Reflecting on Jim Anderton

I have a pleasant memory of the only time I met Jim Anderton. One of his daughters was in the same class as me at Remuera Intermediate, and at the end of the year the Andertons hosted a class barbecue at their home just up the street from the school.   I was a youthful political junkie and Jim Anderton was running for Mayor of Auckland.  It was a pleasant evening and he seemed to be a lively and engaged parent (later struck by the awfulness of the suicide of another daughter).

Accounts suggest that Anderton did a good job of helping to revitalise the Labour Party organisation in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  He was, for the time, a moderniser, instrumental in helping reduce the direct influence of the trade unions in the party, and promoting the selection of some able candidates who hadn’t served time in the party (eg Geoffrey Palmer).  Various tributes talk of a personal, and practical, generosity.

I don’t suppose either that there was any doubt that he pursued causes he believed in, and that those causes were, more or less, what he regarded as being in the best interests of New Zealanders (perhaps especially “ordinary working New Zealanders”).   Probably most politicians do.  Sometimes they are mostly right about the merits of the causes they pursue, and sometimes not.    In Anderton’s case, even if one agreeed with the sort of outcomes he might have hoped for, his views on the best means seem –  perhaps even more so with hindsight than at the time –  to have been pretty consistently wrong.   And for all the public talk in the last few days about Anderton’s contribution to New Zealand, few (if any) of the things he opposed in the 1980s have been unwound/reversed, and few of the things he championed when he served later as an effective senior minister have done much for New Zealanders.

Take the 1980s when, upon entering Parliament in 1984, Anderton quickly isolated himself in caucus.  Even before that election, he’d opposed the CER agreement with Australia, and opposed Roger Douglas’s talk of a need for a devaluation and a reduction in the real exchange rate.  Even after the 1984 election, in circumstances of quasi-crisis, Anderton still opposed the by-then inevitable devaluation –  and in league with Sir Robert Muldoon sought to use a select committee to run a kangaroo-court inquiry, to undermine the choices his own government had made.   He was opposed to GST, and he was opposed to creating SOEs for state-trading operations.   He opposed privatisations, whether small or large.   Of the large, there was vocal opposition to the sale of the BNZ and of Telecom.  I suspect the list of reform measures, not subsequently unwound, that Anderton did enthusiastically support would be considerably shorter –  perhaps vanishingly so –  than the list of those he opposed.

As a pure political achievement, to have survived resigning from the Labour Party – in a pre MMP period –  was worthy of note.  But then Winston Peters did much the same thing –  and he’d had the courage to resign his seat and win a by-election to return to Parliament.  And the distinctive Jim Anderton party has long since disappeared, as Anderton returned to the Labour fold.

And what causes did he champion as a senior minister (for a time, deputy prime minister, in the fifth Labour government).   Probably the institution that will be always associated with Anderton’s name is Kiwibank: it certainly wouldn’t have existed without him.  But to what end?   Has Kiwibank changed the shape of New Zealand banking?  Not in ways I can see.  It remains a pretty small player, operating in segments of the market where there has always been plenty of competition.  It hasn’t come to a sticky end –  as many state-owned banks have here and abroad –  but we’ve never had the data to know whether, even on strictly commercial grounds, the establishment of the bank was a good deal for taxpayers (but the fact that no private new entrant has tried something similar suggests probably not).   If simply promoting competition in banking had been the goal, perhaps it would have been preferable to have prevented the takeover of The National Bank by the ANZ?

There has been talk in the last few days of Anderton’s contribution to “revitalising the regions”.  I’m not sure what this can possibly mean –  even allowing for a few government offices being decentralised (at some cost) around regional centres.   Generally, the real exchange rate mattters much more for the economic health of the regions than direct stuff governments do.   Anderton was Minister of Economic Development.  In that role, he was keen on using taxpayer money to subsidise yacht-building (which didn’t end well), and a champion of film industry subsidies.   In tributes this week, there has also been the suggestion that Anderton was one of those responsible for the creation of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, something I hadn’t heard before.   If so, I guess he deserves some partial credit for the fiscal restraint the then Labour government exercised in its first few years.  Beyond that, what was created was a leveraged speculative investment fund –  not a model followed, as far as I can tell, in other advanced economy –   with returns that over almost 15 years now really only seem to approximately compensate for the high risks the taxpayer is being exposed to.  No doubt Anderton opposed the decision in 1989 or 1990 to start raising the NZS eligibility age from 60 to 65, and the same opposition to any further increase in the age beyond 65 –  even though it is a step many other advanced countries have taken, as life expectancies improved –  was presumably behind any involvement he had in the creation of the NZSF.  In so doing, once again his hand was involved in holding back sensible gradual reforms, and keeping New Zealand a bit poorer than it need be.

