A month or so ago Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei, was arrested in Canada, pursuant to an extradition request Canada had received from the United States.    Who knows what merit there is to the charges the United States wants to lay against her.   Should she be extradited, the substantive merits of the case will be determined in open court, with multiple layers of potential appeal.   Who know too whether the Canadians will actually extradite her –  open Canadian courts will reach a view on that (including on whether the alleged offences are also offences in Canada) and the federal Minister of Justice apparently makes the final decision.  Presumably, the court process will be open, and the Minister will face both political and public scrutiny for any decision they are finally called on the make.  In the meantime, after a hearing in open court, Meng Wanzhou is now out on bail in Canada.  Presumably she is free to talk to consular officials from the People’s Republic whenever it is mutually convenient.

All that is more or less how the extradition process works among countries with the rule of law.  We have our own long-running case in New Zealand, in which the United States has for some years been seeking the extradition of Kim Dotcom.

But the People’s Republic of China declared itself “outraged” by the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, calling for her immediate release.  It was, presumably, something akin to lese-majeste to have arrested such a prominent figure, regardless of any possible merits to the charges.

Part of the PRC response was to arrest – abduct or kidnap seem more apt words –  two Canadians in China.

Two Canadian men have been detained in China on suspicion of “endangering national security,” China’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

Spokesperson Lu Kang confirmed that entrepreneur Michael Spavor and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig were taken into custody on Monday and that they are being handled separately.

No one seriously supposes there is any actual criminal activity behind these arrests.   Reports over recent weeks suggest very limited consular access, there have been no court appearances, and reports also suggest these people are being held in facilities where lights are on 24 hours a day, repeated interrogations occur, and so on.  As one of the Canadian papers reported

Chinese authorities are able to keep suspects in secret locations for up to six months – without access to a lawyer – as they gather evidence under a system called “residential surveillance at a designated location.” Those who have experienced the ordeal have described intense interrogation sessions and, on occasion, beatings and torture as authorities seek confessions that can be used in court or for propaganda purposes.

There is no indication that Kovrig has been beaten, although sleep deprivation through incessant lighting is classified as a form of torture.

It is the sort of behaviour rogue states engage in, the sort of conduct one might expect all decent people to deplore.   Apart from anything else, if China gets away with this sort of conduct in the case of Kovrig and Spavor (and it is hardly the first time they’ve engaged in hostage-taking of Canadians),  anyone from a free and open country is at risk –  perhaps especially people from second or third tier countries, such as Australia and New Zealand –  whether around future extradition cases or other points of tension involving the PRC.

Canada has called for the immediate release of these two Canadian citizens.  The Canadian government’s approach was backed by separate statements from the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France.    For a time there was complete silence from the Australian government.   That prompted an open letter last week to Australia’s Foreign Minister from dozens of China-watchers and analysts in Australia –  including many with a long track record favouring engagement with the PRC.  This was their call

Since December 21, the European UnionUnited StatesUnited KingdomGermany and France have each issued statements of concern regarding the apparently political motivation for the arrests of these Canadian citizens, which raise serious concerns about legitimate research and business practices in China. It is time for Australia to do the same. 

In view of the risks this raises to Australian research and business activities that form the bedrock of positive Australia-China relations, we respectfully ask you to join the above-mentioned governments in supporting the Canadian government’s call for the immediate release of these two detainees.

The open letter seems to have been the prompt for the Australian government to finally make a comment, supported by the opposition the federal Labor party.   Senator Payne’s statement does not go as far as the signatories to the open letter sought, and in particular does not call for the immediate release of Kovrig and Spavor, but at least it was an official and public expression of concern.

Of the Five Eyes countries, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have all come out in public in support of Kovrig and Spavor, and in support of the Canadian government.    And what of New Zealand?

From our government –  and in fact from any elected political officeholder – nothing.   Just silence.  Her Excellency the Ambassador of the PRC to New Zealand, Wu Xi, must be delighted at such quiescence.   One can only imagine what our traditional friends and allies –  countries that share our commitment to the rule of law –  must make of this public utter indifference by the New Zealand government to the situation Canada, and its abducted citizens, face.  It isn’t even as if these were citizens of Trump’s America –  Justin Trudeau’s government has seemed on many of the same wavelengths as our own government.  And yet still the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs won’t utter even a word, pushing back against lawlessness by the PRC in mistreating citizens of a country we have longstanding close ties with.   It might be the summer holidays –  but then it is in Australia too –  but various ministers, including our Foreign Minister, managed other new public statements last week.    Staying silent is clearly a conscious choice –  a choice to be indifferent to evil, even when it happens to our friends.

Who knows, but perhaps our government has in fact raised the matter quietly with Beijing.  That is the standard line of successive New Zealand governments about every abuse.  But there is never any sign that these alleged representations make any difference, and public statements do matter –  if only to New Zealanders, in giving us a sense of in whose interests, and according to what values, our officeholders are actually governing.  This episode is yet another indication –  we’ve already seen it in their embarrassed indifference to Anne-Marie Brady – that when it comes to China the current government, like its predecessors, governs in the commercial interests of a few universities and big businesses, and of its own party fundraising, rather than for the values of New Zealanders.

But even so, you have to wonder what goes through their minds when Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters decide to stay quiet, when our traditional allies speak out.   Does it not for a moment cross their mind that one day New Zealand might find itself in Canada’s position, and to wonder who –  if anyone –  might go into bat for us, and for our citizens if they were to be abducted by the regime in Beijing?

So the Ardern/Peters stance –  the awkward silence, as innocent Canadians are abducted and our friends speak up – seems both shameful and dishonourable, and yet imprudent too.  It serves no decent longer-term interest, but perhaps it suggests the Prime Minister is more desperate for that invite to Beijing –  to what end? –  than has previously been evident.

Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters head the New Zealand roll of shame on this issue, since they are the most senior figures in the current government.   But the shame isn’t just theirs.  There is no sign of anything from Simon Bridges, Paula Bennett (perhaps both rather keen on those donations Yikun Zhang was arranging?), or Todd (“vocational training centres in Xinjiang) McClay.   Nothing from the Green Party or ACT leaders.   Nothing from the Minister of Justice (rule of law and all that). And of course nothing from our PRC-born and educated MPs.  In a decent society, they’d be at the forefront of condemning the abuses in the land of their birth.  In our society, it seems to be just fine that they keep very very quiet –  a silence that suits Beijing –  and help ensure that the donations keep flowing.  Perhaps a journalist might consider asking Raymond Huo his opinion on the abduction of the Canadians.  He was, after all, formerly a lawyer with a leading local law firm, and now he chairs the Justice select committee in Parliament.  You’d hope the rule of law meant a lot to him.  But, like his bosses, deferrring to Beijing, and never ever upsetting the murderous rogue state, appears to matter more than the rule of law, or standing by our friends and allies when they (almost inadvertently in Canada’s case) incur the wrath of a tyrant.

