New Zealand was the first country to agree to China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation; the first country to recognise them as a market economy;

Not something I’d be boasting about unless I wanted to keep Madame Wu and the donors onside, the PRC manifestly not being a market economy, and having failed to open its economy in the way in which those who championed WTO-entry argued would happen.

And what about those “values” which appeared so prominently at the front of the document.  I’m guessing this was supposed to be the merest hint.

As this relationship has matured we have raised issues responsibly and respectfully with our friends in Beijing.

Only 17 words, and so much to object to.  “Issues” –  what issues bother you Messrs Bridges and McClay?   Wasn’t there lots of talk in the document about a more open and transparent approach to foreign policy, convincing citizens you act for them.  “Respectfully” –  about people who imprison vast populations (in Xinjiang), brook no domestic criticisms, destroy any vestiges of religious freedom, allow no political freedom, threat a neighbouring free and democratic country, unilaterally seize and militarise the South China Sea, encourage a migrant to New Zealand to lie about his past with PRC military intelligence, threaten and intimidate diasporas, abduct citizens of states with whom we do share values, and so on.     And “our friends” –  to which all I can say is “speak for yourself”, and “people come to be known by the company they keep”.

In the same section they go on to champion the Belt and Road Initiative, which (we are told)

“presents a real opportunity to build closer ties and demonstrate trust”

I presume they can only mean “demonstrate to Beijing that we are trustworthy vassals”.

They end the section by asking for readers’ views on “how should we deepen our relationship with [several countries including] China”.   The idea of not doing so, of pulling back from getting so close and deferential to a regime responsible for so much evil simply never seems to occur to them.   It just adds to the sick joke that is the current parliamentary inquiry into foreign interference, chaired by one of National’s senior MPs  Nothing to worry about Madame Wu, I’m sure they assure her.

It is an extraordinary document in many respects, and not just for the utter disconnect between all the talk about values and human rights and that about the PRC –  perhaps the largest abuser of human rights today, the prominent regime whose values are so alien to those National claims to see as our own.  What was also striking was that there was no hint that these people had given any real thought to the geopolitical or strategic environment, even though it is less than two years since they were in governments, and the most recent National Minister of Foreign Affairs is still on their team.   There is nothing about what the continued rise of an extremely illiberal PRC means, in Asia, in the Pacific, and in the wider world.  Nothing, for example, about the risks of allowing key elements of your telecommunications systems to be provided by a company owned (in effect) and controlled by the PRC regime.  It is just unserious stuff in which –  for all the fine, but empty, words at the start of the document, only (trade) deals and (party) donations seem to matter.  Values, it seems, are relevant when there is no cost.  Anywhere else, well it seems thay they must have another set of “values” –  “whatever it takes” perhaps being the best summary.

But why would any of this be a surprise (except perhaps the PR fluff designed to suggest they really do have a soul, and haven’t simply sold it all)?

After all, it is only a few months since Todd McClay was defending the PRC internment of probably more than a million Uighurs, running regime propaganda that these were “vocational training centres” and really it was no one’s business but the PRC authorities.

And a few months since Simon Bridges was attacking the government when there was a hint of a suggestion that they might not have been quite deferential enough to the PRC.

National’s party president pops in  Beijing from time to time to praise the regime and its leader, and seems to have business dealings in the PRC with National MP Jian Yang.

It is barely two years since Simon Bridges, as a senior minister in the previous government, held the pen in signing an MOU with the PRC on the Belt and Road Initiative, in which he and the PRC expressed an aspiration to a “fusion of civilisations”.

Or a year since Bridges and his then senior MP Jami-Lee Ross were dining with, and arranging donations from/through, a New Zealand citizens with strong and close ties to various regime entities in New Zealand and in the PRC.

And, of course, there is Jian Yang himself, who still sits in National’s caucus.   There is no dispute that he was a Communist Party member (experts believe he probably still is, since – they suggest – no one can leave voluntarily), no dispute that he served voluntarily as part of the PRC military intelligence system, no dispute (now, since he acknowledged as much) that he hid his past in applying for New Zealand residency/citizenship, (so he says) on instructions from Beijing, no dispute (apparently) that he is a large fundraiser, no dispute that he has never said anything critical of the regime in all his years in Parliament, no dispute that he associates closely with the PRC embassy and various United Front bodies in New Zealand, and (finally) no dispute that he avoids ever fronting up to the English language media in New Zealand.  And Simon Bridges and Todd McClay are apparently just fine with that. If it were otherwise –  if National was remotely serious about the values talk –  Jian Yang would be out of caucus, if not out of Parliament.

No wonder that in opening the select committee hearing on foreign interference a couple of weeks ago, the chair (National MP Maggie Barry) apparently opened by indicating that she would prefer not to hear names during the submission process.  Of course she would.

(Lest it be thought I could find no positives in the document, I agree with National on this

The National Government introduced the Autonomous Sanctions Bill to Parliament. This Bill would empower New Zealand to impose sanctions on countries where we believe they are warranted and outside of the ‘held hostage’ United Nations sanctions regime. This authority should be used sparingly, but is an important tool in New Zealand’s fight against aggression and in support of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

It is just that, even if it were on the statute books I’d have reason to expect National –  or Labour for that matter –  would do a thing about the PRC.     A National Party leadership that was remotely serious about the values talk would, for example, be criticising the government for its utter silence on the PRC abductions of the two Canadians, and it would be speaking out  two weeks hence strongly on the anniversary of Tiananmen Square –  less perhaps about the past evil, but about the refusal decades on of their “friends in Beijing” to allow discussion, debate, scrutiny of the record etc.  But we all know what they will in fact say. Precisely nothing.    Because deals and donations seems to be the “values” the matter.)

Finally, late last year Scott Morrison gave an impressive speech about values and foreign policy. I haven’t quoted from it again recently because –  like most others –  I assumed he would soon be passing into history. But perhaps it is the week to repeat his quote (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.

Wouldn’t it be great if our politicians really acted as if they believed that, especially in their dealings with the PRC?   Sadly, there is no hope of it from National, or Labour.

 

What are Police up to?

