Abdicating a basic responsibility

The Herald this morning reported on a new open letter in support of Anne-Marie Brady, this one from 169 (at present –  the letter is still open apparently) overseas experts on issues relating to the People’s Republic of China.   As the signatories note:

Since the publication of her work on global United Front work, Brady’s home and office have been subjected to burglaries, during which no valuable items other than electronic devices were stolen. Most recently, her car was found to have been tampered with in ways consistent with intentional sabotage. According to media reports, Interpol and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service  (SIS) are involved in the investigation. In China, academics were interrogated by Ministry of State Security agents after their institutions hosted Brady. Brady has also been personally attacked in media under the direction of the CCP, both in the PRC and in New Zealand. Taken together, these circumstances make it likely that this harassment campaign constitutes a response to her research on the CCP’s influence, and an attempt to intimidate her into silence.

Despite the evidence of CCP interference provided in Brady’s research, of which the harassment campaign appears to be a further example, the New Zealand government has been slow to take action and failed to acknowledge that a problem exists…..

Far from unique to New Zealand, the CCP’s global United Front tactics and other political influence operations have been documented in other locations, in Europe, Oceania, Asia and the Americas. ….Whether within or without the limits of the law of their target countries, these activities have considerable effects on their societies and merit evidence-based research and the attention of politicians and the media. The harassment campaign against Brady risks having a chilling effect on scholarly inquiry, allowing the CCP to interfere in the politics of our societies unfettered by informed scrutiny.

We urge the New Zealand authorities to grant Professor Brady the necessary protection to allow her to continue her research, sending a clear signal to fellow researchers that independent inquiry can be protected in democratic societies and conducted without fear of retribution.

We join other voices in support of Professor Brady, which have included statements by a New Zealand Chinese community organisation, some of her Canterbury University colleagues, New Zealand academics and two Australian Sinologists, as well as many others on social media.

We further hope decision makers and the public at large, in New Zealand and elsewhere, will engage with evidence-based research on the CCP’s United Front tactics, such as Brady’s Magic Weapons, and give due consideration to policy advice emanating from such research.

It is welcome that these (mostly) foreign experts are coming together in support of Professor Brady. But what sort of country have we become where such stands are even thought necessary?   Once upon a time this was a bastion of democracy and liberty, and now our “leaders” cower in the corner, apparently unbothered about “little things” like the apparent intimidation of Professor Brady.   It is a shameful choice.  There are deal flows to keep going –  students to enrol for the new academic year for example –  and funding political parties doesn’t seem to come cheap.   And barely a voice in Parliament –  none from anywhere in our main parties – that appears troubled in the slightest.

Before I saw that open letter I’d been meaning to draw attention to an even more trenchant statement from closer to home, this one by Paul Buchanan, a former academic with a background in the US system, and who now runs a consultancy that describes itself this way

36th Parallel Assessments is a non-partisan, non-governmental geopolitical risk and strategic assessment consultancy.

Buchanan is an American who has lived here for a long time, and is in the process of becoming a citizen.  From what I’ve read of his stuff over the years, his personal politics probably lean left. But his post pulls few punches about the abdication of responsibility being displayed by the Labour-led government on this issue.

I do not mean to bang on about the Anne Marie Brady case but since it is coming up on one year since the campaign of criminal harassment began against her, I feel compelled to mention how the Labour-led government’s silence has been used as a window of opportunity by pro-China conspiracy theorists to question her credibility and defame her. Until I blocked the troll I shall call “skidmark,” this was even seen here on KP [Kiwipolitic blog] where he launched numerous attacks on professor Brady as well as question the very notion that the burglaries and vandalism that she has been subjected to were somehow related to her work on PRC influence operations in NZ.

He goes on the outline a number of strands of attack made on Professor Brady  by these “trolls”, each more far-fetched or unpleasant than the last.   There are even people echoing the ludicrous and desperate claim made on the hustings last year by the then Attorney-General Chris Finlayson that Professor Brady was saying the stuff she was becasue she was “racist”.

Buchanan goes on

It is very likely that the government’s reticence to talk about the case is due to diplomatic concerns, and that political pressure has been put on the Police and SIS to delay offering any more information about the status of the investigation

That’s a serious claim, but almost nine months on –  while the Prime Minister pretends this is just a normal suburban Police inquiry – it sounds plausible.  Police, after all, have form in bending to the political wind.

Gathering from the tone of her recent remarks it appears that Ms. Brady is frustrated and increasingly frightened by the government’s inaction. I sympathise with her predicament: she is just one person tilting against much larger forces with relatively little institutional backing. I also am annoyed because this is a NZ citizen being stalked and serially harassed on sovereign NZ soil, most probably because of things that she has written, and yet the authorities have done pretty much nothing other than take statements and dust for fingerprints.

And expressed no hint of concern, let alone outrage, at the possibility of the involvement of a foreign power.  (And, of course, no apparent interest at all in taking seriously the substantive concerns Professor Brady was highlighting about PRC “sharp power” in New Zealand.)

Buchanan concludes with a telling parallel and highlights just how unacceptable the government’s handling of this matter –  apparently more interested in Beijing than in Brady –  should be seen as.

If this was a domestic dispute in which someone was burglarising and vandalising a neighbour’s or ex-partner’s property, I imagine that the cops would be quick to establish the facts and intervene to prevent escalation.  If that is the case then the same applies here. Because to allow these crimes to go unpunished without offering a word as to why not only demonstrates a lack of competence or will. It also encourages more of the same, and not just against Ms. Brady.

If one of the foundational duties of the democratic state is to protect the freedom and security of its citizens, it appears that in in this instance NZ has so far failed miserably. The government needs to step up and provide assurances that the investigation will proceed honestly to a verifiable conclusion and that it will work to ensure the safety of Anne Marie Brady against those who would wish to do her harm.

To not do so is to abdicate a basic responsibility of democratic governance.

Of course, the main opposition party shares in responsibility for, and ownership of, the government’s shameful abdication.

As I noted, one of the ludicrous claims made against Professor Brady –  fluent in Chinese, married to a Chinese man –  is that her work is motivated by racism.  One of those who has made such claims in the Chinese-language media is Auckland writer Morgan Xiao, a past or present international student at the University of Auckland.  He apparently writes fairly prolifically in various of the (CCP-controlled) Chinese-language outlets, which is of course his right.   His Facebook page however advertises his Labour Party associations, listing himself as a member of Labour Botany electorate committee, and featuring of photo of himself posing with the Prime Minister.   His writings are pretty pro-Beijing, and very anti-Brady.  He has accused her of racism, and also of running the arguments she does because she has been paid by the Americans to do so.  It is pretty florid stuff –  he has new piece here this week (open in Chrome and Google Translate will give you the gist).

A few weeks ago, the Auckland-based dissident author, and editor of the Beijing Spring magazine, Chen Weijian published (in Chinese) a takedown of some of Morgan Xiao’s recent writing on this subject.   I’ve previously published a translation of Chen Weijian’s article on Yikun Zhang (he of the National Party donations controversy, the Labour-bestowed QSM, and the close Beijing connection), and I was approached as to whether I’d be willing to make more widely available a translation of the latest article.   The translation has been undertaken by Luke Gilkison (and reviewed by a native Chinese speaker) a recent graduate in Chinese language and literature who has also spent time living and studying in China.  Both he and I would emphasise that the article is the work of Chen Weijian, and the views expressed are his and his alone, but his arguments seem to deserve wider circulation, especially given that Morgan Xiao himself is repeatedly returning to the issues.   The rhetorical style isn’t mine, and in some areas his conclusions seem a little over-optimistic to me (I’m not so sure that “the mainstream political ideology of our time is liberal democracy”).    But for those interested, the full translation is here

Chen Weijian Morgan Xiao Gilkison translation

As a flavour

On the matter of New Zealand–China relations, Xiao went on to say this: 

For a long time now, the National Party and the Chinese government have had frequent interactions. Many former National MPs have gone on to consultancy jobs within CCP-linked companies, and every time the Chinese government hosts an event, the number of National Party attendees far exceeds that of any other party. It’s evident that within National, at least, it is well known that China and New Zealand’s relationship is innocuous – otherwise how could these two parties, National and the CCP, be so close? Would that not be treason? 