By their utter silence, on this as on so many other PRC issues, our MPs and ministers dishonour this country and its people.   Cowering in a corner, deferring to Beijing, is simply unbecoming people who purport to lead a free and independent country.


GCSB, China, and a craven government

It wasn’t until I’d read my way through two-thirds of this morning’s Dominion-Post that I realised what wasn’t in the paper (and I assume not in other Stuff mastheads elsewhere in the country).   On the foreign news page there was a little sidebar piece informing readers of the actions of the US Justice Department targeting People’s Republic of China state-sponsored commercial cyber-espionage, noting that this “coincided with an announcement by Britain blaming China’s Ministry of State Security for trade-secret pilfering affecting Western nations”.   But not a mention of the many other nations who had made similar announcements or (more importantly for these purposes) of New Zealand, or of the GCSB’s pretty blunt announcement yesterday morning.

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) has established links between the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) and a global campaign of cyber-enabled commercial intellectual property theft.

“This long-running campaign targeted the intellectual property and commercial data of a number of global managed service providers, some operating in New Zealand,” Director-General of the GCSB Andrew Hampton said.

“This activity is counter to the commitment all APEC economies, including China, made in November 2016. APEC economies agreed they should not conduct or support ICT-enabled theft of intellectual property or other confidential business information, for commercial advantage.

I turned back to start of the paper, went through page by page, and even had a look online.  There was simply nothing at all in the Dominion-Post –  paper to the capital’s policy wonks and political people.      Domestic news isn’t so thick on the ground at this time of year that you’d suppose the Stuff editors ran out of room, about a story about New Zealandofficial agencies reacting to the hostile actions of a major foreign power.

(By contrast, Radio New Zealand covered the story extensively yesterday, TVNZ has a story, Newsroom has it, and the Herald has two substantial pieces in its business section this morning –  even if its journalistic standards remain so low that Fran O’Sullivan is able to write repeated columns about China issue without any disclosure of her membership of the Advisory Board of the government-funded pro-Beijing propaganda operation the China Council, or her role as co-chair of the China Business Summit.)

I guess the complete silence saved Stuff reporting the odd way the powers-that-be handled the whole affair.   The official statement was released by a low-key career public servant, the head of the GCSB.   But there was no official statement from the government –  the people we actual elect and hold to account.  Contrast that with the situation in both Australia and the United Kingdom –  in the former the Home Affairs and Defence ministers issued an official statement, and in the latter, the Foreign Secretary.    At least one report I saw/heard here said that both our Prime Minister and our Minister of Foreign Affairs simply refused to comment at all.  Fran O’Sullivan –  worth reading mostly because influential people talk to her –  tells us that

According to senior sources there was some trepidation at Cabinet level before the decision to name China directly was agreed.

I’m glad the government was willing to go that far, but if they have any backbone at all, it seems like a pretty limp one.  They seem almost embarrassed, and distinctly uncomfortable, having gone even that far.

Later in the day, the Minister responsible for the GCSB –  Andrew Little – finally fronted up.   Little has form as something of an arch-appeaser and apologist for the regime in Beijing.    There was an interview with him last year (which I wrote about here), shortly after taking office, in which he refused to express any concern about the Jian Yang situation, about political donations or, in fact, about anything.

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

In his interview with Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint late yesterday, he was at pains to stress how good our (well, his government’s) relationship with the People’s Republic of China was.  He couldn’t exactly ignore the state-sponsored hacking his own officials had publicly identified that morning, but the language was as weak as he thought he could get away, and (so it seemed) it wasn’t as if such things should be allowed to get in the way of such a good relationships with (we were left to assume) such fundamentally decent people.   Never mind that it involved the PRC going directly against commitments they themselves had given at APEC (and in places like the G20 and in bilateral statements to the Australia, US, and British governments).   Never mind that it is another example of the PRC’s pattern of behaviour on so many fronts (including, for example, around the militarisation of the South China Sea).  It didn’t seem to greatly bother the only senior minister willing to comment at all.

Media accounts suggest that the PRC was informed in advance that the GCSB statement was coming.  That might be courteous and reasonable, but there was no hint of any follow up: of, for example, the government calling in the PRC’s Ambassador in New Zealand and lodging an official statement of protest.  And not a word at all from the Prime Minister –  or, it appears, from the Leader of Opposition, or the Opposition’s foreign affairs spokesmand Todd (“vocational training centres”) McClay.   No doubt, they all just hope the issue goes away as quickly and quietly as possible.

You are left wondering what sort of people –  people who purport to be leaders –  want the sort of good relationship (that our Minister of Justice and minister responsible for the GCSB spoke of) with the Chinese Communist Party rulers of the PRC.    They are, for now, a fact of life, but they perpetrate one evil after another –  and have done for almost 70 years now.  Even close to home, they intimidate members of the ethnic Chinese community in New Zealand, they exert control over most of the Chinese language media in New Zealand, and they physically intimidate a rare local academic willing to stand up and speak out.  All stuff the government and Opposition just don’t seem to want to know about, and wish it would just go away.   They, after all, have donations to collect, PRC-affiliated people to honour.  As for the nature of the PRC regime at home in China, or abroad elsewhere, there is almost nothing to their credit –  they are, to all intents and purposes, at least as evil in our day (and with a longer track record) than the Nazi rulers of Germany in the late 1930s.  Tens of millions have died already, a million Uighurs are today in concentration camps, the surveillance state grows ever more intrusive, churches are suppressed, (Canadians are abducted – the only word for it) and political liberty is non-existent.  And yet Jacinda Ardern, Andrew Little, Simon Bridges, Todd McClay and the rest value their relationship.  MPs and official turn up in numbers to their functions (eg this recent celebration of Belt and Road).  Decent people should be ashamed to associate with the regime on anything but the most distant and formal terms.  But not, it appears, our officeholders.