I suspect many of the tributes of the last few days are mostly a reflection of Anderton’s part in the Labour reconcilation.  The prodigal son returned –  having been one of the leading figures in fomenting the civil wars in the first place, before walking out of the party.   They were tumultuous years, and few things are nastier than civil wars.  Anderton doesn’t ever seem to have been a team player, but by the end of his career he seem to have found his place back alongside the team he started with.

But from a whole-of-nation perspective, what did Anderton accomplish?     If the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s haven’t produced the results the advocates hoped for –  we still drift, more slowly, further behind other advanced countries – that wasn’t for the sorts of reasons Anderton advanced.  Had we followed his advice, we’d most likely now be poorer still –  and many of the issues around equality and social cohesion that he worried about might have been no more effectively addressed.     In the end, Anderton is perhaps best seen as a belated figure from the New Zealand of the 1950s and 60s.  There was a lot to like about the New Zealand of those years –  some of the best living standards in the world then – for all the increasingly costly distortions to our economy.   There are parallels to Muldoon –  who famously told a TV interviewer of his goal to leave New Zealand no worse than he found it –  both in the genuineness of their concerns, and the wrongness of too many of their policy stances.  Both seemed to back very reluctantly into the future, with all too much willingness to trust our fortunes to the state, and the possible winners identified by politicians and officials, rather than to the market.

Shameless and shameful

On Monday, just across the road from Parliament, Victoria University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies hosted a lunchtime lecture from Professor Anne-Marie Brady.  The lecture was built around her Magic Weapons paper on the extent of Chinese government/Party influence activities in New Zealand (and elsewhere), and her shorter policy brief with some specific proposals for the new government on how to deal with the issue (I wrote about that latter piece recently here).     (Radio New Zealand also had a good interview with Brady this morning, prompted by the new legislation announced yesterday by the Australian government, as part of its efforts to deal with this official Chinese interference.)

New Zealanders owe Professor Brady a considerable debt of gratitude for, first, writing her detailed paper, and secondly for deciding to put it in the public domain (it was done as part of an international project on Chinese influence-seeking activities globally, and the papers by other scholars have not yet been made public).    Her paper has found a receptive audience internationally (and she mentioned that Francis Fukayama has underway work for a similar paper on Chinese influence-seeking in the US).

Listening to her, one gets the sense that she isn’t that comfortable in the public spotlight.  Many academics aren’t.   In her lecture the other day she felt the need to include a photo of her Chinese husband and her three half-Chinese children –  no doubt a push back against the sort of despicable pre-election attempt to discredit her and her research tried by the then Attorney-General.  It can be a lonely position for an academic when her expert and well-documented research runs head-on into a wall of political indifference (or worse), vested interests, and a media which seems not quite sure whether or not this is a “proper” issue even to be talking about.    It is not as if (I’m aware that ) anyone has seriously sought to question the factual basis of her paper, or has demonstrated major flaws in her analysis and reasoning.   It seems as if there is just a desperate desire that she, and the issue, would go away.    Absent that, the political and business elites simply want to pretend it doesn’t exist.   I hope she doesn’t just retreat to her study.

Her Victoria lecture the other day covered pretty familiar ground (although many of the attendees indicated that they hadn’t read either of her papers so much will have been new for them).     There was:

  • the active efforts (largely successful) of the Communist Party to get effective control of almost all Chinese language media in New Zealand (similar story in Australia) –  and thus the story of the issues she is raising goes unreported in that media,
  • the efforts of suborn former senior politicians, with roles that align their personal economic interests with those of the Chinese authorites,
  • concerns about political donations, especially from individuals/entities with close ties to the CCP, and the associated close ties between political party leaders and China,
  • Chinese government interests in influencing New Zealand, both to stay quiet on issues of concern to China, and to detach New Zealand from its historical defence and intelligence relationships,
  • China’s interests in Antartica,
  • Confucius Institutes, funded and controlled by China, as part of New Zealand universities, complete with restrictions on what can be talked about,
  • efforts to promote ethnic Chinese New Zealand citizens, with those ties to the Embassy/CCP, into electoral politics –  in New Zealand’s case, both Jian Yang and Raymond Huo.

Huo is now chair of Parliament’s Justice Committee – the same Huo who, as she pointed out, is responsible for Labour campaigning for the Chinese vote under a Xi Jinping slogan, and who – Professor Brady reports –  was present at a meeting in Auckland earlier this year in which Communist Party propaganda chiefs (“propaganda” is apparently a literal translation of the role/office) met with local Chinese language media to offer “guidance” on how issues of interest to China should be reported.   A serving member of New Zealand’s Parliament…….