This last part is said very well. Although I don’t know for sure what National would say to these assertions, I’m fairly sure they would have some choice words for this young man. Something along the lines of, “How on Earth is this helping us? You’re clearly intending to ruin us. Subterfuge!

And

He writes an editorial column on the website Skykiwi, and he’s a contributing writer for the People’s Daily, a state-run Chinese newspaper, where he writes under his Chinese name, Xiao Zhihong (肖志鸿). You’re more likely to find Xi Jinping thought in his Skykiwi column than anything reflecting New Zealand values. This quote from Xi Jinping appears in one of his columns, for example: “Our vision for democracy is not merely a system of one person, one vote. We strive to reflect the will of the people, and in this regard we not only do not fall short of the West, but we greatly surpass it.”

How does Xiao understand CCP-style democracy and “universal values”? This is his opinion on the Tiananmen Square massacre: 

Murderers and arsonists are criminals with no hope for rehabilitation. ….. But those June 4th bottom-feeders burnt and beat to death hundreds of soldiers, set fire to thousands of vehicles, and looted an army arsenal. People who commit wanton violence and destruction like this are beyond hope of rehabilitation. The condemnation of these crimes is a universal value. I say let us string up these June 4th rioters and beat them!

Perhaps if the Prime Minister ever chooses to speak out against the intimidation of Professor Brady, or to begin to take seriously the issues Professor Brady has repeatedly raised, she might make clear that she strongly disapproves of this sort of stuff from a Labour Party electorate committee member.

Then again, I guess Morgan Xiao was really only following her lead, when a few months ago she was committing to closer relations between Labour and the CCP and of party president Nigel Haworth who was in Beijing praising the regime and Xi Jinping just a few months earlier.

It is an abdication of New Zealand values –  hand in hand with the National Party.  We need leaders who see government, and international relations, as more than just the sum of the deals, the sum of the flow of political party donations.  There is little sign that we have such “leaders” anywhere in politics.

Promoting constructive vigilance

That was the sub-title to the substantial (200 pages or so) new report released last week by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University on Chinese (PRC) influence activities in the United States (but with eight case studies on the situation in other countries, including one on New Zealand which draws largely on the work of Anne-Marie Brady).

The report is the product of a working group of 33 academics, think-tankers, and journalists specialising in PRC-related issues.  Around half those involved are academics.  Of the 33, 10 are ‘international associates’ –  again, about half academics –  bringing perspectives to bear on PRC activities in other countries, including three Australians and Anne-Marie Brady.

I read the report over the weekend.  I’m not sure there is a great deal new in it, but it is easy to read, and extensively documented, and the accumulation of material helps build the picture.     And even on New Zealand, there are striking lines from the Magic Weapons paper that one forgets

The Chinese government considers New Zealand an “exemplar of how it would like its relations to be with other states.” One unnamed Chinese diplomat even characterized relations between the two countries as similar to China’s close ties with totalitarian Albania in the early 1960s.

Or bits I’d never noticed previously

Individuals with strong ties to United Front organizations have donated several million dollars, primarily to the National Party. One such individual, who donated $112,000 to the National Party in 2017, is listed as an officer of no fewer than seven United Front organizations.

Then again, it was Labour bestowing the QSM on Yikun Zhang.

But the focus of the report is on the United States.  In many areas one is struck by the similarity of the story to the work done on these issues for New Zealand.

The Chinese Communist party-state leverages a broad range of party, state, and non-state actors to advance its influence-seeking objectives, and in recent years it has significantly accelerated both its investment and the intensity of these efforts. While many of the activities described in this report are state-directed, there is no single institution in China’s party-state that is wholly responsible…..   Because of the pervasiveness of the party-state, many nominally independent actors— including Chinese civil society, academia, corporations, and even religious institutions— are also ultimately beholden to the government and are frequently pressured into service to advance state interests.

or

China’s influence activities have moved beyond their traditional United Front focus on diaspora communities to target a far broader range of sectors in Western societies, ranging from think tanks, universities, and media to state, local, and national government institutions. China seeks to promote views sympathetic to the Chinese Government, policies, society, and culture; suppress alternative views; and co-opt key American players to support China’s foreign policy goals and economic interests.

or (more remarkably in the much larger US market)

In the American media, China has all but eliminated the plethora of independent Chinese-language media outlets that once served Chinese American communities. It has co-opted existing Chinese-language outlets and established its own new outlets.

The report builds to a set of policy principles and recommendations.  They group the principles and recommendations under three headings: Transparency, Integrity, and Reciprocity.   Under the first two headings, most of what they suggest seems (a) sensible, and (b) relevant to other countries where these issues arise, including New Zealand.

Here are the Transparency principles (there are more detailed recommendations below many of these).

Transparency is a fundamental tenet and asset of democracy, and the best protection against the manipulation of American entities by outside actors.

• American NGOs should play an important role in investigating and monitoring illicit activities by China and other foreign actors. They should as well seek to inform themselves about the full range of Chinese influence activities and the distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate influence efforts.

• Congress should perform its constitutional role by continuing to investigate, report on, and recommend appropriate action concerning Chinese influence activities in the United States. It should update relevant laws and regulations regarding foreign influence, and adopt new ones, to strengthen transparency in foreign efforts to exert influence.

• Executive branch agencies should similarly investigate and publicize, when appropriate, findings concerning these activities, with a view to promoting healthy and responsible vigilance among American governmental and nongovernmental actors.

• The US media should undertake careful, fact-based investigative reporting of Chinese influence activities, and it should enhance its knowledge base for undertaking responsible reporting.

• Faculty governance is the key to preserving academic freedom in American universities. All gifts, grants, endowments, and cooperative programs, including Confucius Institutes, should be subjected to the usual procedures of faculty oversight.

• US governmental and nongovernmental sectors should disclose financial and other relationships that may be subject to foreign influence.

And yet, to reflect on this list of items is to realise how much more serious the issue is here.   There are few relevant NGOs, the media is struggling and thinly-resourced, and instead of Parliament taking any sort of lead we have the former PLA intelligence official sitting in Parliament, not apparently bothering either National or Labour, and Raymond Huo –  with various United Front connections, and openly championing PRC perspectives –  chairs our Parliament’s Justice committee, dealing with electoral law.    The Opposition leader is soliciting large donations through people with close connections to Beijing, and Jian Yang is reputed to be the biggest National Party fundraiser.  (Again, in this regard US campaign finance laws, including disclosure provisions, are well ahead of our own.) The National Party’s president praises the Beijing regime and its leader, and if Labour’s president hasn’t been heard from for a while, he has form in that area too.   Our system is already corrupted, whereas (from the report) on this particular dimension the threat to the US system is still nascent.

As for the executive (political and official), they remain keen to say quite as little as possible – on any dimension of the issue (donations, cyber-security, Chinese language media, threats –  whether to Professor Brady or people in the ethnic Chinese community), and direct money to propaganda outfits like the New Zealand China Council to help keep the populace in line.  Winston Peters this morning refused to even accept an interviewer’s description of the PRC as becoming “increasingly authoritarian” (although, as he implied, there has not been a time since 1949 when it been anything other than highly authoritarian and repressive).

What of disclosure?  I linked the other day to a comment from consultant and former academic Paul Buchanan about PRC funding of parts of our universities.  If true, these contributions (and those of any other foreign government) should be fully and routinely disclosed.   And what about travel?   In the flurry of stories about Yikun Zhang it emerged that the Mayor of Southland had been travelling to the PRC, working closely with (and travelling at the expense of) Beijing-affiliated Zhang.   I was struck reading the Hoover report by the observation that US members of Congress can’t accept gifts of travel, and the same day I read that a reader sent me a link to a story about Clutha Southland National MP Hamish Walker (and other local body officials) on (PRC) paid trips to China.   Shouldn’t any such (paid for) trips simply be prohibited?  I’m sure MPs do their jobs better for some travel, but either they personally or the New Zealand taxpayer should be paying.  Not vested interests –  corporate or other governments.

What about integrity?  These were the high-level principles

Foreign funding can undermine the independence of American institutions, and various types of coercive and covert activities by China (and other countries) directly contradict core democratic values and freedoms, which must be protected by institutional vigilance and effective governance.

