The debate on PRC influence on Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eaqub on nationalism

I guess one views, and experiences, a country differently when one is an immigrant, even one who came involuntarily as a child.   And since all of us are either immigrants or –  mostly –  not (with perhaps a few shades of grey for people who think they have come somewhere temporarily, but year succeeds year and they never actually go/come home) it can be hard for any of us to see the perspective of the other person.

That was my initial reaction when I read Shamubeel Eaqub’s latest column, headed (online, although not in the hard copy version),  Forces of nationalism a spoke in the wheels of trade.   It was, probably, a slightly unfair reaction, as there are staunch globalists (from strands of both the left and the right), almost embarrassed by the particularities and heritage of our own culture, among those whose ancestors have been here for generations.  But it is probably an easier stance to adopt when you have few or no roots in a particular country.   And many of the staunchest opponents of anything resembling nationalism seem to be immigrants themselves.  For them it seems to mean no more to move from one country to another than to move from, say, Hamilton to Tauranga.    Most people, across most pairs of countries, simply don’t see it that way.   Many, perhaps, feel an attachment even more specific: to a town or region where they may have spent all, or most, of their lives.   It is how most people live.  And the pride they often take in place, and the people of that place, is often what helps build strong functioning communities.   There is a sense of identity, shared destiny, and shared assumptions about how things are done.   It isn’t that, at least in any serious sense, one’s own community is in some objective sense “better” than the others, but it is mine, and a bit different (for good and ill) from other places.

Eaqub begins his column lamenting the rise of “nationalistic fervour”.  It isn’t abundantly clear what he means by that phrase, but in his book whatever it is counts as a bad thing.   It isn’t, he says, “just” Donald Trump or Brexit –  as if the two phenomena (two narrow victories) really have much in common.   But it isn’t clear what it is.  And he seems to have no sense that people tend to become more vocal, and intense, in defence of what they value when they perceive that someone is threatening to take it away.   There is nothing in the column that suggests he sees any value in communities (town, regions, countries –  perhaps even families) nurturing their own heritage, and what it is that makes them what they are.  Perhaps he hasn’t noticed the trend, over perhaps 100 years now, for a greater number of independent states to emerge.   It seems unlikely that that trend has exhausted itself.  And the world seems a better place for the Czechs and Slovaks to be able to have their own countries, or the Slovenes and the Croats, or the Poles – unhappily suppressed for 120 years –  or the Dutch, the Finns, the Estonians, Lithuanians or Latvians. Or at least the inhabitants of those countries seem to think so.

Instead, we get this sort of empty stuff.

Nationalism by definition prizes nationhood and pits nations against each other. It makes cooperation between countries harder, and tensions more likely. Nationalists have much in common, but even they cannot get on with each other.

Of the first half of that paragraph, he seems to have things almost completely the wrong way round.  It is no more true than to claim that because I prioritise my own house and family over those in the rest of the street that I either think badly of, or wish ill to, the rest of residents.  I don’t, I imagine Eaqub doesn’t, and I suppose only a very few people do.   At a national level, England/Britain and France both have strong national traditions, and it has been more than 200 years since those two countries were at war with each other.  Do New Zealanders resent Australians because they are a different country/nation?  It seems unlikely.

And “makes cooperation harder”?   Well, again I doubt it, except perhaps in some trivial sense that were there a single world government, its regulatory reach would cover the entire world, and none of us would have any choice, any exit options.  It doesn’t sound remotely appealing to me (and in my culture, has resonances of the Tower of Babel, which didn’t end well).   We managed to fight World War Two, beating such aggressive determined powers as Germany and Japan, without losing sight of the fact that the United Kingdom, the United States, the Soviet Union, South Africa, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada were all independent states, with a shared commitment to a common goal, as well as individual national interests.

And what of “nationalists have much in common, but even they cannot get on with each other”, well since the phrase is used so broadly, in such an ill-defined sense, no doubt is true –  I doubt Michael Gove and Vladimir Zhirinovsky have almost anything in common, but one could define another side almost as broadly, and meaninglessly, and make almost exactly the same observation.  Close to home, for example, and within a single professional discipline, I doubt Eric Cramption and Shamubeel Eaqub – who would probably both accept a non-pejorative descriptions of “globalist” – have a great deal in common.

Eaqub goes on

The nationalist agenda seems to converge across three main areas: anti-immigration; protectionist economic policies; and a distrust of global institutions.   Anti-immigration and nationalism go hand in hand. At the core of nationalism is the nation state and the right to belong to it.

I’m not sure that this is necessarily true, but it is particularly unhelpful because Eaqub makes no effort to distinguish between legal and illegal migration.  Most of the debate in the United States, for example, seems to stem from the substantial stock of illegal migrants, and the renewed salience of the issue in much of Europe also seems to substantially reflect the wave of illegal migration.   That –  not the high legal numbers –  was also what has given the issue salience at times in Australia as well.

But then we are straight back to casting nonsensical aspersions, with little or no historical foundation

Being a citizen is the critical element, and easily leads to demands for tougher controls on who can come in.

It is then a small step to conflate citizens’ culture and racial makeup as different and better than those looking to come in. Language we have seen previously in precursors to discrimination, war and genocide become easier: like pests, lock-em-up and exterminate.

He simply seems to have no concept that in the same way that I don’t think badly about my neighbour, but I don’t wanting them occupying my house, people might simply value what they have, and the culture – in all its dimensions (about trust, and the way things are done, as well as arts, cuisine, religion, literature, language and so on) –  they and their ancestors have built and fostered, and be uneasy about things which threaten it. I suspect many citizens of Invercargill would be uneasy if 100000 Aucklanders moved south, and they are citizens of one country.   Arguably, it is those mass movements of people –  especially those of quite different cultures –  which sow the seeds of future tensions, and perhaps worse.    Whatever economic gains there may have been to Maori from large scale immigration since 1840, it sowed seeds of tensions that are likely to be with us for generations.  It wouldn’t have been unreasonable –  although it might have been infeasible, given the technological imbalances –  for Maori in 1840 to have said, “no, we prefer to kept these islands predominantly Maori –  we don’t think poorly of you English, and indeed we are happy to trade with you –  but we think we’ll be better, our heritage will better sustained, if we stay here and you stay there (or just in Australia)”.   By what criteria does Eaqub say they would have been wrong to have done so?

I’m not sure if I really qualify as a “nationalist”.  Even though my ancestors have been here since 1850, I feel a strong affinity for the UK and for Australia –  in many respects shared cultures, and common histories – and I count myself fortunate that the interests of those three countries haven’t collided very much, very materially, in my lifetime (let alone the century prior to that).   There are things we do differently and distinctively here,  and memories/experiences/reference points that are specific to individual countries (or regions, or cities) but I suspect I share considerably more in common with middle-aged co-religionists in Australia and the UK (perhaps even the US to some extent) than with my own mayor or Prime Minister.  My views about New Zealand immigration policy –  too many migrants, but it doesn’t much matter for those purposes whether they come from Birmingham, Banglalore, Brisbane, Beijing, or Buenos Aires –  are about the economic interests of a group called New Zealanders, and thus “nationalistic” to that extent.  If that is “nationalism”, then I’d happily sign up.

And that should be uncontroversial (even if views differs as to how best to advance the economic interests of New Zealanders).   In raising my kids, I look primarily to their interest  –  not exclusively so, not seeking harm or wishing ill on anyone else’s kids, and even feeling some attentuated responsibility (through the political system among other avenues) for those of others.  I’d lay my life on the line for my kids. I can’t automatically say the same for others, and probably no one can.   And those rare people who perhaps profess an equal interest in everyone, often in practice end up neglecting those for whom they have a particular responsibility.  Dickens treated such people in the form of Mrs Jellyby.

So I do think policy should be made at as low a level as it feasibly can, primarily with the end in view of benefiting the group those governing are responsible for.   Had I been British I’d almost certainly have voted for Brexit, and been among the many who did so (so the exit polls tell us) simply on the grounds of wanting to make our own laws.  In that vein, I think it was right that New Zealand should have its own government –  not still be part of an empire administered from London (as it was for a very short period).

And I am “suspicious” (well, more like generally disapproving, and favouring the winding of many of them) of global institutions, regarding many of them as primarily serving the interests of those who staff them (I sat on the board of one of them for a couple of years).  And if some of the more prominent ones are ever effective, it is often in constraining the future (legitimate) choices of individual countries’ citizens, in ways we simply wouldn’t accept within a single country.  So probably in Eaqub’s terms I count as a nationalist.  If so, I’ll wear the badge happily –  I even found a Guardian columnist a few weeks ago noting, perhaps reluctantly, the possibilities of a good nationalism, based around the things –  in many cases the very considerable achievements –  we’ve built together.