Brady noted that the Communist Party’s United Front work has always been an integral element in how the Party works, but that the efforts are now being undertaken with an intensity and importance that is greater than at any time since 1949, when the CCP took power.  It is a China that has thrown off Deng Xiaoping’s injunction (post Tiananmen) that China should mask its growing power and bide its time.

When it came to the New Zealand government, in some respects I thought Professor Brady pulled her punches (although she was happy to note that she couldn’t understand how it was that National Party MP Jian Yang – self-confessed Communist Party member, former member of the Chinese intelligence services, and someone who has acknowledged misrepresenting his past on residency/citizenship application papers –  is still in Parliament).   I’m not sure how much of that is tactical –  giving the new government a chance, hoping to be heard by talking constructively.   I fear that any such hope is misplaced.

In just the last week we’ve had a couple of episodes that confirm that the new government is quite as craven –  indifferent, obsequious –  as its predecessor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the same Chinese Communist Party (and associated state) that

  • flouts international law, including with its aggressive expansionism in the South China Sea,
  • denies any political rights to its own people,
  • that is directly responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people (and which only just pulled back from its forced abortions practices),
  • lets dissidents die in prison,
  • has no concept of the rule of law,
  • persecutes religious believers (Christian, Muslim, Falun Gong or whatever),
  • actively interferes in the domestic politics of other countries in all manner of different ways,
  • and so on.

In her lecture the other day, Professor Brady mentioned Haworth’s comments, but this was one of the places she pulled her punches.  She asked, rhetorically, if we could imagine a New Zealand political party president attending a Republican Party convention and making such public remarks.   Or even a Russian political event.    At one level it is a fair point –  Haworth’s participation in this CCP event, and his positive comments, have gone totally unremarked in the New Zealand media (or from Opposition parties), in a way that would be simply inconceivable in those other cases.    But at another, it falls into the trap beloved of China-sympathisers and people on the left (one such academic at her lecture attempted this), of drawing a moral equivalence between, say, the United States and the UK on the one hand, and Communist China on the other.    A much better comparison would be to ask if we could imagine a major New Zealand political party President attending Nazi Party congresses pre-war or Soviet Communist party congresses?  And whether, even if it had happened, we would look back now with equanimity at associating so strongly with such an evil.  Such is the CCP.   The fact that certain New Zealand firms make a lot of money trading with them –  or that our political parties appear to raise large donations –  doesn’t change that character.

Former National Party Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, was apparently also at the meeting, speaking warmly of China’s One Belt One Road initiative (all about geopolitical influence).

Yesterday, we had yet more proof of how far gone the New Zealand authorities (and the new New Zealand government are).     As I’d noted a couple of weeks ago, Victoria University (specifically its China-funded and controlled Confucius Institute) and the New Zealand Institute for International Affairs put on a half day symposium (celebration?) of 45 years of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China PRC).   Not a word of scepticism or criticism was to be expected from the programme –  there wasn’t for example an opportunity for Professor Brady to present her work, and alternative perspectives on it to be heard.

Quite late in the piece, reportedly, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs agreed to be a keynote speaker at this forum, his first major speech as Minister.  Winston Peters had, in Opposition, occasionally been heard to express some unease about the activities of the PRC in New Zealand, including the questions around National Party MP Jian Yang (recall that even Charles Finny, former senior diplomat, noted that he is always very careful about what he says in front on Yang and Raymond Huo, given their closeness to the PRC Embassy).   In office, the Rt Hon Winston Peters not just tows the MFAT line, repeating the same obsequious words as former National Party ministers, he takes it up another step.

There was the published text, which was bad enough.   In entire speech he could only manage this, that might be pointed to for a modicum of self-respect.

New Zealand supports a stable, rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific region in which free trade and connectivity can thrive.  We urge parties to resolve disputes in accordance with international law, on the basis of diplomacy and dialogue.

New Zealand and China do not always see eye to eye on every issue; we are different countries and New Zealanders are proudly independent.  However,  China and New Zealand have a close, constructive and increasingly mature relationship.  Where we do have different perspectives, we raise these with each other in ways that are cordial, constructive and clear.

“New Zealanders” might be proudly independent, but it isn’t clear that our governments are.  At a New Zealand event –  so it wasn’t even a matter of talking politely in China itself –  our Foreign Minister can’t bring himself to name any specific concerns or risks (despite rising international unease, and the material documented by Professor Brady).   And if he ever has concerns he’ll raise them in “cordial” way………”cordial” and direct interference by a foreign power in New Zealand, undermining the freedoms of hundreds of thousands of our own people (ethnic Chinese) doesn’t strike me as the sort of words that naturally belong together.  At least in a country whose government retains any self-respect.