• Openness and freedom are fundamental elements of American democracy and intrinsic strengths of the United States and its way of life. These values must be protected against corrosive actions by China and other countries.

• Various institutions—but notably universities and think tanks—need to enhance sharing and pooling of information concerning Chinese activities, and they should promote more closely coordinated collective action to counter China’s inappropriate activities and pressures. This report recommends that American institutions within each of the above two sectors (and possibly others) formulate and agree to a “Code of Conduct” to guide their exchanges with Chinese counterparts.

• When they believe that efforts to exert influence have violated US laws or the rights of American citizens and foreign residents in the United States, US institutions should refer such activities to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.

• Rigorous efforts should be undertaken to inform the Chinese American community about potentially inappropriate activities carried out by China. At the same time, utmost efforts must be taken to protect the rights of the Chinese American community, as well as protecting the rights of Chinese citizens living or studying in the United States.

• Consideration should be given to establishing a federal government office that American state and local governments and nongovernmental institutions could approach—on a strictly voluntary basis—for advice on how best to manage Chinese requests for engagement and partnership. This office could also provide confidential background on the affiliations of Chinese individuals and organizations to party and state institutions.

That last suggestion seemed like one that should be considered here, as local government figures seem all to keen on accepting PRC approaches for relationships, oblivious to (or unconcerned by) the wider political context.  I’m not sure what Yikun Zhang’s interest in the Mayor of Southland specifically is, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t just that they got on well over a beer.  As the  report notes

….it is important for local officials to understand that local American “exchange” companies that bring Chinese delegations to the United States and promote professional interactions between the United States and China all depend on official PRC sanction and have received approval to receive Chinese delegations. The business model of such companies is, of necessity, as much political as financial. Even if they conduct high-quality programs, they should not be viewed as disinterested actors. They, too, are subject to rules made by the Chinese Communist Party, its united front bureaucracy, and united front strategic imperatives.

Where I was a bit more sceptical –  and where there seems to be some ongoing debate –  was around the idea of Reciprocity.    As academics, think-tankers and journalists, they are  –  as group – frustrated over how difficult it is for many to get visa access to the PRC, research in the PRC, use PRC government archives etc.  They contrast this to the fairly open access PRC researchers and employees of PRC media outlets have in the United States, and propose that the US should tighten up to try to gain greater access for outside researchers and journalists to China.  One can understand their grievance, but are these people really suggesting that open societies (the US or places like New Zealand) should adopt a PRC approach to things?    When it comes to foreign trade, “retaliatory” tariffs mostly end up hurting consumers in the country imposing them. Perhaps things are different when it comes to idea, research etc, but surely one of the great strengths – not vulnerabilities –  of our sort of system is our openness?

Early in the report I was struck by the observation that the working group did not “generally oppose” Confucius Institutes  (three in New Zealand, very many in the US –  although some have since been closed by the host universities).  But as I read on I found the specific recommendations

Confucius Institutes We do not endorse calls for Confucius Institutes to be closed, as long as several conditions are met.

US institutions should make their CI agreements public to facilitate oversight by members of the university community and other concerned parties. Those agreements, in turn, must grant full managerial authority to the host institution (not on a shared basis with the Hanban), so the university has full control over what a CI teaches, the activities it undertakes, the research grants it makes, and whom it employs. The clause in all Hanban contracts that CIs must operate “according to China’s laws” must be deleted.   If these standards cannot be attained, then the CI agreements should be terminated.

Furthermore, universities should prevent any intervention by CIs in curricular requirements and course content in their overall Chinese studies curricula or other areas of study by maintaining a clear administrative separation between academic centers and departments on the one hand, and CIs on the other. Finally, universities must ensure that all public programming offered by their CIs conform to academic standards of balance and diversity and do not cross the line to become a platform for PRC propaganda, or even a circumscribed view of a controversial issue. In fact, this report would suggest that universities not permit Confucius Institutes to become involved in public programming that goes beyond the CI core mission of education about Chinese language and culture. To go beyond these two categories invites opportunities for politicized propaganda.

As I understand it, few of those tests would be met in respect of the New Zealand Confucius Institutes (the one that is, as I understand it, is that the Confucius Institutes are not involved in the host university’s own courses or curriculum).   And, in addition, there is the unstated dimension as to whether our governments and universities should be facilitating the presence of PRC-appointed and paid staff in our schools –  the PRC being one of the most heinous regimes on the planet (as well as ruling a relatively poor country, which means we allow the taxes of poor foreigners to help pay for the education of our kids.)  If the PRC wants to subsidise Chinese-language learning then good luck to them, but let them set up downtown and market for clients in the way other countries’ language-teaching operations (Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institute) do.

Reprising a theme in my post on Saturday, there was this line about the compromised nature of universities.

The message from China to US universities is clear: Do not transgress the political no-go zones of the Chinese Communist Party or government, or you will pay a price. Sometimes the pressure is overt; other times it is more subtle and indirect, but no less alarming. Some American faculty members report troubling conversations with university administrators who continue to view Chinese students as such a lucrative revenue stream that it should not be endangered by “needlessly irritating Chinese authorities.”

There is lots more in the report, which is well-worth reading if you have the time.

Perhaps my bottom-line unease about the report was a bit of a reluctance to call a spade a spade.    For example, at least amid the discussion of the difficulties foreign academics and journalists face in the PRC, there was either a touching naivete, or a wilful refusal to face the fact, that the PRC is not a normal country, that just needs a few nudges to bring their attitudes and behaviours into line.   Why would one expect the PRC to behave differently, given the nature of the regime?   Obviously, all those involved know much about the true situation, but there was an apparent reluctance to say out loud that the party/State is  –  and for decades has been –  a malevolent force, at home, abroad, and increasingly in other countries.  Look at the tens of millions killed under the depraved indifference of the Party, the masss incarcerations, the forced organ transplant, at the near-total absence of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the rule of law, or at the decades of the one-child policy. Look at the huge scale industrial espionage.  Look at the militarisation of the South China Sea, the constant threats to free and democratic Taiwan, or all the influence activities the report documents in the US and other countries, including attempting to subvert ethnic Chinese abroad and pressure them –  whatever there citizenship –  to advance PRC ends.  I know some people regard comparisons between the PRC and late-1930s Germany as overstated or unhelpful.  But such parallels seem increasingly valid –  not as prophecy, but as description –  and helpful in prompting those –  some perhaps individuallly decent people –  who just go along, to stop and think about the nature of the evil they accommodate or abet.  New Zealand politicians, of both stripes, as an example.

We have to be more than sum of our deals, more than the flow of political donations.

People might (as I do) distrust Trump on these issues for his typical inconstancy.  The difference here is that there is a constancy, but one that seems determined to, in effect, serve PRC interests, not the interests of New Zealanders, or the values that underpin our society (perhaps those involved try to tell themselves the two interests are much the same?).   That is why I still regard the “choose between China and the US” line as a false one.  Our governments could choose to go along with much of whatever (limited amount) the US is doing in foreign policy (or not), and still have abandoned any sense of integrity around our own system.  Personally, much as I welcomed the decision to buy the P-8 aircraft earlier in the year, I’d be more persuaded by our “leaders” if they had

  • combined to get Jian Yang and Raymond Huo out of Parliament,
  • defunded the China Council,
  • amended electoral laws to stop Phil Goff funding his mayoral campaign with anonymous mainland donations and to force comprehensive disclosure (at the level of the ultimate human donors) of all significant political donations,
  • done something to manage the exposure of the universities and the way in which that exposure risks compromising effective freedom to speak,
  • agreed together to stop issuing statements of praise for the PRC and Xi Jinping, and
  • foreswore accepting donations from anyone with significant United Front connections.

As a start.

Without steps like that, we could end up banning Huawei,  buying P-8s, being in the good graces of the US and Australia, and it just wouldn’t matter much. We’d still have severely compromised the integrity of our political system and our own longer-term interests.

 

Universities and PRC-risk

A couple of days ago the prominent US economics blog Marginal Revolution highlighted a university in the United States which had taken out insurance against a significant drop in revenue from Chinese students.   The underlying article was here.  The policy had been taken out last year, but only now has the broker allowed the transaction to be publicised.

