Anne-Marie Brady’s new paper

Canterbury University politics professor Anne-Marie Brady has published today a follow-up to her substantial paper on Chinese party/government influence-seeking activities, particularly in New Zealand.   In the new short paper, published under the auspices of a NATO-funded project “Small States and the New Security Environment (SSANSE)”,  she poses specific challenges to our new government to do something about the issue, and the threat it poses to New Zealand and New Zealanders (including the many ethnic Chinese citizens).   Her abstract reads as follows

New Zealand—along with other nations—is being targeted by a concerted foreign interference campaign by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The campaign aims to gain support for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government’s political and economic agendas by co-opting political and economic elites. It also seeks to access strategic information and resources. China’s efforts undermine the integrity of our political system, threaten our sovereignty, and directly affect the rights of Chinese New Zealanders to freedom of speech, association, and religion. The new Labour-New Zealand First-Greens government must develop an internally-focused resilience strategy that will protect the integrity of democratic processes and institutions, and should work with other like-minded democracies to address this challenge.

When I read that “must” in the final sentence, of course I strongly agreed that it should be so, but was not at all optimistic that it will.

She summarises her key findings as

  • China’s covert, corrupting, and coercive political influence activities in New Zealand are now at a critical level. 
  • The New Zealand government needs to make legislative and policy changes that will better protect New Zealand’s interests and help to protect our nation against foreign interference activities more broadly.

Coming just a day after the news that a leading publisher in Australia had pulled out, at the last minute, of publishing a book on exactly these sorts of issues in Australia, it was a reminder that we aren’t alone in facing these issues.  Where we may stand alone is the determination of our political and business elites to ignore the issue, and just hope any fuss dies away quickly without too much upset to Beijing.

As she has argued already in her main paper, the active Chinese intrusion has become a much more serious threat in the last few years, under Xi Jinping

United front work has now taken on a level of importance not seen in China since the years before 1949, when the CCP was in opposition. The CCP’s united front activities incorporate co-opting elites, information management, persuasion, and accessing strategic information and resources. It has also frequently been a means of facilitating espionage. One of the key goals of united front work is to influence the decision-making of foreign governments and societies in China’s favour.

New Zealand appears to have been a test zone for many of China’s united front efforts in recent years. Australia has also been severely affected; and the government there has now made strenuous efforts to deal with China’s influence activities.

She links to a nice ABC article on the issue in the Australian context.  I’ve linked previously to an article on the law changes the Australian government is currently proposing.

Brady notes that New Zealand is of interest to China for both economic and geopolitical reasons.  Much of it is covered in the main paper, but some of these lines were new to me and some are apparently dealt with in her new book.

New Zealand’s economic, political, and military relationship with China is seen by Beijing as an exemplar to Australia, the small island nations in the South Pacific, and more broadly, other Western states. New Zealand is valuable to China, as well as to other states such as Russia, as a soft underbelly through which to access Five Eyes intelligence. New Zealand is also a potential strategic site for the PLA-Navy’s Southern Hemisphere naval facilities and a future Beidou-2 ground station—there are already several of these in Antarctica.

Whenever Chinese navy ships visit Auckland, I’m afraid I can’t help thinking of Soviet Union and Nazi Germany parallels –  surely we’d never have had their vessels visiting?  Would even our governments contemplate granting naval facilities to China –  an actively aggressive naval power?  I hope not.

Does it all matter?

Some of these activities endanger New Zealand’s national security directly, while others will have a more long-term corrosive effect. The impact of China’s political influence activities on New Zealand democracy has been profound: a curtailing of freedom of speech, religion, and association for the ethnic Chinese community, a silencing of debates on China in the wider public sphere, and a corrupting influence on the political system through the blurring of personal, political and economic interests. Small states such as New Zealand are particularly vulnerable to foreign interference: the media has limited resources and lacks competition; the tertiary education sector is small and —despite the laws on academic freedom—easily intimidated or coopted.

On that latter point, while Canterbury University has apparently stood up for Brady’s right to speak and write in ways that Chinese interests don’t like, that same university hosts one of the Chinese funded and controlled Confucius Institutes.

As she notes, New Zealand governments have embraced this relationship with China, something that intensified under the most-recent National-led government.

What should be done?  At an overarching level she says

The Labour-New Zealand First-Greens government must now develop an internally-focused resilience strategy that will protect the integrity of our democratic processes and institutions. New Zealand should work with other like-minded democracies such as Australia and Canada to address the challenge posed by foreign influence activities—what some are now calling hybrid warfare. The new government should follow Australia’s example in speaking up publicly on the issue of China’s influence activities in New Zealand and make it clear that interference in New Zealand’s domestic politics will no longer be tolerated.

Getting specific she calls on the government to

The Labour-New Zealand First-Greens government must instruct their MPs to refuse any further involvement in China’s united front activities.

That would be Raymond Huo I presume.

The new government needs to establish a genuine and positive relationship with the New Zealand Chinese community, independent of the united front organizations authorized by the CCP that are aimed at controlling the Chinese population in New Zealand and controlling Chinese language discourse in New Zealand.

And there is a list of six other specifics

  • The new Minister of SIS must instruct the SIS to engage in an in-depth investigation of China’s subversion and espionage activities in New Zealand. NZ SIS can draw on the experience of the Australian agency ASIO, which conducted a similar investigation two years ago. 
  • The Prime Minister should instruct the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to follow Australia’s example and engage in an in-depth inquiry into China’s political influence activities in New Zealand. 
  • The Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs should instruct the Commerce Commission to investigate the CCP’s interference in our Chinese language media sector— which breaches our monopoly laws and our democratic requirement for a free and independent media. 
  • The Attorney General must draft new laws on political donations and foreign influence activities. 
  • The New Zealand Parliament must pass the long overdue Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism legislation.
  • The new government can take a leaf out of the previous National government’s book and appoint its own people in strategically important government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs) which help shape and articulate our China policy, such as the NZ China Council and the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

I’m not sure the Commerce Commission is quite the right body to look at the effective Party/state control of the Chinese language media.  And I’m also not entirely sure how much confidence I would have in either the New Zealand intelligence services or DPMC, but I’m certainly supportive of the sort of direction she calls for.

She mentions the ASIO report.   As an example of the more realistic hard-headed mentality now afoot in Australia, consider this extract from the Director-General’s overview in the latest ASIO Annual Report

During this reporting period, ASIO identified a number of states and other actors conducting espionage and foreign interference against Australia. Our investigations revealed countries undertaking intelligence operations to access sensitive Australian Government and industry information. We identified foreign powers clandestinely seeking to shape the opinions of members of the Australian public, media organisations and government officials in order to advance their country’s own political objectives. Ethnic and religious communities in Australia were also the subject of covert influence operations designed to diminish their criticism of foreign governments. These activities—undertaken covertly to obscure the role of foreign governments—represent a threat to our sovereignty, the integrity of our national institutions and the exercise of our citizens’ rights.

You will look in vain for anything similar in our SIS Annual Report.  Then again, the Minister for the SIS was the same Chris Finlayson who was reduced to personally attacking Professor Brady at a recent election meeting.

I’m also sympathetic to her call regarding appointments to the New Zealand China Council and the Asia New Zealand Foundation.  Over the last couple of months I’ve kept an eye on the China Council’s Twitter feed: it is little more than just a propaganda feed, accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative, and more given to adulation than critical analysis.    Between the preferences of the (previous) government, and the personal economic interests of many of the key figures involved, perhaps it isn’t too surprising.

But it is also why I’m not very optimistic Professor Brady’s calls will come to anything.   Foreign policy –  perhaps especially towards China –  has been depressingly bipartisan –  and there is little sign on these sorts of issues that the Greens or New Zealand First are really any different.   Why would our new Prime Minister be inclined to do things differently when her own party president was just recently offering congratulations to the Chinese Communist Party on the occasion of the recent 19th Party Congress?  The Labour mayor of Auckland was apparently the recipient of large offshore Chinese donations to his election campaign.  I gather that Helen Clark has rubbished the sorts of concerns Professor Brady has raised.

And the National Party Opposition won’t be pressing her to –  not only do they have a Communist Party member in their caucus, but their party president was also offering warm fraternal greetings to the butchers of Beijing.   The system seems to be corrupted already, so what motivation does anyone inside it have to start to turn things around?  Perhaps external pressure might help –  if he had any political standing left himself, Malcolm Turnbull might well turn the fire back on the New Zealand government, and question the way it was allowing New Zealand to be used in Chinese party/goverment interests?

As Professor Brady notes, the standard response is always along the lines of

It has often been said that New Zealand is not important to China and that if we offend the Chinese government we risk our trade with them. It is simply not true that New Zealand is not important to China. And when our national interests may be threatened, the government should be prepared to weather temporary short-term blow back, for long-term political and economic gains.

And as I’ve pointed out previously, Australia does much more of its foreign trade with China than New Zealand does, and countries make their own prosperity.  China hasn’t made New Zealand, or Australia, rich: our own people and own resources have done that.  But the firms –  public and private –  with a direct vested interest in keeping on good terms with China have access and political clout.  One of things we need to remember is that the interests of businesses (and universities) who deal in countries ruled by evil regimes, are not necessarily remotely well-aligned to the interests and values of New Zealanders.   Selling to China, on government-controlled terms, isn’t much different than, say, selling to the Mafia.  There might be money to be made.  But in both causes, the sellers are enablers, and then make themselves dependents, quite severely morally compromised.

And if I were ever remotely hopeful that the sort of changes Professor Brady (admirably) calls for might come to pass, there was just another reminder of how our elites view these things.  At a corporate function last week, former Prime Minister John Key

…spoke at length about New Zealand’s relationship with China. “As PM I went to China seven times and everyone knows that I’m a massive China fan. I think the opportunities are enormous, the country is amazing, and the leadership is doing extremely well,”

I guess the leadership is doing “extremely well” at securing its own position, advancing China’s interests (over against the rule of international law) in the South China Sea, in expanding their influence in countries like our own, in extending the reach of the Party ever further in China itself, and pressing on with the chilling social credit scheme, to give the state ever more control over the populace.  Oh, and the small matter of an ever-more-distorted credit-driven economy that can’t even come close to replicating the material living standard available in the freer democratic bits of east Asia.

The system –  our system, as well as theirs – is corrupted.  Their corruption and destruction is conscious and deliberate.