In fact, they have the bare-faced cheek to use our taxes to run a propaganda outfit promoting the Beijing relationship, and constantly minimising any questionable stuff Beijing does.     The China Council –  with its galaxy of prominent names, including former leading politicians, current senior officials, and business people who sup with the devil (without, it appears, a long spoon) –  only a few weeks ago was out lamenting the GCSB’s Hauwei decision.  It regularly laments any real debate about the PRC and openly states its role as shaping public opinion to see the world their way.     Perhaps not surprisingly there was not a word from them yesterday about the commercial cyber-espionage assessment.   (But there was a newsletter reminding readers of the gala dinner (their description) they had hosted for the new PRC Ambassador earlier in the year: she might be the representative of this hostile power, this rogue state –  that is effectively what the GCSB statement says –  but they put themselves –  at our expense –   in tributary mode.)  Isn’t it past time that the China Council was defunded?    If the people involved still want to champion Beijing, defend its excesses, and trample across New Zealand values and traditions, surely they can stump up their own money to do so.

The Herald’s coverage in the last 24 hours did include some rather interesting comments from Charles Finny.     Finny is a former diplomat and is now a lobbyist

a partner in Wellington lobbying firm Saunders Unsworth, which has represented Huawei in New Zealand. He is also chair of Education New Zealand, the government agency responsible for international education and marketing, with China the largest single catchment for foreign students studying in New Zealand.

He is also on the Board of the supine academic Contemporary China Research Centre.

But he does from time to time come out with interesting, and honest, comments.  Readers may recall last year that when the establishment was closing ranks behind Jian Yang –  perhaps the easiest to relate to concrete measure of how they shame us, and pay deference to Beijing –  Charles Finny went on TVNZ’s Q&A programme, and noted that while he both knew and liked Jian Yang, had no problem with him being in Parliament but that he knew he was close to the PRC Embassy and was always careful what he said around him (or Labour MP Raymond Huo).  Out of his own mouth….

Yesterday’s comments were to suggest that

New Zealand’s relationship with China is rapidly deteriorating as the country is swept up in what long-time trade and foreign policy adviser Charles Finny describes as a “new Cold War”

If it is indeed “rapidly deteriorating” that is not necessarily a bad thing (although it could be consequential), but whether it is or not, Finny’s comment seem a lot more honest an assessment than anything we ever get from the propaganda shop –  the China Council – itself.  In the article, Finny comes across as suggesting that it is the fault of the West if relationships are deteriorating, but it wasn’t clear to me whether he was really attempting to assign blame, or just recognising that when governments –  including ours –  make even a modicum of an effort to push back against PRC abuses (and our government is so feeble it won’t even speak up about Xinjiang –  far away –  or in support of Anne-Marie Brady, close to home), the bully boys in Beijing will take it amiss.  As bullies do, in the school yard or wherever.  Craven subservience is fine, anything else threatening.    In what sort of world does anyone  –  with anything other than dollars in mind –  think we should ignore the endless overstepping by the regime?

(Finny also pushes back against the government narrative that everything is just fine about (a) the Prime Minister’s desired visit to Beijing, and (b) the fact the PM had not seen in advance the Winston Peters speech last weekend.)

Do our politicians stand for anything, other than deals and donations?  It isn’t clear that they do.   They walk by evil and seem to want to pretend they have no realistic choice.  In the process, they dishonour us, and the values that underpin this society.  And they give aid and comfort to the CCP agenda.

Standing back a bit, for anyone interested in a nice piece of analysis of the PRC influence activities globally, but with many references to New Zealand, I’d encourage you to read the latest article and analysis by the independent China researcher who writes under the pseudonym Jichang Lulu and a co-author.   They conclude writing about the recent open letter from 300 overseas academics and others, addressed to the Prime Minister (and which she has not addressed, or done anything to allay the concerns that motivated it) in support of Anne-Marie Brady.

The CCP’s effort to coerce analysts into silence greatly concerns the China specialist community, judging by the unexpected number of signatures the letter attracted. These concerns are hardly conjectural. A signatory, Feng Chongyi of the University of Technology Sydney, was detained and interrogated for ten days in Guangzhou in 2017. The Swedish NGO worker Peter Dahlin, who also signed, was detained in China 2016 and only released after a staged confession. Colleagues who expressed support for the contents of the letter chose not to sign, fearing, in one case, being refused a visa and, in another, being taken hostage in retaliation for the recent arrest in Canada of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟).

Beyond solidarity with a fellow researcher and interest in New Zealand’s democracy, the extent to which the appeal has resonated within the Chinese studies community points to global concerns over Xi’s increasingly authoritarian rule and the cooptive and coercive modes of its projection abroad.

But Andrew Little values his very good relationship with these thugs.


The PRC, the Pacific, and New Zealand

Our Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister gave an interesting speech in Washington last weekend.  It was a bit saccharine and ahistorical (past rivalries over various Pacific island and atolls anyone?) for my tastes, but the overall thrust –  urging the United States to be more active in the (south?) Pacific  – wasn’t something I much disagreed with.

The People’s Republic of China wasn’t named as a threat, but it didn’t take a genius to see the connection.  I remain somewhat sceptical that simply offering bigger “bribes” (call it development assistance if you want) is any way to build a more resilient Pacific in the medium-term.  That has to come down to values, domestic accountability (hardly likely to be fostered when lots of money is in play) and a recognition of the fundamentally evil, and corrosive, nature of the PRC regime –  whose values are as antithetical to most ordinary Pacific people, just as much as they are to most ordinary New Zealanders.   The short-sightedness (and greed?) of too many officeholders in Pacific countries is a formidable obstacle, their vanity flattered (for example) by invites to Beijing, even to meet Xi Jinping himself, whether or not their own pockets are lined.  These are mostly Christian countries, and yet when the Foreign Minister talked about the Pacific the other day there was nothing about values, nothing (for example) about freedom of religion, at time when the Beijing regime is intensifying its repression and persecution of Muslims and of Christians.   The sort of thing that would horrify most decent people (here or in the Pacific) if they knew –  as, for example, Kristallnacht did 80 years ago.  Values, not competitive aid bidding, drive societal choices in the longer term.