A reader sent me the link, and this is what Google Translate generates:

Guangzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau and New Zealand Oakland Police Department signed a friendly cooperation arrangement
Source: Guangzhou Municipal People’s Government Foreign Affairs Office published:2019-05-05 17:51

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guang 3.png

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the conclusion of the international friendship city relationship between Guangzhou and Auckland, and to strengthen the police cooperation between the two cities, Yang Jianghua, deputy mayor of Guangzhou and director of the Municipal Public Security Bureau, and the assistant police chief of the Auckland City Police Department of New Zealand on April 29 Lena Hassan ( Naila Hassan ) signed a “friendship and cooperation with the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau Auckland, New Zealand Police to arrange the book” in the Guangzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau. It is reported that this is the first time that the Guangzhou police and foreign police have signed a cooperation intention, which indicates that the law enforcement agencies of the two places will formally cooperate in police exchanges and police training.

“Police exchanges” with the Guangzhou branch of the Ministry of Public Security………..  Surely this cannot mean that MPS officers will be let loose with law enforcement powers in New Zealand?  Surely…..

I looked on the Auckland police website, I looked at the Minister of Police’s website, and I looked at the main Police news releases page, and there was nothing about this deal.

I wonder if Police, or their Minister, were ever planning on telling New Zealand citizens and voters about their deal with the PRC domestic repression apparatus?

Yesterday, I mentioned the Gestapo, but one doesn’t need to invoke (quite valid) Nazi comparisons with the People’s Republic of China.   Would Police – or elected governments – have thought such friendship and exchange deals were appropriate with the domestic security forces of the Soviet Union, or Pinochet’s Chile, with Galtieri’s Argentina, with apartheid South Africa, or……or…..or……

It just should not be.  And it clearly isn’t the case that this is just normal stuff (“everyone does it”) –  it is the PRC side that stresses that this is the first such arrangement for Guangzhou.

I’m not fond of the phrase “social licence”, but if it must be used this is an example of how government agencies –  allegedly working for our interests –  risk forfeiting theirs.

I will be lodging an OIA requesting details of this agreement.

 

A certificate of shame

A week or so ago I wrote a post about our Police and their apparent indifference to the requirements of the law –  in this case the Official Information Act.  I’d asked about the appointment of their Assistant Commissioner Hamish McCardle to a visiting professorship at the PRC’s People’s Public Security University (the university of the Ministry of Public Security).  It was already well past the 20 working days limit specified in the Act and nothing had been heard from Police.

This morning I finally had a reply from Police’s (acting) International Services Manager,   There was not much to it, and (so they say) nothing was withheld.  First, I received a photo of a certificate of Mr McCardle’s appointment.

McCardle certificate

The appointment was made almost a year ago.

It probably should be a warning sign when the university of the Ministry of Public Security in a regime like that of the PRC recognises your “outstanding achievements”, but apparently it wasn’t to either Mr McCardle or his bosses.   In fact, in the photo included with the article on the Police website, Mr McCardle looks downright pleased.  Never mind the loss of liberty –  pretty much across the board –  that the Ministry for Public Security helps give effect to, the mass incarceration of Uighurs, and the persecution of all manner of other groups, it was apparently a great honour to be welcomed as (visiting) faculty at their training school.

The only other information related to my request that Police claimed to have was an email from the former International Services manager to three of his superiors, including the Deputy Commissioner and the Commissioner of Police.

From: “KANE, Brett” < >
To: “PANNETT, Michael (Mike)” < >, “CLEMENT, Michael” < >, “BUSH, Michael (Mik·e)” < >
Subject: Hamish Mccardle -Appointed Visiting Professor at the Chinese Ministry of Public Security University

Assistant Commissioner Hamish Mccardle has recently been appointed as a Visiting Professor at the Chinese Ministry of Public Security University.
This is a very rare honour, in fact Hamish is the first ever foreigner to have this honour bestowed. A bit like Massey University presenting President Xi’s wife an Honours Doctorate during the State visit a few years back.
This honour presents the chance to return each year to teach an advanced class of Masters students, about a one to two week teaching block. This role will have some great advantages in the overall relationship development with MPS and
New Zealand over the long term.

Brett Kane
National Manager I International Services Group (ISG)
Detective Superintendent I New Zealand Police

And that was it.  A “very rare honour”, “first ever foreigner”.  All with the utter moral blindness that sees no apparent difference between Massey University and the advanced training establishment of one wing of the domestic repression apparatus of a state like the PRC.  In fact, this ‘honour” is regarded as highly beneficial (“great advantages”) in improving relations between the New Zealand Police –   police force of a free and democratic, bound by the rule of law –  and the PRC Ministry of Public Security, in a country whose own Chief Justice eschews any notion of the rule of law or an independent judiciary.

Assuming that Police are telling the truth and this is really all there is, I find it pretty surprising.  There is no sign of Mr McCardle consultating with his superiors on whether to accept such an “honour” (indeed, my letter from Police says the appointment was done “independently of New Zealand Police”), even though this appointment was to involve a significant ongoing commitment of time.  There is also no suggestion of consulting with MFAT on whether it is a good idea for a senior New Zealand police officer to be accepting such an “honour” from a state like the PRC (and MFAT’s response to my OIA to them confirmed that they had no other material on this appointment), and there is also no record of Police notifying the Minister of Police or his office (“no surprises” and all that), or of the Minister of Foreign Affairs being informed.  Perhaps worst of all there is no sign that the Commissioner expressed any concern about being informed only after the event, or asked for any advice over whether such an “honour” was really appropriate, or whose interests it was serving.

As it happens, the Police covering letter also says that, a year on, “details of any engagement are yet to be agreed” (do note that “any”) suggesting that the symbolism here is more important than the substance –  a key ministry in the PRC, active agent in the suppression of liberties of Chinese citizens, managed to get a senior western police officer to accept an honour from them.   Probably the Gestapo had training establishments that in the late 1930s would happily have dished out visiting professorships or the like to gullible foreigners happy to associate themselves with an institution responsible for such evils.

When it comes to making sense of Police it is always hard to be sure whether malevolence or sheer stupidity/tin-earedness explains any oddities.    This is, after all, the Police Commissioner who had to apologise for giving the eulogy at the funeral of a former police officer found by a Royal Commission to have planted evidence.