It all also leaves me slightly uneasy about a comment I saw from Professor Brady suggesting that any inquiry needed to take place in secret.  Perhaps there are some national security issues where secrecy would be important, but if there is any hope of sustained change it can probably only come from something that happens openly, and which enables New Zealanders to see what their leaders have done –  pursuing some mix of a warped view of national interest, and of private and personal business interests.   Who, after all, would the secret reports be delivered to, but the same political leaders who have allowed this suborning of our system, and our people, to go on.  Someone wrote to me yesterday that ” this isn’t an oligarchic or anti-democratic society”.  That’s right.  But it can be a supine one, too ready to ignore what doesn’t affect most of us (non-Chinese New Zealanders) very much on a day to day basis.

UPDATE:

If you refuse to open your eyes, or read, it is hardly surprising you might not see anything.

Andrew Little, the Minister Responsible for the SIS, said he was not aware of any undue Chinese influence.
“I don’t see evidence of undue influence in New Zealand, whether it’s New Zealand politics, or New Zealand communities generally.

“We have a growing Chinese community. We have a strongly developing trade relationship and diplomatic relationship with China. I don’t think those things, on their own, connote undue influence.

“If there’s other things she says constitutes undue influence, we’d have to know what that is.”

 

“I’m always very careful what I say to either man”

It was to the credit of TVNZ’s Q&A show –  probably our leading current affairs television programme –  that yesterday they gave some time to the question of the Chinese Communist Party (and state) activities in New Zealand.

The centrepiece was an interview with Canterbury University politics professor Anne-Marie Brady, about her recent substantial paper Magic Weapons: China’s political influence activities under Xi Jinping, which had a particular (and mostly well-documented) focus on New Zealand, and the great deference shown by much of the New Zealand establishment towards a brutal and expansionist regime.  And it was preceded by an interview with Beijing-based New Zealand economist Rodney Jones on various topics including (CP)TPP, China’s own political and economic direction (including the increasingly visible and dominant role of the Communist Party), and some of the concerns raised in Brady’s paper and in the Financial Times/Newsroom disclosures about the background of National MP –  and Chinese Communist Party member –  Jian Yang.

Jones noted –  and of course I largely agree with him –  that we should consider it simply unacceptable to have a member of the Chinese Communist Party as a member of our Parliament (noting the point various other commentators have made –  you only get to leave the Party by death or expulsion).  Same goes for former serving members of the military intelligence establishment of a regime such as that of China.   Jones called for bi-partisan agreement on these points between the National and Labour parties.  Formal accords don’t have a great track record, but frankly any political party that took serious our heritage as a longstanding open and free democratic society would not even consider having such a person in their ranks.   As I’ve noted previously, I’d make an exception for someone with Jian Yang’s background who has now genuinely “seen the light”, is willing to openly disown and criticise the regime he was once part of, wanting nothing now to do with the representatives in New Zealand of such an evil regime.   Oleg Gordievsky was a hero, and rightly honoured as such.

Professor Brady noted that China’s influence-seeking activities in countries such as ours operate on multiple levels (all documented more extensively in her paper).  She noted the way in which almost all the Chinese-language media in New Zealand is now under the thumb of the Chinese Communist Party.   She highlighted the issue of political donations, and the way in which our electoral finance laws allow large donations, including from foreign individuals and foreign-controlled entities, to find their way –  often anonymously –  to political parties.  She has previously noted the way that many former senior politicians now hold directorships and other positions in ways that either directly serve the interests of China, or (at least) provide a severe economic disincentive to ever saying anything that might displease China –  noting yesterday that in at least some cases these people will have got into these roles barely aware of the wider context. And she drew attention to the extraordinary way in which our business and political elites go out of their way to pander to such a dreadful regime.    She noted that the presidents of both the National and Labour parties, and various heads of universities, had been issuing positive statements around the recent 19th (Communist) Party Congress –  in a way which, as she noted, one could never imagine happening for a US political party convention.  I couldn’t find a record of vice-chancellors’ statements –  although given the amount of fee income they derive from Chinese students, and the (Chinese-controlled) Confucius Institutes  several allow as part of their universities, what she says wasn’t a great surprise.  As for Peter Goodfellow and Nigel Haworth, that did surprise me a bit, but sure enough a quick search took me to Xinhua/China Daily stories under the heading “Global chorus of praise for party leadership”, with quotes from these heads of our two largest political parties (along with those from various parties in other countries), prefaced this way

The ongoing 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China has received messages of greeting from foreign leaders, political parties and organizations around the world. They speak highly of the Party’s leadership as well as China’s socioeconomic development and global contributions, and express full confidence that the CPC will lead China to even greater success. The following is an edited summary of these messages.

These people –  these parties –  are a disgrace, selling out their (our) birthright for a mess of potage.    All the more so at a conference which set the public seal on the ascendancy of Xi Jinping, whose term in office has been marked by ever-less freedom, an ever-more instrusive state, a much more internationally aggressive foreign policy……as we see the stepped up United Front Work programme of influence-seeking in other countries.  It is as if our political parties had lost any sense of self-respect.

Brady urged New Zealand to take the issues more seriously, and to look to work closely with Australia and Canada, countries which face similar issues to those in New Zealand –  and where the governments have been more willing to confront the problems.   She highlighted the quote from a Chinese diplomat that appears in her paper

after Premier Li Keqiang visited New Zealand in 2017, a Chinese diplomat favourably compared New Zealand-China relations to the level of closeness China had with Albania in the early 1960s.

As she noted, we should hope that this was very far from true.  Albania had been the most isolated member of the eastern-bloc then, and we should not be comfortable as the most isolated member of the western-bloc now.   In making that comment she was probably alluding to the reports of growing unease among our traditional partners about the closeness of New Zealand governments (and our political/business establishment) to China.

But in many respect Brady was mostly traversing –  although presenting it to a wider audience –  ground that her fascinating paper has already made familiar.  My main reason for writing this post was some mix of astonishment and further dismay at the panel discussion that followed the Brady interview.   There were three panellists: Josie Pagani (who has Labour affiliations), Laila Harre (former Alliance Cabinet minister), and former diplomat and now lobbyist Charles Finny.   Add in the presenter, and they were all falling over themselves to play down any sort of issue –  with the possible exception of something around political donations, with Laila Harre using the opportunity to make the case for state-funding of political parties.

The word “racist” was never explicitly mentioned, but the panellists and presenters seemed to live in terror of being denounced as “racist” if they raised any concerns about a foreign government’s activities in New Zealand.    It was, after all, exactly the approach taken by (now) senior Opposition MP (and former Attorney-General) Chris Finlayson, who then added in a touch of personal abuse of Professor Brady for “good” measure.   Pagani expressed concern that there was “an element of singling out individuals” (MPs Jian Yang and Raymond Huo) about the paper, and the presenter chimed in with the suggestion that no one raises concerns about (American-born and raised) Greens minister, Julie-Anne Genter.

I’m not sure about anyone else, but I’ve explicitly addressed the Genter situation here previously.  Had Genter worked for the American military intelligence system, and spent her time hob-nobbing with the American Embassy, articulating American positions on issues, I’d have many of the same concerns as I have about Jian Yang (with the –  not trivial – difference that the United States is a historic friend and ally).  It probably wouldn’t be appropriate for such a person to be in our Parliament, as we could not be confident that their national loyalties lay exclusively with New Zealand.  But here’s the thing: no one has ever raised a shred of evidence to suggest that Genter’s past or present includes anything of that sort.    (Personally, I’d be reluctant to vote for someone for Parliament who had immigrated from anywhere as an adult, but there is still a material difference between Jian Yang –  and Raymond Huo –  and Julie-Anne Genter.  And the important differences aren’t about skin colour or sex, but about demonstrable patterns of conduct.)

But the most vocal, and egregious, of the panellists was the lobbyist Charles Finny.  He has sallied forth in defence of Jian Yang previously, and I wrote about his comments here.   He’s a lobbyist, whose livelihood, depends on “getting on” with the main political parties –  which does make one wonder about TVNZ’s judgement about having as a panellist someone who will be ever-emollient at best.  He knows a great deal about China, but can’t afford to say what he knows openly.

Here is some of what I wrote about Finny’s previous effort in defence of Jian Yang.

Finny’s article is headed “Time for NZ political parties to take the migrant vote seriously” (actually I was pretty sure Labour had been doing just that in South Auckland for decades), but his focus is on the ethnic Chinese vote, and Jian Yang.

On the last day of the Westie experience [some years ago] I was introduced to a National Party candidate, Dr Jian Yang. He was teaching in the political science department at the University of Auckland. We talked about his academic background, about what he had done in China before leaving for Australia (where he completed his PhD at ANU), about the China-New Zealand relationship and about the Chinese Embassy and Consulate network in New Zealand.

It was clear Dr Yang was very well-connected to the leadership of the Chinese communities in New Zealand, as well as to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China and its Auckland Consulate. He also had significant connections in China, both to government figures, and to the business community. This was the first of many meetings I have had with Dr Yang. We have met in his context as a MP, as a member of select committees and at social functions. We have travelled together to China and elsewhere as part of official delegations. It is my understanding that Dr Yang has become one of National’s most successful fundraisers, in much the same way Raymond Huo is important for the Labour Party’s fundraising efforts.

Did they, one wonders, back in 2010/11 discuss Yang’s background in the Communist Party and his teaching role in the Chinese foreign intelligence services?

What is astonishing is that one of New Zealand’s most-experienced China experts is, at least in public, untroubled by any of this: the close connections to a foreign government’s embassy, even as he serves as a member of the New Zealand Parliament, or the key role he describes both Yang, and Labour’s Raymond Huo playing in party fundraising?  Not that many decades ago, the convention – perhaps not always rigorously observed – was that elected politicians stayed well clear of party fundraising efforts, for good reasons to help maintain the integrity of the parliamentary system.

Finny is in full defence mode for Yang (and presumably Huo).

But it was a strange campaign period, with political players employing various strategies. Among the twists and turns, a rather strange and well-coordinated analysis/investigation was undertaken and then reported by Newsroom and the Financial Times about the past of Dr Yang. Subsequent coverage has led to calls for Dr Yang’s resignation.

Now, I have been involved in politics long enough to know that there are few stories of substance to emerge in the middle of an election campaign by coincidence (particularly ones that are so thoroughly researched). This was a story suggested by someone who had an agenda of some sort – and the timing was intentional.

If 10 days before an election isn’t a reasonable time to ask questions about a candidate’s background. I’m not sure when is? And it isn’t as if, to date, anything those media outlets reported has been disproved or refuted?

And Finny has nothing at all to say about Professor Brady’s paper, the timing of which was determined by the dates of an international conference she was presenting at. As he talks up – no doubt correctly – the importance of the migrant vote, surely suggestions that a major foreign power might be actively engaged in attempting to control most of the local Chinese-language media, and Chinese cultural associations, might have been worthy of some mention?

In his comments yesterday, Finny went further.   He confirmed that he had known right back in 2010/11 that Jian Yang had served in the Chinese military intelligence system.  The voters, of course, were not so fortunate, until Newsroom and the Financial Times finally revealed that background a couple of months ago.