To the extent the speech had much attention at all locally –  which is hardly at all (has there been any thoughtful commentary from international affairs or Pacific specialists?) –  it has been on the extraordinary statement by the Prime Minister that she had not seen the speech before it was given.    It looked a lot like a significant foreign policy initiative, and yet it appeared not to have been discussed by the Cabinet. If anyone wanted evidence for Chris Trotter’s suggestion that the Prime Minister was in office but not in power, more decorative than substantive, it was hard to imagine a better example.  It looks like yet another example where there is a New Zealand First policy in some foreign affairs matter, but not necessarily a stance shared by the biggest party in government Labour.   After all, in her post-Cabinet press conference (link above) the Prime Minister was hardly offering a ringing endorsement of her Foreign Minister’s stance.   For practical purposes, they can probably both agree on flinging a bit of money around, with not much accountability, but perhaps not much beyond that.

And even if they happened to (more or less) agree on the Pacific –  and what will it come to anyway, in a US led by an inconstant troubled President, and with increasingly serious fiscal problems of its own? –  one area where Labour and New Zealand First must agree in practice is on doing and saying quite as little as possible about the PRC influence activities in New Zealand.  Some months ago, Winston Peters did make some cryptic remarks about how “something would be done” about Jian Yang, but it wasn’t clear if he meant anything then and (of course) it has come to nothing since (the Minister of Foreign Affairs doesn’t have much say over an Opposition MP).     Both seem more embarrassed by, than admiring of, Anne-Marie Brady –  in her case, it is hard not to reach the conclusion that the government (Parliament as a whole in fact) would much prefer that she went away and shut up, and stopped raising awkward questions.   Neither has been willing to call out the PRC over the Xinjiang internment camps –  not even joining with many of old friends when they got together to make representations.  They wouldn’t even speak up when National’s Todd McClay was parroting Beijing’s talking points about “vocational training centres” or –  in a country with still more self-identified Christians than any other faith –  about the renewed persecutions of the Chinese churches.  They seem quite unbothered about allowing such a heinous regime to put (safely vetted for political and religous “soundness”) agents of the PRC –  nice and friendly as they may be individually –  in our kids’ schools.  And has a word been heard from the Prime Minister or the Minister of Foreign Affairs about the PRC’s abductions of Canadians in China?  Do we stand with our friends, our values?  Or do we just cower before the PRC?  Peters and Ardern (and Bridges and Shaw) show all the signs of the latter approach.

So they fling all the money they like around the Pacific.  Perhaps if they do so Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo will take them a bit more seriously.  But unless they are willing to start taking seriously the issues here at home –  and there is not a shred of evidence for any such change of heart –  it isn’t clear why any of us should take them as seriously worthy of the offices they hold.  Through some mix of fear, delusion, mendicancy (all those party donations) they’ve taken our values, our traditions, and prostituted them on some CCP altar.  Egged on –  if anything more enthusiastically –  by the National Party.

If they were ever interested in beginning to get serious, political donations might be a place to start.   And on that score, I was interested to listen to outgoing National MP Chris Finalyson’s valedictory address.   I’ve never been a great fan of Finlayson – a classic example of what is wrong with MMP, never having had to actually win an election or persuade people to vote for him –  but my view of him took a steep dive at the Rongotai candidates’ meeting last year (Finlayson was the token National Party candidate).   From the floor I asked him

“Mr Finlayson, last week one of the world’s leading newspapers, the Financial Times gave considerable prominence to a story about a New Zealand MP.  That MP had been a member of the Chinese communist party, and part of the Chinese intelligence services.  He never disclosed that past to the public when he stood for Parliament, and has never taken the opportunity to denounce the evils of the Chinese regime.  Can you comment on why it is appropriate for such a person to be in our Parliament?  And could you also comment on the new paper by Professor Anne-Marie Brady raising concerns about the extent of China’s attempts to exert political influence in New Zealand, and about the close ties of various senior National Party figures with Chinese interests?”

The question was greeted not with embarrassed silence, but with pretty vigorous applause from the floor.

Finlayson –  our Attorney-General, first law officer of the land, senior National Party minister  – got up, briefly.   His answer ran roughly as follows:

“That was a Newsroom article, timed to damage the man politically.  I’m not going to respond to any of the allegations that have been made about/against him. I think it is disgraceful that a whole class of people have been singled out for racial abuse.  As for Professor Brady, I don’t think she likes any foreigners at all.”

The man dishonoured the high offices he held.   But, somewhat to my surprise, in his valedictory address, Finlayson included these remarks.

That’s why I think both major parties need to work together to review the rules relating to funding. I have a personal view that it should be illegal for non-nationals to donate to our political parties. Our political system belongs to New Zealanders, and I don’t like the idea of foreigners funding it. Similar concerns are now starting to be raised in other jurisdictions, and we need to work together, without recrimination, to ensure that our democracy remains our democracy”.

It is, mostly, illegal for non-nationals to donate material sums to our political parties.  I’d be happy to ban such donations completely, including those anonymous donations from abroad through the guise of charity auctions, of the sort Phil Goff funded his mayoral campaign with.    But, of course, many of the concerns serious people have about political donations –  in Australia, as well as in New Zealand –  do not relate to donations by non-nationals, but to donations by people born abroad who have become citizens, and yet retain close associations with reprehensible regimes in their country of birth (bluntly, the PRC).  I’m sceptical much can be done by law about that particular issue.  It requires political party leaders –  individually or together – to decide that there are some people they simply won’t take donations from at all.    There was a considerable fuss some years ago about the Exclusive Brethren.  No respectable party would take donations from known gang leaders or those strongly suspected of involvement in organised crime.  It shouldn’t be hard –  in a decent leader –  to make the moral choice that your party will take no donations from people with known (or strongly suspected) United Front associations.  It is what decent people would do, recognising the character of the PRC regime.

So, interesting as it was that Finlayson chose to raise the issue at all, his interjection barely scratched the surface of the issue.   But it was a (small) start from a figure who has enjoyed credibility in many circles.   Perhaps he could consider urging candidates in this year’s local body elections to commit to (a) take no donations (including through anonymous charity auctions) from non-New Zealand citizens, and (b) to take no donations even from citizens if those citizens have, or are strongly suspected to have, close ties with entities supporting highly repressive regimes in other countries.   Would it make any difference?  Probably not –  money can still be channelled less directly –  but it would be a signal to New Zealanders that their officeholders (and those bidding to take their place) took seriously the issue, the concern.    At worst, it would be interesting to hear how Phil Goff would defend refusing to make such a commitment to voters.