And, if I count as a “nationalist”, I’m a free trade and open markets one. Nationalism isn’t and never was, at least in our Anglo tradition, primarily mercantilist  The bit I liked best –  perhaps the only bit –  in Eaqub’s column was his praise of trade (his focus is external but I presume he means internal as well) –  not exports, but trade, exchange, specialisation and so on.  But for all his attempts to write about some very broad-brush “nationalism”, it isn’t obvious that he is even generally right about economic protectionism.  Perhaps I’ve missed something, but last time I looked Michael Gove was pretty keen on something approaching free trade, and whatever the concerns of governments or prominent parties in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland or Slovakia, there doesn’t seem to be much of those parties wanting to take a protectionist path.  No doubt, the gains from international trade are too little appreciated –  and thus New Zealand still has tariffs in place, disadvantaging New Zealanders –  but the push for increased use of tariffs seems to be a distinctly Trumpian theme, rather than one appearing more generally.  What, perhaps, there will be –  and rightly so in my view –  is resistance to preferential trade deals (often at best orthogonal to free trade) attempting to tie the hands of future national governments on domestic regulatory issues.  Our own government –  and its predecessor –  seem too keen on such deals (even if now, no longer on removing disputes from the jurisdiction of domestic courts).

Eaqub, by contrast, seems rather keen on such deals, and rules, and structures, and institutions.

This is why global rules on trade, travel, finance and standards have developed over time. To make it easier to connect with each other and to also use a rules-based system to deal with bad behaviour by countries.  As nationalists pull away from these global institutions, there seems little realisation that these greased the wheels of global trade, which helped their exporters and domestic producers too.

To the extent, he is specifically referring to the Trump administration approach to the WTO, I share his view.     But mostly trade has grown because of the opportunities it offered (both parties), and those opportunities aren’t going away.

Eaqub has long been a fan of immigration in New Zealand, and he returns to that theme in his columm

The global environment for migration is becoming more hostile. New Zealand can follow on a similar path, or be more organised in nabbing the best and brightest.

Being open in a closed world can be a boon. We need to actively consider our inward migration policy.

New Zealanders who have long been used to leaving for other countries, mainly for economic opportunities, will find their choices becoming more limited.

We should think about what to do with the many bright and hard working locals who will no longer leave.

It could delay the provincial decay of recent decades, which has been hastened by young people leaving.

Which seems wrong on every count.  There is no –  repeat, no –  evidence that our large scale immigration policy has been of economic benefit to New Zealanders as a whole.  There is little reason to believe that we could attract many of the “best and brightest” even if we set out to –  short of the early days of some Neville Shute On the Beach scenario, we are remote and not that wealthy, and it isn’t obvious why anyone (well, many of them) with the sort of drive, creativity and determination that might really make a difference somewhere would choose this “where”.   And as for New Zealanders leaving, perhaps the Australians will make it even harder for New Zealanders (and Australia is overwhelmingly the destination of New Zealanders that leave), but if they can’t go to Australia, I doubt it makes them much more likely to stay in Taihape.   People will flow to where the best opportunities are, whether elsewhere in New Zealand or abroad (and contra Eaqub, I’m not that worried about individual towns rising or –  in most cases –  modestly falling).

Eaqub ends with a call for New Zealand to join some group of countries with liberal views.

As nationalistic tendencies rise in many countries, we can expect a grouping of countries with liberal political and economic views.

New Zealand has an opportunity to be a strong player in this grouping. We have a strong track record in leading multilateral trade negotiations and championing liberal ideals.

We should get our house in order on migration and imports, then lead a charm offensive to place ourselves firmly in the liberal team in a divided world.

I’m not quite sure where he expects to find these countries, given how broadly he cast his “nationalistic” aspersions.  Nor is it likely to be, consistently, in the interests of New Zealanders to do align with them if they are found.  People will, perhaps annoyingly, insist on governing themselves, and form and maintain distinctive communities, and those who attempt to trade away that freedom risk creating in time backlashes, which are typically more unsavoury than a realistic regard for human nature, and the sense of place, or community, and culture that most people value in some form or other.

You’ll have noticed the sly attempt in Eaqub’s article to suggest that any scepticism about immigration is “racist”.  Perhaps because I’m still annoyed at the way Eaqub attacked me as “racist” several years ago for my arguments around immigration and New Zealand economic performance (remember, doesn’t matter: Birmingham, Bangalore or Buenos Aires) I thought I’d draw attention to a chart I saw over the weekend that perhaps captured quite starkly the differences on such issues, at least in the US context.   It was from a New York Times article, in turn reporting some work done a year or so ago by a leading UK-based political scientist Eric Kaufmann

Kaufman chart

I was stunned by the differences.  I’d not have been a Trump or a Clinton voter, and my views on New Zealand immigration (as economic instrument) apply as much to British immigrants as any others, but it reinforced a sense that the word is one that should be retired, as all but useless for any purpose other than abuse.  Debate the substance of the policy by all means –  in a New Zealand context, for Maori to oppose all further immigration to safeguard their position in New Zealand seems a reasonable option (not necessarily one I –  non-Maori –  would welcome) and not in any meaningful, ie pejorative, sense “racist” –  but drop the descriptor.

Regressivity, petrol taxes, and ministerial PR

Someone around home mentioned this morning that there was a confused article on the Herald website about the progressivity (or otherwise) of the fuel tax increase.   I didn’t pay much attention until I read the paper over lunch, when I was a bit staggered by what I found.

This was the centrepiece chart

fuel tax

The line of argument from opponents has been that the fuel tax increase will fall more heavily on low income people.   But according to the Herald’s journalist, channelling Phil Twyford.

 in a startling revelation, the ministers claim that the wealthier a household is, the more it is likely to pay for petrol. They say the wealthiest 10 per cent of households will pay $7.71 per week more for petrol. Those with the lowest incomes will pay $3.64 a week more.

I still don’t understand what the journalist finds startling.  It is hardly surprising that higher income households spend more on petrol than lower income households do.  They spend more on most things.

But he goes on to claim

This is a complete reversal of the most common complaint about fuel taxes, which is that they are “regressive”. That means, the critics say, they affect poor people more than wealthy people.

The suggestion that these data are some sort of “complete reversal” of the claim the tax is regressive is itself just nonsense.  One would need to look at the impact of the fuel tax increase as a proportion of income.  And households in the top decile earn about ten times as much as households in the bottom decline, according to the same Household Expenditure Survey.

So I went and got the income by decline data for the June 2017 year from the Household Expenditure Survey.  The income data is presented in range form, so for each decile I used the average of the high and low incomes for that decile.  And then I took the Auckland fuel tax increases numbers in the right hand column of the table above, and calculated them as a annual percentage of annual household income by decline.  (The income numbers are for 2017, and the fuel tax increases phase in to 2020, so the absolute percentages will be different –  incomes will have risen – but what won’t change materially is that high income households earn a lot more than low income ones.)

fuel tax by decile

On the numbers the Herald themselves used, apparently supplied by the Ministry of Transport, the  direct burden of the fuel tax increase will fall much more heavily on low income people than on those further up the income scale.   The extremely high number for the lowest decile masks how significant these effects are even for other groups: the second and third deciles of household income will see an increase twice as large, as a percentage of income, as those in the 9th decile.

I’m driving to Auckland later this afternoon for a wedding, and planning to get out again on Sunday without having paid the increased Auckland fuel levy.

Sir William and the rockstar economy

I don’t really want to revisit the questions of whether retired politicians and senior public servants should be given honours largely for just turning up and doing a (fairly reasonably remunerated) job, or even whether there are really 15 people per annum in this country deserving of knighthoods.  I touched on those issues in a post in January.

But two awards in yesterday’s list caught my eye.  The first was the knighthood to former Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Bill English, and in particular the descriptions of Bill English’s contribution.

There was the official citation, the words put out under the name of the Governor-General, but presumably supplied by the current Prime Minister and her department

As Finance Minister from 2008 until 2016, Mr English oversaw one of the fastest-growing economies in the developed world, steering New Zealand through the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes and ensuring the Crown accounts were in a strong financial position.