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.  One could only shake one’s head in some mix of astonishment and despair that a leading former diplomat is just fine with having two people in our Parliament whom he doesn’t feel confident about talking openly to, apparently because he thinks that anything he says could end up back at the Chinese Embassy.    Out of his own mouth…….

There was a belated (and lame) attempt to cover himself, as Finny observed that “many of us are close to other countries’ embassies.  I don’t suppose that anyone has concerns that if someone in public life in New Zealand talks to Charles Finny that whatever they say might end up with the American, Australia, or whatever embassy he had in mind.  There is quite a difference between having a good working relationship with the embassy of another country –  probably quite important if you are involved in trade lobbying etc –  and having divided loyalties.  Charles Finny served New Zealand for decades as a diplomat, and I’m sure no one has reason to doubt his national loyalties.  Were he to move to the United States, get elected to Congress, and maintain very close ties to the New Zealand Embassy, Americans might reasonably have doubts (in that hypothetical).

Finny also attempted to defend Jian Yang and Raymond Huo by suggesting that their first loyalties might well be to New Zealand, but that they would have views about how New Zealand’s interests might be best served.  I suspect Arthur Seyss-Inquart had views about how Austria’s best interests in the 1930s were served too, or Jozef Tiso in Slovakia.  It is a defence almost impossible to take seriously.  We need to know that our MPs have a national loyalty only to New Zealand, and the best interests of New Zealanders, and not to an advancement of a foreign power’s view of those interests.

After all, if (private citizen and lobbyist) Charles Finny is always “very careful” about what he says in the presence of Jian Yang or Raymond Huo, how much more uneasy should we be our the presence of these MPs in the caucuses of our two main political parties (one previously in the government caucus, the other now)?   Should those MPs’ peers always be “very careful” what they say in the presence of Yang and Huo?  Finny’s advice would appear to be so.    Both serve on select committees, which benefit from departmental briefings –  indeed, given the shortage of experienced Labour MPs, Huo will almost certainly be chairing a select committee this term.  Would Finny regard it as acceptable for these men –  who he is “always careful” with – to serve as ministers in our government?  In any of these fora –  caucuses, select committees, Cabinet (or travel with senior ministers) –  there is likely to be information or angles that the Chinese Embassy would regard as valuable.  I’m not suggesting either man passes on such information: it was Finny who appeared to make that claim.  It was an extraordinary concession.

As for Josie Pagani claiming that there was “an element of singling out individuals”, well in a way she is correct.  Brady’s paper singles out specific individuals about whom there are specific reasons for concern –  the exact opposite, for example, of tarring an entire community.  Here are the some of specific paragraphs from Brady’s paper.

On Jian Yang she has several pages of material, including

As widely reported in the New Zealand and international media in 2017, Yang Jian worked for fifteen years in China’s military intelligence sector. It was a history which he has admitted he concealed on his New Zealand permanent residency application and job applications in New Zealand,104 as well as his public profile in New Zealand—at least in English sources.

However in an article in the People’s Daily (Renmin ribao) magazine, Huanqiu renwu (Global People) in 2013, which was republished in a number of websites, Yang Jian gave an extensive interview detailing aspects of his earliest years, his career in China, and subsequent activities in Australia and New Zealand. Yang Jian entered the PLA-Air Force Engineering College to study English in 1978; he taught at the same college for five years after graduation, trained at the People’s Liberation Army Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute for his first Masters degree, studied for a year at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for US-China Studies at Nanjing University, and after that, from 1990 to 1993 taught English to students at the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute who were studying to intercept and decipher English language communications.

Yang Jian does not mention his 15 year career and studies with the PLA on his National Party online cv, and it also does not appear on the online cv provided for his profile when he was a lecturer at the University of Auckland. But he did provide this information in a cv in English to be circulated to Chinese officials which he gave to the New Zealand Embassy in China, preparatory to a visit to China in 2012, the year after he entered parliament.  And a Chinese language report promoting the setting up of the National Party’s Blue Dragons organization (an ethnic Chinese youth group within that party), highlights his studies at the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute, while not mentioning any other details about his working life or other tertiary studies when he was living in China. The Financial Times speculated that these selective mentions of his past links with the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute were meant as a “dog whistle” to the Chinese community in New Zealand.

She goes on to note to his role as key fundraiser, access to material that someone with his background would never get as an official, and noting that “Yang is seen at most official events involving the PRC embassy and the ethnic Chinese community in New Zealand.”

And of Huo she writes

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”). Huo told journalists at the Labour campaign launch that the Chinese translation “auspiciously equates to a New Year’s message from President Xi Jinping encouraging China to ‘roll its sleeves up’.”   However, inauspiciously, in colloquial Chinese, Xi’s phrase can also be read as “roll up your sleeves and …..[expletive deleted] hard” and the verb (撸) has connotations of masturbation. Xi’s catchphrase has been widely satirized in Chinese social media.  Nonetheless, the phrase is now the politically correct slogan for promoting OBOR, both in China and abroad. The use of Xi’s political catchphrase in the Labour campaign, indicates how tone deaf Huo and those in the Chinese community he works with are to how the phrase would be received in the New Zealand political environment. In 2014, when asked about the issue of Chinese political influence in New Zealand, Huo told RNZ National, “Generally the Chinese community is excited about the prospect of China having more influence in New Zealand” and added, “many Chinese community members told him a powerful China meant a backer, either psychologically or in the real sense.”

And these are people establishment figures like Charles Finny think are just fine to serve in our Parliament?   Even if they do choose to be “very careful” about what they say in these presence of these MPs?  Extraordinary.

Of course, both Jian Yang and Raymond Huo continue to lie low.  TVNZ approached them for comment –  and I suspect would have been only to happy to have broadcast an interview with either.  Jian Yang apparently had nothing to add to what he has already said –  including that he had falsely represented his past on immigration or citizenship papers because the Chinese authorities told him to –  and Raymond Huo was quoted as rejecting “any insinuations against his character”.  Perhaps he should take that up with Charles Finny.

It was pretty extraordinary when, in the previous Parliament, Todd Barclay refused to front the press, or be interviewed by Police.  But at least there was his right to avoid self-incrimination in a potential criminal context to consider.  For two newly-re-elected MPs to simply refuse to front serious questions about their past and present activities, raised by major media outlets, serious academics, and (now) a leading lobbyist and former senior diplomat is just extraordinary.

What is perhaps more extraordinary is that they are presumably doing this on advice.  No one doubts that if the whips and party leaders told them to front up (or else), they would do so.  So we can only assume that the party leaders are complicit in their refusal to front up to the voters.

Sadly, that wouldn’t be very surprising.    Bill English tells the media they will simply have to talk to Jian Yang, while knowing that Jian Yang is refusing to front up to any English-language media.  And questions as to whether is appropriate to have a Communist Party member and former Chinese intelligence officer in his caucus, and as a key fundraiser, are really matters for the leader.  In fact, in the post-election reshuffle, Jian Yang actually won a small promotion –  now National Party spokesman on statistics.

The current Prime Minister and the leader of the Green Party are totally silent on the matter.  And although our Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs did utter the odd concerned noise before he took office, there has been nothing since.    The latest line –  reported by Newsroom –  now that he has rejoined the establishment  is that

However, Peters said he did not raise the issue with [Chinese foreign minister] Wang, blaming previous governments for not taking action.

Perhaps, but you are the government now, and the issues haven’t gone away.   Perhaps even more incredible –  or par for the course –  was this

Peters said he had never wanted an inquiry into China’s influence in New Zealand.

“I raised two things, I said the fact the Australians had expressed serious concern and that this was, in terms of the Brady report, a highly internationally recognised thesis and finding – I didn’t ask for a full-scale public inquiry and I’m not asking for one now.”

However, a press release issued by Peters on September 19, titled “China’s Growing Control in New Zealand Must Be Investigated”, quoted Brady as saying “a special commission was needed to investigate China’s impact on our democracy”.

Which might be slightly less concerning if there was any sign, even a shred, that the Minister of Foreign Affairs or the Prime Minister were taking the issue seriously in private, and were willing to do anything about it.

Is there really no political figure, in our entire political system, willing to stand up for the interests and values of New Zealanders, for our heritage as one of the longest-established democracies in the world?  Or to recognise, and openly call out, the nature of the Chinese regime?  Hard to believe really –  decades ago our then Labour government was at the forefront of resisting the appeasement of Germany – but for now the evidence seems to point in one direction, and it isn’t encouraging,

 

 

The Washington Post falls for Ben Mack

A few weeks ago I devoted a post to an absurd article the Herald had run, by one of their “lifestyle columnists” (himself here on a work visa), Ben Mack.   It was published a couple of days before New Zealand First chose to join Labour in a coalition government, supported by the Greens.  Mack claimed that as a (temporary) immigrant, he was “terrified of Winston Peters”.  It was an absurd article, debasing any sort of prospect of intelligent debate, and really unworthy of a serious media outlet –  as the Herald still sometimes is.

But now he has, somehow, got a genuinely serious media outlet –  the Washington Post no less –  to run an article by him on “How the far-right is poisoning New Zealand”.  No one in New Zealand is going to take it seriously, but some Americans –  knowing pardonably little about New Zealand –  might.  If the article reflects poorly on Mack –  but then he is a “lifestyle columnist” who has only been in New Zealand for a couple of years –  that is nothing to what it says about one of the world’s better newspapers.

The article isn’t some considered analysis of that scattering of what might genunely be called “far-right” groups in New Zealand –  the tiny National Front for example, whose small group of lawful protesters (and the rather larger group of “counter-protestors”) were recently in the news.  No, instead we read that

A shadow is poisoning Middle-earth

But for all the excitement around Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her new government, the real power lies with the far right. And, more terrifying: The far right seized power by exploiting the very system meant to be a fairer version of democracy.

Little did you know.  But now you do.

It is, apparently “appalling” that a small party that, in principle, could have supported either side into government (and has in the past), got to decide which bloc ended up forming a government.  It isn’t clear why it is appallling: it seems a lot like MMP, which most New Zealanders (although not me) seem to like.  PR systems are how most European countries elect Parliaments, and thus put together governing coalitions.  It must seem strange to Americans, but it isn’t that hard to get your head round.  And had the Greens been willing to deal with National, or Labour and National been willing to form a “grand coalition”, New Zealand First wouldn’t even have been in play.  Parties made their choices, the voters made theirs, and on this occasion that left New Zealand First holding the decisive bloc of seats.  And Mack also has a go at them for taking so long, apparently not aware of how slowly coalition negotiations proceeded this year in the Netherlands, and are still going on in Germany.  It isn’t two months since the election.