On another aspect of the PRC influence issue, a few weeks ago I was sent a copy of a book called “In the Jaws of the Dragon: How China is Taking Over New Zealand and Australia”, by one Ron Asher.   It is a 350 page book, apparently fairly well-documented and footnoted, now on its 5th edition (and so I’m told selling quite well) making a case that…….well, it is there in the title.   From the author’s note

This book…seeks to expose the sinister goals of the Communist government of China, which has murdered tens of millions of Chinese people since it shot its way to power in 1949, denies them basic rights and is now threatening the peace of the Pacific –  and the world –  by its excessive armaments programme and its expansionist activities in the South China Sea.  Through economic domination, aggressive immigration, bullying and other means it is trying to exert a control over Australia and New Zealand that is harmful to our sovereignty, democracy, heritage and economic prospects for the future.

There was plenty of interesting material in the book, and it was useful to have it gathered in one place.  It was interesting to learn of (former National) MP Jami-Lee Ross’s paid trips to the PRC –  which left me wondering (a) how many other MPs have had such trips, and (b) why we don’t just follow the US example and ban MPs taking any material hospitality from foreign governments, friendly or potentially hostile/threatening.   There was plenty of material –  including around Confucius Institutes (this week yet another US university decided to close theirs down), Huawei, and “aid” to various Pacific countries.

And yet much of the material had me pushing back to some extent at least.   The author is much more wary of foreign investment from the PRC than I am.  To be fair, the global tide of opinion on risks around PRC corporate investment abroad is shifting –  reinforced by the PRC laws which make it clear that even private PRC companies must follow directions of the PRC authorities (party/State).   And weak capital markets disciplines in China –  especially around SOEs –  have long left me a little nervous about any material expansion in the role of PRC banks.  It would seem crazy  –  simply an unnecessary risk, given the character of the regime – to allow, for example, our electricity or telecoms network companies to be owned or controlled by PRC-friendly interest.  I hope that when a stake in the Port of Napier is sold no one will even consider a sale to PRC interests –  port acquisitions have been a significant aspect of PRC strategy abroad in recent years, perhaps benefiting the sellers but leave societies to repent at leisure.

But I’m still not persuaded the sale of dairy farms to PRC interests, or the establishment of PRC-owned milk processing plants in New Zealand represents any material sort of threat to New Zealand, or New Zealanders.    The author notes that the (PRC) buyer will reap the profits in future, including from the ability to construct integrated supply and distribution chains.  But in a land market that is even moderately competitive, much of those gains should be captured in the value of the land at the point of sale.  Within limits, it makes sense for assets to be owned by parties best able to utilise them.  That ability is likely to be reflected in a willingness to pay.   Perhaps I’m a touch naive, but some arguments still seem to go too far for my comfort and conviction.  The growing entanglement of our universities with PRC interests –  consciously making themselves exposed to PRC political pressure –  represents more of a risk, and pressure point –  the more so  when we once looked to universities to champion the sorts of values that underpinned our society (but not the PRC).

This isn’t an attempt at a full review.  For those interested in the issue though, there is plenty to chew on, whether one ends up going quite as far as the author (or not).   Perhaps the thing I came away with most was a sense of how careless of our values our political leaders have been, how indifferent to the character of the Beijing regime, and how utterly shortsighted their approach has been for decades –  whether pursuing personal gain (which I suspect mostly isn’t the reason –  it may be different for business and academic figures), party donations, or just lemming-like prioritising trade and short-term opportunities over all.

Whatever the motive, in many respects they’ve blithely, unconcernedly, sold out New Zealand and New Zealanders, dishonouring both our own freedoms and values, and those (denied) of hundreds of millions of Chinese.   But even at this point, it isn’t clear that the PRC has clout in New Zealand beyond the deference our political officeholders –  cowering –  keep choosing (and it is wholly a matter of choice, especially at this physical distance) to pay them.   Evil people –  Xi Jinping and his party and regime – will do what they will do, as Hitler or Stalin before them did.  We can’t do much about them –  hoping against hope for regime change –  but we can choose what responses we tolerate in our officeholders.    If we care at all about PRC influence in the Pacific, our officeholders might start by demonstrating that they take the issue –  the regime and its threat – seriously at home.  What matters to someone is best demonstrated by the price they are willing to pay for it.


The China Council takes the stage

I have good memories of a young Don McKinnon.  It was early 1980, my first year at Victoria University, and Don McKinnon was a first-term National MP.  It was just a few months after the Soviet occupation/invasion of Afghanistan, and there was a strong push from many governments in the West against competing in that (northern) summer’s Olympic Games, to be held in Moscow.   Don McKinnon was invited along to articulate and defend the government’s stance. It was a pretty hostile audience as I recall –  the median student (or perhaps just the median of those who would turn up to lunchtime political meetings) was pretty left-wing (and of those who weren’t so left-wing not many had much time for the then Prime Minister, Rob Muldoon).  I no longer remember many of the details of the event, but I do recall McKinnon vigorously fighting his corner, and making the case that New Zealand athletes shouldn’t be part of one of tyranny’s great celebrations –  first Olympics in a Communist country) in the wake of such egregious aggression.   Those were days of considerably greater moral clarity about such regimes –  no doubt helped by the fact that there was not much trade with the Soviet Union, and our universities weren’t reliant on the Soviet market.

That was then.  Today’s Don McKinnon is full of years, knighted no less.  And any moral clarity on these sorts of issues appears to have been lost long ago.  For these days, Don McKinnon is chair of the (largely) taxpayer-funded New Zealand China Council, set up by the previous government to run propaganda around the People’s Republic of China, and help ensure that public discontent around supping with the devil never becomes too problematic.   Those aren’t their words of course, but the gist of the actual words they do use isn’t that different.     They don’t exist to do foreign diplomacy (that is what we have MFAT for), they don’t exist to do business (individual firms and universities for that, they exist to propagandise New Zealanders –  with our own money.

Mostly, the part-time Executive Director (of whom more below) speaks for the China Council.  But every so often –  perhaps whenever it seems as if a nerve has been touched – they wheel out the chair Don McKinnon.  There was an op-ed in the Herald this time last year, ably responded to by Simon Chapple of Victoria University –  a rare New Zealand academic willing to express scepticism.   Sir Don wanted us to “respect” the People’s Republic of China –  it was never made clear why, given the nature of the regime –  and if there were ever any issues well the great unwashed could trust the “relevant agencies” to deal with them (conveniently ignoring that fact that many of the issues raised by Anne-Marie Brady a few months earlier were not illegal –  they were questions of instead of right and wrong, surely matters for open debate.

