Circling the wagons

Even fewer people than usual probably watched TVNZ’s Q&A programme on the Sunday evening of a long weekend (I didn’t either), but I hope many take the opportunity to download and watch the interview with Professor Anne-Marie Brady about Yikun Zhang –  initiator/organiser (or whatever) of the $100000 donation to the National Party –  the Chinese party-state’s United Front Work programme, and what New Zealand could or should do in response.   Perhaps equally worth watching –  for altogether different reasons – is the subsequent panel discussion.  I’ll come back to that.

Professor Brady was asked first about whether there was any evidence that Yikun Zhang is involved in United Front activities.  She was clear that his active involvement, both in the PRC and in New Zealand, is very well-documented in Chinese language sources (I touched on this last week, but for anyone who hasn’t read it I can also recommend this article by Branko Marcetic on The Spinoff,  which is full of useful links).  She was also careful to distinguish between welcoming, even encouraging, participation of new citizens, of whatever origin, in our political processes, and drawing a line when those activities are led by people with close ties to foreign governments, especially ones with deliberate and active strategies to exert influence over, or in, other countries.   She argued that we need to set boundaries around “inappropriate behaviour”.

Reprising arguments she has made consistently in public over the last year or so she highlighted two strands of the PRC’s United Front activities in countries like New Zealand:

  • neutralising the Chinese diaspora, including the Chinese language media and community associations, and
  • winning support, or acquiescence, for the PRC’s foreign policy agenda, including the place of the Belt and Road Initiative (ill-defined as it is), in the pursuit of a China-centred global order.

Asked what we could, or should do, Professor Brady listed these items:

  • a careful official investigation of the extent and nature of PRC influence activities in New Zealand (“as Australia, the US, and now the UK have done”)
  • “obviously” reform our election finance laws,
  • stand down periods for former MPs and minister (before taking up roles which might be seen as being in the gift of PRC entities –  or, presumably, other foreign powers),
  • look more carefully at whether MPs can lawfully be members of foreign political parties (the strong suggestion being that Jian Yang in still a member of the CCP),
  • take steps to help restore the autonomy of the New Zealand Chinese community, protect their freedoms, and promote (the restoration  of) an indigenous and diverse Chinese language media here.

She noted that the Five Eyes grouping had recently agreed on a programme to counter foreign influence, suggesting that our authorities will be doing something already.  (The article at that link is interesting reading, but when I read it last week my reaction was to be sceptical it meant anything much in the New Zealand context –  nothing suggesting any change of emphasis having been heard from the mouths of any New Zealand ministers or officials.)

Professor Brady noted that the political “bloodbath” we saw last week was an opportunity for the major parties to come together –  since they are being targeted by the PRC –  and devise better ways to build a constructive, but bounded, relationship with the PRC.

In concluding the interview, Brady was asked whether she had any concerns herself about speaking out.  She noted that it was, in law, her duty as an academic to do so, and noted that although there was some personal cost, to her and her family, she saw these issues as so important, to the integrity of our system, that she is willing to stand up and speak out, expressing the wish that more people would do so.   The still unsolved burglary of her house and office wasn’t explicitly referred to, but was a clear subtext.

The contrast between Professor Brady and most of her academic colleagues is pretty striking.  Our multi-university Contemporary China Research Centre –  chaired by Tony Browne (of the Confucius Institutes and other institutional arrangements with the Chinese Communist Party), and with representatives of MFAT, MBIE, NZTE etc on its Advisory Board – seems, from its website, more focused on dialogues with official visitors from the PRC  and the forthcoming year of Chinese tourism.  Not one of its key people has been heard from in the media and public debate on these issues, whether last week or in recent months.  In many respects, they seem little better than our politicians –  scared of their own shadows and reluctant to say anything lest visas, access, (New Zealand government) funding or whatever are jeopardised.   Any sense of that “critic and conscience” role, that the Education Act rather grandiloquently talks of for academics, seems dulled at best, or lost altogether.

But what of the panel discussion?  There was Bryce Edwards the political scientist, and three old tuskers from the big parties: former National Party president Michelle Boag, former National Party minister Wayne Mapp, and former Labour party president Mike Williams.

Bryce Edwards argued that out of last week’s maelstrom the Chinese influence/donations issue was the one that had attracted the least attention so far, and needed to have more.  The interviewer suggested something like a select committee inquiry, which Edwards seemed to think had merit, adding that there was no chance of any party in Parliament now picking up the issue.

And as if to prove him right, the old guard  – the other panellists –  rushed in to play down the issue.   Wayne Mapp went first, denying that there is any PRC influence in New Zealand politics, noting that he had never seen any evidence, and suggesting that having been Minister of Defence he would have seen it if it was there (he went on to suggest that the PRC issue was mostly one about the great powers, and the extent to which we were in some sense caught between them).   Michelle Boag chipped in to suggest that if there was a PRC influence strategy it would have to be counted a miserable failure –  there was, after all, only one “Chinese MP” (as if the fact that that one MP was a former PRC intelligence official, Communist Party member, actively associated with the PRC Embassy, and never ever heard to say anything critical about the PRC wasn’t in its own small way evidence of influence).  Mike Williams declared that he mostly “agreed with Wayne”.

It was sad, but it was worse than that.   People who are smart enough to know better, playing distraction (totally ignoring, for example, the way in which PRC activities and attitudes are compromising the rights and freedoms of ethnic Chinese New Zealanders who aren’t at all sympathetic to Beijing and its agenda) in defence of what has become the established way of doing things in New Zealand (both main parties).   It trivialises a serious domestic issue –  including the utter reluctance of any of our senior politicians to say anything that might possible disconcert Beijing and the willingness to court, and take money from, people who closely associate with one of the more evil regimes on the planet – ignores the international nature and reach of the PRC programme, completely discounts the threats to other peaceful and democratic countries in east Asia, let alone the growing repression of many of the PRC’s own populations.   People like those three know better, but choose not to see, or to care.  They actively choose to turn a blind eye to the character of the regime and its activities –  whether here, at home, or in the rest of the world.  Rather like their own current party leaders –  Nigel Haworth and Peter Goodfellow (united in perhaps nothing else but (a) the defence of the way things are done and (b) the celebration of Xi Jinping), Jacinda Ardern and Simon Bridges (and John Key, Bill English, Phil Goff and Andrew Little before them).

And this, of course, is where I part company to some extent from Anne-Marie Brady. At least in her public comments she seems to assume that our political leaders have an interest in doing the right thing, and only need to have specific suggestions made to them.  I see zero evidence of that.  I’m quite prepared to believe that both parties value the defence and intelligence relationship with the US and Australia, and will do the minimum to maintain it – and the rest of Five Eyes will cut us lots of slack, because it would be a PR coup for Beijing if it were ever to come about that we –  small as we are –  were no longer part of that partnership.

But there is no sign of any interest in doing anything about the domestic situation –  whether as regards party donations, a willingness to speak openly against external aggression or domestic human rights abuses, or about the situation of the ethnic Chinese New Zealanders who want to be free of Beijing and its abuses.  No sign last year (all parties kept quiet about Jian Yang), no sign this year (National and Labour combine to honour Yikun Zhang for what appears to be, in effect, services to the PRC), and no sign now.   This isn’t a case of good men and women being misled, and people like Professor Brady drawing things to their attention for the first time.  It is a system run by people who have allowed it, knowingly (but probably gradually and subtly), to be corrupted.    Labour and National (and ACT) seem as bad as each other, two sides the same coin.  New Zealand First is arguably worse, because it occasionally talks a good talk in Opposition, but then gets into government and just goes along.  And as for the Greens –  who don’t seemed to be reliant on donations from these sources –  and who sometimes in past appeared willing to bring a moral dimension to politics, where are they?  In government I guess, and perhaps strongly advised –  directly or indirectly –  by MFAT not to jeopardise the tourism year, or the “FTA” renegotiations.  If you just go along, you make yourself complicit.

(It was hard not to utter a wry chuckle at the suggestion of a select committee inquiry into such matters.  After all, the Justice select committee has its triennial inquiry into the election underway at present. But who chairs the Justice committee?  Why, Labour MP Raymond Huo, who –  as Professor Brady has documented –  is very actively engaged with various United Front organisations, who organised the event at which the very largest mainland donation to Phil Goff’s mayoral campaign was arranged.  If anything is ever going to be done, the stables –  party organisation and Parliament – need cleansing first.)

Wrapping up this post, I would draw your attention to a few things I saw over the weekend.

First, a reader sent me this (translated) extract from an essay/article by Auckland-based Chinese activist and dissident Chen Weijian which “examined how Zhang Yikun achieved his political promotion in three years in China and in the international Chinese community as well as his business achievements in NZ”.

The photo below was taken in Beijing on 30 Aug 2018 where Zhikun Zhang visited the Chaoshan (TeoChew or Chaozhou) Association  of Beijing along with the heads of other Chaoshan associations of the USA, Canada, Thailand etc.
The poster on the wall they are reading is titled of ” Always go with the Party (the Communist Party).
Zhikun Zhang who joined the PLA in 1990,  the next year after the CCP sent troops to shoot unarmed Chinese young students in Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989.
 After 29 years, on the same day of 4 June, the former PLA member was awarded of MNZM, an award to a person who ” in any field of endeavour, have rendered meritorious service to the Crown and nation or who have become distinguished by their eminence, talents, contributions or other merits”,[1] to recognise outstanding service to the Crown and people of New Zealand in a civil or military capacity.
Within only three months after receiving this honor, he was recognized by the CCP for his devotion to this most evilest political Party: always go with the party.
And this is the man our Prime Minister is photographed with, our Opposition leader courts, and Jami-Lee Ross, Sarah Dowie, Paula Bennett, Andrew Little, Phil Goff, Peter Goodfellow, Nigel Haworth-  and probably plenty more – are happy to associate with, happy to pursue and take donations he arranges, and so on.
How can anyone suppose his political activities in New Zealand are primarily about the best interests of New Zealanders?
“Always the Party” –  source of so much evil, past and present.