And, even more incredibly, a story by Stuff political reporter Stacey Kirk in which she noted that the official citation had been expressed “rather dryly”, as if it didn’t do full justice to the man’s contribution, and going on to observe, without a trace of critical scepticism or irony,

More colourful commentary at the time would globally brand him the man responsible for New Zealand’s “Rockstar Economy” – the envy of government’s worldwide and a textbook example of how to pull a country out of recession.

From a sudden jump yesterday in the number of readers for an old post of mine from 2015 on the emptiness –  or worse –  of the “rockstar economy” claims, it seemed that at least a few others might have been a bit sceptical of Kirk’s column.

I’m not going to quibble about everything.  The Crown accounts were in a strong position when National took office in 2008, and were in a fairly strong position when they left office.  Net debt was higher when they left office than when they took office, but the deficits which were emerging in 2008 as the recession took hold –  recall that only a few months earlier in the 2008 Budget, Treasury’s best estimate was that the budget was still in (modest) surplus – were gone and the budget was back in surplus when National left office.

The terms of trade make a big difference to the government’s finances.  Here is Treasury’s chart from this year’s Budget, illustrating how much help our unusually high terms of trade have been in recent years.

cab with tot adj

It is a real gain, but it is an exogenous windfall, not something any government or politician could simply conjure up.

What about the official claim that Bill English was responsible for “steering New Zealand through the Global Financial Crisis”.   It has become part of established rhetoric, but it has never been clear to me –  and I was working at The Treasury at the time –  that there was anything of substance to it.    As ever, the biggest single contributors to getting New Zealand through this particular recession were (a) time, and (b) monetary policy.    The crisis phase in other countries had been brought to an end by about March 2009 –  initially as a result of extensive interventions in those countries (bailouts, fiscal stimulus, lower interest rates, and so on).  That took the pressure off the rest of us.  And our own, operationally independent, central bank had cut the OCR by 575 basis points by April 2009 (having begun to cut well before National took office in mid-November 2008), and some mix of the sharply lower interest rates, global risk aversion, and lower commodity prices had also lowered the exchange rate a lot.  The Reserve Bank also put in place various liquidity assistance measures, at its own initiative.

What role then did New Zealand politicians play in “steering us through”?  The previous Minister of Finance had put in place the deposit guarantee scheme, designed to minimise any risk of panicky runs on New Zealand institutions. I happened to think (having been closely involved) that was a good and necessary intervention, even if on important details the Minister departed from official advice, in turn increasing the later fiscal cost.  On taking office, the new Minister of Finance, Bill English, made no material changes to the scheme, and took no material steps to rectify its weaknesses.   Mr English did approve the (better-designed) wholesale guarantee scheme, designed to assist banks tap international wholesale funding markets in a period when those markets had largely seized up.  It didn’t end up being extensively used, but was also the right thing to have done at the time.

What else was there?  In the 2009 Budget –  delivered after the crisis phase abroad had passed –  a couple of rounds of tax cuts, promised in the 2008 election campaign (itself occurring in the midst of the crisis) were cancelled.  That was prudent –  given other fiscal choices the government had made –  but there wasn’t anything extraordinary or particularly courageous about it.   There was no discretionary fiscal stimulus undertaken in response to the crisis by either government –  or nor was it needed, given the scope monetary policy here had.

The truth of the international financial crisis of 2008/09 is that the New Zealand was largely an innocent bystander, caught in the backwash.  There wasn’t much governments could, or did, do about it, and – to a first approximation –  what they (Labour and then National) could do, they did.   Both supported an operationally independent Reserve Bank and it, largely, also did what it could do (if, arguably, a bit slow to get off the mark).  And then the storm passed and we started to recover, in a pretty faltering sort of way.

What about the other bit of that official citation, the claim that “as Finance Minister from 2008 until 2016, Mr English oversaw one of the fastest-growing economies in the developed world”?    Why does the current Prime Minister continue to buy into this sort of nonsense –  the myth  (no, sheer falsehood) of the “rockstar economy”?    To the extent the claim has any meaning at all, it simply reflects the much faster rate of population growth New Zealand experienced, especially in the last five years or so.   Over that five year period (2012 to 2017), New Zealand’s real GDP per capita increased at almost exactly the rate of the median OECD country.   Which is okay, I suppose, but nothing to write home about, especially once one remembers that we are poorer than most of these countries, and are supposed to have been trying to catch-up again.

But, one more time, let’s dig a little deeper.

Productivity growth is the only sure foundation for sustained improvements in material living standards.  Over the full period 2007 (just prior to the recession) to 2016 (the last year for which there is data for all OECD countries), New Zealand experienced labour productivity growth basically equal to that of the median OECD country.  Again, perhaps not too bad, but no sign of any catching up.     What about the last four years, the period to which most of the “rockstar economy” claims related?

real gdp phw english

Spot New Zealand –  if you can –  down next to Greece.  And adding in 2017 –  for which we have data, but some other countries don’t yet –  would not improve the picture.  Our recent productivity record –   through the period presided over by Bill English (and John Key and Steven Joyce) –  has been really bad.

What that means is that, to the extent that real GDP per capita growth has been middling, it has all been achieved by more inputs (mostly –  since business investment is weak –  more hours worked), not smarter better ways of doing things, old and new.  Perhaps it really is a rockstar economy: a John Rowles or Cliff Richard one, belting out the same 1960s favourites over and over again?   Recall that, being a poor OECD country, New Zealanders work more hours per capita than most other advanced countries do.

And despite more hours worked, it isn’t even as if we were particularly good at keeping the economy fully-employed during the English tenure.  In this chart, I’ve standardised the unemployment rates of the G7 group of big advanced countries and of New Zealand so that both are equal to 100 in 2007q4, just prior to the recession.

U rates g7 and NZ

Our unemployment rate went up about as much as the G7 countries (as a group) did, but just haven’t come back down anywhere near as much.  For the G7 as a whole –  which includes such troubled places as Italy and France, and is mostly made of countries that exhausted conventional monetary policy capacity –  the unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the recession. But not in New Zealand.

Politicians don’t directly control the unemployment rate (or most of the other measures in this post), but it is pretty amenable to micro reforms, and (within limits) to monetary policy action.  Under Bill English’s oversight, minimum wages kept on being raised, and nothing was done about a Reserve Bank that consistently kept monetary policy too tight (evidenced by the persistent undershoot of the inflation target set by the same Minister of Finance).

And what about foreign trade as a share of GDP?  Successful economies tend, over time, to have a rising share of GDP accounted for by foreign trade (exports and imports).  Small countries that succeed tend to have much larger foreign trade shares (since abroad is where the potential markets –  and products –  mostly are).

Foreign trade as per cent of GDP
2007 2016
Exports New Zealand 29.3 25.8
OECD median 40.5 42.3
Imports New Zealand 29.1 25.5
OECD median 39.2 39

But from just prior to the recession to 2016 (again the last year for which there is a full set of comparable data), New Zealand’s foreign trade shares shrank, even as those of the median OECD country held steady (imports) or increased (exports).  Relative to our advanced country peers, our economy became more inward-focused.

And that is despite the fact that we’ve had the second-largest increase in our terms of trade of any OECD country –  very different from the other commodity exporters (Norway, Mexico, Chile, Canada, and even Australia).

OECD TOT

Fortune favoured us, and we –  our political leaders, the long serving Minister of Finance foremost among them –  accomplished little with that good fortune.

Of course, not everything has been in New Zealand’s favour.  We didn’t have a material domestic financial crisis, we weren’t locked into a dysfunctional single currency, we went into the lean years with a healthy fiscal position, we had more space to adjust conventional monetary policy than almost any other advanced country, and we’ve enjoyed a strong terms of trade.  For enthusiasts for immigration, we’ve continued to draw in large numbers of permanent migrants, and have accelerated the inflow of temporary migrants.

But there were the earthquakes.  I’m not about to deny that they have held back economic performance, compelling resources to shift into domestically-oriented sectors, rebuilding (and inevitably/rightly so) rather than doing other things.  But even the earthquakes need to be kept in perspective: they were seven years ago now, and in wealth terms were more than paid for by the combination of offshore reinsurance and the lift in the terms of trade. There is still no sign of things turning round now –  of higher business investment, or a greater export orientation, of a recovery in productivity growth.  It is just, at best, a mediocre story.

And did I mention house prices?

real house prices OECD

There are, of course, some other black marks against Bill English.  There were the questions of integrity around the Todd Barclay affair.  There was the willingness to lead his party into an election with a candidate who’d been part of the PRC military intelligence operation, and a member of the Chinese Communist Party, all things hidden from the electorate, and then to go on defending the indefensible as it became clear that important elements of this past had also been withheld from the immigration authorities.