Here’s the gist

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has paid $424,000 to insure itself against a significant drop in tuition revenue from Chinese students.

In what is thought to be a world first, the colleges of business and engineering at the university signed a three-year contract with an insurance broker to pay the annual six-figure sum, which provides coverage of up to $60 million.

and

Jeff Brown, dean of the Gies College of Business, told Times Higher Education that the insurance would be “triggered” in the event of a 20 percent drop in revenue from Chinese students at the two colleges in a single year as a result of a “specific set of identifiable events.”

“These triggers could be things like a visa restriction, a pandemic, a trade war — something like that that was outside of our control,” he said.

Tuition revenue from Chinese students makes up about a fifth of the business college’s revenue.

Brown said that the insurance would cover the colleges’ losses if the decline was temporary and buy the university time to “make some adjustments to where we recruit” if it became a longer-term issue.

The article refers to the comments, mentioned here the other day, from a former head of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Last month, Peter Varghese, chancellor of Australia’s University of Queensland, suggested that universities should put revenues from Chinese students into a trust fund to insulate themselves against a future drop in enrollments from East Asia.

A few thoughts came to mind reading the article:

  • on the one hand, the insurance seems quite cheap (less than 1 per cent of the amount insured).  Even if a year ago there weren’t debates –  as now in the US –  about possible government restrictions on China student visa numbers – the risk of something going wrong wouldn’t have seemed small (after all, even pandemics happen more than once in a hundred years, and wars have also been higher frequency than that).
  • and, on the other, you have to therefore suppose that the contract is very tightly drawn, and it might well be difficult for the university to get a claim paid out.

It would also be interesting to have seen their analysis on the merits of paying a premium to an outside insurer as opposed to self-insuring.  The university concerned  appears to have an endowment of US$3.5 billion and a drop in Chinese student numbers doesn’t look like it could pose an existential threat to the institution as a whole.

And the policy seems unlikely to provide cover in the event that, say, the university president or a group of his/her senior academics were at some point to make a strong stand against the actions and policies of the People’s Republic of China.  That is something in the hands of the university and therefore almost certainly uninsurable.  If anything, one could imagine the insurance policy constraining their perceived freedom of action/speech.

But it also got me thinking about the compromised position of New Zealand universities.  Perhaps none of them is dependent on the China market for quite 15 per cent of their total revenue, although there will be individual departments and perhaps even faculties that will be at least that dependent.   In a new post, on why people on the left have been reluctant to support Anne-Marie Brady, I noticed this line from Paul Buchanan

The first, prevalent amongst academics, is concern about losing funding or research opportunities for publicly siding with her. The concern is obvious and acute in departments and institutes that receive PRC funding directly

Do we really have components of our public universities receiving direct funding from the PRC (Confucius Institutes aside, which are peripheral to the universities themselves)?  If so, surely such funding should be given more prominence, given the nature of the regime (scarcely benevolent and welcoming of scrutiny and criticism).

But even just in respect of student enrolments, the PRC market is clearly of considerable importance to the universities (and slightly far-fetched claims of increased penetration of the international student market are used to support Victoria University Vice-Chancellor – and China Council member – Grant Guilford’s bid to change the name of his institution).   Our universities are keen on lots of foreign undergraduate students for various reasons.  High numbers apparently help them in some of the mechanical international ranking schemes.   But the key driver is almost certainly the money.  Overseas students –  especially from non English-speaking backgrounds –  are quite expensive to support, but they can be charged full fees.  By contrast, the government caps both domestic student fees themselves, and limit the amount of direct support to universities in respect of those students (while, with gay abandon, offering interest-free student loans and fee-free entry to students themselves).  In a hugely distorted “market”, successive governments have set up the incentives that drove the universities further into exposure to the political whims of the PRC authorities.  Universities, in turn, were aided and abetted by the immigration policy provisions, that bundled-up work rights and qualification for post-study visas and residence points with study at a New Zealand institution.   In most fields, in most institutions, our universities simply aren’t so good (highly ranked) they’d attract large numbers on their own merits at full fees (although being a low wage Anglo country, presumably our fees are lower than those in some other countries).

The corruption of the system is double-edged.  There is the political dimension –  we are never likely to see a clarion call from our Vice-Chancellors opposing the repressive nature of the PRC regime, including the repression of academic freedom – such as it was – in China.  It seems unlikely they’d even speak up for, say, Anne-Marie Brady here –  certainly none have.  Once upon a time one might have looked to university vice-chancellors as among the eminent figures guarding and championing our traditions (for all the talk about academics as “critic and conscience”, a huge part of what they do is pass down the accumulated knowledge and wisdom, so that we don’t start anew each generation).  But not these days.  There are deals to be done –  connections with the PRC itself, even degree-granting programmes there –  and enrolment numbers to keep up.  Vice-Chancellors seem more like hawkers, than guardians and champions of our values.

But the other side of the corruption of the system relates to the pressure to pass people.  Those of us outside universities don’t see much of this directly, although occasional reports seep out.    But there was a Twitter thread the other day from an Australian economist, who teaches at the University of Queensland

One hears similar stories from time to time here (not necessarily specific to PRC students), and one can only assume they aren’t uncommon, (and that New Zealand universities are no purer, or their academics more resistant to pressure, than their Australian counterparts).

It is a very sad way to run a university system – at least if society expects anything more of universities than being degree-factories.   Rather than “critic and conscience” it has the feel of something more like corrupted exemplars of how off course our society has gone.

And thus there seems almost no chance that our universities –  or the Australian ones – will heed Peter Varghese’s advice (will his own even do so?).  Governments would have to take the issue seriously first, and that seems unlikely.    Putting aside some of the short-term profits as protection against a “rainy day” –  if the thugs in Beijing took a dislike to you – would probably immediately expose the problems in the financial standing of the universities and of our tertiary education system as a whole.  Better just to go along, get along, get the Vice-Chancellor on one or other of the pro-PRC propaganda bodies, pass the students, keep the contracts (with Beijing or Wellington), and keep supporting succesive governments in doing everything possible to avoid upsetting Beijing, to sacrifice the values of our society on the pyre of deals and donations.

But I was left wondering whether our own Export Credit Office –  a small intervention I’m deeply sceptical of –  would offer our universities the sort of insurance the University of Illinois was taking out.    They tout themselves as offering these services

NZEC can assist exporters to mitigate the effects of a buyer cancelling a contract or defaulting on its payments, as a consequence of commercial or political events beyond an exporter’s control.

And would we be better off if they did, or would the insurer just be even more keen on keeping the insured (the universities) in line?

In her writings, Anne-Marie Brady quite often introduces lines from Lenin, which appear to help shed some light on how the PRC operates.  As one reflects on our universities –  in particular – I’m reminded of the line that the capitalists would sell the communists the rope with which they’d later be hanged.   Perhaps one expects little of our “capitalists” –  businesses can prosper under any political regime (see Google worming its way back into China) – but universities were supposed to be better than that.  Governments share the blame, of course, but leaders of universities are moral agents, and should have their own responsibilities beyond just the income statement.

The China Council plumbing the depths

Last night I went to a function organised by the Wellington branch of the Fabian Society, to hear Tony Browne speak on “China’s place in the world and New Zealand’s relationship with it”.   Browne, as readers may be aware, was New Zealand’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China some years ago (2004 to 2009), when the regime was a bit less awful than usual.

Browne chose to make his speech off-the-record, so I can’t tell you what he said.  That is a shame, and not because I would otherwise choose to make any “gotcha” points from what he said.  It was an interesting address, and perhaps 100 people heard it, but for such a timely and important issue his perspective is probably one that more people should hear.  There was nuance to some of his views and arguments –  and perhaps more sign of perspective and some decency than, say, one gets from the New Zealand China Council (or our politicians).