And then there are the Xinjiang concentration camps, that (all) our politicians are studiedly silent on.  I thought this thread was pretty telling (drawing on the point I’ve made here previously that in many important respects the PRC party-state is the late 1930s party-state Germany of our era)

This is regime Yikun Zhang associates with and supports.

Does this stuff not bother Jacinda Ardern or Simon Bridges at all?

Another reader sent me this over the weekend.

PRESS RELEASE – Tuesday 16 October 2018, London, UK.
Independent people’s tribunal is established to investigate forced organ harvesting
in China.

An independent tribunal to inquire into forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China has been established as an initiative of the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC).

The Tribunal will investigate if any criminal offences have been committed by state or state-approved bodies / organisations in China concerning forced organ harvesting.

You can read (a lot) more about this here and (more generally) here.   For any sceptical that there is an issue here, I’d suggest listening to this two-part BBC World Service investigation, in which they walk carefully through the reasons to strongly suspect that the PRC is killing prisoners of conscience (probably mostly Falun Gong, but not exclusively) to be able to undertake the huge number of transplants occurring in China –  for Chinese and foreigners, pretty much on demand (subject to payment) –  each year, in a culture averse to voluntary organ donation.

This is the regime Yikun Zhang associates with and supports.

While our politicians do and say nothing.

And finally, the Herald ran this cartoon on Saturday


It is good that they are airing the issue.  But it still puts the responsibility on Beijing, and not where it actually lies, with our political leaders and heads of political parties.  Beijing does not force them to do or say (or not say) anything. They are moral agents, and they freely choose to allow the interests of New Zealand and New Zealanders to be compromised by their willing pursuit of, and association with, money rather strongly tinged with PRC political agendas and interests.

I was dipping into the famous Francis Fukayama book The End of History and the Last Man yesterday.   In his introduction he includes this line

For democracy to work, citizens need to develop an irrational pride in their own democratic institutions

That sounds generally right –  the fierce attachment that creates a willingness to defend something when it is threatened.  Given the way our political leaders are debauching New Zealand institutions at present, any such pride almost has to be irrational.  But perhaps there is a potential leader somewhere who will help restore our system?  Bob Jones played that role –  as regards the economic mess New Zealand had gotten into – in 1983/84.  The present challenge is greater, because all the main parties are equally compromised.  But so is the need for action.

UPDATE: Late this aftermoon today I was rung by Roy Morgan Research and participated in a quite detailed survey about trade, defence, values etc issues as regards New Zealand and each of Australia, India, Japan, China, and the United States.   Whoever was behind the survey (the Asia NZ Foundation perhaps?) I hope we eventually get to see the results.




Thoughts prompted by the tape

What to take from Jami-Lee Ross’s tape of his conversation with his (then) boss?  I’m not interested in Bridges’s vulgar and insulting talk about his own MPs (although being, like him, a child of a Baptist manse, I can only surmise that he wasn’t raised to use that sort of language) or even that interested in the minutiae of whether and how donations are recorded and disclosed, including to the party hierarchy itself (significant as those issues probably are generally).

As compared to the situation a few days ago, we know that there was a $100000 donation to the National Party, initiated apparently (whatever final form the lesser components took) by Auckland businessman Yikun Zhang who (despite apparently coming here as a poor former PLA soldier 18 years ago) doesn’t speak English.   The first person I asked the other day about Yikun Zhang responded along the lines of “bad news”, and the more I read around the various sources which various Chinese speaking commentators have highlighted, the truer that summary description appears to be.

Several things struck me about the Bridges-Ross conversation:

  • the first was about how normal both of them  (one the leader, one the 8th ranked front bench MP) seemed to regard this sort of tawdry business.  Sure, fundraising is a vital function of a political party, but it is a far cry from Barry Gustafson’s description in his 50th anniversary history of the National Party: “an unwritten but scrupulously observed rule has always been that no MP should be placed in the position of seeking, receiving, or even being made aware of money collected on behalf of the party” (p201).   Perhaps (although I don’t know) National is no worse on this score than other parties, but it is a pretty bad situation that has been allowed to develop –  or, more to the point, actively fostered.
  • the second was about how utterly unbothered they were (leader and no. 8) about the Jian Yang situation.  Sitting in your caucus is a former PLA intelligence official, Communist Party member, close asociate of the PRC Embassy, someone who acknowledges misrepresenting his background when he came to New Zealand, and someone who even a former diplomat –  who knows him well – says he is careful about what he says in front of the man.  As leader, perhaps you are under pressure to defend the man publicly.  But perhaps, a very generous –  naive – observer might have thought, after last year’s fuss had died down, and some face saved, the party would be looking for a way to quietly retire, and replace, Jian Yang going into the next election.    But when Simon Bridges is caught talking about his colleagues, we hear about the unfortunate Maureen Pugh, about those (Finlayson, Wagner and Carter) everyone assumes would go before long,  but the only reference to “Chinese MPs” is to adding another one.  Jian Yang’s continued presence seems just taken for granted: none of that background stuff apparently bothering either of them in the slightest.  Lacking any decency themselves –  and not facing any uproar from other parties –  Jian Yang is presumably much too valuable in tapping the potential donors.
  • third was the utterly transactional way in which they approached the donation Yikun Zhang proferred (and presumably arranged) and the bid for another ethnic Chinese National MP.

    Ross: Yeah they’re good people. Now there’s no catch or anything to it. You may recall at the dinner they did discuss candidacy, and another Chinese candidate.

    Bridges: Two MPs, yeah.

    Ross: Colin Zhang? The younger one, he’s put his name in for Candidates’ College and so I assume he’ll get through and we’ll make some decisions as a Party further down the track as to what we want to do with candidates.

    Bridges: I mean, it’s like all these things, it’s bloody hard. You’ve only got so much space. Depends where we’re polling, you know? All that sort of thing…two Chinese would be nice, but would it be one Chinese or one Filipino? What do we do?

    Ross: Two Chinese would be more valuable than two Indians, I have to say.

    It was fine for Ross to say “there’s no catch or anything to it”, but everyone involved knows  how reciprocity works.  It is about an exchange of favours over time.  When, in the same conversation a wealthy businessman talks of a big donation and proposes that one of his staff might get a winnable place on National’s list, and they take the donation anyway, there is a quid pro quo, in expectancy, if not in some written contract.  No sense presumably, either at the earlier function or in this phone call of anything improper or unethical.  It is clearly just the way the National Party now does things.

But bad –  really bad –  as all this is, I think what disgusts me is the utter indifference of either Bridges or Ross (and to the extent there is ongoing silence from elsewhere in the party, or anywhere else in the political spectrum, the rest of our political class) to the character and interests of the man they were dealing with.  Not at a basic interpersonal level –  frankly it sounds hard not to be a nicer person than, say, Jami-Lee Ross –  but as someone actively and on an ongoing basis fully involved with the PRC government and its activities, in China and abroad.   And this seems to be the bit that most of our mainstream media is either missing or downplaying.

If we are going to have private funding of political parties (which I happen still to favour), the issue isn’t whether immigrants of whatever ethnicity or natives (of whatever ethnicity) should be able to donate to political parties.  It is much more specific than that, about whether political parties (openly or secretly) should be taking substantial sums of money –  indeed, actively pursuing it –  from people who they either know, or really should know, are in league with or in active support of hostile or egregiously awful foreign powers.  From people over whom the hostile foreign power has leverage, direct or indirect.  And when the egregiously awful foreign power has a track record of using threats, and economic leverage, to buy silence (or worse).    And with the question in the background: in what ways are we tailoring what we do or say –  party presidents, for example, praising the egregiously awful regime and its leader – to keep that donor flow going.

The issues could arise from somone in league with any egregiously awful foreign power but – not having many North Korean migrants –  the PRC is the one we in New Zealand need to be most worried about right now.  At some other time, it might have been the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, or maybe even apartheid South Africa.  In the 1980s, emigre French business people, with close links to the DSGE, donating large amounts to our politicians, would rightly have attracted extreme disapproval.  There never were such donations, but today both main parties enrich themselves from donors with close ties to Beijing.

I noticed that Stephen Jacobi, the (NZ) taxpayer-funded lobbyist for keeping New Zealanders in line on things Beijing, was out today suggesting that perhaps state funding of political parties might be desirable after all.  His argument was a bit different from most though.

I haven’t seen anyone suggest that Yikun Zhang shouldn’t allowed to donate, or even to talk to politicians.  I have seen, and made, suggestions that our political parties shouldn’t touch his money –  or that channelled through bodies he runs or influences –  with a barge pole.   The suggestion is that the man is being “vilified”, but all I’ve seen so far is straight reportage –  often drawn directly from bodies he is involved on, or the Chinese language media – about his involvements and associations.  At least in Chinese –  he not speaking English –  he seems rather proud of and unapologetic for those involvements.

For those with Financial Times access, there is a nice article here which captures some of his close ongoing official involvement with the PRC government.  In a formal sense, he seems to have much stronger ongoing ties to the regime than (for example) Jian Yang does.   For others, and anyone interested, I suggest keeping an eye on these two Twitter accounts (both have been posting copious snippets of Yikun Zhang’s associations here and in the PRC): @geoff_p-wade and @jichanglulu.    As Wade (an Australian) urges

Reading the local media coverage, it strikes me that most of the local media is still reluctant to engage with the nature of the PRC United Front programme/agenda.   These aren’t just people who happen to have a few incidental ties to the homeland. Their organisations aren’t just neutral bodies.    The PRC is widely recognised as having an active agenda of influence –  and to say so isn’t vilification, but analysis, description, and reading.  As I noted, many of the links aren’t hard to find, at least for those with the language skills (to whom the rest of us can be grateful).   Some of it is even just pictures

This afternoon, for the first time in a while, I went back and read the whole of Anne-Marie Brady’s Magic Weapons paper, which has had so much attention (arguably more abroad than here, given the studied disinterest of our political leadership) since it was released last September.