But, even on his own ground – the economy –  the record just doesn’t add up to much at all.

Oh, and as for the other top award that caught my eye yesterday, that was this astonishing one.  I’ll probably write about that elsewhere. [UPDATE: Here for anyone interested in this non-economics issue.]

 

New Zealand, the PRC…and the 29th anniversary of Tiananmen Square

The (generally subservient, or even servile) relations between New Zealand and the People’s Republic of China have been back in the news this week.  It isn’t as if there have been material new developments –  except perhaps confirmation that Winston Peters (who won’t tell New Zealanders, let alone the PRC, what his government thinks of the PRC’s latest steps in militarising artificial islands illegally created in the South China Sea) is a fully paid up member of the “never ever upset Beijing” establishment.

The news was mostly just a couple of reports: testimony at a US Congressional commission (and the subsequent train wreck of the radio interview of one of those testifying) and the publication of material from a Canadian security services academic conference.  In both cases, perhaps it was newsworthy that such events were taking place abroad, and that New Zealand’s experience was being aired more widely.   But both lots of material seemed to draw entirely from material already in the public domain, including notably Professor Anne-Marie Brady’s Magic Weapons paper.  The Canadian material is all published under Chatham House rules –  in this case, no ascription of authorship at all – but when I read the material on New Zealand it was so similar to Brady’s other published material, that I just assumed she was the author.

As I noted the other day, in Radio New Zealand’s interview with him, former CIA analyst Peter Mattis, one of those who testified before the Congressional commission, performed really badly.    He just didn’t know the material, and appears to know nothing about New Zealand beyond what he had read in Brady’s paper.     Unsurprisingly some of the more vocal defenders of the “nothing to see here” club were pretty exuberant.  Here was the Executive Director for the (taxpayer-funded) New Zealand China Council

This interview reveals fully the appalling use of innuendo and conspiracy theory in the “debate” about Chinese influence. Well done for exposing it!

But, as I outlined in my post on Monday, none of what Mattis referred to in his testimony –  or indeed of the activities Anne-Marie Brady has written about has been refuted.   Nothing.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister confirmed her membership of the “nothing to see hear” club,  claiming that none of the Five Eyes countries had raised issues with her (as distinct from raising them with diplomats and senior public servants?) and answering questions thus

When asked what specifically was being done to review the country’s safeguards she said the Government made “independent decisions based on evidence and the best option for New Zealand”.

“For example, there is a national security test in our law governing space and high altitude activities.

“Parliament has regulated for national interests in the telecommunications area [TICSA]. We have strong provisions to counter money laundering and the financing of terrorism.”

Which gets to the issue hardly at all –  no doubt deliberately.

Over the course of the week, I found one interesting article commenting on these issues, from an American security expert who lives in New Zealand, former academic Paul Buchanan.  He notes

The impact of Chinese influence operations has been the subject of considerable discussion in Australia, to the point that politicians have been forced to resign because of undisclosed ties to Chinese interests and intelligence agencies have advised against doing business with certain Chinese-backed agencies. As usual, the NZ political class and corporate media were slow to react to pointed warnings that similar activities were happening here

and

unlike the US and Australia, NZ politicians are not particularly interested in digging into the nature and extent of Chinese influence on the party system and government policy. This, in spite of the “outing” of a former Chinese military intelligence instructor and academic as a National MP and the presence of well-heeled Chinese amongst the donor ranks of both National and Labour, the close association of operatives from both parties with Chinese interests, and the placement of well-known and influential NZers ….. in comfortable sinecures on Chinese linked boards, trusts and companies

Buchanan thinks these matters are worth investigation, but notes that

….the more interesting issue is why, fully knowing that the Chinese are using influence operations for purposes of State that go beyond international friendship or business ties, do so many prominent New Zealanders accept their money and/or positions on front organisations? Is the problem not so much what the Chinese do as as a rising great power trying to enlarge its sphere of influence as it is the willingness of so-called honourable Kiwis to prostitute themselves for the Chinese cause?

There wasn’t anything like the same willingness to associate with causes of the Soviet Union, arguably a less repressive and less aggressively expansionist power than the PRC –  and certainly less active in the political life of countries such as New Zealand and Australia.

Buchanan is keen to stick up for the current New Zealand government, suggesting that the Peter Mattis testimony (see above) had attempted to suggest the current government was particularly bad (which wasn’t the way I read it, and certainly isn’t the thrust of Professor Brady’s paper, which came out before the election).

Let’s be very clear: for the previous nine years National was in power, the deepening of Chinese influence was abided, if not encouraged by a Key government obsessed with trade ties and filling the coffers of its agrarian export voting base. It was National that ignored the early warnings of Chinese machinations in the political system and corporate networks, and it was Chinese money that flowed most copiously to National and its candidates. It is not an exaggeration to say that Chinese interests prefer National over Labour and have and continue to reward National for its obsequiousness when it comes to promoting policies friendly to Chinese economic interests.

and

Labour may have the likes of Raymond H[u]o in its ranks and some dubious Chinese businessmen among its supporters, but it comes nowhere close to National when it comes to sucking up to the Chinese. That is why Jian Yang is still an MP, and that is why we will never hear a peep from the Tories about the dark side of Chinese influence operations. For its part, Labour would be well-advised to see the writing on the wall now that the issue of Chinese “soft” subversion has become a focal point for Western democracies.

As for what Labour (and New Zealand First) will be like in government, it is still early days.  But, at present, it is hard to put any daylight betweeen the approaches of National and Labour.  No doubt that is welcome to the MFAT officials and the business interests that need to keep things sweet with Beijing, and local party officials who need to keep up the fundraising.  But it is as if they are happy for New Zealand to be almost a vassal state, corrupting our own historical beliefs and values in the process.

Thus, it is fine to say that Jian Yang reveals problems in National.  And isn’t it a disgrace that not a single National MP, present or past, has been willing to stand up, speak out and say that is simply unacceptable to have a former PRC military intelligence official, former (?) member of the Chinese Communist Party, in our Parliament?  But…….not a word on the subject has been heard from anyone in the Labour Party either.  By your silence Prime Minister –  and all your senior colleagues –  you too become just as complicit.  All else equal, it should have been easier for people in the political opposition to speak out than for someone in Jian Yang’s own party (for some of his own party people there is more at stake, including perhaps a list ranking).  But not a word.

And, of course, National makes no effort to call out Raymond Huo, or Labour’s use of a Xi Jinping slogan as part of their advertising campaign last year.    Once we expected higher standards than this from our members of Parliament.  But now, it seems, there are deals to be done, campaigns to finance, and so on.   And so the presidents of both major political parties can laud a tyrannical expansionist regime which, not incidentially, brutally suppresses its own people (as just another example, this article from the latest Economist.)   It wouldn’t have happened (and rightly so) with apartheid South Africa, with the Soviet Union –  or perhaps these days even with US political parties.

Just a few weeks ago, it was that denizen of the centre-left, Hillary Clinton, who was highlighting the risks in her speech in Auckland.  To deafening silence from our own centre-left government.

I don’t suppose any of this reluctance has anything to do with illusions about the nature of the regime.   Our political leaders know about the near-complete suppression of free speech, the prison camp that Xinjiang has become, about suppression of freedom of worship, and about decades of forced abortions.   They know about the PRC’s aggressive and illegal expansionism in the South China Sea, and its increasing intimidation of free, democratic and prosperous Taiwan.  They know about the (in many cases) successful attempts to corrupt political systems in various places around South Asia.  And they know about the activities, and strategies, of PRC authorities in countries like New Zealand, Australia, and Canada (as only three of many) to exert control over ethnic Chinese groupings, including Chinese language media.  They know the PRC now takes the view that ethnic Chinese abroad –  even citizens of other countries –  are expected to work in the interests of Beijing, and are at times coerced to do so (imagine if the British government acted thus among those of us of British descent in New Zealand).   They know our schools (my daughter’s high school among them) and universities are taking money from the PRC regime, on its terms.

But, knowing all this, they just don’t seem to care.  Or if, in some back recess of the brain there is some sense in which they vaguely lament all this, it doesn’t motivate them to do anything about it, or even to have an honest and open conversation engaging New Zealanders.  It is just a corrupted system.