Browne is no longer a public servant, and in that sense is free to keep his views private.  But he is hardly just a retired public servant doing his garden in Waikanae.  Since leaving MFAT he has taken on several roles that keep him close to the centre of things, even if just outside the official boundaries.  On the PRC side, he is the chair of the PRC-funded Confucius Institute at Victoria University and (rather more grandly) sits on the international advisory body to the PRC authorities on the worldwide Confucius Institute progamme.  Closer to home, he is Executive Chair of the Contemporary China Research Centre –  the multi-university body, itself closely tied in to MFAT/NZTE interests, based at Victoria and which shares offices and support staff with the Confucius Institute.  He’s also a member of the Council of the (largely) government-funded propaganda and advocacy body, the New Zealand China Council.   And he is joint programme director for the ANZSOG training programme in New Zealand and Australia for rising Chinese Communist Party officials, itself organised in a contractural arrangement with the Chinese Communist Party.  ANZSOG itself, as I’ve noted here previously, isn’t just some obscure academic body –  this trans-Tasman arrangement is chaired by our own State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes.

I suppose that had Browne been speaking on-the-record he’d have spoken less openly.  Which, in itself, tells us something, when it comes to issues like the PRC relationship, and interests.

You’ll have noted that the local Confucius Institutes – in addition to channelling Chinese foreign aid into the schools of an advanced country –  run seminars to champion the perspectives of the PRC, in conjunction with various other PRC front bodies.  No one, of course, supposes that the PRC runs the programmes out of the goodness of its heart.

And that the Contemporary China Research Centre –  chair, board members, and director and deputy directors –  have been totally silent on, for example, issues such as those raised by Anne-Marie Brady and more recently when various other academics stood up and called on the government to take more seriously the apparent efforts to intimidate Professor Brady.    Go to the CCRC website and you’ll see prominently displayed next week’s conference on the (jointly promoted by NZ and the PRC) Year of the Chinese Tourist.  Couldn’t queer that pitch I suppose.  More generally, there is nothing there this year that might be seen to represent a serious contribution to the emerging debate around the PRC, its activities in New Zealand, and New Zealand’s relationship with that evil regime.  And, of course, the CCRC is a content-provider to MFAT  –  an arrangement they wouldn’t want to jeopardise –  no doubt training new generations of public servants to minimise the evil and maximise the deference.

And ANZSOG –  seemingly more interested in the mechanism of government than the purposes (moral or otherwise) of such activity –  no doubt wouldn’t like any flies in the ointment of its special relationship with the Organisation Department of the Communist Party.   Perhaps the frameworks of the State Sector Act or the Public Finance Act come in handy in managing the abuses –  in Xinjiang, Tibet, or China more generally?

But if we can’t talk specifically about Tony Browne’s views, as distinct from his interests, we can talk about one of his bodies, the New Zealand China Council.   Recall that this body is largely taxpayer-funded, has the heads of MFAT and NZTE on the Board ex officio, as well as various other “worthies” mostly, it appears, with business interests in China.  They also have an Advisory Council, with people like Jian Yang, Raymond Huo, the head of (Beijing-front) New Zealand China Friendship Society (and others).  They are funded to promote the relationship with the PRC, which seems to involve (a) never ever saying anything critical (unlike the way real mutual relationships work), (b) trying to keep the populace quiet and on-board with the government and business project (“deals and donations; never mind the nature of the regime at home or abroad”).   There never seems to be much rigour or analytical depth to their material –  but perhaps one doesn’t expect that from propagandists.

Anyway, it appears that the China Council held its annual meeting last week.   We are told that they “raised the bar” at the AGM, although it isn’t clear what that means, assuming it isn’t just a reference to the drinks afterwards.   We are also told that the Chairman’s report was approved unanimously –  which seems an odd thing to emphasise in a press release, at least outside places like the PRC.  And what was in Don McKinnon’s report?  We are told about their work championing (New Zealand’s involvement in) Belt and Road.  We are told about how much propaganda is still needed (emphasis added)

The Council’s survey, undertaken in February 2018 and released later in the year, is the first to benchmark New Zealanders’ attitudes towards the relationship with China specifically, including the relationship as a whole, trade, investment and culture. The survey revealed a pleasing level of support for the relationship but showed there is more work for the Council to do to ensure it is understood properly

The way these taxpayer-funded “worthies” see it presumably?

But probably the key, and most telling, paragraph was this one

An, at times, unedifying debate about the extent of foreign influence in New Zealand risks unfairly targeting New Zealanders of Chinese descent but has not detracted from the value which the relationship with China delivers in terms of cultural diversity, wealth creation and jobs.

Feel the lofty condescension.  Perish the thought that academics, commentators, citizens, residents –  native and ethnic Chinese –  might actually want to debate the relationship, and challenge the deferential narrative that Sir Don and his “worthies” want to reinforce.  No specifics, no evidence, no reference to (for example) the many ethnic Chinese here who want nothing to do with the regime or what it represents, some of whom are courageous enough to speak out.  No sense that there are any issues, choices, or tradeoffs, just the great unwashed getting in the way of making money and collecting party donations.    Perhaps it isn’t really surprising, but you’d sort of hope that such an eminent Board  –  top tier public servants, senior academics, senior business people etc – would pride itself on being able to tackle substantive isses substantively.  But clearly not this lot.

The Council plumbed new depths of obsequiousness (to Beijing that is) this morning, when they released a statement on the Spark/Huawei 5G situation.  The words are those of Executive Director –  former MFAT official –  Stephen Jacobi, but it appears to speak for the Council, so we must assume that the chief executives of MFAT and NZTE are party to this position.  The statement opens

The New Zealand China Council is disappointed to learn plans for Huawei’s involvement in the development of Spark’s 5G network have been put on hold.

Not, note, disappointed to learn from the New Zealand government’s own GCSB that their assessment is that Huawei 5G equipment raises national security issues/threats. It is as if they are spokespeople for Huawei and for the PRC.

Executive Director Stephen Jacobi says the Council would not wish to see the decision complicate efforts to expand the trade and investment relationship with China.

One would like to think that observation was directed at the PRC.  After all, they (PRC) assure people that Huawei operates quite separately from the Party/state –  despite those new laws, and the presence of CCP cells in all significant PRC companies.  But it doesn’t seem likely that was the intended emphasis.

“We are not privy to the GCSB report and therefore cannot comment on its substance.  We note the Government’s reassurance that this decision is about the security of a certain technology rather than about China.  Even so, we are concerned that the decision may have repercussions.

Pretty clearly aimed at our government and the GCSB, despite –  as they concede –  having no information on the substance of the security issues.

They go on

“We hope the relationship is resilient enough to withstand occasional differences of view.  We understand Huawei is committed to finding a way forward, and we hope a resolution can be reached that is acceptable to all parties.

Wouldn’t you hope that, first and foremost, any issues are resolved in ways the safeguard New Zealand’s national security, present and future?  Most people would, but I guess not those committed to deference to Beijing.

They conclude

“Meantime, we need to continue to focus on building a relationship with China which reflects our respective values and interests and delivers value to both parties,” Mr Jacobi says.

Power, aggression, and self-assertion regardless of borders and citizenship on the one hand, and deference –  to the point of kowtow – on the other.

Reasonable people might take different views on the Huawei provisional decision.  Few if any of us have any basis for reaching a technical view. But this statement –  including from two of our most senior public servants –  seems aimed at deliberately undercutting the GCSB stance (a New Zealand government agency), queering the pitch for ministers, and seems concerned more about the interests and attitudes of Beijing –  and the ongoing sales (and party donations) of its members –  than it is about the national interests, national security, and values of ordinary New Zealanders.    But then they have Jian Yang and Raymond Huo inside their tent, so why should we be surprised.

 

Economic failure CCP-style

I’ve touched on this point in earlier posts, but since at present there are lots of new readers, it is worth revisiting, and re-illustrating, the point: the People’s Republic of China (and more specifically, the Chinese Communist Party, that our leaders are so keen to cosy up to) has overseen a really poor economic performance.  It is, more or less, what one might have expected knowing that the rule of law would be absent, markets wouldn’t be allowed to function effectively, state subsidies (of all sorts) would be rampant, and so on.  It could have been worse, of course –  there was the utter chaos, misery, and (for a time) mass starvation from the late 1950s to the mid 1970s.  The handful of other remaining Communist-ruled countries are worse.   But even having stopped doing so much active destruction, the PRC results are unimpressive.    Any other conclusion surely invites that American line about the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Of course, it isn’t the line the PRC would have one believe.  And it suits too many politicians in the West to talk up China as a stunning economic success story.  But it isn’t.  Development economists, left and right, will talk up the hundreds of millions of people who’ve moved above the poverty line.  And that is great, except that (a) it was the CCP that did its utmost (perhaps unintentionally) to put them back below the poverty line in the first place, and (b) getting above the poverty line is a pretty feeble standard against which to judge the economic performance of a country that for centuries matched or exceeded the best material living standards anywhere.