Here are a few relevant snippets

United Front Work Department personnel often operate under diplomatic cover as members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, using this role to guide united front activities outside China, working with politicians and other high profile individuals, Chinese community associations, and student associations, and sponsoring Chinese language, media, and cultural activities. The Party has a long tradition of party and government personnel “double-hatting”; holding roles within multiple agencies. 17 Chinese consulates and embassies relay instructions to Chinese community groups and the Chinese language media and they host visits of high-level CCP delegations coming to meet with local overseas Chinese groups. The leaders of the various China-connected overseas Chinese associations in each country are regularly invited to China to update them on current government policies.

Yikun Zhang appears to have been on such missions regularly, and he (and the acolyte he wants to put into Parliament) are apparently in the PRC now (hosting the mayor of Southland).

And this longer piece

1. “Bring together the hearts and the power of the overseas Chinese”  Xi Jinping’s ambitious strategy to harness the overseas Chinese population for the CCP’s current economic and political agenda, builds on existing practices and then takes it to a new level of ambition.

Agencies: State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, CCP United Front Work Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of State Security, PLA Joint Staff Headquarters’ Third Department, and other relevant organs.


• Monitor the local long term Chinese community via community organizations (侨务社团工作); establish Overseas Chinese Service Centres (海外华侨华人互助中 心) to coordinate this work, cherry pick which groups to work with.

• Sponsor and support the emergence of new united front organizations to represent the overseas Chinese, recognizing that they are a diverse group and flexibility is required to establish a positive working relationship with them. Avoid directly interfering in overseas Chinese community affairs unless there is a situation that directly affects China’s political interests,….

• Unite the ethnic Chinese communities through nurturing and subsidizing authorized Chinese cultural activities.

• Supervise Chinese students and visiting scholars through the united front organization the Chinese Student and Scholars Association (中国学生学者联合会).

• Encourage influential figures within the overseas Chinese community who are acceptable to the PRC government to become proactive in helping shape ethnic Chinese public opinion on political matters.

• Encourage wealthy overseas Chinese who are politically acceptable to the PRC government to subsidize activities which support China’s political agenda.

• Draw on China’s agents and informers abroad to enhance China’s political influence.

• Encourage political engagement of the overseas Chinese community (华人参 政). This policy encourages overseas Chinese who are acceptable to the PRC government to become involved in politics in their host countries as candidates who, if elected, will be able to act to promote China’s interests abroad; and encourages China’s allies to build relations with non-Chinese pro-CCP government foreign political figures, to offer donations to foreign political parties, and to mobilize public opinion via Chinese language social media; so as to promote the PRC’s economic and political agenda abroad.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to wonder whether the Chao Shan General Association –  so much in the media in recent days as one of Yikun Zhang’s key involvements –  is not one of those “new United Front organisations”; able to attract many key figures of the New Zealand political establishment to its functions.

Political donations aren’t the whole story by any means.  They are simply the bit brought into focus, almost incidentally, in Jami-Lee Ross’s revelations of the questionable activities he was, apparently, a leading figure in.  The other half of the story is, of course, trade.  The PRC has a now-established track record of using economic coercion to attempt to silence any government that ever takes a stand or utters more than the meekest and mildest concerns.  As I’ve noted here before, most of what New Zealand firms export to the PRC is fairly homogenous commodities which if not sold to China would be sold somewhere else (someone else in turn selling to China).  In other areas –  notably tourism and export education –  there are greatly vulnerabilities. But no doubt representatives of all these industries also bend the ears of our political leaders, providing them another excuse for staying silent –  or worse, gushing in praise –  of one of the more heinous (and getting worse) regimes on the planet.   Perhaps it is really true that even without the donations, the politicians (all of them) would still lack any willingness to speak out, but the donor flow –  whether direct or through charity auctions – seems likely to reinforce the supine shameful state of New Zealand political leaders as regards the PRC.

The situation needs to change, but not one person on the New Zealand political scene offers any hope of making it happen.  Jami-Lee Ross probably only wanted to be at the top table making the “sellout” of New Zealand longer-term interests and values happen his way.  I did a media interview yesterday about some of these issues, and was asked about the potential cost of making a stand –  even just separating ourselves from Beijing-affiliated ethnic Chinese money.  As I noted to the interviewer, the only real test of what you value is what you are willing to sacrifice  –  pay a price –  for.  On the evidence to date, the integrity of our political system –  let alone the freedoms of other democratic states in east Asia –  clearly isn’t one of those things for the current crop of politicians, from any party.

Bernard Hickey has a nice article on some of these issues at Newsroom.  I agree with most of what he says, and commend it to your attention.   Of the Prime Minister’s responsibility he writes

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been conspicuous in her lack of comment on Jian Yang and on the role of Chinese influence in New Zealand politics. She has also not criticised China directly over its South China Sea incursions or the persecution of minorities in China.

She should draw a line under New Zealand’s acquiescence to China and review the transparency of the Electoral Finance Act in relation to overseas influence. She should call for Jian Yang to resign from Parliament at the least, and follow the example of her Australian counterparts by asking for an official inquiry into China’s influence in politics here.

The Prime Minister talked a good game about human rights and sovereignty at the United Nations recently. How serious is she when her own party’s finances may be affected by pushing back against China?

Not talking, as the PRC Embassy reported her recently, of strengthening ties between the Labour Party and Communist Party of China.

And, finally, Anne-Marie Brady has re-linked to a couple of pieces she wrote late last year (here and here) on what can and should be done, including by the new government.  I will always defer to her expertise on the nature of the PRC programmes and interventions, although in thinking about policy responses, she probably put relatively more emphasis on national security issues, (while –  charitably? – presuming governments will want to do something serious), while I tend to emphasise the problems that lie within our own political processes.  In my view, it isn’t that people don’t know what could be done, rather that our politicians simply don’t want to do anything, or be seen to express serious concerns.    In that sense, the bigger problem –  the one we could control but refuse to –  lies here, not in Beijing (evil states will do what evil states do, including suborning the locals, encouraging the mindset of a tributary. Our political processes –  in a state far away from Beijing, and simply not that reliant on them for anything much –  make choices whether to fall into line, or whether to stand up.   Of course, one test may loom quite soon: what, if anything, will our government be prepared to do if is found that PRC agents were responsible for the break-ins at Anne-Marie Brady’s house and office.  Will we even be told?



The swamp

What has New Zealand politics come to when someone who was (until a few days ago) a senior frontbench member of our largest political party claims that he was active –  as recently as a few months ago – in collecting very large donations from an open and avowed supporter of one of the most egregious regimes on the planet.   And goes further to suggest that his party leader was not only active in soliciting such donations –  and whether the words are used or not, when senior politicians turn up for dinner at the house of a wealthy person who doesn’t speak English, there isn’t much doubt what the visit is really about  –  but may, illegally so the MP claims, have sought to enable the fact of such donations to be masked from public scrutiny. (Those latter claims are the issue in law, but in many ways they should be less of a political issue than the wider environment this episode sheds fresh light on.)

And when no other member of that political party, or any other political party, is willing to speak out about the culture that our politicians and political parties –  all of them it appears –  have fostered.  Why?  Because the other side is quite as heavily involved in this “donations for acquiescence (or worse)” business.

After all, the Herald reveals this morning that although the Labour/New Zealand First government was directly responsible for the honour recently bestowed on Yikun Zhang, the nomination was a joint effort of National MP –  former PLA intelligence official, Communist Party member, and active fundraiser – Jian Yang, former National Party MP Eric Roy, and former Labour leader and Mayor of Auckland –  recipient of a very large anonymous donation from mainland China to his campaign, in an event organised by Labour MP Raymond Huo –  Phil Goff.    Yikun Zhang is photographed posing earlier this year with the Prime Minister, and in Labour Party group including party president Nigel Haworth –  on record, in the last year as more and more is learned of the new and egregious evils of the PRC regime, praising Xi Jinping and celebrating the PRC regime.

And, of course, not a word is heard from any of them –  Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters, Nigel Haworth, Peter Goodfellow, Simon Bridges, Gerry Brownlee, Todd McClay (or Jian Yang or Raymond Huo) – about:

  • the mass imprisonments in Xinjiang,
  • the continued illegal PRC militarisation of the South China Sea,
  • the increased repression of religions (and Falun Gong) across China,
  • the rollout of the “social credit” system of repression and control,
  • the growing threat to free and democratic Taiwan, or
  • the increasing erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong.

In fact, as a government minister only last year, Simon Bridges was signing official agreements with the PRC regime committing to an aspirational goal of a “fusion of civilisations”.

What of Yikun Zhang?  He is a leading figure in PRC United Front activities in New Zealand.  That’s not my interpretation, it is the view of the most prominent New Zeland expert on these matters.

Consistent with this, he was among the United Front people invited to Beijing to participate in the 90th anniversary celebrations for the People’s Liberation Army.

On 30 July 2017, Zhang Yikun, a former military servant was invited to participate the military parade in Beijing for the celebration of the 90th anniversary of PLA establishment.

Zhang said to Chinese media, “ As a veteran, now a overseas Chinese community leaders, I felt deeply excited for the tremendous achievements in the national defense  of my homeland. “

Perhaps someone could ask him, no doubt through a translator, about the South China Sea militarisation.

Only late last year, he was leading a delegation –  that included Eric Roy and Southland mayor (see yesterday’s post) Gary Tong  –  to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council –  then one of the key institutional entities in the PRC influence activities in and through ethnic Chinese communities abroad.

I could go on –  I’ve been sent numerous links to Chinese language articles, which one can run through Google Translate –  but the character of the man is pretty clear.  After 15+ years in New Zealand he hasn’t learned English, he remains close to various PRC bodies including the embassy/consulate in New Zealand, is actively involved in various United Front entities and activities (including the cultural associations, which aren’t simply the equivalent of the Cornwall or Sussex associations, but vehicles through which the PRC seeks to exert control over ethnic Chinese in other countries)…..and he seems to assiduously cultivate connections to key figures in both our main parties (at least) –  and, in turn (and this is the real shame) to be courted by them.    And they give him official honours, for what seem –  in effect –  to be primarily services to the PRC.  Did I mention that it was one of the most egregiously evil, and outwardly aggressive, regimes on the planet?