There is a lot of focus at present in Australia –  a country facing very similar issues, but at least with an active and open political debate (including in the Labor Party) as to how best to deal with them –  on legislative changes designed to combat (mostly) PRC influence.   Perhaps there is a case for some legislative initiatives here (eg around former ministers taking up roles serving foreign governments, or organisations controlled by foreign governments), but –  and this comes back to Paul Buchanan’s point –  I suspect the bigger issues aren’t legislative but attitudinal.    On both sides of politics.

Jian Yang would be out of Parliament tomorrow if Simon Bridges and his National colleagues had an ounce of decency on these sorts of issues (and if, somehow, Jian Yang was resistant, at least he’d be an isolated backbencher, out of caucus for the rest of the term).   Jian Yang would be explaining himself to the English language media if there were an ounce of decency and respect for standards in public life.

Confucius Institutes’ activities could be banned from our state schools if either main party actually cared. Universities, supposedly bastions of free speech. could –  as some overseas have done –  close their Confucius Institutes –  but most have made themselves quite dependent on the flow of PRC students.

Ministers and senior Opposition figures could openly lament the aggressive expansionist appraoch of the PRC in the South and East China Seas.  Closer to home, they could ensure they avoid United Front controlled organisations, and speak out for a diverse Chinese language media market.  And so on.

But, instead, they seem terrified. If they did any of that there might not be an upgrade to the preferential trade agreement between New Zealand and China.  And party fundraising might get quite a bit harder.  Some New Zealand exporters might find more technical roadblocks in their path, as some Australian firms have been recently.

This isn’t the approach of a political system that has retained any self-respect whatever.  It is sad to watch, and shaming that these people represent us.  It is, purely and simply, appeasement at work.   As if nothing can be done, and nothing should be done.  Worse than Neville Chamberlain on my reading, because so much here seems to be just about the economic dimensions.

Taking a stand would, most likely, have a short-term cost.  But China does not, and never has, determined our material living standards or those of Australia.  We –  our resources, our people, our institutions –  determine that.  (It isn’t even as if the PRC is one of the economic success stories of Asia –  at best a middle income country, in a region of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore.)    If you have a business that is heavily reliant on the PRC –  our universities (basically SOEs) and some tourism operators mostly – you might take a hit.  But, as the old saying goes, when you dine with the devil you need a long spoon.  More specifically, you knew the sort of regime you were dealing with, and you dealt anyway.  It isn’t clear why the rest of us need to be sold-out, or have our values ignored, to serve your particular business interest.  It is one of the (many) downsides of bilateral trade agreements that it encourages ministers to put values to one side, or even a clear assessment of longer-term foreign policy threats, in the interests of corporate interests wanting to increase profits now.

Incidentally, I also doubt that changes to electoral donations laws are very relevant here, Unlike Australia, we already have laws preventing large foreign donations (except, for example, large ones such as those to Phil Goff’s campaign through auctions).  And many of the issues of real concern in Australia relate to very large donations by relatively new Australian citizens of PRC origins.  Unless one wants to move to exclusively state funding of political parties (and I certainly don’t) you can’t pass laws to stop people giving to a party on the basis of the policies such a party professes and practices –  however pernicious such policies might be.  Rather, it comes back to attitudes and to leadership.  Whatever ongoing diplomatic relations –  correct but formal –  our governments need to have with those of the PRC –  there can be no reason for party Presidents to be praising such a dreadful regime.  Perhaps we should revert to the practices of decades past where MPs and party leaders had little or no involvement in, or knowledge of, party fundraising.  And perhaps party leaderships needs the courage to turn down donations when the motives appear questionable.   Would it come at a cost?  Most probably it would, at least in the short term.  But, in a sense, the only real test of a system’s integrity (or that of an individual) is when they are willing to pay a price for what they believe.

Finally, this weekend marks the 29th anniversary of the massacre, by PRC authorities, of hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of unarmed students in and around Tiananmen Square.  The anniversary will go unmarked, and unremarked on, in the PRC of course.  That is the sort of regime our governments and business leaders defend.

This was how National MP Jian Yang alluded to these events in his maiden speech in Parliament

In April 1989 a great opportunity was opened up for me when I received a scholarship from the Johns Hopkins University in America. However, in the weeks following, student demonstrations swept China. The Chinese Government’s policy change afterwards prevented me from leaving to study in the United States.

Perhaps this weekend some journalists could invite him to flesh out his remarks.  An openly critical comment on the PRC –  who embassy he seems to remain very close to –  would certainly be a first.  A refusal to even engage –  by an MP paid and elected by all New Zealanders –  is, of course, more likely.  Perhaps they could also ask Labour MP, Raymond Huo –  also an adult in the PRC in 1989, now chair of the New Zealand Parliament’s Justice Committee – for his take on the events of 4 June 1989, and the sort of regime/Party that undertook such actions and now forbids its own people to even discuss them.   It isn’t as if either MP is a Cabinet minister.  But perhaps speaking out would interrupt the flow of party donations, upset some people doing business in China.  One often reads of PRC authorities using threats to family back in China to keep ethnic Chinese overseas in line.  If that sort of constraint exists in either case, an MP subject to such pressure might have our sympathy, but clearly would not be free to fulfil his duties to New Zealanders.

New Zealand’s establishment and the PRC

Two interviews on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report this morning followed on from the news, reported in the local media on Saturday, of a US Congressional commission having held hearings on PRC influence in New Zealand politics (and that of various other countries).

I wrote about the testimony and related issues here.   As I noted in that post, it was pretty clear that the testimony, by a couple think-tank staffers (one former US Defense Department, one former CIA), was secondhand, reporting (sometimes in slightly garbled form) the work of Anne-Marie Brady in particular, and people like Australian journalist John Garnaut.  Of itself, that isn’t a criticism – in any inquiry of this sort, looking into a number of different countries and not in great depth, it makes a lot of sense to draw on the work of others closer to the specific country.   What was interesting about the US inquiry was that it was happening at all, and that the New Zealand situation was getting this degree of visibility, and that is was before a longstanding commission with representatives from both sides of politics.

On Morning Report, one of the think tank staffers, Peter Mattis was interviewed.    I’m not going to suggest it was an impressive performance, because it wasn’t.    He didn’t have a good command of the sources he was drawing on, and seemed unable to cite specific examples of the sorts of behaviours and developments here that concern him.  Painting with a broad brush risks getting dismissed with a broad brush, and that is more or less what happened –  Mattis’s weak answers (unfortunately) spoke for themselves, and the tone was also evident in the voice of the interviewer, Guyon Espiner.

But let’s have a look at what Mattis said in his testimony (from p114) to the Congressional commission, and see what (if any) of it is wrong, or has been satisfactorily refuted.

First point is that Australia and New Zealand both face substantial problems with interference by the Chinese Communist Party. In both cases, the CCP has gotten very close to or inside the political core, if you will, of both countries. The primary difference between the two has simply been their reaction.

The problems that are there include the narrowing of Chinese voices, the CCP’s essential monopolization of the media outlets, the takeover of community organizations, and in a sense denying the rights of Chinese Australians and Chinese New Zealanders to exercise the rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech in public forums. And this relates to the political systems of these countries primarily because if these are the–if CCP backed people are the heads of these Chinese community organizations in those two countries, and politicians use them as their sort of advisors or their guide to what the Chinese community is thinking, it means that they really essentially have a CCP firewall, if you will, between the political class in both countries and the Chinese communities that live within them.

Of the “political core”, well no one now disputes that National MP Jian Yang was (and probably is –  since in CCP terms, no one leaves without being expelled) a member of the Chinese Communist Party, which controls the PRC.  Jian Yang served for some years on Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, and accompanied the Prime Minister and trade minister on official visits to the PRC.   This was the same Jian Yang who now openly acknowledges that he misrepresented his past as part of the Chinese military intelligence system (and who has now gone to ground, not accepting any interview requests from the English language media for many months now).

And on the other side of politics is Raymond Huo, currently chair of Parliament’s Justice committee (dealing, for example, with electoral law).  Huo may not have the same questionable background as Jian Yang, but was –  so it is reported, and hasn’t been denied –  responsible for taking a slogan of Xi Jinping’s and using it as a centrepiece in Labour’s election campaign among ethnic Chinese voters last year.

Of both Jian Yang and Raymond Huo, former senior diplomat, and now trade consultant and lobbyist, Charles Finny was interviewed on TVNZ’s Q&A show last year. As I recounted it

Finny confirmed that he knew both Jian Yang and Raymond Huo, the latter less well.  He observed that he thought it was great that we had Chinese MPs, and had no problem with them being in our Parliament.  But then he went on to note that he was always very careful what he said to either man, because he knew that both of them were very close to the Chinese Embassy.