But the pernicious influence of New Zealand First is already at work

The effects of the far right’s influence are already being felt. Amid pressure from New Zealand First, the government has vowed to slash immigration by tens of thousands by making it harder to obtain visas and requiring employers to prove they cannot find a qualified New Zealand citizen before hiring a non-citizen. They’ve also put forward legislation banning non-citizens from owning property,

But….but…….   New Zealand First didn’t get any of its immigration policies (such as they were) adopted at all.  The new government says it is adopting the centre-left Labour Party’s policy.  And that ban on foreign purchases (of existing houses)?  Well, it was supported –  going into the election –  by all three parties in the government, including the rather left-wing Greens.

It gets worse, US readers are told

Like American white supremacists in the age of Trump, bigots in New Zealand have also been emboldened by New Zealand First’s success into taking action beyond ranting on Internet message boards and social media. In late October, clashes erupted when white supremacists rallied in front of Parliament.

But apparently the National Front has a little rally every year.  What changed this year was the actions of a group –  led by two Green MPs –  to break-up a lawful protest.

It is all pretty weird stuff.  You might –  as I did –  read the Reserve Bank’s Monetary Policy Statement today, which lists the new government policies the Bank had specifically looked at.  There were higher minimum wages, new state-house building programmes, increased government spending (and reversal of tax cuts) and a larger fiscal deficit.  Oh, and the Labour Party’s modest promsed changes to immigration policy.   This, according to Mack, is the “far-right” setting the agenda.  He didn’t mention that the new government was going to reform the Reserve Bank Act to ensure that the central bank explicitly keeps an eye on keeping the labour market close to full employment.   The far right at work no doubt.  Because, you see

Put simply, while Ardern may be the public face, it’s the far right pulling the strings and continuing to hold the nation hostage.

and

What’s happened in New Zealand isn’t just horrifying because of the long-term implications of hate-mongers controlling the country, but also because it represents a blueprint that the far right can follow to seize power elsewhere.

Appealing to ethnically homogenous, overwhelmingly cisgender male voters with limited education and economic prospects who feel they’re being left behind in a changing world is nothing new for the far right. But what is new is its savvy at exploiting democracy by doubling down on these voters while mostly allowing larger political parties to attack each other on their own, thus positioning themselves as “kingmakers” who can demand concessions from those larger parties before carrying them into power.

As others have pointed out, like them or not, New Zealand First gets a larger share of its votes from Maori than many other parties.  In fact, Peters himself is Maori.

And haven’t we been here before?   As I noted in my earlier post

But –  and here is where a bit of perspective and experience of New Zealand might have come in handy to Mr Mack – not usually that much [clout] at all.   New Zealand First was in coalition with National in the mid 1990s –  Winston Peters as Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer –  and it was in partnership with Labour for a few years from 2005 –  Winston Peters serving a Foreign Minister, and generally accepted as having done a reasonable job.   And what changed?  1996 is a while ago now, but I can recall:

  • a small increase in the inflation target, never subsequently reversed,
  • free doctor’s visits for kids under six, never subsequently reversed, and
  • a referendum on reform of New Zealand Superannuation, in which the cause Peters was advocating lost decisively.

Oh, and I think there was a Population Conference.

The 2005 to 2008 term was even less memorable, unless you were a Ministry of Foreign Affairs bureaucrat: their Minister secured them a great deal of additional money and the prospect of various new embassies.

I’m sure there was other stuff, but none of it was transformative.

New Zealand First’s vote shared peaked in the 1996 election.  But the far-right is rampant –  in control actually.

And looking through the Labour-New Zealand First agreement, quite what did New Zealand First secure?     There were some ministerial jobs, they saw off the possibility of a water tax, they got a “regional development fund” which will be used (among other things) to plant lots and lots of trees.  There were even more Police than Labour was promising, free driver training for secondary school students, a free health check for old people, and the possibility –  no more –  of some more capital for the state-owned bank.   And not a jot on immigration policy.

You might like the new government’s policies, or you might not.  You might like what NZ First specifically won, or you might not.  But that coalition agreement doesn’t seem to offer any support for anyone wanting to claim that the “far-right” was somehow in control of New Zealand, or of the government.  Indeed, if the (libertarian) right in New Zealand is celebrating anything in this government, it will be the referendum on personal use of cannabis, approval for medicinal cannabis use (Green causes) and the promise that the new government might free up onerous planning rules which drives house prices sky high (Labour policy).  If there is a genuine “far right” in New Zealand, I struggle to see how they’d find anything to celebrate in the new government, with New Zealand First or not.

Quite how a quite newly-arrived American lifestyle columnist so misreads New Zealand is a bit of mystery.  But how one of the world’s major media outlets, and serious newspapers, fell for this nonsense is a rather bigger puzzle.  It might be the age of “fake news”, but generally serious newspapers are supposed to be guardians against it, not the purveyors of nonsense to the world.

UPDATE (Friday): The Post has now published a response by a New Zealand journalist.

 

Jian Yang again/still

In September, a couple of weeks before the election, the Financial Times and Newsroom published a story about the National MP Jian Yang.  The story revealed that Yang, who lived in China until age 32, had been a member of the Chinese Communist Party, and a member of the Chinese military intelligence establishment, and suggested that Yang –  formerly a member of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee –  may have been investigated by the Security Intelligence Service.    Questions were raised as to how much of this background the National Party had been aware of when they first selected him in 2011.  None of it had been known to the voters at the time.

The story got a day’s coverage in various local media and then largely went cold in New Zealand, even though it was just before the election, and although it happened to coincide with the release of a major paper by Canterbury University politics professor (and China expert) Anne-Marie Brady, raising substantial and documented concerns about the influence China was seeking to exert in New Zealand, both through the (former) Chinese diaspora (people in public life like Yang and Labour MP Raymond Huo), among Chinese New Zealanders, and (for example) through the recruitment of various prominent New Zealanders to well-remunerated roles in which they might be either well-disposed to Chinese interests, or at least unable/unwilling to voice any concerns about China’s activities and policies.    Professor Brady herself summarised the issue thus

This policy paper examines China’s foreign political influence activities under Xi Jinping, using one very representative state, New Zealand, as a case study. New Zealand’s relationship with China is of interest, because the Chinese government regards New Zealand as an exemplar of how it would like its relations to be with other states. In 2013, China’s New Zealand ambassador described the two countries’ relationship as “a model to other Western countries”. And after Premier Li Keqiang visited New Zealand in 2017, a Chinese diplomat favourably compared New Zealand-China relations to the level of closeness China had with Albania in the early 1960s. The paper considers the potential impact of China’s expanded political influence activities in New Zealand and how any effects could be mitigated and countered.

Yang himself has largely avoided the media.    But papers released under the Official Information Act confirmed that he had not told New Zealand authorities about his involvement with Chinese military intelligence, instead suggesting he had worked and studied at some quite different institutions.   Asked why, he responded that the Chinese authorities had told him to do so when he had left China (years earlier), and that was the way things were done in China.   That only heightened the concerns.

I wrote various pieces about the issue, noting (for example) that we should no more regard it as acceptable to have in our Parliament a former Chinese Communist Party member, former member of China’s military intelligence, someone who continues to hob-nob with the Chinese embassy, and who has never said a public critical word about Communist China (even as Xi Jinping increases the repressiveness of the regime) than it would have been to have a former KGB/GRU party member, associating closely with the Soviet Embassy, in our Parliament in the 1970s.  No one would have countenanced the latter.  It remains staggering –  and alarming about either the blindness of our elites, or the extent to which they’ve been suborned  (eg Yang is acknowledged as a major National Party fundraiser) –  that the Yang situation still appears to be regarded as acceptable in many quarters.

My own direct involvement was pretty tangential, when at a local candidates meeting a couple of days before the election, I asked a senior National Party minister –  Attorney-General and Minister for the SIS no less – about why it was acceptable to have such a person as a National Party candidate and MP.    Disgracefully, Chris Finlayson suggested that any concerns were just racist and that Professor Brady just didn’t like any foreigners.  Almost as disgracefully, the candidates of the other parties sat mute.

The story has had continued coverage abroad, including a nice New York Times piece a few weeks ago.  Serious –  pretty liberal –  international media such as the NYT and FT have taken the story seriously.    Our own media was slow to.  No doubt that suited the politicians –  at least those of the major parties.

But this week, the story seems to have gathered a fresh head of steam.   Our new Minister of Foreign Affairs, who had  previously talked on the need for an inquiry, by last week was avoiding questions on that topic, suggesting instead that the media could give the issue some more coverage.   And so, no doubt coincidentally, they did.

First, there was a substantial article by Matt Nippert in the Herald. Nippert notes that his article drew on “interviews with diplomatic and intelligence sources over the past month, including several with current security clearances”  –  which is surely less impressive than it sounds, as huge numbers of people in Wellington have security clearances (I did for years) –  but those sources seem to have added only a bit more colour, rather than revealing anything substantially new.    Nippert’s article is organised around what he calls “three unanswered questions” regarding Jian Yang:

  • What is Luoyang University?  This is the institution Yang claimed he had studied and taught at, rather than disclosing from the start that for much of his time he had actually been at a People’s Liberation Army academy.
  • Did Yang have access to sensitive materials (as an MP, member of the foreign affairs committe, and as –  otherwise junior –  MP accompanying John Key and Tim Groser on official trips to China)?
  • Why the official silence?

I’m not sure these really are the biggest issues now.   We know –  because Yang told us –  that his citizenship or residency applications details were (deliberately) misleading.    That is probably quite serious at a personal level, and probably warrants more from government departments than we’ve had to date.

Both Internal Affairs and Immigration NZ have said the revelations about Yang’s background and apparent lack of disclosure were not grounds to review their handling of the matter. A spokesman Immigration NZ went as far as to say “no new information has come to light which would warrant an investigation”, despite the facts being novel enough to warrant front-page coverage last month in the London-based Financial Times.

But, frankly, it seems like a second-order issue.  A man with his background, and ongoing associations, should not be a New Zealand MP, whether or not his citizenship application was all in order.

As for the information Yang may have been exposed to, even Nippert’s sources aren’t really alarmed.

Another source said Yang’s background – and closeness to New Zealand’s PRC embassy – was well-known in senior Wellington circles and had led to self-censorship. “I’m sure everyone is aware of that, and would be careful about what they say in his presence,” the source said.

“Would Jian have seen the briefing papers that were given to John Key? Almost certainly. He sat up the front of the aircraft with the Prime Minister and his advisers – I can’t imagine for a moment he didn’t have access to it.”

The source said this briefing document – unlikely to include top-secret classed intelligence from the Five Eyes network – would have been given a classification of confidential or higher.