It is pretty bad that we have allowed people like this to achieve such prominence in our society.   We should, and generally do, welcome people who want to come from China to escape the evils of the regime, and embrace freedom, democracy, transparency and a (until relatively recently) uncorrupt society.   Rather like people escaping to the West from Germany in the 1930s.   But what we seem to be doing is facilitating the functional equivalent of Nazi Party front organisations in Britain or France in the 1930s, and not just accommodating them but embracing them…..for the money.

But evil regimes will do what they do.  What we can, or should control, is what we tolerate –  whether as politicians and political party figures, or as voters.  Our political leaders seem to have no appetite for anything much other than keeping the donations flowing –  and maybe worse if the full extent of Ross’s allegations happen to be true.  They don’t seem to value what made New Zealand one of the world’s best and finest democracies –  part of what made good people want to come here –  or, if they still tell themselves they do, they seem to attempt to compartmentalise in ways that are simply untenable.  Our parties and politicians need to learn to say no.  And we need to demand that they do so.

It is well past time to drain the swamp of New Zealand politics.  If only there were any real hope of that happening.

(For those interested there is a useful background article on Yikun Zhang on Newsroom and interesting – non-controversial –  account of his own life here.)

The corruption of New Zealand politics

Who knows whether Jami-Lee Ross’s allegation around the handling, and disclosure, of a donation to the National Party from one Yikun Zhang are correct or not.  One hopes time, and evidence, will tell.   Frankly, one hopes Ross is wrong, or overstating things.  But at least one observer notes that Jami-Lee Ross has previously been actively involved in such fundraising.

Him again…..the former PLA intelligence official, Chinese Communist Party member, and National MP, who admits he misrepresented his past to immigration/citizenship officials, but who is stoutly defended by successive National Party leaders, and whose prime role in the National Party appears to be (highly effectively it is reported) tapping the ethnic Chinese community for donations.

It seems highly likely, to the point of being almost certain that there was at least one such substantial donation from Yikun Zhang.  After all, the man’s wife told Stuff that Simon Bridges had been to their house for dinner, while from the same story we learn

A receptionist at KCC said Zhang could not be emailed as he did not speak English.

We can assume Bridges didn’t go for dinner for the sake of the witty repartee, stimulating conversation, or on account of a personal friendship.  It is a far cry from the days  – not that many decades ago –  when party leaders and senior ministers stayed well clear of party fundraising, to avoid giving the impression of opportunities for influence.

Incidentally, I’d been under the impression that immigration to New Zealand had long involved some English language tests.

In case one wonders if the receptionist was telling a convenient tale, there is an OIA request  – to the Southland District Council of all places –  available on line about Yikun Zhang and one of his legal advisers.  The Mayor had made Yikun Zhang some sort of semi-official Businss Adviser.   Among the June 2018 OIA responses, the mayor is reported this way

The Mayor wishes to acknowledge the work of Yikun Zhang and Ping Chen and he has no emails that relate to any business matters that can be released as discussions occur between Ping Chen and the Mayor as Mr Zhang gains confidence in English. To date communication has been verbal and translated either on conference call or Wee Chat.

Very little, or no, English.

The Mayor and his wife seem to have benefited considerably from the largesse of Yikun Zhang

The Southland District has received no gifts from either party, and the Mayor has received two bottles of wine prior to a dinner (2016) in Auckland, a sponsored trip to China (2017) for he and his partner to attend business and local government introductions in Beijing and Guangzhou and return again.

The Council was obviously a bit defensive about the Mayor’s ties to Yikun Zhang and the OIA response twice highlights Yikun Zhang’s national political connections

There is an informal relationship to see how things progress. Both  [Yikun Zhang and Ping Chen] are well known in central government and both have close links to high level Ministers and MPs.

Perhaps Simon Bridges was one those “high level Ministers”, but whether he was or not we can safely assume that OIA response is referring primarily to National Party ministers, since this relationship with the Southland District Council developed over the last few years.  And as the Stuff story notes (complete with photos)

In July National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett posted photos on her Facebook page of her and Jami-Lee Ross sitting at the same table as Zhang for the opening of the Chao Shan General Association’s new function centre.

What else is there about Yikun Zhang?

Well, we know that the current government –  Labour/New Zealand First coalition –  gave him an honour in this year’s Queen’s Birthday honours –  for various things including, apparently advancing the People’s Republic of China Belt and Road Initiative (the “maritime Silk Road” bit).   There is a photo of him with the Governor-General receiving the award.  Presumably, given his inability to speak English, the conversation was rather limited.  A Cabinet minister praised him

“Mr Yikun Zhang, has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to New Zealand-China relations and the Chinese community. Mr Zhang has facilitated economic and trade conferences and Expos between New Zealand and China and is an effective and tireless community organiser.

Various other commentators have highlighted some of Yikun Zhang’s other activities.  Thus, it appears that Yikun Zhang is actively involved in various United Front organisations, used by Beijing to influence ethnic Chinese in other countries, and influence politics and society in those countries.

Rather like, as Anne-Marie Brady has pointed out, Labour MP Raymond Huo.

It is a little hard to believe that someone who established himself here, clearly has considerable resources at his disposal, but can’t even be bothered learning English (he isn’t some struggling 80 year old on a parent visa, say), has the interests of New Zealand primarily at heart, when liaising with or donating to, political parties.  Do you really not  have to know even conversational English nowadays to become a citizen?  Perhaps when he returns to Auckland someone could ask him, through a translator, about whether he has anything negative to say about the brutal regime whose diplomats he hangs out with, and whose foreign policy initiatives he seems to have helped advance?

And, of course, if this particular case puts the spotlight on National, it was Labour/New Zealand First who awarded the man’s honour, and when Labour was last in government there was the infamous case of the award of citizenship to a donor, against the strong recommendation of officials.  And, look, the minister involved is a Cabinet minister today.

National seems to have been particularly effective at tapping the ethnic Chinese donor “market” in recent years.  They were in government.  One can only imagine how the Labour fundraisers are now looking at the possibilities, and that any such approaches are likely to fall on receptive ears.  Is Labour willing to resist the temptation?  Probably not judging by the willingness of the party hierarchy to praise the CCP and Xi Jinping.  Oh, and there was the large donation to Phil Goff’s mayoral campaign from the mainland.

A few months ago, I reported this from a (Chatham House rules) seminar I was invited to

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

What is the issue?  It isn’t that New Zealand citizens, of whatever ethnic background, shouldn’t be able to donate to political parties.  The concern in the PRC context is that (a) the donors themselves are often dependent (their own businesses) on continued access to the PRC, and often have families back there exposed to the (not very) tender mercies of the party-State, (b) the extent of PRC Embassy and related United Front organisation influence on the local ethnic Chinese community, and (c) the not-unrelated risk of the flow of donations drying up should the recipient party ever do or say anything upsetting to Beijing.  The PRC regime is of a character, and determination, not like the home countries of most of our other migrants.

Yikun Zhang himself seems almost peripheral to Jami-Lee Ross’s concerns/allegations, as reported so far. But I hope that the incidential disclosure of his name, and apparent close relations with the National Party (in particular) will help to spark a more honest conversation about the flow of Chinese money to political parties, in the context of a more realistic assessment of the nature of the regime, its methods, its interest.  And, on the other hand, a renewed demand for a much greater degree of integrity –  a willingness to say no, just occasionally, to stand for the values the underpinned our political system for a long time –  among our politicians and political processes.   It wasn’t that hard, in the end, to get rid of Jami-Lee Ross.  What about Jian Yang?

Sadly, we can expect more silence, more complicity, and not just from the National Party, but from every single one of our parties and their leaders.

UPDATE: Part of a thread on Yikun Zhang and the United Front/CCP connections.

Confucius Institutes, the PRC, and NZ authorities

Some commenters here are, at times, a bit critical of the New Zealand media for not being more active in pursuing questions around the New Zealand government and its supine attitude to the People’s Republic of China (Party and government), and its penetration of New Zealand.  I’m less willing to criticise –  it was, after all, the media that broke the Jian Yang story and pursued it for a time, only yesterday Newsroom had a story about MBIE’s continued use of surveillance equipment supplied by a Chinese government-owned company against which there has been a substantial pushback in the US and Australia, and the Herald’s Matt Nippert has drawn attention to his longstanding request for an interview with the Prime Minister on these issues.  No doubt more could be done –  including, for example, hard questions of the Prime Minister in her press conferences – but resources are limited, the traditional media is in decline, and by the standards of our business and political leaders, and even much of academe, the media are veritable paragons of virtue in this area.

Stuff’s journalist Harrison Christian has also done a couple of interesting and useful articles in recent months.    There was this article about PRC Embassy sponsored rent-a-mobs harrassing peaceful Falun Gong exiles and protestors in New Zealand, and the more general attempts by the PRC to exert control over ethnic Chinese in New Zealand and Australia.  In that article Christian even managed to get an exceptionally-rare comment –  even if not much more than a no-comment –  from former PLA intelligence official, Communist Party member, and National MP Jian Yang.    As a reminder of the nature of the regime, there was this early on in the article.

It was the end of Daisy Lee’s loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party: a black and white photograph her partner had kept hidden for years.

In their apartment in the northern city of Qingdao, Lee was talking to her husband about the Tiananmen Square protests. In 1989, troops with tanks and machine guns opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in the Beijing square, killing at least several hundred people; perhaps as many as 10,000.

Steve Ma had been a student in Beijing at the time, and Lee was scolding him for it.

“You students in Beijing did crazy things,” she said. “You smashed cars, set them on fire, made trouble and were violent towards the Beijing people!”