Who knows quite what the story is with this episode.  But it probably shouldn’t really surprise us, given the way official Wellington falls over itself to accommodate – and more –  the PRC.    Almost as much as sections of the business community.  Between them, they seem to simply put all concepts of right and wrong, of concern for the oppressed, of recognition of the evil character of the regime they defer to, to one side.

Of course, it is all led from the top.   I listened to a recording of the Prime Minister’s addresss this morning to the China Business Summit (also addressed by the Chinese Ambassador and the local CEO of Huawei) on the Herald website. It seemed strangely apposite that her address –  on this recording –  was bracketed by adverts for the latest in Hauwei technology.   It was, in different ways, a speech both extraordinary and banal.  Banal because it was probably as empty, and as cravenly deferential, as you’d have heard from any New Zealand Prime Minister for the last decade (in fact, it seemed very like her address to the same forum last year).

And yet extraordinary too for the utter emptiness of it all, in the face of a regime that poses such substantial challenges to the world, including its intrusion in our own political system.   Listen to the Prime Minister address the China business vested interests and you’d not know that issues around Huawei remain alive and serious (just the other day Vietnam banned Hauwei), you’d not know there were serious issues with state-sponsored intellectual property theft, with threats to Taiwan, the increasing loss of liberty in Hong Kong, expansionist activity in the South and East China Seas.  Nor, of course, issues like Xinjiang, the sustained persecution of Christians who won’t bend the knee to state-sponsored “churches”, or the forthcoming anniversary of the massacre of Tiananmen Square (no doubt airbrushed completely from PRC media, but I wonder if any of our political leaders will be moved to comment at all).  And as reminder that it seemed to be all about dollars, the Prime Minister reminded the assembled business figures that the government had nine agencies represented in being “there to serve your interests” –  it was that “your” that sparked me interest, no sense of “our”.

Of course, there was the obligatory brief and embarrassed note that we don’t always agree with the PRC, but that “differences of perspective don’t define our relationship”.  But they really should shouldn’t they, with a regime of such evil, with values so alien to those of most New Zealanders?  Of course, we have differences with every other country at some time or another, but with some we share fundamental values, and with others we just don’t.  The PRC is one of the latter, and yet the PM was again on her mission to treat the PRC as just another country, its leaders just another group of decent blokes (in their case, they are all male).  You can’t escape the impression that she is happier photographed with Xi Jinping than with, say, Donald Trump (and I don’t blame her at all for not wanting to be photographed with Trump, but the government he leads is not the PRC).  And yet, for all its faults, the US Adminstration is actually willing to speak up and speak out about the mass incarceration in Xinjiang

Perhaps it is no wonder Police not only accept this “honour” but celebrate it in their magazine.   When it comes to the PRC, they seem to take a lead from the Beehive, where successive waves of ministers seem devoid of any moral grounding.

When they ponder those deals and donations, and all the squalid compromises involved, perhaps our politicians, officials and business figures might ponder that old Scriptural line

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

 

 

The not-very-serious foreign interference inquiry

At midnight on Friday the deadline passed for public submissions to the Justice Committee’s inquiry into (various issues around) foreign interference in our political system.

The Justice Committee conducts a review after each election of issues around the conduct of the election.   After the opportunity for public submissions to this review had already passed the government asked the committee to add the “foreign interference” issue to its inquiry.

The Justice Committee is chaired by senior Labour backbencher, Raymond Huo.  Professor Anne-Marie Brady, and various other people, have highlighted the fairly close connections Raymond Huo appears to have had to the PRC Embassy in New Zealand, to various regime-affiliated United Front bodies, is on record having talked up the opportunity Parliament gave him to champion PRC perspectives (eg on Tibet), and has never once in his years in Parliament been heard to utter a word critical of the PRC regime –  even though, as an adult migrant, he will be more personally familiar than most with its ways.   It has always been pretty extraordinary that such a person chairs such a significant parliamentary committee, let alone was chairing an inquiry into potential foreign interference risks in the New Zealand political system.   Revealing as to the enfeebled state of the New Zealand political system, the parliamentary Opposition had never expressed any public concerns.

Huo has now, very belatedly, recused himself from the committee for the foreign interference aspects of the election inquiry.  But that recusal came only after the blowback from his (initially successful, initially backed by the Prime Minister’s office) efforts to corral the votes of his Labour colleagues to block Professor Anne-Marie Brady from making a submission on the foreign interference issues.    Huo assured us that officials could tell the committee all that was necessary.  To their credit, National MPs on the committee went public and the government backed down, and presumably forced Huo to stand aside from some aspects of the inquiry.

Eventually, there was a call for public submissions.  It ran as follows

The Justice Committee has resolved to invite further submissions on its Inquiry into the 2017 General Election and 2016 Local Elections. The committee is inviting submissions on the specific issue of how New Zealand can protect its democracy from inappropriate foreign interference, notably on the issues of:

  • the ability of foreign powers to hack the private emails of candidates or parties
  • the risk that political campaigns based through social media can be made to appear as though they are domestic but are in fact created or driven by external entities
  • the risk that donations to political parties are made by foreign governments or entities.

As I noted a few weeks ago, those specifics seemed deliberately designed to avoid the elephant in the room around the People’s Republic of China.  Combine that the competitive obsequiousness towards, and deference to, the PRC from all our political parties (but notably National and Labour who had all the seats on the Justice Committee), and the lack of an independent stance from any individual MP on such issues, I was not at all optimistic that the inquiry was a serious exercise.  When someone suggested I might make a submission I was initially reluctant –  participating in what was probably a charade only lent dignity to a dishonourable project.

But in the end I decided to make a fairly short submission, as a concerned citizen, but also one with some expertise on issues around the (alleged) economic dependence of New Zealand on the PRC.  I did not set out to be diplomatic.  The biggest issue facing New Zealand in this area isn’t inadequate laws, but the consciously-chosen actions, words, attitudes and values of our MPs and political parties.   The inquiry is framed to make MPs look like the solution, when in fact they (and their party machines) are the problem.