In other word, just not that sensitive, even on the government’s own official classifications.

If there was  particular risk to New Zealand interests around his official position it was probably much more about the possibility that he might have one day become a Minister of the Crown.

The Herald tackled the third question –  the official silence –  in an editorial on Tuesday.

International media have rightly shown a keen interest in the affair.  But locally, interest – and answers – have been strangely muted. Neither National leader Bill English nor Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern seemed willing to address the issue during the election campaign. NZ First’s Winston Peters initially demanded an inquiry, but has gone silent on the matter since his elevation to Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Ardern has inherited a role that includes oversight of New Zealand’s intelligence agencies and will undoubtedly have been briefed on the Yang situation. She needs to reassure herself and then, in appropriate fashion, the public that the matter has been – or will promptly be – properly addressed.

But again, the issue of the intelligence services seems to be rather of a red-herring.     Yang, after all, now certainly has no access to anything particularly secret –  he’s an Opposition backbencher.  On the other hand, Raymond Huo –  who appears to also be closely associated with China’s United Front Work Department efforts in New Zealand –  is part of the governing party.    As Professor Brady puts it

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”). Huo told journalists at the Labour campaign launch that the Chinese translation “auspiciously equates to a New Year’s message from President Xi Jinping encouraging China to ‘roll its sleeves up’.”

How sick is that? Invoking associations with Xi Jinping.

As a citizen, what worries me isn’t so much backbenchers giving away New Zealand secrets to China –  apart from anything else, they generally won’t have such access –  as the way in which such Members of Parliament seem to act as if the interests and views of the increasingly oppressive Chinese government and Communist Party are things for them to advance in New Zealand.   That is an issue both main parties look as though they need to confront, rather than being an issue primarily for the intelligence services.  Migrants should be welcome, once they become citizens, to be elected as members of Parliament, but it is probably particularly important for such members to be clear –  not just in words, but in conduct –  that their loyalties are only to the interest of New Zealand and (all) its citizens.  If Chris Liddell  –  a New Zealander on the White House staff –   spent lots of time hob-nobbing with the New Zealand Embassy, the US might reasonably wonder whose interests he was serving.  If Julie-Anne Genter does (which I’m sure she doesn’t) something similar with the US Embassy here, the same concerns would appropriately arise.  And recall that China is not just any country; it is today’s Soviet Union. A threat to all sorts of countries, including the free ones of east Asia.

Our main non-commercial media outlet, Radio New Zealand, was very late to the issue.  But this week they too have done their bit.   First, Bill English finally faced a reasonably searching interview on the subject (on Morning Report).  It was an astonishingly feeble performance, featuring repeated refusals to answer questions in any way other than “you’d have to ask Dr Yang that”, when the leader of the National Party knows that Yang has refused to make himself available for a proper interview, and for weeks has refused to answer any questions (Nippert’s experience as well).    The former Attorney-General, who claimed it was all racist, still holds a senior position in Mr English’s caucus.

And then there was John Campbell, who in his inimitable style last night illustrated the repeated refusal of Yang –  an elected member of Parliament –  to front the media.  According to Campbell, Radio NZ has been trying to get him to talk every day for weeks.  Calls simply go through to voicemail and are never returned.  Radio NZ even went to Yang’s house, but couldn’t get past the (unanswered) buzzer at the gate.

It reflects shockingly poorly on almost everyone in political life involved in this situation:

From the National Party side:

  • Jian Yang
  • Bill English,
  • Peter Goodfellow, President of the National Party,
  • Chris Finlayson, and
  • the rest of the caucus, not one of whom has been willing to break ranks (although Radio NZ did claim senior National Party sources were becoming increasingly uneasy).

And what of the new government?

  • There is the Prime Minister, who has never uttered a disapproving word, in the election campaign or since, about Dr Yang (not even about his silence),
  • The Minister of Foreign Affairs,
  • The leader of the Green Party, a party which appears not to rely on lots of diaspora fundraising, who is often strong on protecting our sovereignty, and yet who raised no concerns,
  • Raymond Huo, who surely some media should ask for a proper interview.

And then, of course, there are the obsequious members of the New Zealand China Council, and former leading figures in the National Party with a personal economic interest in keeping quiet.

Jian Yang’s political career is probably now effectively over.  Perhaps he’ll linger for a while, but it is inconceivable that he could rise any higher.  It is a disgraceful reflection on New Zealand, and on the National Party – and those other parties who could have spoken out and didn’t –  that an unrepentent Communist, unrepentant former intelligence services member of a hostile, expansionist government with a total disregard for human rights, sits in our Parliament still.  And simply refuses to face the media.  But that particular damage is probably done, it is just now a matter of tidying up the mess at some point.

The bigger questions would seem to be about the political and business culture that has been so indifferent to the specifics of Yang, and of Huo, to political fundraising from foreign sources, and to the sort of influence-seeking activities –  both among New Zealand Chinese citizens and in the wider political and economic system –  that Professor Brady has highlighted.    Professor Brady’s paper raises issues that really should be addressed in a proper inquiry, but also in some considerable soul-searching among New Zealand’s political and business elite about how New Zealanders’ interests, and reputation, as a free and independent state are best-served, and how best we –  and similar countries –  resist the inroads the Chinese Communist Party is making and, we can assume from the last Party congress, will only continue to seek to make.  As I noted in an earlier post, trade has muddied the waters: we had a clearer-eyed perspective on the Soviet Union than we seem to have about Communist China, a state on whose fortunes various elite institutions/companies and their chief executives (but not New Zealand’s overall fortunes) depend.   Perhaps our media too might ask themselves some questions, about what took them so long, made them so seemingly reluctant, to ask the hard questions about these issues.  Overseas comentators have been willing to, but the involvement of much of our own media seems quite halting and reluctant at best.

 

Wishful Australian thinking

I’ve been fascinated for some time by the way elements of the right wing of the Australian business and political community have sought to lionise John Key and Bill English.      On the day of his successful party room coup, Malcolm Turnbull was at it

“John Key has been able to achieve very significant economic reforms in New Zealand by doing just that, by taking on and explaining complex issues and then making the case for them. And I, that is certainly something that I believe we should do and Julie and I are very keen to do that again.”

As I noted at the time, I couldn’t think of any such “very significant economic reforms”, although there were various useful modest reforms, offsetting other backward steps.

The “look at New Zealand, why can’t we do it like them” theme has endured to the end.  There was a column along those lines in The Australian the other day headed “Bill English, John Key leave NZ a far stronger economy”, by Nick Cater, Executive Director of the Menzies Research Centre, a think tank affiliated to the Liberal Party (his column is reproduced here).

The column was so full of questionable claims and overstatement that it was almost hard to believe it was written by a serious commentator.  Near the start Cater notes

Key and English were described more than once as the quiet achievers. The governments they led as the bore-cons introduced reforms in tax and welfare while balancing the budget without fanfare or fuss. Seldom has the demise of a New Zealand government caused such political shockwaves on this side of the Tasman. In a period of near-universal political volatility, it raises the dispiriting possibility that simply governing well may no longer be enough. The Key and English legacy compares starkly with Australia’s record over the same period.

The first item is his list of achievements is this

In 2008, when the National Party came to power, New Zealand was 24th on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, six places behind Australia. Since then the positions have been ­reversed. Today New Zealand is in 13th place on the index, eight positions ahead of Australia.

I’m not so familiar with that particular index, and tend myself to use the Fraser Institute’s economic freedom index, partly because there is a long time series of data.

econ freedom

The big story, for both countries, is surely that of a lot of reform and liberalisation in the 1980s and 1990s, and almost nothing material since then.   On this measure, of course, New Zealand does better than Australia, and has at every reading for more than 20 years now.   Perhaps New Zealand policymakers have done slightly better than their Australian counterparts in the last nine years or so but any differences are pretty small.

Cater then turns to GDP outcomes

New Zealanders are still poorer than Australians on average but they are catching up fast. Nine years ago GDP per capita in New Zealand was 30 per cent lower than in Australia, now the gap has narrowed to 19 per cent.

Would that it were true, but it isn’t.    Here is real GDP per capita for the two countries, both indexed to 100 for calendar 2007, just prior to the global recession..

real GDP nz vs aus

Over that time, we’ve done just slightly worse than Australia has.  Cater might argue for starting the comparison from 2008. but I doubt even he is going to credit John Key and Bill English with ending the global recession.

The productivity growth comparisons, of course, are particularly unfavourable to New Zealand, esepcially over the last five years.

aus vs nz ral gdp phw 2

Productivity is something closer to what government policy can usefully and materially influence (although other stuff matters too).

If we assume that governments have the power to control the economy — which incidentally 33 per cent of Australians no longer believe, according to the most recent Australian Electoral Study — then Key and English governed exceedingly well by ­almost any measure.

On the bits governments have a fair influence over we’ve done particularly badly relative to Australia (less badly relative to some other countries).  But there are bits of the economy that national governments have almost no control over whatever.  Commodity prices are perhaps foremost among them.  Our government can’t do anything much about the dairy price and the Australian government can’t do much about, say, iron ore prices.    Fluctuations in the terms of trade affect real per capita income measures even when the volume of production doesn’t change.

TOT aus and NZ

Australia had a huge terms of trade boom up to 2011, and even now if we take the last 15 years as a whole Australia’s terms of trade have increased more than ours have.   But since 2007/08, our terms of trade have done a bit better than Australia’s.  Hard to see how governments on either side of Tasman deserve credit or blame for those developments.

But as a result of these terms of trade swings, on a measure that adjusts for the effects of the terms of trade (real GDI per capita), New Zealand has grown three percentage points faster than Australia since 2007.  A nice-to-have windfall to be sure, but (a) even that gap makes only tiny inroads into the accumulated levels differences between New Zealand and Auatralian incomes, (b) the terms of trade are volatile, and who knows what they’ll do to the income gaps in the next decades, and (c) in the long-run, productivity growth is almost everything, when growth in living standards is in question.

As Cater notes, there has been a big change in trans-Tasman immigration (although even those flows have been quite –  typically –  variable over the last nine years).

The relative change in economic fortunes has changed the migration flow across the Tasman. Inward ­migration from ­Australia exceeded outward ­migration last year for the first time in a quarter of a century.

Of course, that last time –  quarter of a century ago –  was when the Australian labour market was also doing very badly.   New Zealand’s was as well, but when you are looking at moving to another country, conditions in the destination market matter a lot.   Australia has struggled in the last few years, but actually both countries are still among the diminishing number of advanced countries where the unemployment rate is still well above pre-2008 downturns levels.   That reflects no great credit on governments, or central banks, on either side of the Tasman.