But then it got worse, at least according to the Stuff report of how Peters departed from his written text.

“We should also remember this when we are making judgements about China – about freedom and their laws: that when you have hundreds of millions of people to be re-employed and relocated with the change of your economic structure, you have some massive, huge problems.

“Sometimes the West and commentators in the West should have a little more regard to that and the economic outcome for those people, rather than constantly harping on about the romance of ‘freedom’, or as famous singer Janis Joplin once sang in her song: ‘freedom is just another word for nothing else to lose’.

“In some ways the Chinese have a lot to teach us about uplifting everyone’s economic futures in their plans.”

It is so remarkably reminiscent of the Western fellow travellers of the Soviet Union in decades past –  tens of millions might die, but not to worry, a new Jerusalem is on the way to being built.   Basic rights and freedoms might be trampled on, or simply not exist at all, but not to worry….what is freedom after all?

Personally, I don’t think the biggest issue in the China/New Zealand official relationship should be how the Chinese party/state treats its own people –  abominable as that is.  The issues people like Professor Brady are raising are about the direct, systematic, in-depth, interference by another country  –  a hostile power, run by a regime with mostly alien values –  in the domestic affairs of other countries.  Our own most of all.  International expansionism and defiance of the rule of international law might matter too.  And none of that has any connection whatever to improvements in material living standards in China.

And what to make of the nonsense claim that “the Chinese have a lot to teach us about uplifting everyone’s economic future in their plans”.  That is about as ignorant as it is offensive.

I’ve shown this chart before

Here is a chart showing GDP per capita for China, and a range of now-advanced Asian countries/economies.  I’ve shown each country’s GDP per capita as a percentage of that for the United States for each of 1913, 1950, and 2014, using the Maddison database for the 1913 observation and the Conference Board (which built on Maddison’s work) for the more recent observations.  Data are a bit patchy in those earlier decades, but 1913 was before China descended into civil  and external wars (from the late 1920s), and 1950 was the year after the Communist Party took control of the mainland.

asia gdp pc cf US

What stands out is just how badly communist-ruled China has done economically, and especially relative to the three other ethnic-Chinese countries/territories.  Substantial re-convergence has happened in all the other countries on the chart, but that in China has been excruciatingly slow.  A few buoyant decades (the aftermath of which we have still to see) struggle to make up for the earlier decades of even worse Communist mis-rule.

Or how about this one, using Conference Board data for real GDP per person employed (they don’t have real GDP per hour worked for China, but estimates are very low)?

china GDP ppe

Even on official Chinese data, the record is pretty poor: China barely matches Sri Lanka which was torn apart by decades of civil war, and doesn’t even begin to match the performance of the better east Asian economies (none of which has anything like the waste, the massive distortions, of China).   Surely China is best seen as a (potential) wealth-destruction story?  Taiwan’s numbers might be a reasonable benchmark for what could have been.  Taiwan threatens no one.

Just to cap an egregious speech, the Opposition foreign affairs spokesman indicated that he didn’t disagree with what Winston Peters had had to say  (well, after his government’s track record of cravenness, he would, wouldn’t he).

I came home from Anne-Marie Brady’s lecture the other day and pulled off the bookshelf my copy of The Appeasers, written in the 1960s by Martin Gilbert and Richard Gott, a heavily-documented account of British appeasement of Germany from 1933 onwards.    As I started reading, lots seemed to ring true to today.

Two situations are never fully alike.  For a start, New Zealand isn’t a “great power” and China is (as Germany was becoming again).    And Germany had little real interest in interfering in domestic British politics –  and there was no large German diaspora in the UK to attempt to corral and control.    But there is a lot of the same willed blindness to the evil that the regime represented.    In the 1930s, it wasn’t the bureaucrats who were the problem –  from the very first, British Ambassadors in Berlin recognised and reported on the nature of the regime, its domestic abuses and its external threats.     There were various forces at work it seemed –  a fear of Communism (and thus Nazism as perhaps some sort of bulwark against something even worse), unease and even guilt over some of the Treaty of Versailles provisions, the fear of new conflict (only 15 years after the last war), and often some sort of admiration for the order the new German government was bringing to things (and some philo-Germanism among many of the British upper classes).  As Gilbert and Gott summarise it

“Like alcohol, pro-Germanism dulled the senses of those who over-indulged, and many English diplomats, politicians and men of influence insisted upon interpreting German developments in such a way as to suggest patterns of cooperation that did not exist.”