I suggested a number of specific legislative amendments.  From my summary

There are some specific legislative initiatives that would be desirable to help (at the margin) safeguard the integrity of our political system:

• All donations of cash or materials to parties or campaigns, whether central or local, should be disclosed in near real-time (within a couple of days of the donation),

• Only natural persons should be able to donate to election campaigns or parties,

• The only people able to donate should be those eligible to be on the relevant electoral roll,

• Consideration should be given to tightening up eligibility to vote in general elections, restricting the franchise solely to New Zealand citizens.

I would also favour tight restrictions on the ability of former politicians to take positions (paid or otherwise) in entities sponsored or controlled, in form or in substance, by foreign governments.

But

…useful as such changes might be, they would be of second or third order importance in dealing with the biggest “foreign interference” issue New Zealand currently faces – the subservience and deference to the interests and preferences of the People’s Republic of China, a regime whose values, interests, and practices and inimical to most New Zealanders. Legislation can’t fix that problem, which is one of attitudes, cast of minds, and priorities among members of Parliament and political parties. Unless you – members of Parliament and your party officials – choose to change, legislative reform is likely to be little more than a distraction, designed to suggest to the public that the issue is being taken seriously, while the elephant in the room is simply ignored. It is your choice.

In the body of the submission I developed the point

…in respect of the People’s Republic of China – a regime whose values, actions, and interests are inimical to those of almost all New Zealanders – these are not just risks, but realised facts. Whether because of false narratives about New Zealand’s “economic dependence” on China, lobbying from specific vested interests (public and private sector, or political party fundraisers), or whatever other consideration, political parties and elected politicians have allowed themselves to arrive in a position where all seemed scared to utter a word critical of the regime in Beijing, and appear to go out of their way to laud the regime and/or to solicit donations from people with close ongoing ties to Beijing. That brings our democratic system into disrepute, undermining the confidence of citizens that the political process is operating in their collective interests, and that those running it have interests and/or values that align well with the values and longer-term interests (including of a robust open political system) that aligns with those of the citizenry.

This isn’t primarily about inappropriate foreign interference itself but about the repeated choices of, it appears, every single member of Parliament, across successive Parliaments, and each of the parties represented in Parliament. Big and evil foreign regimes will attempt to exert pressure where they can, or to identify points of vulnerability. We can’t change that, and we can’t change the character of the Chinese Communist Party controlled People’s Republic of China. But we have choices as to how to react to the regime. The choices made by successive governments, apparently without material dissent from anyone in Parliament, have worked against the longer-term interests of New Zealanders.

and

No doubt most of those involved believe that, at some level, they are serving some version of “New Zealand interests”, but in the process there is no doubt that Beijing’s interests are advanced. What are those interests? Well, they include (without limitation) keeping western nations hitherto known for their regard for political freedom, the rule of law, and human rights, quiescent. When (otherwise) decent countries treat the PRC – a country with few real friends and allies – as normal and decent that (in some small way) helps the regime.

New Zealand governments were once known for a fairly forthright stance in responding to large and evil regimes: the first Labour government was well-known for its opposition to appeasement policies in the 1930s, and successive governments (of both parties) recognised the Soviet Union for what it was. But no longer.

The People’s Republic of China is at least as evil a regime – expansionist abroad, increasingly repressive at home, attempting to coerce diasporas (including in New Zealand) abroad, often with not-very-veiled threats to people at home. And yet our governments and members of Parliament treat the leaders and representatives of this regime as part of some sort of normal state, unashamed to share platforms with them and (apparently) afraid ever to utter any word of criticism. Citizens of a close ally have been abducted by Beijing in recent months, and the New Zealand government utters not a word of support. A free and democratic country in east Asia is constantly threatened and harassed by Beijing, and New Zealand governments say nothing. What message does this send to New Zealanders about whose interests governments are serving, and values they represent? By contrast, party presidents of both main political parties have been in Beijing in the 18 months praising the PRC regime and its leader – and they don’t even have the excuse perhaps open to ministers of maintaining normal diplomatic relations.

No one supposes that our elected MPs or political parties [collectively, or generally as individuals] share the values, or even support the methods, of the People’s Republic of China. And the People’s Republic of China poses no direct physical threat to New Zealand. Thus, the only reasonable deduction is that the deference and subservience, to a regime responsible for so much evil, is about deals and donations: direct two-way trade opportunities, and the flow of political party donations from people (often New Zealand citizens) with affinities to Beijing.

What about those economic risks?

The People’s Republic of China is known to attempt to use “economic coercion” to bend other countries and their politicians to its way (sometimes – as with Norway – just keeping quiet about evil). From an economywide perspective, these are mostly not serious or real threats – more like bogeymen that people in other countries choose to scare themselves with, sometimes egged on by political leaders. A key insight of the economic growth and development literature is that the countries make their own prosperity (not by closing themselves off to the world, but through good institutions, smart people, decent tax and regulatory provisions, which allow them to develop industries than can take on the world). But the threats – usually unspoken, but real nonetheless – are real for individual firms  (including public sector ones like universities) that have made themselves very dependent on the PRC market.

Wise businesses don’t make themselves excessively dependent on markets controlled by capricious brutes, and when they find themselves over-exposed they look to diversify and/or build greater resilience into their own processes. But too many New Zealand exporters – well aware of the character of the regime – have only redoubled their exposures, and then seek to influence the New Zealand state to protect their dealings in those markets. Perhaps among the more shameful are the universities, historically guardians of open debate etc, and yet several now actively partner with arms of the PRC and all have chosen to make themselves dependent on PRC students – in the process handing the thug a baseball bat. Not one university vice-chancellor has been heard from in recent years lamenting the increasingly closed and repressive nature of the regime in Beijing.

There are parallels with people who pay protection money to the Mafia. Such people might garner some sympathy but little respect. But whereas an individual may have few protections against organised crime syndicates, a sovereign state positioned as New Zealand is, has plenty of choices. A generation of politicians has made bad choices around the PRC. Those choices may have boosted two-way trade to some extent (even as our overall economic performance – more influenced by our overall foreign trade, which has been shrinking as a share of GDP – has remained poor), but have also compromised our longer-term interests, values, and the sense of decency and self-respect that most New Zealanders pride themselves on. New Zealanders can have little confidence that the political system is operating for them.