Then, of course, there is a fiscal policy.  Personally, I think the outgoing government has done a pretty reasonable job on that score –  as, in fact, its predecessors for the previous 20 years had done.

But even here Cater gets some things quite badly wrong

While treasurer Wayne Swan was doling out cash and spending billions on poorly conceived make-work projects to help Australia survive the 2008-09 ­financial crisis, English gave personal and business tax cuts.

I’m no fan of the Rudd/Swan fiscal stimulus programme, but….. the appropriate comparison here is that we had no active discretionary fiscal stimulus to attempt to counter the recessionary forces.  None.  And the almost accidental stimulus that happened to be in place resulted from the Budget choices of the outgoing Labour government which had put in place tax cuts and spending increases at a time when Treasury was advising them that the government accounts would remain in surplus even after those initiatives.

Of course, there were some tax reforms here  –  in 2010 –  and conventional wisdom tends to count them “a good thing” (I’m less convinced, because the package of measure increased the effective taxation levied on capital income, against the prescriptions of standard economic analysis).   But I’m not aware of any analyst who thinks those changes made a material difference to New Zealand’s economic performance in the last few years.

Cater quotes some debt numbers that I don’t recognise

Today the New Zealand budget is in surplus while Australia is still running deficits. Ten years ago the New Zealand government’s gross debt stood at 25 per cent of GDP while Australia’s sat on 20 per cent. Today the positions are reversed. Australia’s net public debt is at 47 per cent; New Zealand’s hit a peak of 41 per cent in 2012 and has steadily declined to 38.2 per cent.

Here are the OECD’s number for general government net financial liabilities as a share of GDP.

gen govt net liabs nz and aus

Every year for the last 25, Australia’s overall government net debt has been less than ours, and if the gaps between the two countries has closed a bit in the last few years, the change is pretty small and the similarities, in the respective paths, are more striking than the differences.     Of course, we’ve had one nasty shock they haven’t had –  earthquakes.  Then again, they’ve been coping with a really big correction in the terms of trade.

On both the tax and spending sides of the government accounts, we have a slightly bigger government (share of GDP) than Australia –  and more variable one.  None of that has looked like changing over the last nine years.

Perhaps you thought this was just an economic case.  But, no.  Cater is just getting into his stride.

The achievements of Key and English are by no means limited to the economy, however.

Cater appears to be a big fan of the “investment approach” to welfare and related government spending.    I’m still more ambivalent –  the use of data appeals, of course, but big-government joined-up data makes me very nervous (hints of, eg, Chinese social credit scores).   For now, I’m happy to look for evidence of results.  Cater is convinced.

From this thinking flowed a new approach to welfare that has since been adopted by the Abbott and Turnbull governments to great effect.

and

In its second of two [three?] terms the ­National government first halted the long-term trend of rising welfare dependency and then ­reversed it. The number of New Zealanders claiming sole parent benefit has fallen by a quarter as 20,000 single parents found work. Long-term welfare dependency has fallen substantially. In 2012 78,000 New Zealanders had been collecting benefits for 12 months or longer. By June this year the number had fallen to 55,000.

The first sentence is simply wrong.   Here is the MSD data on the number of working-age main benefit recipients as a percentage of the population aged 18 to 64.

benefits 2017

There was a recession in the first term –  welfare benefit numbers rise in recessions –  and then the downward trend that had been in place for the previous decade resumed.   But as of last month, the share of the working age population on these main welfare benefits was only very slightly below where it had been in September 2007.

In a way, that isn’t surprising.  Unemployment is still well above pre-recession levels.   But it should be somewhat troubling, both on that count, and because one component of benefit numbers has dropped away quite sharply.     As Cater notes, the number of sole parents on the benefit has fallen away a lot.  Here is the chart – there is a discontinuity in the series associated with the welfare changes (including labelling changes) in 2013.

DPB

The trend was underway during the decade prior to the recession.  The pace of decline has certainly accelerated since then (at least since 2013), but since the overall number of benefit recipients as a share of the working age population hasn’t changed since 2007, other categories must have increased.

It would also be interesting to see a serious study of just what role policy changes have played even in the decline in sole parent beneficiaries.   After all, teen pregnancy rates have been dropping globally –  for reasons not, I think, that well-understood – and in New Zealand the teen birth rate halved between 2008 and 2016 (but, even so, was still higher than the comparable rate in Australia).  Welcome as that trend is, it seems unlikely that New Zealand government policies will have been a large part of the explanation.

And, of course, over the outgoing government’s term there has been a huge increase in the number of elderly age-benefit recipients (2011 saw the first baby-boomers turning 65).   In the last months of the outgoing government, there was finally talk of lifting the age of eligibility –  something Australia began years ago –  but it was going to happen 20 years hence.  And now –  for now –  it isn’t going to happen at all.

At this point, Cater leaves the numbers behind.

The government’s strategy of taking the public with them on reforms, ­explaining the logic well in advance in language people could follow, adjusting ­expectations and then implementing the promised changes, was remarkably successful until the end.

On what measures I wondered?

And he concludes

For 11 years he and Key had written a counter-narrative to that prevalent in Australia that reform was all but impossible in the era of Facebook and Twitter. While Australia appeared stuck in a policy drought, New Zealand was breaking new ground, discovering new ways to measure government programs by their results and finetuning them accordingly. Feel-good policy, sentimentalism and identity politics were anathema to them.

English and Key proved that centre-right parties were not condemned to be nasty parties, ­focused on numbers rather than people, as they doggedly cleared up their predecessors’ fiscal mess. Devoid of ideology, fiercely pragmatic, self-aware and inspired, the pair stands as inspiration to the rest of the developed world in these anxious and volatile times.

So horrendous house prices, no productivity growth, an export sector shrinking as a share of GDP are the sorts of things that provide an inspiration to the world?  I’m flabbergasted.    The terms of trade have certainly been favourable, and yet even the outgoing Minister for Primary Industries has been heard to talk of the possibilities of “peak cow”.   Where exporters haven’t done badly, it has too often –  export education and dairy being prime examples –  been partly a result of unpriced subsidies and environmental externalities.

Relative to Australia, the story of the last nine years isn’t all bad.  Neither country has been managed that well.    There are some good stories.  Broadly speaking, New Zealand’s fiscal policy is one of them, but too much can be made even of that.  A much lower balance of payments current account deficit is often counted as another good story, except that much of the contraction reflects (a) the slump in global interest rates, reducing the cost of our external indebtedness, and (b) the weakness of investment even years into the recovery phase.   Perhaps we’ve had tidy stewardship, but going nowhere.  A safe pair of hands at the bridge perhaps, but with the ship meandering without clear direction, or any compelling sense of how better outcomes might be achieved.

All of which should not be taken as any sort of enthusiasm for the new government.  No doubt –  like their predecessors –  they’ll do a few sensible things.  But, like their predecessors, at present they (or the constituent parties) show little sign of either understanding the nature of New Zealand’s dismal long-term economic performance, or of adopting the sorts of policies that could at last begin to reverse that decline.  A pessimist might incline to the view that things may even get gradually worse –  and here I’m not thinking of the cyclical pessimism Winston Peters was enunciating on Thursday night.

There have been very few periods in the last 150 years when policy has been much better managed in New Zealand than in Australia.   The last nine do-little-or-nothing years (following on from a similar nine years) hasn’t been one of those periods.   That is to the credit of neither New Zealand or Australian politicians, but of course Australia’s starting point is so much less bad than ours.

 

 

 

Australia does better than us

I’m old-fashioned.  Key bureaucrats should mostly be seen and not heard.  Officials advise, ministers decide.  And ministers are the ones we get to hold to account, weakly or otherwise, through the political and electoral process.

The chief executive of New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade doesn’t appear to give many speeches, at least not on-the-record.  That is, mostly, as it should be.  But the Secretary of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson, gave a very interesting address in Adelaide the other day on Australia and China.  It was sufficiently clear and forthright that one can only assume she had the full endorsement of the Australian government.

The speech was given in a slightly odd context.  It was the annual lecture of the Confucius Institute at the University of Adelaide.    There are hundreds of these Confucius Institutes in universities around the world (several in New Zealand),  funded by the government of the People’s Republic of China to promote the interests of China. A couple of years back

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) called for agreements between Confucius Institutes and nearly 100 universities to be either cancelled or renegotiated so that they properly reflected Western values of free speech.

“Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom,” the AAUP said in a statement, urging US universities to “cease their involvement” with the institutes unless major reforms are instituted.

China’s network of 300 Confucius Institutes – including 11 branches in on British university campuses – can be a lucrative source of funds for universities but are exempt from many of the basic rules governing academic discourse.

They are designed to project a favourable image of China’s ruling Communist Party around the world through language and cultural programmes, but are allowed to restrict discussions of topics unpalatable to China’s ruling Communist Party such as the occupation of Tibet.

The University of Chicago has shut their Confucius Institute over related concerns.

But if Frances Adamson didn’t tackle that specific issue head-on (and had some polite remarks to her hosts), what she did say was pretty blunt, even if none of it should have been controversial in a free, open and democratic society reflecting on its relationship with an expansionist repressive authoritarian state that is moving further away from, not nearer to, the sort of values that have shaped the West.

While we are complementary economies, there is no getting around the fact that Australia and China are very different places, with different political and legal systems, values and world views.

A pretty simple statement, but I’m not sure I’ve seen its like from our own leading ministers and officials.

Partly this is because the closer we get, and the more we interact, the more we need to account for and manage the differences between us – differences that cannot be wished away but that should not prevent the further development of relations between us.
This emphasises the need for a healthy dose of tolerance, for mutual respect and for openness to the patterns of give and take that underpin any successful relationship.
We understand the hesitation in China to ‘air the laundry’ so to speak.

Australians are happy – perhaps too happy sometimes – to tell each other exactly what we think.

This of course reflects different cultural attitudes:

In China, the thinking is that proper friends will not say things that offend;

Whereas in Australia, a willingness to be frank is proof of a genuine friendship.

These characteristics apply as well to our government-level interactions, something that both sides have come to recognise (though not necessarily always accept!).

Each of our approaches has utility, and we will need large measures of both respect and candour as we conduct the far-sighted diplomacy necessary to bridge our differences and progress our common interests.

Both approaches, the saving of face and the preference for frankness, also have shortcomings.

For our part, Australians should, and I am sure will, be authentic and true to our own selves, while respecting the practice of others.

Australia is a pluralistic society: a place where open debate, individual rights and freedoms are the foundation upon which we have built our political and economic systems. We are a society that thrives on the competition of ideas.

The health and vibrancy of Australia’s democracy is fundamental to our national success – it helps explain why migrants come to our shores and why they can succeed based on their talents and hard work.