Britain and France could (and should) have stopped Germany earlier.  New Zealand can’t stop China, of course, but we can assert ourselves, and reassert some self-respect, for our system, our freedoms, and for the interests of like-minded countries.    We can call out, firmly (not cordially) Chinese influence-seeking etc where we see it –  as the Australian government has been much more willing to do.  We can cease to pander to such an obnoxious regime that not only abuses its own people (including failing to deliver economically) but represents a threat to its neighbours, and which persists in seeking to interfere directly in other countries, whether in its neighbourhood or not, whether with large ethnic Chinese minorities (as NZ, Australia, and Canada) or not.  Our politicians shame us by their deference to such an evil power –  and frankly, one that has little real ability to harm us (as distinct from harming a few vested interests).

In her lecture the other day, and in her policy brief, Anne-Marie Brady called for our political leaders to insist that none of their MPs will have anything further to do with entities involved in the PRC United Front efforts.   That would certainly be a start –  though the Jian Yang stain on our democracy really needs to be removed altogether –  but it is probably a rather small part of the issue: we need political leaders who will recognise  –  and openly acknowledge –  the nature of the regime, and stop fooling themselves (and attempting to fool us) about the nature of the regime they defend, and consort with.   Perhaps our leaders are no worse than, say, British Cabinet ministers in the 1930s who enjoyed hunting with Hermann Goering, but if that is the standard they are comfortable with, New Zealand is in an even worse place than I’d supposed.   In their book, Gilbert and Gott quote from the former head of the British foreign service:

“Looking back to the pre-1939 era Vansittart wrote: “I frequently said that those who ask to be deceived must not grumble if they are gratified”

Indeed.

I said that I thought Professor Brady was inclined to pull her punches a bit.  Asked what New Zealand can do,  she began her response claiming that “Australia can be more forceful”.   No doubt Australia is, and will remain, more forceful –  we’ve seen in the DFAT Secretary’s speech, in the ASIO report, in the foreign affairs White Paper, and in the new legislation details of which were announced yesterday.  But “can” isn’t the operative word.   If trade is your concern, Australia trades more heavily with China than New Zealand firms do.  If distance is your concern, Australia is physically closer to Asia –  and the waterways of the South China Sea.  Our political leaders – National, Labour, New Zealand First, Green –  could speak out, could act forcefully.  But they won’t.

Shameless and shameful.

 

UPDATE: As I pressed publish, I discovered that I’d been sent a link to some other reflections on Peters and Haworth by China expert Geremie Barme.

 

 

 

 

Why do our politicians ignore PRC influence?

Our leading politicians appear quite unbothered about the rise of China and the way it is happening.   We don’t see emerging an open, free, peaceful, and democratic state  –  as with Taiwan, Korea or Japan.    We don’t even see something that looks like a large Singapore.    Instead we see a very large totalitarian party-state, suppressing most meaningful freedoms for its own people –  in ways reminiscent of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany –  and increasingly willing to use the combination of size and wealth (not high per capita, but there are a lot of people) to throw its weight around internationally, at times (as in the South China Sea) in flagrant and ongoing violation of international law.  It is increasingly well-documented that that strategy includes attempting to exert control over ethnic Chinese cultural and religious groupings and media outlets in other countries, to suborn (with all sorts of blandishments, whether financial, access, or whatever) key figures in other countries, and to exert influence on the domestic politics of other countries, including encouraging ethnic Chinese in other countries who have suitably close ties to the Communist Party to run for elective office in those countries.

It is easy for the world-weary, and those who want to avoid confronting the issue, to respond “but everyone does it; every country seeks to exert influence”.   And, no doubt to some extent or other, that is true.   And so we need to look to the character of the country, and political regime, in question.  The People’s Republic of China today still looks much like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, two of the more odious regimes (at least among large countries) in the 20th century.  We –  citizens and governments –  should be treating it as such.

Instead, all our political parties, and their leaders, seem determined to look the other way, to try to pretend –  even though surely they know otherwise –  that China is some sort of normal state.   Why, the party presidents of National and Labour were recently sending warm fraternal greetings on the occasion of the five-yearly Communist Party Congress.     Would they have turned up to the Nuremberg rallies as well?   I guess political fundraising is a difficult business, but you might have hoped that former Foreign Minister Phil Goff would walk away from a $150000 donation to his mayoral campaign from an offshore donor.  Perhaps such donations should be illegal?

And then there are the elected politicians.  We have two elected members of Parliament who left China as adults and settled in New Zealand.    One appears to have misrepresented his past in his residency/citizenship application, and certainly hid it from the public when he first ran for Parliament.  That past: membership of the Communist Party, and being a member of the Chinese military intelligence system, clearly sufficiently in the good graces of the Party to have been allowed to move abroad.  The same MP remains very close to the Chinese Embassy, and has never been heard to utter a word of criticism of Chinese government policy.   And ever since the story broke, just before the election, he has gone very quiet: refusing to account to the voters (at least as represented by the English language media).