As for community organisations, Chinese language media, and so on, no one has attempted to refute the claims made about the situation both here and in Australia.  From everything I’ve read and heard, it would be pointless to attempt to do so. It is just the way things now are.

Mattis went on

There’s also the issue of what you might call a three-way transaction where retired officials or politicians take on consulting jobs, if you will, and when a company tries to open their business in China and open sort of different avenues where they need political support, the CCP side simply says, well, you need to pay so-and-so to open the doors for you and to arrange the meetings, and that way there is never a direct, direct CCP payoff to a Western consultant or person, but rather it’s done through the companies themselves so it’s a bit of a proof to the pudding of Lenin’s apocryphal comment that only a capitalist will pay for the rope that’s used to hang him.

To the extent he is referrring specifically to New Zealand, some of this seems a little overwrought (although there is the egregious case in Australia of Andrew Robb, the former Trade Minister who went straight from Parliament to a (NZ)$1m a year part-time job working for business interests with close connections to the Chinese state).  But even here, we have former senior politicians on the boards of PRC (government-controlled) banks, and a former Prime Minister serving on a PRC forum, focused on extending the Belt and Road Initiative, all while also serving on the board of the New Zealand government funded New Zealand China Council.

Mattis again

With respect to the reactions, in New Zealand, both the last prime minister, Bill English, and Jacinda Ardern, have denied that there’s a problem at all, and although the current prime minister has said that the attempts to intimidate and to steal materials from scholar AnneMarie Brady will be investigated, that’s a far cry from any sort of productive action when you have people who have lied on immigration forms that are now sitting as members of parliament.

That’s pretty much a statement of fact.   No party leader seems bothered by the presence in Parliament of a former member of the Chinese military foreign intelligence system (who has never once been heard to criticise the PRC), or even by the acknowledged fact that he misrepresented his past to get into New Zealand.

And from the subsequent interchange with members of the Commission

MR. MATTIS: The answer is yes, that’s precisely what I was implying, that it should be considered on an ongoing basis, and the way some of what was described to me is that, yes, some of these individuals had not, don’t have direct access to the product of NZSIS or the Ministry of Defense, but because they were close to the prime minister, in the case of Bill English, that anything on China that was briefed to Bill English was briefed to Mr. Yang Jian, and therefore it may not be sort of official day-to-day access, but in terms of the conversations, the briefings, it was entirely present within the system.

And I think because it has gotten very close to the political core, one of the major, one of the major fundraisers for Jacinda Ardern’s party has United Front links, that you have to say this is close enough to the central political core of the New Zealand system that we have to think about whether or not they take action and what kinds of action, what do they do to reduce the risk, because especially once, once it involves members of parliament, it requires the prime minister to make a decision themselves of whether or not there’s an investigation of them. If the prime minister is not going to make that decision, then nothing can happen below that.

I presume here that Mattis is relating (in somewhat garbled fashion) the claim that Jian Yang, when travelling with official delegations to the PRC, is likely to have had access to highly classified briefing material prepared for senior ministers –  material for which, were he not a member of Parliament, he would never have been granted access to (as, given his background, he would never have been granted a high level SIS security clearance recommendation).   I’m not sure if this claim  –  regarded Jian Yang’s past access –  has been confirmed, but I’m confident that no effort has been made to refute it.  And recall Charles Finny’s observation –  confirmed in numerous bits of photographic evidence, including on Jian Yang’s own website –  of how close Jian Yang is known to have been to the PRC embassy.

Here is Brady

Yang accompanied New Zealand PM John Key and his successor PM Bill English on trips to China and in meetings with senior Chinese leaders when they visited New Zealand. This role would have given him privileged access to New Zealand’s China policy briefing notes and positions. Under normal circumstances someone with Dr Yang’s military intelligence background in China would not have been given a New Zealand security clearance to work on foreign affairs. Elected MPs are not required to apply for security clearance.

And what of the fundraising aspects?  Note that Mattis did not –  contra the Herald headline –  suggest that the Chinese Communist Party was funding Labour.  His specific suggestion, channelling Brady, was

one of the major fundraisers for Jacinda Ardern’s party has United Front links

The Labour Party General Secretary and President claim no knowledge of what this refers to (Nigel Haworth went so far as to say Labour had no one working for them that fitted the description.   Anyone who has read Brady’s paper will recognise the reference to Labour MP (ie paid by the taxpayer) Raymond Huo.    Here is Brady

Even more so than Yang Jian, who until the recent controversy, was not often quoted in the New Zealand non-Chinese language media, the Labour Party’s ethnic Chinese MP, Raymond Huo霍建强 works very publicly with China’s united front organizations in New Zealand and promotes their policies in English and Chinese. Huo was a Member of Parliament from 2008 to 2014, then returned to Parliament again in 2017 when a list position became vacant. In 2009, at a meeting organized by the Peaceful Reunification of China Association of New Zealand to celebrate Tibetan Serf Liberation Day, Huo said that as a “person from China” (中国人) he would promote China’s Tibet policies to the New Zealand Parliament.

Huo works very closely with the PRC representatives in New Zealand. In 2014, at a meeting to discuss promotion of New Zealand’s Chinese Language Week (led by Huo and Johanna Coughlan) Huo said that “Advisors from Chinese communities will be duly appointed with close consultation with the Chinese diplomats and community leaders.” Huo also has close contacts with the Zhi Gong Party 致公党 (one of the eight minor parties under the control of the United Front Work Department). The Zhi Gong Party is a united front link to liaise with overseas Chinese communities, as demonstrated in a meeting between Zhi Gong Party leaders and Huo to promote the New Zealand OBOR Foundation and Think Tank.

It was Huo who made the decision to translate Labour’s 2017 election campaign slogan “Let’s do it” into a quote from Xi Jinping (撸起袖子加油干, which literally means “roll up your sleeves and work hard”)

and

During his successful campaign for the Auckland mayoralty, in 2016, former Labour leader and MP, Phil Goff received $366,115 from a charity auction and dinner for the Chinese community. The event was organized by Labour MP Raymond Huo. Tables sold for $1680 each. Because it was a charity auction Goff was not required to state who had given him donations, but one item hit the headlines. A signed copy of the Selected Works of Xi Jinping was sold to a bidder from China for $150,000.

I’m not aware that any of this has been refuted, even if Andrew Kirton and Nigel Haworth wish to attempt to plead ignorance.

(And to be clear, there is no suggestion that Labour operates much differently in this regard than National. I presume Mattis referred to Labour because they happen to be in office now.)

There is no suggestion in any of this that New Zealand electoral laws have been broken –  charity donations like that to the Goff campaign are not illegal.  But the suggestion Mattis made –  of close ties near the top of the political establishment –  appears to be on pretty safe ground.

Following the Mattis interview this morning, Morning Report also had on Labour Party President Nigel Haworth, who wasn’t exactly pushed very hard.      But why focus just on MPs raising funds for the party, when we could look at the role of party presidents, National and Labour, themselves.  From a post late last year.

A month or two ago, at the time of the 19th Communist Party Congress, it came to light through the Chinese media that the presidents of both the National and Labour parties had been sending warm greetings and congratulations.   This last weekend, the Labour Party went one step worse.

The Chinese Communist Party held a congress in Beijing for representatives of such political parties from around the world (300 from 120 countries) as it could gather to its embrace.    Most of them were from developing countries.  Nigel Haworth, the President of the New Zealand Labour Party, attended.   Here is how one Chinese media outlet reported the event.

The CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High Level Meeting was the first major multilateral diplomacy event hosted by China after the recently concluded 19th CPC National Congress.

It was also the first time the CPC held a high-level meeting with such a wide range of political parties from around the world…..

During the closing ceremony, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi stressed that the meeting was a complete success with a broad consensus reached. He also said CPC leaders elaborated on the new guiding theory introduced by the 19th CPC National Congress.

“The innovative theoretical and practical outcomes of the 19th CPC National Congress not only have milestone significance for the development of China, but also provide good examples for the development of other countries, especially developing countries,” Yang said.

The Beijing Initiative issued after the meeting states that over the past five years, China has achieved historic transformations and the country is making new and greater contributions to the world.

It also highlighted that lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity have increasingly become the aspiration of people worldwide, and it’s the unshakable responsibility and mission of political parties to steer the world in this direction.