And to students, in the context of various recent reports in Australia of a minority of PRC students, and PRC-dominated Chinese students associations, trying to suppress discussion

And here I want to address my remarks to those of you who are international students:
We want you to experience our contest of ideas and participate fully in it, as it is part of what constitutes an authentic Australian education.

You have paid your money; you are surely entitled to the full experience.

No doubt there will be times when you encounter things which to you are unusual, unsettling, or perhaps seem plain wrong. And can I tell you, as someone who has studied overseas in three different continents, if you aren’t encountering strange and challenging things you aren’t getting out enough! So when you do, let me encourage you not to silently withdraw, or blindly condemn, but to respectfully engage.

The silencing of anyone in our society – from students to lecturers to politicians – is an affront to our values.

Enforced silence runs counter to academic freedom. It is only by discussion, and of course discussion which is courteous, that falsehoods can be corrected.

Respectful and patient discourse with those with whom you disagree is a fundamental skill for our ever-more-connected contemporary world.

and to a wider audience

There has been much attention in recent months to the quality and reliability of news and information available to us.

We have seen accusations of ‘fake news’ and we have seen attempts at untoward influence and interference.

This is worrying and is being taken seriously in a number of countries. In our case, the Prime Minister has said: “The sovereignty of Australia, the sovereignty of our democratic processes, free from foreign interference is a matter of the highest concern.”

The Australian Government takes seriously its responsibility to ensure a robust legal framework within which free and open debate is protected and can flourish. That work is proceeding.

As well, Governments themselves must expect, and invite, scrutiny of their actions and their policy positions.

As China becomes more important to Australia’s future and to that of the world, it follows that there will be more scrutiny of China, including the ways in which it seeks to exercise influence internationally.

All of us here, as participants in a free society, have responsibilities as well.

It is our responsibility to challenge and question ‘fake news’. We can readily reduce the risk of being manipulated by seeking out collateral and confirmatory information, by testing through a second opinion.

And when confronted with awkward choices, it is up to us to choose our response, whether to make an uncomfortable compromise or decide instead to remain true to our values, “immune from intolerance or external influence” as Adelaide University’s founders envisaged.

The prospect of public scrutiny is an excellent discipline, and a vital corrective for our political culture and our institutions, including our universities.

We want to ensure these institutions remain secure and resilient.

Our success depends in part on the legal framework, but also on the attitudes and responses of all of us when exposed to unexpected pressure.

And in contrast, what do we have in New Zealand?   Almost none of our political party leaders has been willing to comment in any substantive way on the concerns raised in the recent paper by Professor Anne-Marie Brady.    The leaders of the National Party, the Labour Party, and the Green Party seem totally unbothered about –  and unwilling to substantively discuss – having as a member of Parliament a (now) acknowledged member of the Chinese Communist Party and former member of the Chinese intelligence services, who is now widely credited as one of the National Party’s chief fundraisers.  Speeches on China topics by our own Ministers of Foreign Affairs seem mostly to take on a fawning and deferential tone, as if they are afraid of asserting, or embarrassed by, our own values.  And the Attorney-General was just reduced to making stuff up (lies) and personal attacks on institutions raising concerns.

The speech by the Australian Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been widely reported in the Australian media – and she’s just a (very senior) bureaucrat.   And what of New Zealand?

It remains striking, puzzling, and more than a little disturbing, just how little media attention either the general or the specific issues have received in the New Zealand media.    There is a column in this morning’s Herald by Bryan Gould, former Vice-Chancellor of Waikato University and former UK Labour MP prompted by the Brady paper (I’m told the column is on line but I couldn’t find it UPDATE:  here).   In it Gould opens thus:

The Herald’s readiness to report the important conclusions of University of Canterbury research into links between China and past and present New Zealand politicians and their family members is to be commended.

Surely in a serious country with media doing the job of providing searching scrutiny, it wouldn’t be cause for self-congratulation, but something just taken for granted?  A leading academic raises serious concerns about the extent of a powerful country’s influence in New Zealand and he seriously suggests that it might not be reported by the country’s largest newspaper?

It would be interesting to know whether the issues have been reported in the Chinese Herald (I gather not), but even if we stick to the English language media, just how much reporting has there in fact been?  I found a total of two stories in the Herald, one (on a quite specific element) on Stuff, nothing on Radio New Zealand (a non-commercial broadcaster with an extensive news and current affairs operation), a single story of Newsroom, nothing on TVNZ and nothing on Newshub.  Perhaps I missed the odd story, but what is striking is not the New Zealand coverage of the issues and concerns, but the lack of coverage and lack (apparently, thus far) of any sustained follow-up.    (And has the New Zealand media ever looked searchingly at those Confucius Institutes?)

The contrast with Australia is striking, worrying, and sad.  I don’t really buy the stories of extreme economic vulnerability to China, but if anything Australia’s direct economic exposure is a bit larger than ours.  And yet officials, ministers, and media in Australia are willing to speak up, and have an open and vigorous debate on the issues.  Reasonable people might differ on appropriate policy responses, but who is seriously going to defend the deafening silence as the way in which a free and open society should handle such issues?

 

A researcher responds to Reddell on emissions and immigration

I’m sitting here a bit puzzled at what approach to contesting or debating policy they now teach and model at Oxford University, or practice at Auckland University of Technology.

A few weeks ago, I posted here a submission I’d made to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into how New Zealand might make a transition to a low-emissions economy, and arguing that immigration policy should at least be considered by the Commission as one material influence on total New Zealand emissions, and as a potential tool to facilitate a cost-effective pursuit of the goverment’s emissions target.   Late last week, Newsroom published a column of mine based on that submission.       In that column I noted that

New Zealand has committed to a fairly ambitious emissions reduction target as part of the Paris climate agreement.  Of course, some political parties think the target isn’t ambitious enough, but New Zealand faces an unusual set of factors that affect our ability to reduce emissions here at moderate cost.  Appropriate policy responses, and the choice of the mix of instruments we choose to deploy, need to take account of that distinctive mix.

and concluded

The aim of a successful adjustment to a low-emissions economy is not to don a hair shirt and “feel the pain”. It isn’t to signal our virtue either. Rather, the aim should be to make the adjustment with as small a net economic cost to New Zealanders – as small a drain on our future material living standards – as possible. Lowering the immigration target looks like an instrument that needs to be seriously considered –  including by the Productivity Commission – if that goal is to be successfully pursued.

The backdrop of course –  and a point made in both the submission and my column – was the arguments I have been running for some years now suggesting that immigration policy itself been damaging to our economic performance, and thus has come at some net economic cost to New Zealanders.

But one academic reader decided that rather than engage primarily on the substance of the arguments I’d made –  the bottom line of which, after all, was simply that the Productivity Commission shouldn’t just ignore the issue –  he’d try to muddy the waters with some slurs.

David Hall is a young academic researcher at AUT, having returned to New Zealand relatively recently after doing a D. Phil at Oxford.   While he was in the UK he, for a time, had a regular Listener column.   His academic background appears to be in politics rather than economics, but he has been writing about climate change policy and was the editor of the recently-published BWB Texts book Fair Borders? Migration Policy in the Twenty-First Century, a collection primarily about aspects of New Zealand’s approach to and experience of immigration.  I’ve written previously about a couple of chapters in the book (here and here).  As I noted in the latter of those posts

As much as I can, I try to read and engage with material that is supportive of New Zealand’s unusually open immigration policy.   One should learn by doing so, and in any case there is nothing gained by responding to straw men, or the weakest arguments people on the other side are making.

Newsroom has published a response by Hall to my column (they even illustrated it with a photo of my own suburb, Island Bay).    There are some points of substance in Hall’s response, and I want to come back to them in a separate post.

But it was these two paragraphs that really annoyed me

What’s striking about all this is not only Reddell’s argument is from the perspective of climate change, but also economics. He resists the orthodox view that migration has a modest positive impact on national GDP. I’m no enemy of disciplinary iconoclasm, but it does beg for robust positive arguments. Reddell’s appeals to uncertainty (economists cannot prove definitively that migration increases GDP, therefore it might not be true) do not count. Climate scientists are all too familiar with this kind of denial.

So if economic evidence cannot always carry his arguments, one can only conclude that non-economic reasons are doing some of the work. To Reddell’s credit, he is explicit about his concerns for cultural cohesion, or that “Islam is a threat to the West, and a threat to the church wherever it is found”. These are real reasons for wanting to reduce immigration, but should be debated on their ethical and sociological merits, not couched in an idiosyncratic take on climate policy.

This is frankly pretty scurrilous stuff.

Apparently, when it comes to the economics of immigration, all I’m doing is “appealing to uncertainty” not advancing any “robust positive arguments”.  This is, so he claims, the economics equivalent of “climate change denial”.

First, lets look at what I’d actually said in my column

Of course, if there were clear and material economic benefits to New Zealanders from the high target rate of non-citizen immigration (the centrepiece of which is the 45,000 per annum residence approvals “target”) it might well be cheaper (less costly to New Zealanders) to cut emissions in other ways, using other instruments. But those sort of  gains –  lifts in productivity – can’t simply be taken for granted in New Zealand. Despite claims from various lobby groups that the economic gains (to natives) of immigration are clear in the economics literature, little empirical research specific to New Zealand has been undertaken. And there is good reason – notably our remoteness – to leave open the possibility that any gains from immigration may be much smaller here than they might be in, say, a country closer to the global centres of economic activity, whether in Europe, Asia, or North America.

Even many of those who are broadly supportive of New Zealand’s past approach to immigration policy will now generally acknowledge that any gains to New Zealanders may be quite small. And for some years now, I’ve been arguing for a more far-reaching interpretation of modern New Zealand economic history: that our persistently high rates of (non-citizen) immigration have held back our productivity performance (i.e. come at a net economic cost to New Zealanders).

It isn’t controversial to suggest that there has been little empirical research specific to New Zealand on the contribution of immigration policy to New Zealand’s economic performance.  It is simply an accepted fact –  and the chair of the strongly pro-immigration New Zealand Initiative accepted as much in an exchange here last year.   I also don’t think it is controversial to suggest that any economic gains to New Zealanders may be quite small –  it was, as I recall, the conclusion of Hayden Glass and Julie Fry (both generally pro-immigration) in their BWB Texts book last year.   Remoteness is generally accepted as an issue in New Zealand’s economic performance –  even if reasonable people differ on the implications and appropriate policy responses.