The other member of Parliament is a less egregious, but still troubling, case.  Raymond Huo is a Labour MP, also apparently widely known to be very close to the Chinese Embassy.  Of him, Professor Anne-Marie Brady wrote

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.

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’.”  ……    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. ……. 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.”

So whose interests does Huo represent in our Parliament?  They are quotes from his own speeches/interviews, which I’m not aware that he has contested.  He has also been remarkably quiet since the Brady paper was published in September.

Recall that on TVNZ a few weeks ago, veteran diplomat (and now lobbyist) Charles Finny, who has been keen to stick up for both men and celebrate their membership in our Parliament, explicitly stated that he was always very careful what he said in front of either man, as he knew –  and given his diplomatic/trade background he would know – that they were both close to the Chinese Embassy.   If Finny always takes care what he –  just a private citizen lobbyist now –  says in front of Yang or Huo, how should ministers or senior opposition MPs react?

In fact, their reaction tends to be to pretend there is no issue.  Bill English has simply refused to answer any serious questions, referring journalists to Jian Yang as if he can answer questions about his own suitability for office, even if he were willing to make himself available for journalists.  The previous Attorney-General, and Minister for the GCSB and SIS, tried to pretend that any concerns were just racist or anti-foreigner –  as if no one could tell the difference between, say, Joseph Goebbels and Dietrich Bonhoeffer or between Xi Jinping and Liu Xiaobo.   It was pretty despicable.

Not that there was ever much hope that the Labour Party (or their partners) would be any different.  As Opposition leader, Jacinda Ardern sought to simply avoid the issue –  as, I suppose, you would when you had Huo on your list.  People who live in glasshouses and all that, I suppose.

And so it proves in government.   Last week, Raymond Huo was confirmed as chair of the Justice select committee of Parliament.    They do the triennial inquiry into the conduct of each election.  They handle legislation around such matters as political donations, the electoral system, the rule of law, and so on.    And the government is quite happy to have as chair of that committee, someone known to be close to the embassy of the dreadful People’s Republic of China, a government with little or no regard for the rule of law –  whether domestically or internationally.  Someone who channels quotes from Xi Jinping to win votes for Labour.  Who seems to think that China having more influence in New Zealand is a good thing.

I’d be uncomfortable with an American or a Briton who had become a New Zealand citizen championing greater influence of their country in New Zealand.  But there isn’t a moral equivalence between the UK, the USA, and the People’s Republic China.  The latter is a force for evil.   And you will, it seems, never hear that from Raymond Huo.

But, of course, the National Party seems unbothered.  People in glasshouses, I suppose.

And then as if to bring the last few months full circle, there was an interview on Newsroom last week with the new minister responsible for the GCSB and the SIS (and various other portfolios, including those around electoral law), Andrew Little.  Buried down at the end of a lengthy interview, Little was asked about the issue of Chinese influence

One thing that Little is not concerned about is any perceived growing influence of China in New Zealand.

 

When questioned about the issue and Yang, Little will not reveal if he had received any related briefings but says he has no concerns.

“There’s nothing here that’s alerted me to any Chinese nefarious influence in institutions like universities…I know there’s often the line about political influence but our donations regime is pretty transparent.

“That’s a legitimate public debate right now because it’s [Yang’s background] been revealed, he said he didn’t know he was teaching spies? I can’t recall what his defence is, he’s made it into Parliament because the National party wanted him to be there, people are going to have to form an opinion themselves.”

Asked if Yang should have been allowed to stand for Parliament or if he should have been granted citizenship, Little says he does not have enough background to comment on the latter but was more comfortable with the National MP being an elected official.

“He’s a New Zealand citizen, that entitles him to stand for Parliament. There’s a variety of backgrounds. Sue Bradford, who was a regular radical protestor, took on the police, took on the establishment, she became an MP.

“I’d be very worried about saying there were criteria beyond citizenship that we should add to about whether you can stand for Parliament.”

It doesn’t look to have been the most searching interview ever, with no questions at all about Huo, but at least the journalist asked about some things.  And as he asks, Andrew Little is scampering for cover, and in the process insulting Sue Bradford (of whom I’ve probably never knowingly previously defended). Our minister for the intelligence services compares a former spy, member of the Chinese Communist Party, and someone with close ongoing ties to a heinous regime and its representatives in Wellington (the validity of whose citizenship he doesn’t feel comfortable commenting on), with a domestic activist and protestor exercising –  and perhaps occasionally stepping over –  her rights as a New Zealand citizen.  I’m not aware anyone has ever questioned Sue Bradford’s loyalty.