Earlier this week Don McKinnon was back in the pages of the Herald.   Straw men abounded.    McKinnon opened with the Hauwei provisional decision taken by the GCSB.  You’ll recall that when decision was announced the China Council put out a statement lamenting the proposed ban.  I’m still a bit puzzled by that statement given that the chief executives of MFAT and NZTE sit on the Council’s Board and were presumably party to this public criticism of one of our intelligence agencies.

In his article this week, Don McKinnon has moved on a bit.

The substance of the decision is not for me to debate, but the risk is that it complicates the already complex management of the trade and economic relationship at a time of geopolitical tension.

but it really isn’t a much better stance from a former Foreign Minister, in a body largely funded by the taxpayer (not Huawei).   Shouldn’t he be lamenting the fact –  unquestioned –  that the PRC is engaged in far-reaching cyber-intrusions and intellectual property theft in much of the world, the sort of approach that might leave anyone cautious about letting a PRC regime-controlled company (as they all are) loose on a 5G network?

But what of those straw men?  This was the opening line of the article

The recent GCSB ruling in respect of Huawei must surely be a body blow for those who allege the Chinese Government and the Chinese Communist Party are influencing New Zealand’s policy-making.

A “body blow”?  Well, perhaps if anyone were claiming that New Zealand governments always and everywhere do what the PRC would prefer.  But I’m not aware of any serious participant in these debates who says that. Beijing probably wasn’t too keen on New Zealand purchasing the P8 aircraft, and would presumably prefer we opted out of Five Eyes too.  But they must be absolutely delighted that former PLA intelligence official, Communist Party member, Jian Yang still sits in our Parliament – even after all that background, and the active misrepresentations to the authorities, is in the public domain.  Or that when new defence policy documents include a few mild but honest words, the only criticism in the political sphere is from an Opposition leader –  himself having signed us up to an aspiration to fusion of civilisations – concerned that the government might upset Beijing.  Or that the government refuses to participate in joint Western efforts to protest the gross abuses in Xinjiang (which the Opposition describe, PRC style, as vocational training camps).  Or that Yikun Zhang, with clear and strong ties to the regime and Party can manage to be awarded –  with bipartisan support –  royal honours for services to New Zealand.  How they must have chortled when they heard that.  Or that both Ardern and Bridges are apparently so scared of a Beijing reaction that neither can manage a forthright defence of Anne-Marie Brady, or of ethnic Chinese New Zealanders being intimidated –  here in New Zealand –  by Beijing.

Don McKinnon purports to believe that none of this is an issue at all.  Apparently we once –  years ago –  mentioned the South China Sea, and that was quite enough.  As for political donations, there are plenty of serious people around –  even people with ties to his own organisation –  who evince unease about that situation –  about, for example, another former Foreign Minister financing his mayoral campaign substantially with anonymous donations from the mainland.   McKinnon isn’t stupid, and will know all this, so one can only conclude he doesn’t care a jot – about the integrity of the political system of his own country.   The 1980 version of Don McKinnon wouldn’t have tolerated a KGB/GRU officer –  never once heard to criticise any aspect of the USSR –  in our Parliament.  2018 Don McKinnon thinks Jian Yang’s presence in Parliament is just fine –  apparently any concerns are “unsubstantiated” (you mean the ones he himself belatedly acknowledged?) –  and has the man sitting on the China Council’s advisory board.

The whole thing is suffused with that determination never ever to upset Beijing –  and whenever anything might (eg Huawei) the emphasis is on the PRC perspective, not the New Zealand one.   This reaches egregious extremes in this observation

National security is important but so too is our increasingly multi-faceted relationship with China.

National security isn’t everything.  Civil liberties and our democracy matter a great deal too.  But for a former longserving Foreign Minister to suggest, in writing (presumably carefuly drafted) that national security is something we should compromise on to keep the regime in Beijing happy is…….extraordinary (and that is probably too mild a word).

And this is one of the problems with the China Council.  They do now often include a ritual line about our “very different values”.  It is there in this week’s article too.  But, strangely –  conveniently for them –  they never ever spell out the nature of those differences.  Doing so might require them to speak or write in a way that suggested disapproval of aspects of the PRC –  or, and I hope this isn’t so, a genuine belief that the PRC system is just as good as our own, only different, and simply nothing to worry about.  So we never hear about (say) the imprisonment of a million or more people in Xinjiang, about fresh attacks on Christians in China, about the widespread theft of intellectual property, about a regime so insecure images of Winnie-the-Pooh are being banned, about the absence of the rule of law, about real military threats to free and democractic Taiwan, about the absence of freedom of speech, or even about the lawless  revenge abductions of a couple of Canadians this week.  Nothing.  And why?  Because there are deals and donations to keep flowing, and none of these things matter a jot –  in the only sense that reveals importance, a willingness to pay a price (probably quite a modest one, if at all).

McKinnon ends with two more incredible comments.  The first was

The risk of overreaction in New Zealand is all too real, however.

Really?  With our supine political and business class, desperate as ever to play the issues down, and no doubt grateful to Sir Don for putting pen to paper.   Some sign of any reaction among our purported leaders would be worthy of note.  But then the China Council’s view of “overreaction” seems to be any reaction whatever –  just let us get on with the deals and donations.  Trust us…..

And at the very end

The short step from rational debate to panic can come at a heavy cost.

So never ever upset Beijing, or the thugs with the baseball bats will extort a price.  But,trust us……they really are good guys, we are better for dealing with them, they’re good guys.  Really.

The thing that really staggers me about the China Council is that with all those senior figures and all that taxpayers’ money the quality and depth of their propaganda and advocacy is so limited.  They might have good practical arguments to make on some points, but making them should involve engaging substantively with the sort of detailed concerns being raised.  The China Council has never made any attempt to substantively engage with Anne_Marie Brady’s paper –  and, shamefully, has been totally silent on the apparent attempts to physically intimidate her (and thus to scare others).  And they are fellow New Zealanders.

As it happens, there was another good example yesterday of our cowering “leaders”.  Newsroom has an account of MFAT’s appearance at a parliamentary select committee, where much of the discussion seems to have been around the PRC, the “FTA”- upgrade, and so on.  I’m not going to excerpt the story, but read it and all you sense is fearfulness from both sides –  if the Opposition is critical it is that the government might have upset Beijing.  There is no sense of self-respect, no sense of values that matter, just a backdrop of deals and donations –  and that weirdly misplaced view about the significance of the PRC to New Zealand’s economic fortunes so actively fostered by yet another former Foreign Minister, Murray McCully.