In response, Ma showed his wife an old photo taken with a miniature camera by one of his roommates at university. The picture was little more than an inch wide, but Lee could still make out the blood on Tiananmen Square, and a young person’s severed head.

The 1989 incident has always been a highly censored political topic. But Ma had kept that photo, if only for himself; a grim reminder of the day many of his classmates lost their lives.

“He’d been hiding it even though we’d known each other for several years,” says Lee. “The fear of Government was such that he couldn’t even trust me, his wife.”

I found it exceptionally moving, perhaps partly because I’ve come to know Daisy –  who now lives in Auckland – a little over the last year.

Do such articles make a difference?   Even if it is only person by person, raising consciousness, I suspect they do.  Just after that article appeared, with its photos of the silent protestors outside the PRC consulate, I happened to be in Auckland for a meeting nearby.  With a bit of time to spare before the meeting I walked up the road to briefly say thanks to the protestors for their efforts and wish them all the best.

Harrison Christian has another substantial article out today, this time on the Chinese government-sponsored Confucius Institutes in New Zealand, located as part of Auckland, Victoria, and Canterbury universities.  I’ve written about these institutes previously (recently here, but also here)  –  seeing them partly as PRC subsidies to university marketing budgets –  and I’m among those quoted in the Stuff article.

There are quotes from China experts

Duncan Campbell, adjunct teaching fellow at Victoria University’s School of Language and Cultures, said “huge amounts of money” were flooding in for Confucius Institutes, “whereas the university should be putting that or more into the proper study of China”.

“Six hundred-odd thousand into a university system that is strapped for cash is inappropriate,” Campbell said.

He said it amounted to “outsourcing” our understanding of China to the Chinese Communist Party.

All countries were engaged in extending their “soft power” offshore to some degree, Campbell said, but no country had an equivalent programme to CIs, which were embedded in their host universities.

“Everyone does it, but it is understood to be that – L’Alliance Française, the Goethe Institute – it’s removed, separate and autonomous. It doesn’t interfere within the framework of an existing academic institution.

“The issues with China and CIs is that we are dealing with a party state. We’re not actually dealing with a nation state.”

Campbell said he was concerned about “vast taboo areas” within the CI programme: topics politically sensitive to Beijing. Under president Xi Jinping, China had entered a new era of political censorship.

including Anne-Marie Brady

As public funds were also given to CIs, New Zealand was effectively assisting China in furthering its offshore agenda, Brady said.

“The New Zealand Government is subsidising the promotion of China’s foreign policy agenda through the Confucius Institutes,” Brady said.

“New Zealand needs to develop better China knowledge and language skills, but we should do so through New Zealand-based programmes which are free of the censorship constraints that come from Chinese-government funded programmes.”

Brady added that staff employed by CIs may not be followers of Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhism, or pro-Taiwan independence – movements seen as a threat to the Chinese Communist Party.

The constitution for all CIs states they shall not contravene the laws and regulations of China, where movements like Falun Gong are banned.

The article also draws attention to seminars sponsored by the Confucius Institutes which –  perhaps unlike straight language teaching –  are more explicitly about advancing Chinese government agendas, under the logo of a New Zealand university.    There was one in Auckland on the Belt and Road Initiative, and another in Wellington last year at Victoria University to mark 45 years of diplomatic ties with the PRC, at which not a single sceptical or critical voice was heard.

My comments were as follows

Economist and commentator on NZ-China links, Michael Reddell, said he believed the bulk of the institutes’ work was genuinely teaching language in our schools, but “one could, and should, challenge whether the New Zealand Government should be taking foreign aid from a middle-income country”.

Reddell was also concerned about the “overly close connections between the Confucius Institutes, the foreign policy establishment and other university work”.

For example, the chair of Victoria University’s Confucius Institute, Tony Browne, is also the chair of that university’s New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre (CCRC).

Stuff understands Browne’s dual roles have caused tensions within the leadership of the research centre since it was established.

“I don’t suppose [Browne] actively suppresses any negative research on China, but his presence is likely to condition the sorts of people who get appointed to such roles, for example the director of the CCRC,” said Reddell.

Campbell described Browne’s dual roles as an “impossible situation”.

“It is hard to understand how it works. Certainly I don’t think it can be justified,” he said.

And from the fuller comments I provided the journalist

I’m probably more concerned about the overly close connections between the CIs, the foreign policy establishment and other university work.  Thus, as I’ve highlighted Tony Browne (former NZ Ambassador to the PRC) is both chair of the Vic CI, a senior advisor to Hanban, chair of the Contemporary China Reseearch Centre, and programme co-director for the Aus-NZ School of Govt annual training programme for Chinese Communist Party rising officials.  I don’t suppose he actively suppresses any negative research on China, but his presence is likely to condition the sorts of people who get appointed to such roles (eg director of the CCRC).   Rebecca Needham, ex MFAT, is both director of the CI and still on MFAT’s list of public sector China experts.  The CIs are involved in running courses for public servants (again, mostly language) and the CCRC (Browne-chaired) helps run the public sector China courses.

Harrison Christian went to the Minister of Education for comment.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said it wasn’t his role to instruct universities on whether they establish or fund particular teaching and research centres.

“The autonomy of New Zealand’s universities is a prized, and internationally respected, feature of our education system,” Hipkins said.

Nothing seems to be a matter for the Minister of Education, in publicly-funded universities.  He was all-but silent recently on the Massey Vice-Chancellor and her refusal to accommodate speech she disagreed with.

I don’t suppose anyone thinks the government should be able to compel public universities to close Confucius Institutes, but that alone doesn’t absolve the Minister –  or his government colleages, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs –  from having a view on the activities of (heinous) foreign governments in our schools and universities, and whether such activities are appropriate.  In other countries, after all, there has been some measure of a re-think, and some Confucius Institutes have been closed.

Harrison Christian also got Tony Browne on record

However, Browne said he did not believe his roles were a potential conflict. His position as chair of the CCRC was a “management job, not a policy job”, he said.

“There’s a very fundamental and longstanding principle of academic freedom – that academics determine their areas of research.

“I don’t work for China. I’m not paid a cent by China.”

Browne pointed to an August report from the CCRC that presented a critical assessment of the potential benefits of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for New Zealand.

“My whole life has been guided by the promotion of New Zealand’s interests, not China’s interests.”

Which is fine as far as it goes but:

  • “management” and governance includes the resourcing and staffing issues.   With Browne in the chair, it seems highly unlikely that anyone very openly sceptical of the PRC would end up in the director’s role,
  • his role as senior adviser to Hanban –  the Chinese government agency that funds the Confucius Institutes, and recruits (selectively, for political and religious reliability) the Mandarin language assistants (whom Beijing provides, on top of the cash contributions in Christian’s article) – is unpaid, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t “working for China” in that role, which provides access, trips to the PRC, and benefits which enhance his other activities,
  • in a sense, much of the issue is captured by that last sentence.  I’m sure it is an accurate description of how he sees things: that apparent very close alignment (in his view) of the interests of the PRC and the interests of New Zealand, in a way that means he never ever says anything critical about the PRC, one of the most evil regimes on the planet today.  It may be no different for Jian Yang.

It is worth recalling that these aren’t Tony Browne’s only involvements.  From an earlier post

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

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

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

Who attends

Who are our participants?

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

All, quite explicitly, CCP members.

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

Affiliate partners

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

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

Which brings me to a more general point.    Much as I disapprove of the Confucius Institutes, the (much) bigger issue is the approach of successful New Zealand governments and their bureaucracies.  Here is another quote from the comments I gave to Harrison Christian

But, take the CIs out of the picture completely and I doubt anything would be very much different.  The official cast of mind –  don’t ever say anything to rock the boat –  doesn’t arise from the CIs but from a hard-headed (probably misguided and amoral) assessment of NZ interests by NZ politicians and officials.   You note the OBOR seminar the Akld CI was involved in.  Another example, from the Vic CI, is this   at which no remotely sceptical voice was on the programme.  But if it hadn’t been the CI hosting the workshop, the CCRC –  or the university politics dept –  might have done so itself, and it isn’t clear that the format would have been much different.  [MFAT itself –  represented with MBIE and NZTE on the board –  may have been involved in blocking] awkward appointments to the CCRC director role.  But again, it isn’t China doing that, but NZers acting in their (misguided in my view) assessment of NZ best interests –  given the heavy handed approach China takes at times.

It was, after all, the NZ govt which willingly and enthusiastically signed up to the OBOR MOU last year. [“fusion of civilisations” and all that].
Nature abhors a vacuum, and the extent of PRC involvement in New Zealand is perhaps what you’d expect when an evil regime finds successive local governments scared of their own shadow, in the thrall of particular business interests (and the post-politics opportunities for them and their colleagues) and all too ready to turn over and let the PRC tickle their tummy.
Confucius Institutes are an issue, and it is good that Harrison Christian is giving the issues and risks wider public coverage.  But they aren’t the main event.   That is about attitudes, self-respect, integrity, values (and the lack of them) among our elected and bureaucratic “elite”.   Active mindsets and choices of New Zealand leaders.
(On my long list of possible things to write about had been this recent article from the Australia New Zealand School of Government, chaired by our own most senior public servant, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes.   It is about an education/”indoctrination” programme for senior Australian and New Zealand public servants in China.     Perhaps the worst of it is that way it normalises the PRC regime

The group also had discussions with Chinese officials about reforms to the education system aimed at building problem-solving capabilities and improving student welfare and school/life balance.

Participants said that the CRP had given them a better understanding of Chinese thinking and would enable them to engage better with Chinese businesses. They also gained a sense of the tension in China “between government’s role as a controller, and its reliance on social capital and community spirit to implement effective programs”.

Just another bunch of well-intentioned public servants on both sides.   Probably the rotations of the PRC counterparts through Xinjiang were carefully avoided, as trips to 1938 Berlin might have stepped around the local unpleasantness of Kristallnacht.

The CRP was initiated by ANZSOG in conjunction with the Organisation Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

The Organisation Department occupies a unique role in the hierarchy of the Chinese government – it oversees appointments of all key positions within the administration.