Angus Maddison’s great collection of historical GDP per capita estimates is a typical starting point for such comparisons.    He reports estimates for some countries every few hundred years from year 1 AD, and then more frequent (increasingly annual) estimates for more countries in more recent centuries.  In 1 AD the estimates he reports had Italy with the highest material living standards, followed by Greece.  China was about the level –  or a bit ahead –  of most other places in Europe.   In 1000 AD, China was top of the rankings –  not by much, but it was number 1.  That shouldn’t be any great surprise to anyone who recalls the various Chinese inventions ahead of the discoveries of such things (printing presses, paper money, even very big ships) in the West.   By 1500, China was a bit behind Italy and Belgium, but not much different to most of the rest of western Europe (all well ahead of what is now the United States).

Scholars spill a lot of ink debating why China went into such severe relative decline (Japan also fell well behind and I presume –  though Maddison doesn’t have estimates –  other east Asian places did too).    Whatever the precise mix of explanatory factors that slippage happened.   In 1850, Maddison’s estimates have Chinese GDP per capita at about a quarter of that in the UK and the Netherlands, and less than 40 per cent of his “Western European 12 countries” average.  By 1900, estimated per capita GDP was only about 15 per cent of that in the highest income countries.

But perhaps as importantly, in 1900 China’s GDP per capita is estimated to have been about half that in Japan, and just a bit behind that in Taiwan (by then a Japanese possession).   As late as 1870, China had been not far from the GDP per capita in a range of Asian countries/territories for which Maddison now has estimates –  about on par with Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand, and a bit behind Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

And this is what they’d been further reduced to by 1976, the year Mao died.  I’m using the Conference Board’s PPP estimates, and have shown a mix of countries –  mostly east Asian and European, but with a few other interesting cases (eg Israel –  brand new in 1948) thrown in.

china 1

Such utter self-destruction and failure.  It wasn’t done by outsiders.  It wasn’t as if the PRC had faced uniquely bad external threats.  It was like economic suttee, with the depraved indifference of mass starvation thrown into the mix.

And how does the picture look today, with the Conference Board’s 2017 estimates.

china 2

The PRC has rocketed past the Philippines and Sri Lanka, and still trails the rest of this pack rather badly.   And this isn’t Tanzania or Rwanda, but a country that was once –  for centuries –  among the highest living standards anywhere in the world.  A country in a region where South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore now manage advanced country living standards –  one of those a country that struggles to get international recognition and under constant threat from the PRC.

From the Maddison estimates, in 1980 the Soviet Union –  a region never at the forefront of material living standards –  had GDP per capita about the same ratio to that in the western European countries that China has today.  In fact, about where China was –  in relative terms –  in 1850 (see above).  It is a simply dismal economic failure in a country –  by a Party –  that would have so much potential were its people ever to be free, to ever be properly governed with the rule of law rather than the rule of Xi.

For the same countries, here are the real GDP per hour worked estimates.

china 3

It really is an astonishingly poor performance.  Or at least it would be unless you’d been told in advance that Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea would establish market economies with the rule of law, sound governance etc etc (and none of it perfect) and that the PRC would remain a land where the (Communist) Party actively rules.  Then, the outcomes are probably much as one might expect –  China lags very badly behind, to the disadvantage of its people, even if to the enrichment (power, money) of its rulers.

On the IMF’s full list of countries, the PRC now ranks 79th (out of 187) in the GDP per capita (PPP) stakes.  Average real GDP per capita is a touch behind that in Iraq (yes, I was surprised) and the Dominican Republic, and a little ahead of Brazil and Macedonia.  Perhaps China’s growth rates are faster than those places, at least if one (a) believes the official data for the Xi period, and (b) discounts the massive distortions and misallocations associated with one of the largest credit booms in history.      But there is no sign of Chinese per capita incomes catching those of the leading countries any decade soon (if things unwind nastily, the gaps would even widen a bit for some years).

Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and Singapore are genuine economic success stories –  catch-up and convergence more or less as the textbooks suggested was possible.  Cause for celebration in fact.   The PRC?  Anything but.  Being big doesn’t change that –  even if it gives geopolitical clout to a lagging middle income country –  it just means more people are failed by their rulers (and by those in countries such as ours who give the rulers aid and comfort, pander to them, or simply cower in a corner).

Known by the company they keep

Where might one turn if writing today about the New Zealand/ People’s Republic of China issues?

One could start with yesterday’s extraordinary interview our Foreign Minister gave yesterday on Radio Live where, on the one hand, he laid into Jian Yang, and on the other seemed to suggest that anyone who questioned the activities of the PRC here or abroad was somehow motivated by racism.    Quite extraordinary.  And while we are on the subject of Jian Yang, perhaps Mr Peters could have a chat to the Prime Minister (who seems totally unbothered by Jian Yang), or to the MP from his own party who is Minister of Internal Affairs, responsible for citizenship law (Jian Yang having acknowledged a year ago that he misrepresented his past to get into the country in the first place, apparently under “guidance” fron Beijing).

And the Herald this morning was awash with material.  There was a rather wishy-washy editorial, which ended with the suggestion that if the delay in the Prime Minister’s visit to Beijing was “a rebuke it is not warranted”.   Well, of course not, both the Prime Minister and (successive) leaders of the National Party do their utmost to cover for Beijing, and never ever give offence.

There was the flippant cartoon, suggesting that all the PRC would be interested in here was the recipe for slow-cooked lamb, which one might just pass over without note if the issues weren’t so serious, the abuses undertaken by the regime –  at home and abroad – so grave.

There was another article in which the Prime Minister and Simon Bridges seemed to compete for who could grovel before the PRC regime –  tossing overboard any sense of decency or right – the most.    You’ll recall that Simon Bridges had a head-start, having been the minister responsible last year for signing New Zealand up to the rather warped aspiration of a “fusion of civilisations” –  with the PRC of all people.   According to Bridges

He said New Zealand’s default position should not be to question the legitimacy of China’s actions in the Pacific and around the world.

But, being independent and all that, and with the PRC’s track record, it actually doesn’t seem a bad starting point.  Perhaps his predecessors suggested our default shouldn’t be to question the legitimacy of Germany actions in the Europe in the 1930s, ….but I doubt it.  It is hard to see that Bridges is guided by anything resembling the word “principle”.

As for PM,

Ardern would offer no definite view when asked which country, United States or China, was more important to New Zealand.

“Some of the discussion around choosing lanes in which we swim does not fit with our independent foreign policy,” she told reporters.

“New Zealand has a range of important relationships, some for different reasons, some with different histories. But for me, the most important thing is maintaining the independence of that foreign policy basing it around New Zealand values, upholding those values and continuing to strengthen them when it is in New Zealand’s interests.”

No sign of anything resembling “principle” there either.  For her, it seems, “independence” is the primary virtue, not standing up for what is right, and standing up for the freedoms and interests of New Zealanders, including those in the ethnic Chinese community.   From both her and Bridges, it seems that visceral anti-Trumpism is being allowed to provide cover for simply sacrificing the integrity of our domestic political system, and a climate in which New Zealanders can go about their business in New Zealand –  including call out the abuses by the PRC –  free of fear.

And then there was the frankly pretty scurrilous column by Fran O’Sullivan, “Academic draws a long bow on China”.  I thought it was pretty bad on two counts.  First, she accused Anne-Marie Brady of “China derangement syndrome”, and yet when one gets to the end of the column all O’Sullivan has to say in disagreement with Brady’s paper –  which, as published was only in working paper form –  was that it included Ruth Richardson among the former politicians now involved in the boards of Chinese (PRC controlled) companies.  Whatever the ins and outs of the Synlait situation, former Minister of Finance, Ruth Richardson sits on the board of one Chinese bank here, Don Brash chairs another, Jenny Shipley is on one of the boards, and former National minister Chris Tremain is on another.   In all cases, with the possible exception of Don Brash, no one supposes these appointments were about banking expertise.  It is about connections, and such appointments also have the side benefit of putting such senior former politicians in a position where they can’t really criticise anything the PRC does.   But, in a way, the second count bothers me more.  O’Sullivan is the “Head of Business, NZME”, but she is also co-chair of the China Business Summit, and sits on the Advisory Board of the taxpayer-funded advocacy and propaganda outfit, the New Zealand China Council.  Neither of those involvements was noted in the article.  General readers can’t just be assumed to know such things, and should be able to assume that staff writers and columnists have no personal interests in the causes they are championing.