And even if Jian Yang’s citizenship is securely grounded, is this senior minister really serious about that final sentence?  I don’t suppose anyone is proposing amending the Electoral Act to provide specifically that (unrepentant) members of the Chinese Communist Party, past or present, and past Chinese spies, should be disqualified from Parliament.  I wouldn’t want to amend the Act to legally disqualify a whole bunch of other people either.   If some former apartheid South African BOSS agent had somehow got New Zealand citizenship, s/he might be legally entitled to run for Parliament but –  without some serious exercise in penitence and contrition –  I hope no serious political party would consider nominating him/her.  Graham Capill is probably eligible to run again for Parliament –  and I’m a Christian, and believe in forgiveness and restoration – but no party that nominated him would ever get my vote.  And so on.  The law can’t and shouldn’t try to cover all circumstances.  But decent political parties should be able to draw lines themselves.  Ours don’t seem to anymore  (our version of Roy Moore and John Conyers perhaps?)   There is no way Jian Yang should be in our Parliament at all, and if Raymond Huo won’t distance himself from the PRC –  and call out its evil and abuses, domestic and foreign, neither should he.   Decent parties simply shouldn’t select them (being list MPs, the public have little or no direct effective recourse).

These issues of Chinese influence in other countries aren’t unique to New Zealand  (there is a good recent podcast from an Australian academic on these issues in an Australian context) although from what I’ve read of countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United States, New Zealand is the only country yet with two MPs with these close PRC ties in our national Parliament.

Quite why our politicians aren’t bothered is a bit of a mystery.  There is clearly an element of not upsetting Beijing, and with it a desire not to rock the boat in ways that could have short-term economic cost through the trade ties of some large New Zealand entities with close traditional ties to our governments.   Perhaps the political donations are part of the story as well.   That’s the shameful side of the story.  Is this what it must have been like in the 1930s, when plenty of politicians wanted to smooth things over with Germany, and more egregious abuses just made the cause of appeaement seem more urgent?

But the other side must be that the voters just don’t care very much, if at all (as European populations didn’t for a long time in the 1930s).    Perhaps that is understandable.  There isn’t a lot of foreign news in our papers and other media, and certainly not on stories that deal much with China.  We don’t have good foreign affairs think-tanks, and on the one hand taxpayer money is devoted to keeping the good news stories flowing, and journalists value the opportunity of funded trips to China.  How, then, will the average voter know what our political parties make themselves –  and by extension us –  party to?

It doesn’t make it less shameful though, and it isn’t even clear what our politicians think they achieving in selling out our values, the principles our society is built on, in keeping quiet about China.  There is the mythology that somehow China makes us (or Australia) wealthy.  It’s nonsense of course.  China is a middle-income country with a badly distorted economy.  More to the point, countries almost always make (or break) their own fortunes.  I’ve pointed out before how small a share of GDP is represented by the exports of New Zealand firms to China.  Of course, that trade matters a lot for some firms, but it doesn’t matter that much at all for the nation’s overall prosperity.  Politicians seem to sell out our soul for the financial interests of a small group of exporters, whose interests are not necessarily our own.

No doubt, MFAT advisers periodically remind any minister tempted to acquire some backbone of the potential for China to disrupt the trade of New Zealand firms.   You can read the stories about Mongolia, Norway, the Philippines, and –  most recently – South Korea.  There is some potential for disruption –  the Chinese seem to have been particularly willing to cut off the tourist flow when a country steps “out of line”, and presumably the international student market is also vulnerable.  In both cases, blocking trade hurts the seller (NZ) but doesn’t make much difference to the buyers (Chinese tourists just go to, say, France that year).    But is this the sort of country we want to become, where we quail before the butchers of Bejing, rather than standing for our own values and institutions, and telling anyone who wants to export to China –  to deal with a regime on a par with Soviet Union or Nazi Germany – that they are on their own?   South Korean firms are learning now, having experienced the nature of the Chinese state, that diversification is prudent.

There seems little doubt that Chinese global influence will only increase, and that that of the United States will continue to diminish. Perhaps one day, the Communist Party will be toppled and that influence will be more benign, but that isn’t the prospect for now.  Particularly for a country as far from China as we are, that still leaves us with choices.  I’d rather our politicians (and public) decided to take a stand.  Dealing with the PRC –  dealing with Chinese entities on PRC terms –  on other that proper and limited diplomatic terms, should be no more socially or politically acceptable than pandering to the Germans was in 1939.

Not, of course, that there is any likelihood of our government taking a stand.  Flicking through the Herald over lunch I noticed an advert from a Chinese-government affiliated entity celebrating the “New Zealand China Young Leaders’ Forum” held on Sunday which, we were told, was “setting NZ up for a bright future”.  Just like China you mean?  No political freedom, no religious freedom, no freedom of expression, just the dominance of the Party (and a mediocre economy)?   The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang had, we were told, sent his greetings and the Chinese delegation was led by a Vice-Minister.   And guess who opened this forum?   Well, that was Michael Wood, Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister for Ethnic Communities.  I guess he was about as far down the official food chain as it was possible to get, but one likes to think that the British government wouldn’t have been sending a representative in 1939 to open some joint forum with, say, the Hitler Youth.