Following some discussion of my specific recommendations (above), I came back to the point

But it would simply be wilful pretence to suggest that they are the main game around foreign interference. As members will be well aware, the United States (for example) has very tight laws on foreign donations (much more so than New Zealand’s) which has not avoided allegations of interference/collusion or whatever roiling the political system for the last few years.

In a New Zealand context, it is generally recognised that many of the problematic donation flows are made by New Zealand citizens. The controversy last year around Auckland businessman Yikun Zhang was once such possible example, but the point generalises and is well-recognised by those close to the major political parties. In the PRC case, in particular, parties have actively sought to tap donations from ethnic Chinese citizens, often people with close associations with, or sympathies for, the regime in Beijing. No law is going to stop most such people donating, but decent political parties would choose not to tap (knowingly) such morally questionable sources of funding. All parties will be well aware of the activities of the regime, and its agents, in attempting to coerce, or incentivise, ethnic Chinese living here who have ongoing business or family connections in China.

But again, the issue isn’t just about PRC-born New Zealand citizen donors. There are not a few domestic entities with a strong interest in the New Zealand government deferring to Beijing whenever possible, and avoiding if at all possible ever upsetting the regime in Beijing. Many of them are people who readily get the ear of ministers or senior officials. Indeed, the government is in league with many of these same people/institutions in promoting and funding the New Zealand China Council, a body that uses taxpayers’ money to attempt to propagandise the relationship the government itself and specific businesses have with the party-State in Beijing.
For the country as a whole this is not some sort of “win-win” situation (in a way that free trade between consenting firms generally is). Rather, to some extent at least (and perhaps less so in substance than in belief), the access of New Zealand firms (a minority of New Zealanders’ financial interests) is held to depend on New Zealand governments and MPs doing as little as humanly possible to upset one of the most heinous regimes on the planet. Those firms then become, in effect, champions locally of the interests and values of Beijing and – to the extent that politicians respond to such pressures (as they seem to, enthusiastically or otherwise) – they themselves become complicit. Since MPs represent the public, we are all tarred to some extent or other by that association. That, in turn, discredits our political system, which comes to seem no longer interested in championing or representing the values that shaped and formed our nation and our political system.

Quite possibly almost all those involved in the New Zealand political system believe they are primarily serving the interests of New Zealand. But until the major parties (in particular) and the governments they form begin to make observable choices in ways that prioritise New Zealand interests and values over those of Beijing, there is a certain observational equivalence between claiming to focus on New Zealand interests and actually serving Beijing’s. That inability to tell the two apart corrodes any confidence in our political system, and any respect for our politicians and parties. The political spat earlier this year, around which party was most willing to defer to Beijing, will only have reinforced public doubts.

Ending on this note.

That cannot be a desirable state of affairs. Modest legislative reforms around foreign donations do not go to the heart of the problem and, welcome as they might be, will not represent any material part in a fix. A real fix requires MPs and parties to start consistently choosing and acting differently; choosing to prioritise the longer-term values and interests of New Zealanders.

It will be interesting to see how many others, and who, have chosen to submit.

I continue to have very low expectations on this inquiry.  The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition demonstrate no interest in the issue (except perhaps to pretend there isn’t an issue), and other party leaders and MPs are no better (it appears).   The acting committee chair (for this part of the inquiry) is not one of those MPs one would look to for leadership, and the media have –  thus far –  shown little sustained interest in the inquiry (except when gifted stories –  eg around Huo blocking Brady, and the recent appearance of the GCSB/SIS), with no even any apparent follow-up to the reported claims of Jami-Lee Ross (how did he get on the committee?) at the last public hearing.

But no doubt, after the previous Labour attempts to block her, when Professor Brady is invited to appear before the committee there will be considerable interest, including in how MPs on both sides of the committee attempt to parry, or downplay, the concerns she has been raising (let alone the apparent attempts to intimidate her and her family, that –  again –  excited so little interest or outrage from the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition.)

UPDATE (Tuesday): This Newsroom article has some useful material, including about how Jami-Lee Ross came to be on the committee for a day, and suggestions that Huo still has not properly recused himself.

Lawless Police

One shakes one’s head in wonderment that multiple guns could be stolen from a city police station in broad daylight (and chuckles at the suggestion I saw that perhaps Police could be prosecuted for failing to store firearms safely).  It isn’t, I guess, the direct responsibility of the government, but somehow it seems symptomatic of just how badly off course the government’s so-called “year of delivery”, transformational change etc, is.   The public sector can’t even get the basics right, even as the bosses parade around (in the Police case), advancing trendy political and social causes, asserting the right to carry firearms in all circumstances, and (wildly inappropriately for a supposedly neutral public servant) offering public adoration and praise of the Prime Minister.  How anyone can still have confidence in the New Zealand Police is a bit beyond me.

This is the same organisation which appears to simply choose to ignore the law when it suits.   Let me illustrate.

In mid-March, a reader drew my attention to an article in a Police magazine, gushing over the appointment of an Assistant Commissioner (formerly the police person in our embassy in Beijing) as a visiting lecturer

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

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

I wrote a post expressing astonishment that Police could think this was in any way appropriate, given the (official) PRC disregard for the rule of law, and the active part played by Ministry of Public Security in (for example) the large-scale repression and persecution of Uighurs in Xinjiang (or any of the other systematic repressions the PRC prides itself on).  Political loyalty to the CCP will be a key consideration in recruitment, and in helping the Ministry, New Zealand Police buttress the agencies of a regime responsible for so much evil.  Mr McCardle though seemed quite chuffed at his appointment.

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

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

As I noted

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

I wondered what thought, or analysis, went into the decision to accept this appointment, including whether relevant ministers had been aware in advance (and thus complicit).

And so I lodged a couple of Official Information Act requests, one with Police, and one with MFAT.    The request to Police asked

Please provide me with copies of all information relating to the appointment of Hamish McCardle as a Visiting Professor in the People’s Republic of China (as described in [the article])  Without limitation, this request includes any consultation with or advice to other government agencies, or government ministers (or their offices).