“The most important thing between the 18th and 19th CPC party congress was the belt and road initiative,” according to the Russian Communist Party’s Dmitry Novikov. “And the most important thing about the initiative is the economic cooperation among various countries. Such cooperation leads to the promotion of relations in culture and politics.”

And the President of the New Zealand Labour Party was party to all of this.    In fact, not just a party to it, but someone who was willing to come out openly in praise of Xi Jinping.

Here he is, talking of Xi Jinping’s opening speech  (here and here)

“I think it is a very good speech. I think it is a very challenging speech. I think he is taking a very brave step, trying to lead the world and to think about the global challenges in a cooperative manner.  Historically we have wars and we have crisis, but he is posing a possibility of a different way of moving forward, a way based on collaboration and cooperation.  Making cooperation work is difficult, but he think that’s a better way for mankind. I think we all share that view.”

It is shameful.     Probably not even Peter Goodfellow would have gone quite that far –  if only because there might have been some (understandable) rebellion in the ranks if he had gone that public.

To which one could add that it appears that Peter Goodfellow and Jian Yang actually share business interests (and here) in promoting the PRC government’s Belt and Road Initiative.

To repeat, no one –  not Brady, not Mattis –  is suggesting that anything illegal is going on (except perhaps for the acknowledged and documented failure of Jian Yang to disclose his PRC intelligence past, apparently on PRC instructions, when entering the country). But they are suggesting a willed indifference to the nature of the PRC regime, and its activities threatening its own citizens (perhaps the least important issue for outsiders), threatening the interests of other countries that share our historic commitment to democracy and the rule of law, and its activities in New Zealand, at a political level and among New Zealand ethnic Chinese communities.    This isn’t just any other foreign government.  The United Front approach isn’t, for example, that of the British Council – the shameful sort of parallel that Guyon Espiner seemed to attempt to introduce in his interview with Nigel Haworth.

The (Beijing affiliated) New Zealand China Friendship Society also entered the fray.  Morning Report reported a text or tweet from their president suggesting that it was past time for a critical examination and review of Professor Brady’s paper.  I’m sure Professor Brady would welcome that –  it is how academe works –  and it has been nine months now since her paper was released, and I’ve not seen any serious attempt to refute or disprove any significant element of her paper.   Surely if she had just got the wrong end of the stick it would be easy to disprove? Perhaps the NZCFS would have asked someone to do so?  I had a look at their website, and found that their annual conference was being held this last weekend.  There was nothing on the conference programme suggesting any serious engagement with the issues.   Perhaps that would have been awkward for the sponsors.  Brady again:

The Xi administration’s strategy of working more with local governments for economic projects has now revitalized the CPAFFC, as well as the local equivalents they work with such as in New Zealand, the New Zealand-China Friendship Society (NZCFS). NZCFS, like their parent organization, went into decline from the 1980s on, and struggled to attract membership. Now thanks to significant support from both the PRC and the New Zealand government, a re-invigorated NZCFA is again promoting China’s interests, but this time it is an economic agenda—One Belt, One Road.

The Herald’s article on Saturday had some political reaction to the story.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was just another round of “nothing to see here” from both the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition.    In their never-ending pursuit of yet another trade deal –  serving the specific interests of a few influential business groups (including the universities) –  they sell New Zealanders, and our values, short, unbothered apparently  by the corruption of our own system. or the activities of the PRC regime.     And their craven stance –  never ever critical of anything the PRC do –  appears to have been ably represented this weekend by our Minister of Foreign Affairs.

When asked whether he would raise issues regarding the South China Sea, after China landed a bomber on one of the islands in the disputed territory, he said he expected the issue to come up, but said he would not do Chinese politicians and officials the “discourtesy” of airing New Zealand’s specific position on the matter via the media.

“The Chinese would not have any respect for me if I did that, and I do want them to respect me.”

(I wonder if he will ever tell us  –  citizens, voters, taxpayers – “New Zealand’s specific position on the matter”?)

One can only imagine that the PRC regime has about as much respect for Winston Peters (or Simon Bridges –  who wanted to sign us up for a “fusion of civilisations –  or Jacinda Ardern) as Hitler had for Neville Chamberlain.

New Zealand and the PRC: some US testimony

For almost 20 years now, the United States has had

The United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission is a congressional commission of the United States government. Created through a congressional mandate in October 2000, it is responsible for monitoring and investigating national security and trade issues between the United States and People’s Republic of China. The Commission holds regular hearings and roundtables, produces an annual report on its findings, and provides recommendations to Congress on legislative actions related to China.

The twelve commissioners are appointed to two-year terms by the majority and minority leaders of the U.S. Senate, and by the minority leader and speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Not long ago, the Commission was hearing testimony about PRC activities in both Europe and in east Asia and Australasia. I only noticed this in a story this morning running under (what turns out to be) a somewhat exaggerated headline of

NZ should be kicked out of Five Eyes – ex-CIA analyst

As it happens, all the relevant testimony –  written and oral – is online, in a document  – the report of the Commission to leaders of the House and Senate – published a few weeks ago.

I’m not sure how often New Zealand comes up in testimony before Congress, or congressional committees.  One hopes that when we do, it is generally more favourable than what the Commission heard a few weeks ago.

The key relevant witnesses were a couple of people from US think-tanks, specialists in PRC-related issues.   In respect of New Zealand, there wasn’t much very new, mostly drawing on the work of Anne-Marie Brady (and John Garnaut in primarily an Australian context).   And yet it is sobering to see your own country described in these terms, and to reflect on the extent to which our political leaders have allowed themselves to be compromised in ways that serve the ends of the PRC.

Here was how the co-chair of the Commission, former senator Jim Talent, opened the session

The activities of the United Front Work Department, which coordinates the CCP’s overseas influence operations, deserve more scrutiny–and a careful response. Australia and New Zealand, members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing network, have seen a sharp rise in political donations and media investment from United Front Work Department-affiliated entities, and even individuals affiliated with the United Front Work Department and People’s Liberation Army holding office. Beijing also incentivizes political figures in Australia and New Zealand to parrot its line on issues it deems important.

And comments from Amy Searight of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, whose testimony related primarily to South East Asia.  These were from her oral testimony.

Recent studies on Australia and New Zealand have demonstrated the extensive and centrally coordinated efforts through CCP-led mechanisms to influence public debates and policy outcomes in these countries. John Garnaut and Anne-Marie Brady have both described their respective countries as “canaries in the coal mine” of Chinese political influence efforts. If countries with strong democratic institutions like Australia and New Zealand are vulnerable to Chinese influence and domestic political interference, one can imagine that countries in Southeast Asia, which have weaker governance, less transparency, and in some cases higher levels of corruption, would be even more susceptible.

She asserted that

Ultimately, China seeks to build a new order in Asia on its own terms where countries in the region will enjoy the benefits of economic linkages for the price of paying political deference to China’s interests and prerogatives.

In terms of the instruments of influence that China deploys, it primarily uses traditional tools of statecraft–aid, investment, commercial linkages and active diplomacy. The Belt and Road Initiative, along with the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, have become the primary tools for China’s economic diplomacy…..

It’s also important to note that China resorts to economic coercion, both to directly punish countries that act in defiance of its interests and to demonstrate to others the cost of defiance, and the most notable example here is in the case of the Philippines. When the Philippines challenged Chinese seizure of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea in 2012, Beijing sought to punish Manila by cutting off imports of bananas and other farm goods.

and

Recent examinations of Chinese political influence activities in Australia and New Zealand have revealed a number of mechanisms through which the CCP seeks to influence domestic debate in these countries. At the heart of most influence activities is the United Front Work Department, UFWD. UFWD efforts have focused heavily on overseas Chinese populations in Australia and New Zealand, including businessmen, community leaders, and students, but their efforts are not limited to ethnic Chinese and increasingly target the non-ethnic Chinese people in these countries. And we’ve seen allegations that have caused some real concern and public debate over a number of incidents, which include things like Beijing-linked political donors buying access and influence with party politicians; universities being coopted by generous donors for research institutions that have dubious neutrality in their academic pursuits; and voices that are coerced and silenced by networks on college campuses and elsewhere that are mobilized to silence criticism of Beijing. So these cases, the recent revelations in Australia and New Zealand, I think point the way for questions that should be investigated in the cases of U.S. allies and partners in Southeast Asia.