The CRP – the first and only initiative of its kind undertaken by the Chinese Government – and works in conjunction with the reciprocal Chinese Advanced Leadership Program, which sees senior Chinese officials visit Australia and New Zealand.

The special relationship of the our public service hierarchy with China’s Communist Party……   It should defy belief, but sadly it is all too real.  All part of the same (successful) effort by the PRC to neutralise the New Zealand government (in particular) and to relativise the perspectives of the officials who advise them. )

Makhlouf on China

In a blog post the other day, which briefly touched on the activities of the People’s Republic of China in New Zealand, former ACT MP and senior lawyer Stephen Franks observed that

Our colonial forebears gained their colonial power and wealth by suborning the elites of the peoples subjugated more often than with military violence.

I hadn’t particularly thought of it that way before, but of course once one thinks about it for even a moment he is correct about the history, and (I suspect) about the relevance of the parallel to the current situation.

In fact, the parallel came to mind in pondering the latest public speech by Gabs Makhlouf the British ring-in Secretary to the Treasury, who not only qualifies as one of the “elite” but isn’t even someone with a strong ongoing personal interest in the future of ordinary New Zealanders, or even of New Zealand institutions.  Of course, even public servants holding as high an office as Secretary to the Treasury don’t make policy –  we hold politicians to account for that –  but Makhlouf seems to be actively engaged with, and supportive of, the longrunning deference to one of the most evil regimes on the planet, and apparent indifference to the tentacles of that regime in our system and country.

It mightn’t even be quite so annoying if his pandering was supported by decent economic analysis or a compelling understanding of the economic challenges facing New Zealand.  But it isn’t.    The speech, given at the university in Beijing, is under the title “The role of the China-New Zealand relationship in raising living standards”.

He burbles on about his beloved Living Standards framework, reaching the astonishing conclusion in his final paragraph that

Green mountains and blue rivers are as good as mountains of gold and silver.

Perhaps when you have a secure government income of many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year they are, but not to most New Zealanders – the people who struggle to get by, who’d appreciate the opportunities for better housing, better medical treatment, or even a better holiday.     Of course, the environment matters (rather a lot), and greater wealth and productivity has given us cost-effective options to reduce pollution (contrast the pollution levels in London or Beijing).  Perhaps we could extend the parallel: uninhabited New Zealand 1000 years ago –  beautiful and untouched as it may have been –  as good as a reasonably prosperous country today that makes extensive use of natural resources, and which has changed the landscape?   Few will think so, but perhaps the Secretary does?     If this is the sort of economic analysis governments have been getting, no wonder there is no progress in reversing our relative productivity decline.

Makhlouf goes on at length about the value of international trade and investment, and I can go a reasonable way along that line with him.  But it is as if he is talking for a totally different country when he observes enthusiastically that

And back in 1990 the ratio of global trade to world GDP was 30 percent; by 2015 that ratio had doubled to around 60 percent.

Which is good, but in New Zealand –  the country he supposedly represents –  the total exports and imports were 52 per cent of GDP in 1990 and 54 per cent last year.    We simply haven’t shared at all in the dramatic increases in world trade.   And because he seems not to understand that, the Secretary presumably has no credible analysis for what might make a helpful difference in future.   As it is, the New Zealand story is even worse than those snapshots suggests: exports as a share of GDP peaked as long ago as 2000, and even exports of services –  where the Secretary likes to talk up tourism and export education –  peaked as share of GDP in 2002.    The services exports share of GDP is now 30 per cent smaller (three percentage points) than it was then.

Then there is one of his tired old lines, claiming that “we” (New Zealand) are “part of the fastest growing region in the world” when, as he delivered his speech in Beijing, he was closer to home in London than to his office in Wellington.

I could go on, but the weaknesses of the Secretary’s economic analysis have been documented in many earlier posts.   What appalled in this particular speech was the craven grovelling to the PRC, the total relativisation of our two countries in ways which suggest that he thinks their system, their government, is just as good as ours.  (I don’t suppose he really does, but when you are a senior official, backing your government, what you say counts  –  including no doubt to the PRC authorities. He does the kow-tow)

He begins his speech with the rather empty claim that

Yet there is so much that we have in common.

We are all human beings I guess, but it wasn’t clear what else he had in mind.   He tries, not very convincingly, to elaborate.

All of us here want open trade, thriving business, and economic growth. Those things matter for our material wellbeing. But they are only a subset of what contributes to the quality of our lives. I’m sure we share a belief in the importance of good health and education, decent housing, the support of family and friends, a clean natural environment, a safe and peaceful society. We seek that for ourselves and for future generations.

As the Secretary surely knows, the People’s Republic of China has no commitment to open trade, having a highly regulated economy, and tight restrictions on international services trade in particular, and on investment.    But what of that broader list of things he thinks we have in common?  Perhaps it is fine as far it goes, but he is talking to people in a country whose government has a million people from Xinjiang in concentration and re-indoctrination camps.  And for all the Secretary’s talk about wellbeing –  and even “social capital” –  it is notable that things like free speech, free expression, the ability to change your government, freedom of religion, and even the rule of law – explicitly disavowed not long ago by the PRC Chief Justice –  are totally absent from his list.  The things that divide free and democratic countries from the PRC regime are huge and important.  Perhaps even the sorts of things that might appear in a typical New Zealand assessment of wellbeing?  But they, apparently, don’t matter much to the Secretary to the Treasury.  He goes on the praise the Belt and Road Initiative –  under the aegis of which the previous New Zealand government committed to the (rather frightening) aspiration of “the fusion of civilisations” with the PRC.

In all that he was just warming up.  There is later a substantial section of the “NZ-China relationship”, which is almost nauseating in places.  Thus

It is a relationship that goes beyond diplomacy and trade. It’s also about the links between people, about investing in our mutual success, and about recognising our shared interests in the world.

Liberty, democracy, the rule of law for example?  I guess not.  Respect for established international borders?  I guess not.    Then again, there is this in common, that both China and New Zealand have dramatically (economically) underperformed their near neighbours over the last century of so: in China’s case, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, and in New Zealand’s case Australia.

Then we get this

It hasn’t all been one-way traffic. New Zealander Rewi Alley helped establish the Gung Ho movement in the 1930s and dedicated 60 years of his life to improving the living standards of Chinese workers.

You mean the active member of the Chinese Communist Party and unashamed apologist for its evils  (I have one of his books sitting on my desk, co-authored with the dreadful Communist fellow-traveller Wilfred Burchett, written towards the end of the Cultural Revolution celebrating the quality of life in the PRC).    Then again, when we have a Chinese Communist Party member in our Parliament what might one expect from our elites?

The Secretary moves on to celebrate PRC foreign investment in New Zealand.  He notes, without further comment, that

Over half of the 25 largest Chinese investors in New Zealand are state owned enterprises including Huawei, Yili and Haier.

as if this is a good thing (Treasury not being known for its enthusiasm for SOEs in New Zealand), as if he cares not about the national security threat various allied governments have determined Huawei represents –  and note that Huawei likes to represent itself as a private company –  and as if he is unaware (or cares not a bit) about the PRC law under which companies (private and public) are required to operate in the interests of the partt-State, at home or abroad.  In the best of circumstances, state ownership (and murky ownership) is a recipe for weakened capital allocation disciplines etc, and the Secretary to the Treasury really should know that.

The Secretary goes on

I believe one of the main reasons the China-New Zealand relationship is so close and constructive is because we both recognise the importance of diplomacy.

A line so vacuous it can only mean that New Zealand knows when (almost always) to rollover, never upset Beijing, and so on.   And who would want a “close and constructive” relationship with such a tyrannical regime anyway –  unless money is now all that matters (surely not so, especially in the Secretary’s wellbeing world.   Do these people have no shame?

Channelling the government, the Secretary touches on the Pacific, where the PRC is increasingly active, and in ways that look quite damaging not just to our interests, but to those of the ordinary citizens (although, again, not necessarily the “elites) in those countries.  Here is his final line.

We believe it is in everyone’s interest in the region – including New Zealand and China – to encourage sustainable economic development, good governance, respect for sovereignty and the rule of law.

I guess that is really a timid suggestion to the PRC, but they are quite open that they have no time for the rule of law (unless, of course, in their own interests), good governance (surely you’d practice what you preach), let alone “respect for sovereignty” –  ask the neighbours in the South China Sea, or Taiwan, the peaceful independent productive democracy.

We believe it is in everyone’s interest in the region – including New Zealand and China – to encourage sustainable economic development, good governance, respect for sovereignty and the rule of law.

Sounding like his countryman, Neville Chamberlain –  who did finally come to his senses –  we apparently don’t believe in right and wrong, or standing by those who are threatened.  The Secretary –  and his government –  just want to be “honest brokers”.  It is a shameful stance.

Perhaps you think I’m being a little unfair to Mr Makhlouf.  He is after all just a (very senior) public servant, channelling government policy.  But no one forces him to parrot these sorts of lines, and to make public speeches re-emphasising New Zealand’s deference and subservience, all under the mask of “mutual benefits”.  Sure, he can’t run an alternative, more challenging, perspective in public, but it is entirely his choice to attach his name to these lines.    He is one of the guilty, sacrificing our values, our institutions, while giving cover to the evils of the PRC regime, all for what?   A few more dollars for a few more big institutions.  In the Secretary’s case there isn’t even the shameful, feeble excuse about political parties “needing” to fund themselves.

Sacrificing our values?  Well, in his speech Makhlouf also talked about his living standards framework and how Treasury had gone out to do some weird race-based consultations about what mattered to people. I haven’t read these papers yet but he reported that of their consultation with Asian New Zealanders (emphasis added)

There is a strong belief in the value of collectivism, diligence, responsibility, frugality and recognition of hierarchy in relationships.