And, finally, I must have hit a bit of nerve somewhere near the China Council.  After a post the other day, this tweet appeared on the Executive Director, Stephen Jacobi’s feed.

Which was a bit odd really.  I went back and looked at the post in question.   And I couldn’t find any examples of me calling him names.  I did note that “he appears to be Christian” but as on his Twitter page he calls himself an Anglican, and was tweeting a photo of an Advent service, that didn’t seem an unreasonable deduction.  And as one Christian to another, it can hardly count as name-calling.

So I had a look back at any of my other past posts I could find when I’d written about Jacobi (here, here, here, here and here were the ones I could find).   And yet anything resembling name-calling seemed thin on the ground (which was relief, because it is something I try hard to avoid –  perhaps not always successfully).   In one of those early posts I introduced Jacobi this way

The Council employs a part-time Executive Director, Stephen Jacobi.  He spent considerable time at MFAT, but from his own account his focus was Europe and North America (including as our deputy high commissioner in Canada) and in trade negotiations.  Since leaving MFAT in 2005 he has run his own consulting firm, and been employed as the public face of various trade-related bodies, including serving as Executive Director of the NZ US Council from 2005 to 2014.  He is articulate and readily available to the media, but has no specialist expertise in China or (indeed) on the workings of New Zealand democracy.   That isn’t a criticism –  after all, neither do I –  just to note that his arguments, and evidence, need to be reflected on and carefully examined, perhaps having regard to the interests that are paying him, not as coming from an expert authority in the area.

And that still seems right, and fair.  He is a paid lobbyist and advocate –  propagandist wouldn’t be too strong a word.  Those are, more or less, job descriptions.  I’m sure he believes most or all of what the job requires him to say.  It is just a shame that the institution for which he works seems to have abandoned all sense of good and evil when it comes to the PRC.

But in the search for anything that might resemble name-calling, I did across lots of arguments, analysis, and some evidence. I don’t particularly expect Jacobi or the China Council to engage with me –  although I’d be happy for them to do so – but the thing is that they don’t engage with China experts (notably Anne-Marie Brady) either.  Instead, they play distraction, suggest racism is at work, call debates “unedifying” rather than engage in them, or  –  as in this case –  suggest that all there is is name-calling.  With so many resources at their disposal, that approach doesn’t exactly redound to their credit.  With the politicians on side perhaps it doesn’t matter for now, but such large disconnnects between the values of a people, and the attitudes and practices of their “leaders”, are unlikely to last forever.  It was Scott Morrison who only a few weeks ago observed that we –  citizens of free and democratic countries –  have to be more than just the sum of our deals.  Or, as I added, of our political party donations.

Human costs of big dislocations?

Puzzling the other day about the Prime Minister’s extraordinary performance –  tears at her official scheduled press conference, purporting to apologise on behalf of all New Zealanders for a single (awful) crime committed by a single private individual (and could we have imagined such a performance from Margaret Thatcher, Helen Clark, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Angela Merkel or any serious male leader?) I was wondering whether she was about to cry in public about the many other murders that happen each year in New Zealand –  45 to 50 in a typical year.

But when checking out that number, I found a nice time series prepared by the Police reporting the number of New Zealand murders annually since 1926, drawn from a search of their records.   As they note

Note that counting rules for murder statistics have changed over time (i.e. cases vs offences vs victimisations). Therefore, trend for homicide statistics over a long period (especially before 2007) should be interpreted with caution.

In other words if you want to compare the 2016 murder rate with that in 1926 you have been warned: the numbers may not be calculated in quite the same way.  But shorter-term movements should still be meaningful, even allowing for a bit of year-to-year fluctuation.   Fortunately, mass killings (eg Aramona) don’t happen every year.

This was the resulting graph (I hope they are right about zero murders in 1958, but it seems unlikely).


I’ve circled a few surges that caught me by surprise:

  • the first was the apparently significant increase in the murder rate during the Great Depression –  by far the worst economic downturn and social dislocation in New Zealand in the last century,
  • the second was late in World War Two (those years don’t include the Stanley Graham shootings in 1941),
  • and the third was the period of rapid economic change and, latterly, very high unemployment over the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Are these surges just coincidental-  something largely random that masquerades as a pattern?  I don’t know, and I don’t know the literature at all in this area.  There were certainly global forces at work in the rise of violent crime in the 1970s and 80s, and in the subsequent decline, but it does look uncomfortably like a story in which –  at least in New Zealand –  big economic dislocations and high unemployment were associated with higher murder rates. I once wrote a speech for Don Brash –  as Governor –  in which we associated higher suicide rates with such dislocations (and hence why we needed good stable macro policy).  I’ve always been a bit embarrassed about it –  without evidence it probably over-egged the pudding –  but perhaps we were closer to the mark than I’d thought?

In terms of international experience, on a quick look I found this chart

murder us

The US data are easiest to read, and they don’t show the spikes we see in the New Zealand data  (it is a much bigger population, and so perhaps the New Zealand picture is just a small sample problem).    In Canada there is some suggestion of a spike in murder rates during the Great Depression, but not in Australia (where the depression was severe) or England and Wales (where it was not so bad).

I’m convinced good monetary policy has an important role to play in helping to avoid –  and limit – really bad economic dislocations.  High unemployment is quite scarring enough –  costly to individuals and to society as a whole –  but if it was associated with higher murder rates then doubly so.

Anyway, on such weak evidence I”m not trying to make strong arguments.  But I thought it was an interesting, somewhat surprising, chart, and perhaps experts have dug more deeply into these patterns.

Meantime, there many other gross failures of policy –  ones that are the direct responsibility of government –  that we see and hear no emotion from the Prime Minister about.  Prime Ministerial tears should, of course, be reserved to the privacy of the Prime Minister’s own home, but some genuine passion and energy about reversing the house price scandal or the decades of productivity underperformance –  both of which are likely to have cost lives, and certainly represented huge lost opportunities – would be welcome.  Or, rather nearer the justice system –  but this time the even more hands-on direct responsibility of central government –  there was the gross abuse one young New Zealander suffered (and still suffers) from the Crown in this episode, highlighted in this post.

Human rights, Helen Clark, and the PRC

Yesterday was, apparently, the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   Our former Prime Minister, former senior UN official, beloved of the Labour Party faithful, Helen Clark tells us so.