I had a response from MFAT fairly promptly, within 10 days or so of lodging the request.  MFAT noted that they were aware of my separate request to Police and responded that

MFAT 1That was useful information in its own right: presumably there had been no internal discussion at MFAT, and no briefing to, or consultation with, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

And what of Police?  I had an automated acknowledgement of my request, and the MFAT response confirms Police were aware of the request.   Under the Official Information Act, agencies are required to respond as soon as reasonably practicable, but within no more than 20 working days.     That deadline has now long since passed and I have heard nothing at all from Police.

Given the other stuff going on after 15 March, I wouldn’t really have been surprised if Police had got in touch to explain that they needed an extension of time.  In the circumstances, I wouldn’t have been particularly bothered.   Agencies do it all the time, in much less compelling circumstances.  But I’ve heard nothing at all from the Police.  Earlier this week I even got in touch and pointed out that I had heard nothing, in case a reply had simply fallen through the cracks. I noted that if I had heard nothing by the end of the week I would be lodging a complaint with the Ombudsman.    As I now will be.

You might have hoped that Police would more scrupulous than any agency in ensuring that they, and their staff, complied with the law, letter and spirit.    But perhaps they’ve been imbibing some of the lawless values of the People’s Republic of China, whose repressive apparatus their Assistant Commissioner is now helping out, and with which they associate the once-honourable name of the New Zealand Police.  Opportunism not honour, just doing whatever they choose and think they can get away with, now seems to be the order of the day in the Bush-led New Zealand Police.

Police should start complying with the law, and releasing the relevant material under the Official Information Act.  Beyond that, they should rethink this appointment, and ministers should insist that McCardle withdraw from the appointment.  But, of course, there is no hope of the latter, as our government (and Opposition) fall over themselves to show who can do more to defer to the interests and preferences of the PRC.  And that, of course, is why the foreign interference inquiry Parliament’s Justice Committee is undertaking (submissions closed last night) has very little credibility: like foxes taking responsibility for investigating security on the hen house.

UPDATE: The PRC approach to policing and the rule of law –  the disappearance into custody, without charge or trial, of the (PRC) head of Interpol (as reported in a substantial article today in the Wall St Journal).  The sort of thing our Commissioner and Minister of Police are happy to associate with?

 

Foreign interference and deference to foreign powers

On Monday evening, the Australian ABC network broadcast its Four Corners current affairs show, with a feature slot (the link will take you to the video or to a full transcript) on what they describe as the PRC’s “covert political influence campaign in Australia”.

Somewhat corrupted as the system might be, they seem to take this stuff quite seriously in Australia: just this week, there have stories expressing concern about the Opposition leader attending the wedding of the daughter of a PRC billionaire (and donor) who was then a resident of Australia but has subsequently been stripped of his residency and right of return on security grounds.   And, around issues raised in the ABC programme, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been out calling for action around claims that a Liberal minister had allowed preferential access to this same billionaire.   Sure, it is election time (and Turnbull no doubt wants his revenge on Peter Dutton) but the contrast to New Zealand is pretty stark.   As Turnbull put it, “this is the national security of Australia”.   The programme including comments from the former ALP senator forced to resign over his too-close ties to PRC-linked interests.

The programme has clips from Andrew Hastie, the chair of the federal parliament’s intelligence and security committee, and from Christian Porter, Australia’s Attorney-General, responsible for the foreign interference laws.

ANDREW HASTIE, MP: In Australia it is clear that the Chinese Communist Party is working to covertly interfere with our media and universities and also to influence our political processes and public debates.

and

ANDREW HASTIE, MP: We’ve had multiple briefings at the top secret level from ASIO and other agencies that foreign interference is being conducted in Australia at an unprecedented level.

and

ANDREW HASTIE, MP, CHAIR, COMMITTEE FOR INTELLIFENCE & SECURITY: There are several authoritarian states who are involved in foreign influence across the globe. But in Australia the Chinese Communist Party is probably the most active. China is seeking to influence our elites, particularly our political and business elites, in order to achieve their strategic objectives.

There is chapter and verse –  including emails –  on one particular episode of the PRC embassy/consulate pressuring a local council to decline sponsorship from one of the few Chinese-langugage media outlets that won’t bend to PRC pressure.

Or accounts of an ethnic Chinese radio host –  himself too scared to talk to the ABC –  whose programme was stopped because he wouldn’t bend to the demand to not say anything negative on air about the PRC or the CCP.

We had comments from John Garnaut, previously Fairfax’s correspondent in Beijing, and then senior adviser to Malcolm Turnbull (and author of a classified report on PRC influence/interference in Australia).

Of the aforementioned billionaire

JOHN GARNAUT, FMR ADVISOR PM, MALCOLM TURNBULL: There is a lot of well documented evidence, to use your word, of Huang Xiangmo’s umbilical connection to political organizations which were guided, if not controlled, by Beijing. He was the president of the most important United Front work department platform in Australia.

JOHN GARNAUT, FMR ADVISOR PM, MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, it tells us how cheap our political systems are. I mean, it’s extraordinary that nobody did any due diligence, any serious background checks for so long. In fact, it was the case also, people weren’t even reading the newspaper. So, political systems and parties just took what they could for as long as they could get away with it. And the danger was, that they were becoming financially dependent on a foreign political system. And that is a precarious place to be.

SAM DASTYARI, FMR ALP SENATOR: I’ve been very upfront and honest. I was too close to the big donors like Huang Xiangmo, I paid a very, very high price for that, I resigned from Parliament because that was the most appropriate thing that I could do.

Dastyari goes on to note his (successful) efforts to get approval from Peter Dutton for an (almost unprecedented) private citizenship ceremony for the wife and children of the billionaire.

Of the billionaire, Andrew Hastie observes

ANDREW HASTIE, CHAIR, COMMITTEE FOR INTELLIFENCE & SECURITY: He did have a lot of access. Um, he was photographed with a lot of senior figures. undeniably, he had a lot of influence. And, um, you know, you can make the connection between his donations and that influence.