Surely, if there is any traditional New Zealand value –  and as I noted earlier in the week, I’m not fan of values-test – it is the polar opposite of “recognition of hierarchy in relationships”.  But probably Makhlouf, MFAT, and the political elites of all parties would prefer we all knew our place and left all this to them; another deal, more donations, and a refusal to ever stand for the values the Prime Minister sometimes talks about if it might even create even a little awkwardness in Beijing.

Sometimes, moments of hope arise in the strangest places.  I’m no fan of Donald Trump, and could only agree with the right-wing US columnist who the other day declared Trump the single most unsuited person to be President in all of US history.  And yet the other day, his Vice-President Mike Pence gave a speech on the Administration’s policy towards the PRC that came as distinctly refreshing after reading the Makhlouf effort.  I’m not going to excerpt it at length, but for anyone interested I suggest you read it.  I was pleasantly surprised by much of it, and have seen fairly positive commentary on it from various Democrtic-leaning China commentators.

But I come before you today because the American people deserve to know that, as we speak, Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic, and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States.

China is also applying this power in more proactive ways than ever before, to exert influence and interfere in the domestic policy and politics of this country.

Pretty much what Anne-Marie Brady (I’m pretty sure no right-wing Republican) has been saying here, although you will never hear such honesty from our politicians.

Previous administrations made this choice in the hope that freedom in China would expand in all of its forms -– not just economically, but politically, with a newfound respect for classical liberal principles, private property, personal liberty, religious freedom — the entire family of human rights. But that hope has gone unfulfilled.

Gabs Makhlouf claims to believe we have so much in common with the PRC.

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

Blunt, but unquestionable.  And thus utterly unacceptable in New Zealand.

At the University of Maryland, a Chinese student recently spoke at her graduation of what she called, and I quote, the “fresh air of free speech” in America. The Communist Party’s official newspaper swiftly chastised her. She became the victim of a firestorm of criticism on China’s tightly-controlled social media, and her family back home was harassed. As for the university itself, its exchange program with China — one of the nation’s most extensive — suddenly turned from a flood to a trickle.

While in our universities, Confucius Institute advance PRC interests, and our multi-university Contemporary China Research Centre is chaired by someone who chairs a Confucius Institute, advises the PRC on Confucius Institute, and has a range of other interests that could be severely disadvantaged if the PRC were ever upset.

I don’t have any confidence in the Adminstration’s willingness to stick to anything, or in Trump’s temperament in handling a crisis.  But at least the US government is willing to call a spade a spade in this area.  Ours are determined to see never ill, say nothing ill, while their party leaders (sickeningly) praise the regime, and the party donations keep flowing in.

Sadly, there is a yawning vacuum where courageous and honest political leadership, standing for our system, our values, and (to the extent we can) for the rights and freedoms of people in China, might be.   As Stephen Franks put it, it is the elites we have to worry about.

And, in closing, I noticed this link this morning on Anne-Marie Brady’s Twitter account

The article it links is (or at least I found it so) a little difficult to make your way through, but it represents the efforts of some ethnic Chinese New Zealanders not content with successive New Zealand governments’ supine approach to the PRC.

The PRC and the Prime Minister

National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States is a bit like Radio New Zealand National, and about as left-wing in the assumptions and orientations (sometimes probably unconscious) of most of its presenters and interviewers.  I listen regularly to their politics podcast, and it struck me recently that the people involved are probably almost as left-wing as our Prime Minister (who, while an MP, served as president of the International Union of Socialist Youth, complete with the speech in which she used the word “comrade” 15 times in eight minutes).

Which is by way of saying that when NPR reports on a story, it isn’t exactly Breitbart, or the fevered imagination of some vast right-wing conspiracy.    These are people with whom you’d think our Labour and Greens parties would normally be in sympathy with.

But earlier this week, NPR published a lengthy story about the influence activities of the People’s Republic of China in Australia and New Zealand.  It is missing a few nuances, but is an interesting treatment for an international audience.  In the Australian section there is a nice quote from a serious senior academic.

“China’s different in scale and it’s different also in that it can integrate the private sector, education, civil society — all arms, if you like — of the state and the community with the objectives of the Chinese Communist Party,” says Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at Australian National University. “We’re not really dealing with a normal country here. We’re dealing with an authoritarian party state, where in fact Chinese citizens owe a higher loyalty to the party than to the state itself. So what we’re dealing with here is the largest secret organization in human history.”


Medcalf says the problem is not China’s people, but its Communist Party. Some of the most vulnerable victims of the party, he says, are Chinese people who left their country to live in democracies like Australia and New Zealand.

Very similar themes to those in the work, on this side of the Tasman, of Anne-Marie Brady –  vilified in last year’s election campaign by the then Attorney-General and Minister of National Intelligence as some sort of nasty xenophobe.

NPR interviewed Chen Weijian who

….moved from China in 1991, escaping imprisonment for working on a pro-democracy newspaper. He restarted the newspaper in New Zealand, but even there, Beijing caught up with him, he says: A pro-Chinese Communist Party newspaper in Auckland sued him for defamation after he criticized it for being too pro-Beijing. Ongoing legal fees forced his paper into bankruptcy in 2012.

“Their paper was funded by businesses supported by China’s government,” Chen says. “So an overseas Communist Party’s propaganda wing crushed our democratic newspaper here in New Zealand.”

A reader who is closer to these things tells me

The Chinese newspaper which crushed Chen Weijian’s pro-democracy paper is the Chinese Herald, now NZME’s joint venture partner of the Chineseherald website.
The international news on this website are primarily sourced from the three major CCP’s state media and they apparently uphold the CCP’s stance.
And more US readers/listeners got to hear of the curious, not to say alarming, case of Jian Yang.

Last year, local media reported that a prominent, Chinese-born member of New Zealand’s Parliament, Jian Yang, had lied to authorities about his education background on his citizenship application for New Zealand.

Yang, a member of the National Party, which led the government from 2008 to 2017, had worked for 15 years in China’s military intelligence sector. He studied English at the People’s Liberation Army Air Force Engineering University, taught at the college for five years after graduating and then obtained a master’s degree at the People’s Liberation Army University of Foreign Languages in Luoyang, one of China’s best-known military intelligence schools.

Later, at the same institute, Yang taught English to students who were studying to intercept and decipher English-language communications on behalf of Chinese military intelligence.

Yang declined an interview request from NPR. He admitted to journalists last year that he was a member of China’s Communist Party, though he insisted he has not been an active member since he left China in 1994. He has steered clear of the media spotlight since the scandal hit.

NPR joining the honourable company of all English language media that Jian Yang –  an elected member of the New Zealand Parliament, elected (to their shame) by all National Party voters  – simply refuses to talk to.

Chen Weijian goes on, rather more speculatively in some places

“Jian Yang is not just connected to China’s Communist Party,” says Chen Weijian. “He was sent here by them to spy on New Zealand. But people in Yang’s party — the National Party — all think he’s good for New Zealand-China relations. A lot of his party’s donations come through him, and he often leads government trips to China to make lucrative deals there.”

Yang, who has served in Parliament since 2011 and remains in office, played a prominent role during official visits to China in 2013 and 2016, sitting alongside then-Prime Minister John Key opposite Chinese leader Xi Jinping and serving at times as interpreter during bilateral meetings.

As Yang’s political influence grew, so did New Zealand’s economic dependence on China. In 2008, New Zealand became the first developed country to sign a free trade agreement with China. As a result, trade between the two economies has tripled in the past decade, largely because of China’s thirst for imported New Zealand milk: A quarter of all imported milk in China comes from the tiny island nation.

The (so-called) FTA was signed three years before Jian Yang turned up in national politics, and as a the world’s largest exporter of milk powder it seems probable that exports to China would have increased considerably over the last decade whether or not an FTA had been signed, whether or not Jian Yang was in Parliament.

NPR talked to Charles Finny, former diplomat, trade negotiator, and now lobbyist who declared last year that he knew Jian Yang (and Raymond Huo) and was always very careful what he said in front of either of them.

Finny [talking of FTAs] believes the same to be true in politics. He says China has most likely been using New Zealand as a testing ground for diplomatic relations with other developed nations.

“We’re small, nonthreatening,” he explains. “We’re not as close to the United States. China, I think, wants to learn from us about how to deal with other, larger players. It’s very common for Chinese leaders when they’re just about to be appointed to a big position to come to New Zealand to learn about democracy, to learn about how to deal with the media, to learn there are going to be some protests — all these things that are going to be a much bigger factor in bigger relationships, they get to learn how to deal with it here.”

Perhaps, but you get a pretty easy ride here.  Universities lined up to have photos taken with Xi Jinping.  Our former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley went out of her way to ensure that the visiting Chinese leader in the 1990s didn’t have to see protestors.

NPR did talk to one senior New Zealand politician who made some interesting remarks (if typically cryptic and defensive) that seem to have had surprisingly little local media attention.

After New Zealand’s intelligence agency began looking into Yang’s background in 2016, he was removed from parliamentary select committees on foreign affairs, defense and trade. But he hung on to his seat in Parliament, leaving some wondering why.

“The answer to that is not something that can be given today, but it is an answer that will soon have to come from our country and our system as to what our response is,” Winston Peters, New Zealand’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, tells NPR. “At that level of growing public interest — and I would think intelligence interest as well — plus the shared intelligence from our closer allies, one would be naive in thinking that our response would not be forthcoming.”

Does that mean anything at all?  And if so, what?    Surely it is pretty clear why Jian Yang hangs onto his seat, despite his past, and his misrepresentations to New Zealand authorities, being exposed and acknowledged?   And despite his ongoing close associations with the PRC and his refusal to ever utter a negative word about that totalitarian state.  On the one hand, the National Party wants the donor money and doesn’t want to risk the relationships with donors by acknowledging that there is something very wrong.  And, on the other hand, because all other parties –  including that of the Deputy Prime Minister, once in office – make it easy for National to do so.  Not a negative word is heard from any of them –  the Prime Minister, the minister responsible for the intelligence services and the electoral system, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence, the leaders of the Green Party (or their foreign affairs or intelligence spokespeople).