And then there was the reference to “and for some years now I’ve been arguing”.  Since the point of the emissions/immigration column was to argue that the connection should be considered, not to attempt to demonstrate that immigration has been economically costly, I didn’t elaborate in that column.  But it would, to most readers, have been a hint that there was a bit more to the argument than “appealing to uncertainty”.  If Hall himself hadn’t been familiar with my arguments, Google would willingly have helped.   There are, I see, 140 posts on this blog tagged with “immigration”, and there are plenty of speeches and papers, and a lengthy commentary on the New Zealand Initiative’s major piece earlier this year making the case for New Zealand’s immigration policy.  Only last week, in a post where I outlined some specific alternative immigration policy proposals, I linked to a recent speech outlining the economic case –  specific to New Zealand –  for rather lower target rates of non-citizen immigration.  People might disagree with my economic arguments and reading of New Zealand’s economic history, but none of those arguments is a mystery to anyone interested.

(In – very  – short, (a) extreme remoteness makes if very difficult to build many high productivity businesses here that aren’t natural resource based, and (b) in a country with modest savings rates, rapid population growth has resulted in a combination of high real interest rates and a high real exchange rate, discouraging business investment and particularly that in the tradables –  internationally competitive – sectors, on which small successful economies typically depend. I add to the mix how unusually large our immigration target is and how, despite the official rhetoric, the skill levels of the average and marginal migrants are not particularly high.)

But Hall’s rhetorical strategy rests on making as if none of this extensive body of argumentation and analysis exists, that I’m playing distraction, and then falling back on the “Muslim card”.

In parallel to this blog, I maintain a little-read (and these days, little written) blog where I occasionally write on matters of religious faith and practice, and sometimes on a Christian perspective on public policy issues.  If there is a target audience it is fellow Christians and in writing there I take for granted the authority of the Bible, and of church teaching and tradition over 2000 years.  I very rarely link to it here, as there is typically little overlap in subject matter and I know that most of the readers of this blog don’t share those presuppositions.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a couple of posts about refugee policy, prompted by some domestic commentary on the possible economic case for taking more refugees (in particular from Syria).   On this blog, I wrote something fairly short and narrowly focused on the economics, noting that there were unlikely to be net economic benefits to New Zealanders.  I concluded that

None of which is an argument for not taking refugees.  Doing so is mainly a humanitarian choice, not something we do because we benefit from doing so.  I don’t have a strong view on how many refugees New Zealand should take, but I don’t think possible economic benefits to us should be a factor one way or the other.

We do good because it is right to do so, not for what it might do for us.  Whether “doing good” in this case involves taking more refugees, or donating more money to cost-effectively assist in refugee support in the region, is a more open question.

A day or so later I wrote a longer post on my Christian blog on the refugee issue through the lens of the gospel, and included a link to that post at the end of the “economics of refugees” post.   At the end of quite a long post, aimed at Christian readers (and none of which I would resile from now) I included the phrase Hall now seeks to highlight.  Here is the full text

Islam is a threat to the West, and a threat to the church wherever it is found.  Political authorities in the West were right, and well-advised, to resist in the past, and at the Battle of Tours, at Lepanto, and at the gates of Vienna, to begin to turn the tide.    We owe it to the next generations of our own people to resist the creeping inroads of Islam.  If New Zealanders convert to that faith, there is of course little we can do, but neither compassion nor common sense requires, or suggests it would be prudent, for Western countries with any sense of their own identity to take in large numbers of Syrian refugees or migrants.

Frankly, I was a bit puzzled as to how Hall –  an apparently secular academic – was aware of this obscure post, with perhaps 100 readers in total, but not of the substance of my economic arguments.  But in an email exchange overnight, he tells me that he is actually familiar with this blog, and presumably with its economic arguments, and found the Christian post on refugees through this blog.   At least that answered that question, even if it doesn’t explain his attempt to pretend that I’m not raising substantive, or developed, economic arguments.

And as he acknowledges that he is familiar with this blog, perhaps he might have considered looking at the material I’ve posted here on the issues around culture, diversity etc.      There was, for example, this address to a Goethe Institute event on diversity etc.   Or a post earlier this year where I explicitly laid out some thoughts on culture and identity issues in response to one chapter of the New Zealand Initiative’s report.

I began the post by making the point I often use

My focus has tended to be on economic issues –  and thus to be largely indifferent on that count whether the migrants came from Brighton, Bangalore, Beijing, Brisbane or Bogota.  Almost all of my concerns about the economic impact of New Zealand’s immigration programme would remain equally valid if all, or almost all, our immigrants were coming from the United Kingdom –  as was the case for many decades.

Nonetheless, I noted that there were many groups of people who I would not have welcomed large number of migrants from

So long as we vote our culture out of existence the Initiative apparently has no problem.  Process appears to trump substance.  For me, I wouldn’t have wanted a million Afrikaners in the 1980s, even if they were only going to vote for an apartheid system, not breaking the law to do so.  I wouldn’t have wanted a million white US Southerners in the 1960s, even if they were only going to vote for an apartheid system, and not break the law to do so.  And there are plenty of other obvious examples elsewhere –  not necessarily about people bringing an agenda, but bringing a culture and a set of cultural preferences that are different than those that have prevailed here (not even necessarily antithetical, but perhaps orthogonal, or just not that well-aligned).

I went on, talking about the Initiative

They take too lightly what it means to maintain a stable democratic society, or even to preserve the interests and values of those who had already formed a commuity here.    I don’t want stoning for adultery, even if it was adopted by democratic preference.  And I don’t want a political system as flawed as Italy’s,even if evolved by law and practice.   We have something very good in New Zealand, and we should nurture and cherish it.  It mightn’t be –  it isn’t –  perfect, but it is ours, and has evolved through our own choices and beliefs.  For me, as a Christian, I’m not even sure how hospitable the country/community any longer is to my sorts of beliefs – the prevalent “religion” here is now secularism, with all its beliefs and priorities and taboos – but we should deal with those challenges as New Zealanders – not having politicians and bureaucrats imposing their preferences on future population composition/structure.

But the New Zealand Initiative report seems to concerned about nothing much more than the risk of terrorism.

A commonly cited concern in the immigration debate is of extremism. The fear of importing extremism through the migration channel is not unreasonable. The bombing of the Brussels Airport in 2016, in which 32 people were killed, or the Bataclan theatre attack in Paris where 90 people were murdered, shows just how real the risk is.

The report devotes several pages to attempting to argue that (a) the risk is small in New Zealand because we do such a good job of integrating immigrants, and (b) that the immigration system isn’t very relevant to this risk anyway.

The point they simply never mention is that in many respects New Zealand has been fortunate.  For all the huge number of migrants we’ve taken over the years, only a rather small proportion have been Muslim.

I went on

They highlight Germany –  perhaps reflecting the Director’s background –  where integration of Turkish migrants hasn’t worked particularly well over the decades, while barely mentioning the United Kingdom which is generally regarding as having done a much better job, and yet where middle class second generation terrorists and ISIS fighters have been a real and serious threat.  Here is the Guardian’s report on comments just the other day from a leading UK official –  the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation –  that the UK now faces a level of threat not seen since the IRA in the 1970s.  Four Lions was hilarious, but it only made sense in a context where the issue –  the terror threat –  is real.

But the Initiative argues that few terrorists are first generation immigrants, and some come on tourist or student visas (eg the 9/11 attackers) and so the immigration system isn’t to blame, or the source of a solution.  I’d largely agree when it comes to tourists, and perhaps even to students –  although why our government continues to pursue students from Saudi Arabia, at least one of whom subsequently went rogue having become apparently become radicalised in New Zealand, is another question.   But there are no second generation people if there is no first generation immigration of people from countries/religions with backgrounds that create a possibility of that risk.  Of course the numbers are small, and most people –  Islamic or not –  are horrified at the prospect of terrorism, or of their children taking their path.  But no non-citizens have a right to settle in New Zealand, and we can reduce one risk  –  avoiding problems that even Australia faces – by continuing to avoid material Muslim migration.

Having said that, I remain unconvinced that terrorism is the biggest issue.  Terrorists don’t pose a national security risk.  Whatever their cause, they typically kill a modest number of people, in attacks that are shocking at the time, and devastating to those killed.  But they simply don’t threaten the state –  be it France, Belgium, Netherlands, the US, or Europe.  Perhaps what they do is indirectly threaten our freedoms –  the surveillance state has become ever more pervasive, even here in New Zealand, supposedly (and perhaps even practically) in our own interests.

The bigger issue is simply that people from different cultures don’t leave those cultures (and the embedded priors) behind when they move to another country –  even if, in principle, they are moving because of what appeals about the new country.  In small numbers, none of it matters much.  Assimilation typically absorbs the new arrivals.  In large numbers, from quite different cultures, it is something quite different.  A million French people here might offer some good and some bad features.  Same goes for a million Chinese or Filipinos.  But the culture –  the code of how things are done here, here they work here –  is changed in the process.

So, Dr Hall, despite your attempts to suggest otherwise, basically none of my concerns about New Zealand’s immigration policy have anything to do with Islam at all.  Very few of the huge number of migrants we’ve taken over the years have been from Muslim backgrounds. It simply isn’t an issue New Zealand has faced (unlike, say, Australia).   As I’ve said previously, my economic arguments are blind to which country, or religious background, immigrants have come from.  We’ve taken lots and lots of people, from wherever, and the numbers are –  on my argument –  the issue, not the origins.   Those arguments apply as strongly to the post-war decades –  when most of the immigration was from the UK –  as they do in the last couple of decades.    And – to revert to the emissions/immigration connection, all those migrants –  wherever they’ve come from –  have added to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions.

(To be clear, I would be uneasy about large scale Muslim immigration, on non-economic grounds.  But I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be alone in that –  in an exchange on his blog earlier in the year, even strongly pro-immigration New Zealand Initiative Chief Economist Eric Crampton noted that his one area of concern might be migrants who would undermine our democratic norms.  Eric seems to be quite strongly anti-Christian (and probably anti all religions) but he acknowledged that large numbers of Wahhabi Saudi immigrants –  not in prospect –  would be a serious concern.)

In reading some more of Hall’s own views on immigration, I found an interview with him in which he notes

But we also need to redistribute power and especially to give Maori greater influence over the ends and means of migration policy. I support Tahu and Arama’s call for tangata whenua to exercise greater influence on border policy as part of an emboldened tino rangatiratanga, not least because Māori have the most to lose from unfair migration.

I don’t agree with him on that, but my own thoughts on the implications of immigration policy for the Maori place in New Zealand are in the Goethe Institute piece linked to earlier and in a fairly-read post here earlier in the year, again prompted partly by the Initiative’s report.  In it I raised, for a general audience, concerns perhaps not a million miles from some of his own.

But don’t try to pretend that (a) there are not serious economic questions to be answered about the impact of our large-scale immigration programme, or (b) that I have not posed them, almost ad nauseum.   I’ll come back to some of the specifics around population and emissions targets, and the place of national policy in a wider world, in a separate post.