Later in the programme it turns to the situation of Professor Anne-Marie Brady, whose house was broken into the day before she was due to testify before Hastie’s committee.

PROF. ANNE-MARIE BRADY, UNIVERSITY OF CANTERBURY: There are many indications that from the start, from what was taken and what was left behind, that make it look like it was not your normal burglary, for example, targeting of a broken laptop. Of no value to anybody, unless you wanted to know who my contacts are or get other evidence off my laptop. Taking a burner phone that I’d last taken to China, but not taking cash, not taking other valuables that are of great re-saleable value. That’s unusual.

ANDREW HASTIE, MP, CHAIR, COMMITTEE FOR INTELLIFENCE & SECURITY: We were very disturbed. We had an esteemed academic from New Zealand, telling us that she’d had her, ah, home broken into, her laptops taken from her, and she was suggesting foreign interference. We took it very seriously.

The presenter goes on to report that

Government sources [NB, presumably Australian government sources] have confirmed to Four Corners that intelligence assessments identified China’s spy service, the Ministry of State Security, as the prime suspect behind the intimidation of Brady. Just after she was called before the Australian parliament, Chinese intelligence agents interrogated her academic collaborators in China about her testimony, which had been published on the parliamentary Hansard record.

PROF. ANNE-MARIE BRADY, UNIVERSITY OF CANTERBURY: There was a visit to the university who had hosted me in November 2017, also from the Ministry of State Security, and they were upset that I had spoken to Hansard about that evidence. All these kind of factors told me that I was of interest to the Ministry of State Security in China.

There is more on the intimidation and imprisonment of a couple of Chinese-born Australians.  Well worth watching and reading.

Perhaps the other bits worth quoting relate to the question of political donations.  Here is Hastie

ANDREW HASTIE, MP, CHAIR, COMMITTEE FOR INTELLIFENCE & SECURITY: When it comes to donations, particularly, politicians should be naturally circumspect about who they receive donations from. Particularly if donors have connections to overseas, and particularly to foreign governments who are seeking to influence our political processes.

Would that we heard anything of the sort from any New Zealand MP.  The programme goes on from there to focus on one particular donation

Jack Lam is a member of three organisations involved in the Chinese Communist Party’s united front overseas influence network. He also a fugitive. In 2017, Lam was charged with paying a 1.3 million dollar bribe to senior immigration officials in the Philippines.
After fleeing the Philippines, Jack Lam visited his Australian golf club, twin creeks. It was there in February 2018 that Lam and fellow director Tommy Jiang hosted a golf day. Their special guest was Tony Abbott, who as prime minister had been warned by ASIO about foreign influence and donations. A fortnight later, Tony Abbott was again hosted by Twin Creeks, this time for an event supporting his local liberal party branch. Mr Abbott told the fundraiser he was no friend of communism, while the liberal party later declared $40,000 in services donated by Twin Creeks.

JOHN GARNAUT, FMR ADVISOR PM, MALCOLM TURNBULL: Look, if I was a politician, I wouldn’t be taking money from somebody who is involved in a foreign propaganda outlet.
NICK MCKENZIE: Why not?
JOHN GARNAUT, FMR ADVISOR PM, MALCOLM TURNBULL: Because there’s at least the risk of the perception of conflict of interest, of being tainted.

That’s all Australia, of course.  But why, given what we know about Australia, and the work of people like Anne-Marie Brady on New Zealand, why would anyone suppose that the situation here would be any less serious?  The names, laws, and precise details will differ, but the interests – on both sides of those corrupted exchanges – won’t be.

But what do we have here?  Take those Four Corners comments about the Brady break-ins.  The Prime Minister has shown a longstanding preference for nothing uncomfortable to be discovered about those break-ins, never once making a robust public defence of Brady’s position and the appropriateness of her work. It all seemed embarrassing and potentially awkward for the government.

The Herald had an article on Tuesday following the Four Corners programme, which included this (with, incidentally, a Huawei advert appearing between the second and third paragraphs when I downloaded the article)

But last night Australia’s Four Corners current affairs TV show said conclusions had been reached behind closed doors in Canberra.

“Government sources have confirmed to Four Corners that intelligence assessments identified China’s spy service as the prime suspect behind the intimidation of Brady,” the programme said.

The claims were rejected last night by Ardern, the minister responsible for national security, who said she had seen no such assessment.

“This claim is completely wrong. I have received no advice identifying the Ministry of State Security as the prime suspect.”

It is a strange comment, because the transcript suggests that the comment was about Australian government sources.  What would our Prime Minister know about the views of the Australian security services on such issues?    Perhaps the ABC meant New Zealand government sources, but even if so, given her clear lack of interest in any embarrassing outcome to the Brady case, why would she even necessarily know who  the New Zealand Police and security services regarded as the prime suspect?    Perhaps it would be constitutionally appropriate for her to be told if she asked, but if her office made clear that she didn’t want to know any potentially embarrassing (but not beyond reasonable doubt) stuff I doubt they would be rushing to tell her.  After all, Andrew Little, not her, is Minister for the SIS, and Stuart Nash, not her, is Minister of Police.  It might be quite convenient for her not to know, given her apparent desire to keep firmly on the right side of Beijing.

Ah, but of course we have the inquiry into potential foreign interference being conducted by Parliament’s Justice Committee.  Under pressure –  after attempting to block Anne-Marie Brady from appearing –  the committee finally opened public submissions.  But who chairs the committee?  Why, the same person who (a) tried to block Brady, and who (b) has strong connections to various United Front bodies, and is on record as supporting, for example, PRC perspectives on Tibet.  I don’t suppose he will be fronting for any current affairs programme any time soon on PRC interference in New Zealand, or that he would have much credibility if he did.

This morning, the heads of the GCSB and the SIS appeared to testify to this inquiry.  The text of their public remarks is here.  It was all pretty tame and, mostly, quite convenient stuff.   They claimed they would give more material in a classified briefing to the committee –  of the sort which, if disclosed, would “be likely to affect New Zealand’s national interests in an adverse manner”.  You mean like naming names (countries or individuals), which would no doubt be uncomfortable for our politicians, but might well be in the interests of our country?