(Oh, and there was also the de haut en bas tone –  O’Sullivan being a favourite of the establishment these day –  of  this comment on Brady’s paper

It highlights issues that the higher echelons of the NZ Government are currently grappling with: whether foreign-sourced political donations carry a tag; an alleged Mainland influence on Chinese nationals and local ethnic media and unanswered questions that remain over National MP Jian Yang.

Except that there is no sign of the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition taking a stand on either issue.  Perhaps some officials are indeed troubled, but politicians call the shots.  We know there are problems – answered questions in the case of Jian Yang.  Bridges and Ardern simply refuse to face what they – and their predecessors –  have reduced our politicaL system to.)

But actually what I really wanted to write about today was an article not in the New Zealand media at all, but in the Chinese media (a Xinhua story to be exact –  thanks to a reader for sending through the link).

Both main party presidents –  Peter Goodfellow for National and Nigel Haworth for Labour –  have form when it comes to gushing over the PRC regime and its leader, Xi Jinping.  It keeps the donations flowing I suppose, and Goodfellow was the source of reported line that Chinese donors were less trouble than others.  Goodfellow is also reported as having business links with Jian Yang, including in the promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative, and –  as reported only relatively recently –  is closely involved in one of PRC-favourite Yikun Zhang’s promotional activities in New Zealand.

This story is about Goodfellow, who was apparently up in China last week, one of the

….attendees of a meeting held in Hangzhou, east China’s Zhejiang Province, on Friday.  The meeting to showcase Zhejiang’s achievements in high-quality development invited leaders and representatives of more than 80 political parties from over 30 countries.

The Chinese Communist Party was singing its own praises

Che Jun, secretary of Zhejiang Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), introduced the coastal province’s experiences in improving governance capacity to better serve economic growth, promoting innovation-driven development, nurturing new growth drivers while upgrading old ones, and building an ecological civilization.

and so was Peter Goodfellow

Noting China’s national rejuvenation is a good thing rather than a threat for the world, President of the National Party of New Zealand Peter Goodfellow expressed his willingness to strengthen friendly exchanges with the CPC and to actively participate in construction under the Belt and Road Initiative.

I’m sure we can all welcome China’s economic development, even as we note how badly the PRC lags behind Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, as well as Japan and South Korea.  But there was a time, not that many decades ago, when hobnobbing with the Chinese Communist Party was looked on rather suspiciously in New Zealand (I’ve just been reading James Bertram’s  slightly sickening account of his party’s trip to China in the mid-1950s, meeting with Mao and Chou En Lai just before the dreadful Great Leap Forward ), but now the president of our largest political party is wanting to work together with Communist Party, source of so much evil for the PRC citizens in the subsequent decades.  And no serious observer any longer pretends that the Belt and Road Initiative is anything much other than a geopolitical play.  Peter Goodfellow seems keen on pretending otherwise.

Probably from his perspective, so far so routine.  He – and his Labour peers –  probably do this sort of stuff all the time, long since detached from the sort of values their respective parties were founded on.  But it shouldn’t be normalised. It should be about as shocking as their counterparts in the late 1930s praising the Nazi Party and pledging to work together in its geopolitical initiatives.  Bad as the appeasers were, that would have been unthinkable then.  It should be again today.

But in a way what really struck me was the company Peter Goodfellow was keeping in this article.    There was Arshad Dad, Secretary-General of  (ruling) Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party.  There was Alsayed Mahmoud Al-Sharif, the first deputy speaker of Egypt’s House of Representatives, who was clearly very taken with the regime

….[he] said the experience of the CPC is worthy of deeper exploration.

“China, represented by Zhejiang, pays attention to the quality behind the speed in its development, continuously enhances its innovation and competitiveness, accelerates industrial transformation and upgrading, and opens up a unique, high-quality development path,” said Al-Sharif.

And Pavle Budakov, a Bureau member of the Socialist Party of Serbia.

But here’s the thing.  Pakistan is widely-recognised as something close to a Chinese client state, now deeply indebted to Beijing.    Egypt seems to be heading in somewhat the same direction, sucking in PRC money and labour (and “craving allies at a time when much of the world has recoiled from its brutal crackdown on dissent”) to build a new capital, and as for Serbia…..well, for a start the Socialist Party of Serbia was formerly the party of Slobodan Milosevic, and in an ongoing New York Times series on China (from whence the Egypt quote is taken), the Prime Minister of Serbia outdoes even Li Keqiang

Mr Li seeks to allay European worries that China poses a challenge to its rules. He promises that Chinese-financed projects will be awarded on the basis of competitive bidding.   “There needs to be open and transparent tendering”, the Chinese premier declares.

But the Serbia prime minister, Ana Brnabic, has just undercut that aseertion.  Asked moments earlier about the [highly-contetious, almost certainly uneconomic] high-speed rail from Belgrade to Budapest, she says Chinese companies have been promised construction work.  “China is a strategic partner”, she says.  “We are not putting out tenders”

Not even the deference that vice pays to virtue in pretending to a proper process.

Whether it is Beijing and the CCP, or these other regimes, our politics –  our political parties –  really should be better than that.  We had a long and honourable tradition, which our political parties seem only interested in trashing, along with the sort of values that underpinned this democracy, this society.

In closing, just two brief things.  The first is to encourage readers to view this short clip, sent to me by a reader.  It is the story of a (now) New Zealand Chinese family –  father and daughter.  The mother died in a PRC political detention facility, three months pregnant.  The regime wanted the father and daughter back (they’d got to Bangkok) but fortunately the then New Zealand government offered them refuge here.  They are still harassed by Beijing and its agents, formal or informal here, and threats made about family back in China.  Bravely, they are still willing to speak up and speak out, about their own awful experience.   I commented to the person who sent me the link

Powerful, sad, and yet a little hopeful too – that people aren’t willing to just give up and be quiet

Perhaps Todd McClay –  who repeats PRC propaganda about the Xinjiang internment –  could watch it, or Simon Bridges, or Jacinda Ardern.  These are New Zealanders.  And that is the regime to which you –  who purport to be “leaders” – give cover.  Surely they can’t really believe the regime is morally worthy at all, but perhaps it might be less shameful if that were their excuse, rather than “another deal, another donation”.  As Scott Morrison put it recently, in an Australian context, we have to be more than the sum of our deals.

Anastasia Lim isn’t a New Zealander. She is a Chinese-born Canadian actress who a few years ago won the Canadian competition to qualify for the Miss World finals.  She hasn’t been afraid to speak out about China’s human rights abuses –  including the forced organ transplants – and was thus banned from China (and thus the competition finals) in 2015.  If the PRC hoped to silence here, the ban only seemed to draw attention to her and her cause.  She pays a price –  her family back in China is scared to talk to her – but seems undeterred.  She is visiting New Zealand briefly next week.  Auckland readers might be interested in this  Monday evening screening of an award-winning film based around real-life PRC events,  at which she will host a question and answer session.  Perhaps Winston Peters could drop in, and listen to another courageous ethnic Chinese voice speak up about the regime in Beijing.

 

Squirming and hoping the issue goes away

The Prime Minister was briefly put under the spotlight on Radio New Zealand this morning on the narrow issue of her reaction to the open letter regarding the Anne-Marie Brady/PRC situation.   The Radio New Zealand story reports that

The prime minister said at her weekly post-Cabinet press conference on Monday that she would not be making any moves to condemn China, despite rising concern from academics about the country’s attempts to suppress talk of its interference in domestic politics.

And in her interview this morning she was at pains to minimise and play down the issue, on the defensive, and playing red herrings

“As much as I support academic freedom, I also have to be careful how much I’m seen to interfere in the police as well…

Had anyone suggested she interfere in the Police?