The interview with Winston Peters obviously got a little tetchy.

Analysts in the U.S. and Australia have suggested the Yang case is evidence that China is exploiting New Zealand as a weak link in what’s known as the “Five Eyes,” the intelligence alliance including the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This angers Peters. He is the longest-serving parliamentarian in New Zealand’s history [which he isn’t] and has long been vocal about his country’s dependence on China, but he draws the line when his country is criticized for being used as a political tool for the Chinese.

“This country turned up to two world wars, two years before the United States on both occasions,” he points out. “So we don’t like that sort of talk down here.”

The journalist obviously missed the important context that Peters only ever says anything critical when he is in Opposition and unable to actually do anything.

One might point out in response to the Deputy Prime Minister that 80 years ago our then government was at the forefront of calls to pushback against aggression by Germany and Italy, recognising the nature of the evil.  So different today…..

The NPR journalist then turned to Stephen Jacobi

“To suggest that New Zealand may be naive, well, OK, fine,” says Stephen Jacobi, executive director of the New Zealand China Council, a group in Auckland promoting business ties. “We don’t have to see the world the same way Americans do, or even Australians do. We’re very proud of that.”

Jacobi says the evidence against Yang — who serves on the board of his organization — is largely hearsay and is not enough to prove that he is working for China’s government.

The NPR people obviously missed the rather important point that the China Council isn’t just a bunch of businesses wanting to sell out their own country for another deal, but a taxpayer funded organisation designed to play distraction and influence public opinion in favour of the (successive) government’s strategy of doing much the same.

New Zealanders might be proudly independent, but only foolish people are proud of having a different view from other countries simply for the sake of it.  Most New Zealanders aren’t that foolish.   Jacobi –  whose background was trade with the Americas –  seems to simply ignore issues around the integrity of our political system, the evils of the PRC regime, and its external aggression.    But who cares about those things when there are deals to be done by your members, visits to host etc.

But his comment about Jian Yang is interesting.  On the one hand, he now seems to concede that there is something to the concerns (it is only “largely” hearsay).  Perhaps things like the:

  • service in the PLA military intelligence system,
  • membership of the CCP,
  • expert assessments that (a) no one voluntarily leaves the Party, and (b) a person with his background would not have been allowed out of the PRC unless he was regarded as totally politically safe and reliable,
  • the acknowledged misrepresentations of his past on immigration/citizenship forms,
  • the photographic evidence of his close ongoing associations with the PRC Embassy,
  • the absence of any sign, in his time in Parliament, of ever being willing to criticise the PRC regime, for anything.

Does he actively “work for” the Chinese government?  One hopes not, but even if not –  and Charles Finny appeared to think otherwise, on national TV – the list of things we know, with a high degree of certainty should be enough to have any leaders of decency and integrity dissociate themselves from Jian Yang.   Perhaps it is a bit like the Kavanaugh case: the relevant standard, in putting people in influential leadership positions, shouldn’t be whether one could avoid a criminal conviction.  In Jian Yang’s case, it isn’t even clear that he could get over that hurdle in respect of the immigration/citizenship non-disclosures.

The willed reluctance of the New Zealand establishment to confront the issue was captured again in this week’s Newsroom column by Peter Dunne. Writing about who might leave Parliament at the next election, our longserving former minister writes

Likewise, Dr Jiang Yang may decide to stand aside if the vague but persistent whispers about his links to Chinese intelligence agencies persist and intensify


You mean pretty basic, now acknowledged, “links” like the fact that the man worked for them for a decade?   A bit more than a “whisper”.

The NPR story ends with some coverage of Anne-Marie Brady, both her papers (and associated testimonies) and the break-ins to her home and office, which are widely assumed to be the ultimate responsibility of the PRC authorities.  There isn’t anything new in that section of the story, although it is good for a wider range of overseas readers/listeners to be exposed to the material.

The Peters quote aside, in many ways there isn’t anything new in the NPR story; the news is as much that another major overseas media organisation, one whose people are probably not generally unsympathetic to the leftish slant of most New Zealand politics, ran it.

But I was struck by it partly for the contrast with the speeches the Prime Minister was giving last week on her progress through New York, making the most of her baby for publicity purposes (I checked, and Tony Blair and his wife had a child while he was Prime Minister, who wasn’t –  as far as I could tell –  paraded at the UN General Assembly).  I read all six of them, looking for substance and mostly coming up short.   It was the speech to the United Nations General Assembly that I focused on most.  After all, there might have been hardly anyone there is hear it, and only a few Guardian types to praise it, but it was an official statement of New Zealand Prime Minister to an international agency which New Zealand is a founding member of.

There were plenty of sly digs at the United States –  some even warranted –  but not a word, directly or indirectly, about the People’s Republic of China.  It might be the most populous country on the planet, with the largest (total) GDP, on an aggressively repressive path domestically (as just one particularly egregious example, those million or more people of Xinjiang in concentration camps, having done nothing but be) and a pretty aggressively expansionist path abroad, including the direct interference in the commercial and political affairs of other countries, including our own.  There was a whole section on “universal values”, which of course bears no relationship to how the People’s Republic operates.  There was a great deal on climate change, most just cheap rhetoric –  and perhaps not that different from what Xi Jinping might have said.  And then the speech ended this way

Perhaps then it is time to step back from the chaos and ask what we want. It is in that space that we’ll find simplicity. The simplicity of peace, of prosperity, of fairness. If I could distil it down into one concept that we are pursuing in New Zealand it is simple and it is this.  Kindness.

In the face of isolationism, protectionism, racism – the simple concept of looking outwardly and beyond ourselves, of kindness and collectivism, might just be as good a starting point as any. So let’s start here with the institutions that have served us well in times of need, and will do so again.

Kindness and collectivism.  There’s the answer, at least according to our Prime Minister.  Frankly I found it unnerving that we get this level of vapidity of someone charged with running the government.   “Kindness” is an admirable, perhaps under-rated, characteristic in interpersonal affairs, but it is hardly any sort of useful benchmark for making public policy.  In fact, it is incredibly naive and dangerous, and simply pays no heed to the realities of human nature.    As for “collectivism”, perhaps it is something the members of the Interational Union of Socialist Youth think fondly of, but many of the rest of us are inclined to think of manifest evils of the Soviet Union and Communist China (I could recommend a couple of good books I’ve read recently –  here and here).  I’m pretty sure neither the term nor the idea of “freedom” or “liberty” appeared in the Prime Minister’s speech at all.    Much of the active government talk was rather reminiscent of the sorts of speeches the Chinese Ambassador gives here every few weeks, with her talk of

“building of a community with a shared future for mankind”

Or rather like Simon Bridges signing the government up last year to an aspiration of a “fusion of civilisations” with a regime so evil.

Not, of course, that the PRC would be so vapid as to suggest that “kindness” is some sort of watchword for policy, whether domestic or international.

But then why would we be surprised.  The President of the Labour Party sings the praises of the regime, and of Xi Jinping.  And, so we learn from the Chinese Embassy website (although not from the Prime Minister), on the recent visit of a Politburo member there was talk of strengthened ties between (presumably) the Labour Party and Communist Party of China (emphasis added).

Li, secretary of the CPC Guangdong Provincial Committee and a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, met with New Zealand Prime Minister and Leader of the Labor Party Jacinda Ardern on Monday.

Li said China is ready to work with New Zealand to enhance political mutual trust, expand economic cooperation, keep closer party-to-party exchanges, and strengthen coordination and communication in international and regional affairs.

People say (I see it even in the ACT newsletters) that the Prime Minister is a nice kind person at an individual level, but she seems wilfully indifferent –  if not worse –  to the nature of the regime with which she and her party deal,  and about whose evils  –  and whose interferences here –  she will never once openly speak of, whether at home or in New York.

It was interesting to see the government joining yesterday in a multi-national effort to denounce various incidents of Russian government hacking.  I welcome them doing so, even if I couldn’t help wondering what marked out our own government’s signals intelligence efforts, Waihopai and all.  Isn’t such interception what governments do?  And isn’t complicity in actual and attempted murder on foreign soil –  about which the government was so slow to speak out, whether over the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine or the Skripal case – rather more substantively important.

But those were rather cheap words –  about episodes not actually involving New Zealand directly – signifying not much more than our ongoing relationship with the UK and Australia.   But China is a much bigger issue globally, and particularly in New Zealand, than Russia is.

And where is the Prime Minister on things like Xinjiang (or do “universal values” not apply there)?  Where is the Prime Minister on things like the episode in the South China Sea earlier in the week –  a Chinese warship within 45 metres of a US ship on innocent passage through international waters –  let alone the now fait accompli of the illegal militarisation of reefs etc in that sea?  Where will the Prime Minister be on the new in-depth Bloomberg story about the PRC using their place in supply chains for espionage purposes?

The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies

The attack by Chinese spies reached almost 30 U.S. companies, including Amazon and Apple, by compromising America’s technology supply chain, according to extensive interviews with government and corporate sources.

Or on the PRC attempts to use research cooperation agreements, including with NZ universities, to steal sensitive technology?

And, of course, where is the Prime Minister on situations like Jian Yang, or Raymond Huo –  apparently associated with various United Front bodies –  who sits in her own caucus.

Perhaps she and her colleagues think kindness is the answer?

“Kindness” is no substitute for a serious hardheaded analysis or for engaging with the New Zealand public on the nature of the PRC threat, here and abroad.   It seems more like an excuse for covering your ears and eyes and reciting repeatedly “hear no evil, see evil”.     But then there are none so blind as those who wilfully choose not to see.

(And critical as I am of the Prime Minister here, there is no sign that any party in New Zealand is any better, even if not all of them would use quite her particular vapid rhetoric to simply avoiding facing reality, or standing up for New Zealand and the values of her people, and her friends in other free and democratic countries.)

But what did Winston Peters mean in those quotes above? Perhaps some New Zealand journalist could ask him?

Tomorrow, I might tackle the latest public effort of a senior public servant to dine with the devil.