There were a few interesting snippets nonetheless.

NZSIS and GCSB therefore use “foreign interference” only to describe an act by a foreign state, or its proxy, that is intended to influence, disrupt or subvert a New Zealand national interest by covert, deceptive or threatening means.

That must be frightfully convenient.  So if, for example, someone who had served in a foreign state’s military intelligence and had close ongoing ties with, including business interests in –  all of which had been widely known for some time – was sitting in the New Zealand Parliament that wouldn’t count as “foreign interference”?  I guess not, it is more like “domestically-chosen subservience”.

Offering well-paid jobs to former members of Parliament and ministers in entities owned or controlled by foreign state wouldn’t count as “foreign interference” either on this definition.  The incentives in those arrangements are quite obvious.

Much of the GCSB/SIS commentary seems very concerned with material along a spectrum of what they label “misinformation”, “disinformation” or “malinformation” (you can look up their definitions for themselves).  As they note, there wasn’t much sign of this stuff in the 2017 election.  On the other hand, there is a very major media outlet that runs People’s Daily articles, has a Chinese-language outlet, which is alleged to select stories for their acceptability to Beijing, translate articles in similar directions, and where the parent outlet allows one its staff –  who serves on the Advisory Board of the government-funded smooth-the-Beijing-waters propaganda body  –  to write about PRC issues (at all, let alone with no disclosure of that potential conflict).

Is there some good stuff?  Sure.

Motivated state actors will work assiduously over many years, including in New Zealand, to covertly garner influence, access and leverage.

But there is also quite a bit that reads as if the GCSB/SIS would really preferable the great unwashed were not even aware of the issue (emphasis added)

I would also note, given public commentary on these issues, that interference efforts do not need to be successful to cause damage to our democracy. Trust in the institutions of government and democracy can easily be eroded.

and

Whether or not interference activities are effective, growing awareness of them creates room for the perception, domestically and internationally, that foreign states wield improper influence in New Zealand. This perception may be concerning to New Zealand’s partners and may degrade confidence in our values and democratic institutions;

Perhaps you didn’t intend to convey a sense that it would be better if only all this were kept under wraps, but that is how it read to me.

What about some other good stuff?

Manipulation of expatriate communities is a vector for interference. Some states engage overtly or covertly with their diaspora as a means to achieve strategic aims. NZSIS is aware of efforts by foreign states to covertly monitor or obtain influence over expatriate communities in New Zealand. Shared culture, language or familial connections can facilitate this. Ongoing family ties in the foreign state can be leveraged to suppress unwelcome political or religious activity.

Foreign language media is another way through which expatriate communities or diaspora populations can be influenced or mobilised towards particular issues, including issues relevant to elections.

Which country has a large diaspora here, where such issues might be relevant? North Korea?  No.  Russia? No.   Iran?  No.   (Not even what is left of ISIS).  So I guess that leaves the PRC.  But haven’t people in a position to know suggested that the chair of the committee hearing this evidence is close to the PRC embassy?

On political donations, they pull their punches.

….political donations are a legally sanctioned form of participation in New Zealand politics. However, NZSIS becomes concerned when some aspect of the donation is obscured or is channelled in a way that prevents scrutiny of the origin of the donation.

One of the main reasons we become concerned about these activities is because as relationships of influence, or a sense of reciprocity is established, they may be used as leverage to facilitate future interference or espionage activity.

I have already commented on the constraints we face in talking about specific intelligence. However, in broad terms, I can say that we have seen activities by state actors that concern us.

So it wouldn’t raise concerns with the SIS if a New Zealand citizen with close ties to the PRC /CCP authorities arranged for fully-disclosed and lawful substantial donations to a political party?

Or if such donors –  often photographed with New Zealand political figures –  were being given royal honours?

I guess not, because after all whatever motivations the PRC might have, in the end it is willed deference, and deliberate looking the other way, by New Zealand politicians.    Remember that Andrew Hastie quote from the Four Corners programme

ANDREW HASTIE, MP, CHAIR, COMMITTEE FOR INTELLIFENCE & SECURITY: When it comes to donations, particularly, politicians should be naturally circumspect about who they receive donations from. Particularly if donors have connections to overseas, and particularly to foreign governments who are seeking to influence our political processes.

Would that they were, would that they were.

Quite probably the heads of the SIS and GCSB are well-intentioned people, but when I got to the final page of their testimony there was a line that highlighted the kabuki-theatre nature of this inquiry.

We also need to equip those on the front line of our democracy – Members of Parliament, Ministers, political parties and relevant government agencies – with the capability to identify and protect themselves from foreign interference risks.

It is our political parties, members of Parliament, and ministers who are the real problem here (enabling most –  but not all –  of what probably should be of real concern), and yet Kitteridge and Hampton have to go through the motions of pretending they are the solution.

This is a Parliament where not one member, from the Prime Minister down, will express the slightest concern that Jian Yang –  acknowledged former member of the PLA intelligence system, someone who acknowledges misrepresenting his past on his residence/citizenship firms, someone who was a CCP member (and experts tell us no one leaves voluntarily) –  sits today –  as he has for eight years now –  in the New Zealand Parliament.  One where the presidents of the National and Labour Party compete in their gushing praise of Xi Jinping and the CCP.  One where the government refuses to say anything about gross human rights abuses, and the Opposition foreign affairs spokesperson channels CCP propaganda.  And where many of those close to these things know that there is a significant issue around political donations, and yet no party is willing to take a lead, acting in a “circumspect” way, even around transactions that may be lawful but are not proper.

There was one last story out of this morning’s select committee hearing, reporting Jami-Lee Ross

The now-independent MP followed up his question by asking if Bridges had been basing his comments on a briefing from her when, in an alleged conversation between Ross and Bridges on May 14 last year, Bridges said the Chinese community were keen on a Chinese minister in a future Government.

“He said to me ‘I can’t do it because basically the spooks are telling me he’s a Chinese spy’,” Ross said.

Can’t imagine who he was referrring to…..

Wouldn’t it be pretty dreadful if such a person were still sitting in the National Party caucus?

Surely such a thing couldn’t happen?

But in New Zealand it seems to.