If you took her responses line by line, each line might have seemed reasonable on its own.  But what it added up to was the sound of someone who (a) desperately wanted the issue to go away, and (b) was not interested at all in providing a clarion call for freedom from fear, whether for Professor Brady and her family, or those members of ethnic Chinese community in New Zealand who report harrassment and threats (including to family in China) from Beijing’s agents if they dare to exercise rights –  to speak up and speak out –  in New Zealand.  She seemed totally unbothered that an investigation, which she tried to imply was being conducted solely by something like the Riccarton suburban police station, was still going on after nine months.  Maybe it really is, but as Professor Brady notes

But Prof Brady said she had been told her case was closed.

“The discussions I’ve had with police make it clear that they’ve done everything they can, and I think that they would be ready to make a report to the government.”

She said this was a case for the national security teams at the highest levels, and not just a police matter because it was “not an ordinary burglary”.

The Prime Minister gives every sense that she wishes the whole situation would go away. Perhaps she doesn’t.  Perhaps she really cares about the freedom of New Zealanders. But it wasn’t the impression she was giving.  It came across as it might if the Prime Minister were more concerned about the interests of a few big businesses (public and private) selling to China, and perhaps the flow of political donations (presumably greater now she is in office).   Only she can really allay that impression, if in fact it is false.

From my perspective, one of the sad aspects of this affair is that people sticking up for Professor Brady seem to have been almost entirely from the left (I don’t know most of the people on the open letter list, but I’m guessing there aren’t many people not of the left on the faculty of the AUT school of social sciences and public policy (from whence many of the signatories come)).  But what is interesting is that much of the pushback also seems to come from the left. I’ve seen some particularly nasty comments in the comments sections of, for example, the left-wing The Standard blog.

And this morning one of the more respected figures of the left, Chris Trotter, is out with a full-blown attack, (“The Case of the Problematic Professor), having a go at Professor Brady and suggesting that all that should guide government policy on these matters is some narrow economic perspective –  what is good for Fonterra, or Red Stag, or Auckland University is good for New Zealand.  It almost deserves a post of its own, but just (relatively) briefly some comments.

He writes that annoying “China, on the other hand, can be extremely injurious to this nation’s economic health”.    Well, no, actually not.  Should the government of the People’s Republic ever decide to attempt to “punish” New Zealand they could create some short-term damage, and perhaps even some serious damage in individual sectors, but our total exports to China are about 5 per cent of GDP, and we have tools like monetary and fiscal policy to stabilise the economy in face of shocks.  China doesn’t make us rich (or, actually, as underperforming as we are), we do.  And do we have any self-respect or not?

Weirdly, for someone who is part of the Free Speech Coalition, Trotter seems to suggest universities should be pretty hesistant about criticising China.

Prattling on about being the “critic and conscience” of society is all very well, but when New Zealand’s universities are so dependent on the continuing inflow of international students, is it really all that wise to antagonise one of the largest contributors to this country’s educational export trade? It would be interesting to see how the nation’s vice-chancellors would react if equivalents of Anne-Marie Brady started popping up on their own campuses. Each academic activist launching equally uncompromising attacks against the Peoples Republic. How would all that criticising and conscientising affect their bottom-line I wonder?

Well, indeed, and the absence of the vice-chancellors from yesterday’s statement (or any other) was notable, but Trotter’s point argues for managing our universities differently, in a way that reduces our short-term vulnerability to thugs, not just pushing deeper into the market, and becoming more afraid of our own shadow, indifferent to those actually being intimidated.

Then Trotter repeats one of Murray McCully’s old lines –  no more true for being repeated from the left.

New Zealand lives by its agricultural exports – which is why the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement was so important when the Global Financial Crisis struck. Without it, this country would have had significantly less to come and go on. Chinese consumers saved us from the sort of vicious austerity measures that afflicted the people of the United Kingdom and Greece. The nature of the Chinese system has not changed since 2008.

The economics is simply wrong (I’ve pointed out in previous posts the similarities between the path of our economy and that of the US over the last decade) and what about that last sentence? Most observers will say China has changed markedly, and for the worse, under Xi Jinping, and at very least that the hopeful trajectory many in the West envisaged certainly hasn’t come to pass.

Then Trotter has a go at Brady herself

The good professor is not, however, above advancing a little soft power on her own account. Is it no more than a coincidence that she has been called upon to present her ideas to the Australian parliament during the “China Panic”? Or that her academic articles and speeches are followed closely, and receive considerable approbation, in Washington DC? That the name of Anne-Marie Brady started appearing in our news media at exactly the same moment as the rivalry between the USA and China ratcheted-up several notches – was that nothing more than serendipity?

Might not her appearance before the Australian parliamentary committee have something to do with (a) her expertise, and (b) a bipartisan Australian commitment to taking PRC influence activities seriously?  And as I understand it, her name became prominent here after she released her Magic Weapons conference paper –  not intended for publication until a later book came out –  after the FT/Newsroom (hardly agents of Trump) published the astonishing story last year on Jian Yang’s background.

Trotter writes in praise of the crass Donald Trump approach to Saudi Arabia, reflected in the appalling statement last week.  In Trotter’s description – which he appears to endorse – if that involved “turning a blind eye to cold-blooded, state-sanctioned murder, then so be it”.   If the Prime Minister really wants to line up with Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy, perhaps she could at least come out and say so.  But, as a reminder, evil as the Khashoggi murder was, he wasn’t a US citizen.  Anne-Marie Brady and many of the intimidated in the ethnic Chinese community are New Zealand citizens.

Trotter concludes urging that the Prime Minister should stay silent, and that in so doing she will “earn the respect of Beijing and Washington alike”.  More likely, both would despise her, if for slightly different reasons.  More importantly, it would be the sort of stance –  prioritising a few big businesses over the interests and values of New Zealanders –  that eats away at any residual respect people have for the political process and our “leaders”.   Far better the words from Scott Morrison’s recent speech (as aspiration, if not always observed)

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.

As a reminder of just how compromised our university hierarchies are I found this graphic on the Auckland University website.

au students

Not only is the dependency on foreign students rising, but the foreign student numbers are totally dominated by PRC students.    I’m usually very keen on free and open trade, but when you find yourself dealing with thugs, the sensible response (in almost any business or area of life) is to pull back and reduce your exposure to thugs, not to simply do the kowtow –  perhaps especially when you are a university, residue of some of greatest bits of the Western tradition.    We can’t allow our values, and the safety of our people, to be simply played around with to protect the interests of a few big (public and private) corporate businesses.   In Australia, a former Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade recently called for Australian universities to not act as if the revenue will always be there

“While demand remains high, it makes little sense for Australian universities to turn their back on the revenue stream offered by students from China and elsewhere,” he said. “But it would be wise to invest the profit margin for the longer term, not use it for current expenditure. Put it into a future fund or endowment, which would give universities a measure of resilience in the event that the market abruptly shifts for reasons beyond the control of universities.”

That would seem prudent here too, but of course it might force governments to look harder at the long-term financial structuring of our tertiary sector.

Finally, there was a story on some of these issues on Newsroom this morning, the key line in which is best captured in this tweet.

As Geremie Barme notes further (perhaps rather generously on the government’s intentions)

“China’s challenge to everybody in this region … is it requires governments are much smarter in dealing with a rising superpower that is aggressive, totalitarian, bullish and nasty in many ways, but also is varied and complex and interesting and engaging.”

Standing up to China, while still maintaining a working relationship, was difficult.

“It’s hard work and it’s constant work. This Government wants to do good but can’t quite manage to do so,” Barmé said.

“This is the real deal, and New Zealand’s never had to face this … You have to sit down and you have to work out, what is a consistent long-term policy, at least for the life of this Government. And how do you articulate that.

“And I get the sense they haven’t done that; Jacinda Ardern just runs for cover.”

She can’t even bring herself to talk, concernedly, about the astonishing situation in which a former PRC intelligence official, Chinese Communist Party member, sits in our Parliament –  close to the Embassy, never criticising the regime for anything –  having acknowledged that he misrepresented his past to get into the country in the first place.

I guess it suits the handful of big corporates and university bosses that she simply keeps quiet.  It should shame the rest of us.