And these comments were from her written submission

Recent examinations of China’s political influence activities in Australia and New Zealand have revealed a number of mechanisms through which the CCP seeks to influence domestic debate in these countries. At the heart of most influence activities is the United Front Work Department (UFWD). UFWD efforts have focused heavily on overseas Chinese populations in Australia and New Zealand, including businessmen, community leaders and students. But their efforts are not limited to ethnic Chinese, and increasingly target non-ethnic Chinese people in these countries. Influence activities are broad and varied in these countries, but the allegations that have sparked the most concern include Beijing-linked political donors buying access and influence with party politicians; universities being coopted by financial largesse for research institutions that have dubious neutrality in their academic pursuits; and voices that are coerced and silenced by networks on college campuses and elsewhere that are mobilized to silence criticism of Beijing.

The second expert to testify was Peter Mattis, apparently a former CIA analyst but now Fellow in the China Program at the Jamestown Foundation.

First point is that Australia and New Zealand both face substantial problems with interference by the Chinese Communist Party. In both cases, the CCP has gotten very close to or inside the political core, if you will, of both countries. The primary difference between the two has simply been their reaction. The problems that are there include the narrowing of Chinese voices, the CCP’s essential monopolization of the media outlets, the takeover of community organizations, and in a sense denying the rights of Chinese Australians and Chinese New Zealanders to exercise the rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech in public forums. And this relates to the political systems of these countries primarily because if these are the–if CCP backed people are the heads of these Chinese community organizations in those two countries, and politicians use them as their sort of advisors or their guide to what the Chinese community is thinking, it means that they really essentially have a CCP firewall, if you will, between the political class in both countries and the Chinese communities that live within them.

There is the supporting of those voices that speak productively, in Beijing’s terms, about China, and there is the issue of suppressing voices that don’t through denial of visas, through pressure placed on institutions, and in some cases sort of calls directly to those individuals. There’s also the issue of what you might call a three-way transaction where retired officials or politicians take on consulting jobs, if you will, ….. it’s a bit of a proof to the pudding of Lenin’s apocryphal comment that only a capitalist will pay for the rope that’s used to hang him.

With respect to the reactions, in New Zealand, both the last prime minister, Bill English, and Jacinda Ardern, have denied that there’s a problem at all, and although the current prime minister has said that the attempts to intimidate and to steal materials from scholar AnneMarie Brady will be investigated, that’s a far cry from any sort of productive action when you have people who have lied on immigration forms that are now sitting as members of parliament.

And to quickly move to a recommendation, I think that at some level the Five Eyes or the Four Eyes need to have a discussion about whether or not New Zealand can remain given this problem with the political core, and it needs to be put in those terms so that New Zealand’s government understands that the consequences are substantial for not thinking through and addressing some of the problems that they face.

The Commission also reproduces the interchange between witnesses and Commission members.  Some excerpts

HEARING CO-CHAIR TALENT: Mr. Mattis, two questions. Mr. Mattis, you said that you noted that New Zealand is part of the Five Eyes arrangement, and you, I think you said in your oral testimony that the United States should consider that on an ongoing basis, and I think the suggestion here is that there is some risk that they may have been compromised to the point that perhaps we shouldn’t continue that arrangement. Am I reading you correctly that that’s an option we ought to take into account, and how high would you assess the risk? …

MR. MATTIS: The answer is yes, that’s precisely what I was implying, that it should be considered on an ongoing basis, and the way some of what was described to me is that, yes, some of these individuals had not, don’t have direct access to the product of NZSIS or the Ministry of Defense, but because they were close to the prime minister, in the case of Bill English, that anything on China that was briefed to Bill English was briefed to Mr. Yang Jian, and therefore it may not be sort of official day-to-day access, but in terms of the conversations, the briefings, it was entirely present within the system. And I think because it has gotten very close to the political core, one of the major, one of the major fundraisers for Jacinda Ardern’s party has United Front links, that you have to say this is close enough to the central political core of the New Zealand system that we have to think about whether or not they take action and what kinds of action, what do they do to reduce the risk

and

DR. SEARIGHT: Can I just add something on the New Zealand point? You know Peter raises some really important concerns, and he’s more knowledgeable about some of the specifics than I am, so I don’t discount his concerns, but I would say that the Five Eyes relationship with New Zealand is extremely important to New Zealand, and it’s one of the few pillars we have in our relationship.

We don’t have a free trade agreement with New Zealand. Obviously we walked away from TPP. We haven’t exempted them inthe steel and aluminum tariffs. I heard an earful about this when I was just in New Zealand two weeks ago. But I think there may be a disconnect between the political level and the bureaucratic level, I mean the government. The bureaucratic level is really turning on China and sees its connection with the United States and Australia as really significant in that sharpening of their policies, their thinking about China, and we heard a lot of thinking that was encouraging. And so I would just say I would be very cautious about cutting off a Five Eyes relationship because I think that really could have some tremendous negative blowback and push New Zealand in a direction that we would not be happy about.

MR. MATTIS: Two other points. I didn’t say cut it off. I said consider it because we–and you just highlighted a number of carrots that are on the table. There are sticks and carrots that we have with New Zealand, and I think on this issue we need to consider how to apply them and sort of encourage New Zealand to find the political will if they can find it because it does, especially in their system, given what has to come from the prime minister’s office, it is a question of politics, not a question of knowledge at the bureaucratic level.

Pretty sobering stuff, to have affairs in your own country described thus.

What was, perhaps, new was Dr Searight’s comments from her recent visit to New Zealand, in which she noted

The bureaucratic level is really turning on China and sees its connection with the United States and Australia as really significant in that sharpening of their policies, their thinking about China, and we heard a lot of thinking that was encouraging

It would be interesting to know who, and what, she meant by that (perhaps the intelligence agencies or Defence, rather than MFAT?).  To the public, there is no sign of any unease, or any change of course.  And of course our political leaders –  of all parties –  keep blithely on, preferring (for example) to avoid awkward issues like Jian Yang or Raymond Huo (the latter now chairing a major parliamentary committee) and to pretend that there are no issues.

I was reading yesterday the New Zealand China Council’s report on options for New Zealand to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative (the one in which the previous government agreed to work with the PRC towards a “fusion of civilisations”).  This report was paid for by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the head of NZTE sit on the board of the China Council.

It was quite as obsequious, and deferential, as ever.  In the preface, Council chair (and former Deputy Prime Minister) Don McKinnon gave a single mention to the need for New Zealand’s involvement to be considered in the light of New Zealand’s “deeply held values”.  That sounded briefly encouraging, but throughout the rest of the 40 page report there was no further mention of, or identification of, values.  One was left assuming that for the China Council, and perhaps their sponsors, the only “value” that mattered was the dollar one – as much trade as possible, never upsetting the interests of the Council’s corporate membership.

I’ve also been reading over the last few days, Clive Hamilton’s book on PRC influence activities in Australia (although with some references to New Zealand), Silent Invasion.  This was the book that the author’s long-time publisher pulled out of publishing at the last minute worried about the threat of (PRC-related) legal action.  Based on where I’ve got to so far, the book does have its weaknesses, but it also gathers a wide range of well-documented information on PRC activities in this part of the world, and we’d be foolish to think that things here are materially different than they are in Australia.  But as I read, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen a single review of the book –  or article about its substance –  in any New Zealand outlet (although the Beijing-aligned New Zealand China Friendship Society did link to a negative review from an Australia paper).  It is as if the willed-blindness to the nature of the PRC regime, and its interests in keeping New Zealand and Australia quiescent by whatever means, and its attempts to use ethnic Chinese abroad in its interests (whether they really want to or not) extends not just to our political and business leaders but to all or most of our media as well.

I can’t see how kicking us out of Five Eyes helps anyone, except perhaps the PRC.  And in the current climate, the US Administration certainly doesn’t help the case of those interested in a serious sustained pushback against PRC influence activities, and aggression in and around the South and East China Seas, and in countries like Pakistan, the Maldives, Cambodia etc.  But the flakey and inconstant nature of the US at present doesn’t change the character of the issue, and shouldn’t distract us from the nature of the reprehensible regime our politicians and business leaders constantly want to make nice to.  Our Foreign Minister is in Beijing this weekend, but presumably will be as deferential as ever, seeking new deals with the regime, and keeping very quiet about what it seems to be doing here and abroad.

As I noted a week or two back, this government seems more like Neville Chamberlain than Michael Joseph Savage (whose government took a strong stand in the late 1930s).  The previous government was, of course, just as bad (and remain so now in Opposition), but I don’t suppose comparisons with Savage mean much to them.

UPDATE: A Herald story on this material, including some reactions from politicians  –  “nothing to see here”   – and academics.