Our political leaders, apparently without exceptions (certainly none with the courage to speak out even timidly) disgrace us.

National single-handedly lifting parliamentary productivity

The Productivity Commission has been working on a report on state sector productivity, commissioned by the previous National-led government.    I’m not sure that everyone simply working harder was quite what they had in mind.

But judging by the number of written parliamentary questions lodged in the less than three weeks since the opening of Parliament, National Party MPs (and their research assistants) seem to be generating outputs at a record rate.   Outcomes –  the real focus surely –  might be another matter.

Parliament publishes an accessible record of all written parliamentary questions asked since 2003.   Here are the annual totals.

wirtten PQs annual

The Opposition (largest component being the Phil Goff-led Labour Party) was particularly active in 2010, lodging almost 40000 questions that year (almost all written questions are lodged by Opposition MPs), but in the average year around 17000 questions were asked.

It is an interesting contrast to the Australian Parliament, where a fact sheet records that on average in the last Parliament only 11.6 questions per sitting day were lodged.   Perhaps incentives matter:  in New Zealand, all written questions have to be answered, and within six working days.  In Australia, by contrast, there is no time limit.

In that earlier chart there is nothing unusual about the 2017 numbers.  At the moment the total is a little below average, but there are still four more working weeks of the year.  And here is a chart of the monthly totals back to just prior to the 2014 election.

PQs monthly

There are some zero months: around elections when Parliament itself is dissolved, and the Opposition parties seem to have given themselves (and those who have to answer the questions), a complete break each January.

But look at that total for November 2017: 6254 questions asked already.  The first question wasn’t asked until 8 November and it is only 25 November now.   With four more working days to go, they could yet hit 10000 questions for the (partial) month.   At anything like this pace, the 2010 record will be blown out of the water next year.

But one does have to wonder to what end?  The line from Macbeth “sound and fury, signifying nothing” was springing to mind, perhaps (one would hope) unfairly.

Every one of these questions –  even the really mundane ones –  have to be processed, by the Clerk’s office, by the relevant Minister’s office, and possibly by a government department.  Each one needs an answer prepared, and then submitted back through the system for approval and then lodging for reply.

And it isn’t as if this is a normal phenomenon immediately after an election or change of government.  In December 2008, for example, the first month of the new Parliament, only 619 written questions were asked.   In the two months after the 2014 election, a total of 2339 written questions were asked.

And what bits of vital government information are the Opposition MPs trying to ferret out of ministers?   Dr Jian Yang, a middle to lower ranking National Party MP, spokesman on Statistics, has been more active than the average Opposition MP: he has asked 147 questions so far (the average Opposition MP has asked “only” 110).    These are the five questions he asked on Thursday (he took the day off apparently yesterday)

What reports, briefings, memos or aide memoires did the Minister receive on 23 November 2017?

What meetings did the Minister attend on 23 November 2017?

What meetings did the Minister decline on 23 November 2017?

What events did the Minister attend on 23 November 2017?

What events did the Minister decline on 23 November 2017?

And the previous day he asked the same five questions about the 22 November. And the Minister of Statistics doesn’t actually do very much at all.  From what I could see, not a single one of the 147 questions was substantive.

Now I’m all in favour of open government.  I reckon Parliament itself should be subject to something like the Official Information Act, and there is a good case for making the diaries of ministers open (sunlight being a good disinfectant against undue influence etc).

But quite what is being gained by interminable questions of this sort (when there is presumably no suggestion of any particular inappropriate conduct)?   They aren’t all diary questions of course.  Shane Reti, another National MP, has 587 questions to his name.  A sample includes from yesterday.

Will the Minister commit to visiting NorthTec Rawene Campus in the first 100 days of office?

When was the last time the Minister visited the NorthTec Rawene Campus?

It all has the feel of a rather expensive fishing expedition in the expectations that if they ask enough questions something will turn up somewhere about something.  Another phrase for it might be “sheer waste of taxpayers’ money” (something perhaps the Taxpayers’ Union could get interested in.)  When people set out in pursuit of a political career, with the typical high-minded aspirations such people have, did they really think this is the sort of activity they’d be reduced to?

Meanwhile, I’m sure the public service (and ministerial staff) are fervently hoping for a breather in January.  But I’m not sure I like their chances.

UPDATE:  This post by Graeme Edgeler changes my impression somewhat.

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.