I can’t claim to be much of a fan of the United Nations, am not entirely convinced by the concept of “human rights”, and certainly don’t believe that any such rights flow from declarations of governments.  I’m not convinced some items in the declaration belong there.  But Helen Clark probably sees things differently.  She seems to be champion of all such things, worthy and not so much.   She’s a private citizen now, but it was only a year or so ago that our governments were championing her campaign to be Secretary-General of the United Nations and I’m told MFAT still uses her promote New Zealand foreign policy.

And what was our former Prime Minister actually doing yesterday on Human Rights Day?  Well, her Twitter feed says she was in the People’s Republic of China, attending something called the Imperial Springs Forum.

Is this some dissident forum, bravely championing the rights and freedom of the Chinese Communist Party’s subjects?   Silly, no of course not.     This was an event opened by the PRC’s Vice-President (open the report of the speech in Chrome and you’ll get a translation –  or Google a shorter version in English).  Here’s some of what he had to say

Wang Qishan said that the interests of all countries are deeply integrated and shared. China adheres to the path of peaceful development and advocates building a new type of international relations of mutual respect, fairness, justice, cooperation and win-win, and promoting the building of a community of human destiny that lasts for a peaceful and common prosperity. China will unswervingly follow its own path, do things in a down-to-earth manner, continue to learn from each other with sincerity and open mind, learn from each other, deepen cooperation, and always be a builder of world peace and global development. Contributors, defenders of the international order.

Doesn’t all that just describe so well the way in which the PRC operates?   Well, I guess “unswervingly follow its own [evil] path” might qualify.

Is the Imperial Springs Forum some quasi-independent body (if such an idea were even conceivable in today’s PRC? No, of course not.   Here is how one China watcher summarised it

All part of the same United Front work programme.  One of the leading figures behind it is apparently an Australian citizen Chau Chak Wing, of whom there are many rather gruesome stories to read (eg here), including some involving possible shadty dealings around the United Nations.   It seems to be a convenient –  for the PRC –  forum at which to gather prominent people from all over the world who will be polite and deferential, and treat the Party and the PRC as some sort of normal decent people –  not a bunch of brutal tyrants –  as a bunch somehow genuinely committed to open trade and free human development.   You can see the sponsors on the website here (and incidentially can see that our other former Prime Minister –  heavily involved in all things pandering to the PRC, including the New Zealand China Council –  Jenny Shipley was at last year’s event).

But what really struck me wasn’t what the PRC regime does.  We take them as evil and opportunistic –  they’ll use self-important people who make themselves available to be used.  It was more a case of what Helen Clark chose not to do.    There were quite a few tweets from her yesterday, including the one above about the Universal Declaration –  a document that China was a party to at its launch, and which the People’s Republic has made itself party to in 46 years in the United Nations.   Twitter is blocked in the PRC itself, but presumably there was some sort of VPN allowing the eminent former politicians and other attendees to carry on tweeting.

But there was not a word –  not even a subtle hint –  about the utter incongruity between the actions and expressed values of Helen Clark’s hosts –  the regime and its acolytes –  and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   On Human Rights Day.  You can read the whole declaration here but how about

Article 9.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

The million of so Uighurs anyone?

Article 10.

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

As applied, say, to the PRC former head of Interpol?   Or

Article 12.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

That would include those not-yet imprisioned Uighurs who’ve had PRC government spies forced into their homes?

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Forced organ donations?

Article 19.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Where to start on what PRC subjects can’t do?

And then there was the article which really prompted me to turn to the keyboard today

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

The mass internment of Uighurs seems to be substantially about their Muslim religion. Serious religious commitment involves an alternative and higher form of loyalty than that to the Party.   That’s a threat –  as it was to the Nazis, or the Communist rulers of the Soviet Union.  As it is, and ever has been, to the CCP and to Xi Jinping.  And it isn’t just the Muslims.  This happened in Chengdu over the weekend  –  where the New Zealand consulate had been wining and dining Beijing’s Confucius Institute people from New Zealand a few days previously.

(Great book by the way, on all manner of religious traditions in China.)

It is not exactly secret.  I’m sure Helen Clark –  and the consulate in Chengdu, broadcasting news of its latest meeting with the local CCP/PRC powers than be –  will have been aware of it.   Not a word, of course, from our authorities, and that isn’t surprising.  But not a word either from a former Prime Minister, former senior official of the United Nations in the PRC on Human Rights Day itself.

Does the fine rhetoric, the official declarations, mean anything at all, or is it all just for show, some sort of Potemkin village, just enough to keep the conference invites coming, but not to be taken seriously, at least as regards any country that offers enough hospitality?

Had Helen Clark said something –  whether about the Early Rain church (it being in the headlines), about the Uighurs, or about any other of the myriad breaches – what was the PRC going to do?  They were hardly going to toss her in prison were they?  At worst, she’d have been ignored by her hosts, and not invited back.  But so what?   She can hardly need the money, and the PRC is hardly going to reform because some international toadies turn up to meetings with them.  With the UN stint behind her she is the sort of person who could effectively speak up and speak out for “human rights” and freedom in the PRC  (and against its aggression and interference abroad, including in New Zealand, against its effort to intimidate ethnic Chinese New Zealanders or Anne-Marie Brady –  who, at least as suggested by her writing seems to be personally of the left.)

If she cared, if it meant anything.

Instead she joins the pantheon of the prominent, determined never ever to say a word upsetting to Beijing –  Don McKinnon, Jenny Shipley, John Key, Bill English, (Todd McClay, Simon Bridges, Jacinda Ardern) and…..that champion of human rights, Helen Clark.

(For anyone more interested in the Wang Yi case specifically there is some useful, inspiring, material linked to by Ian Johnson, the New York Times journalist and author of that book on religion in the PRC.)


The China Council disgrace themselves and shame us

It is only a couple of weeks since the (largely) taxpayer-funded New Zealand China Council, which in its Annual Report –  signed off presumably by the heads of MFAT and NZTE (who sit on the Board) – was recently deploring what it regards as the “unedifying debate” about the extent of foreign (PRC) influence in New Zealand, was out in public with this lament

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

It didn’t seem to bother them that our intelligence services might have had serious concerns about threats to New Zealand’s national security. No, the bother seemed to be that a PRC company, under the thumb of the party/State (as all PRC companies are by law), had had it plans frustrated.   Surely, an outfit that had the interests of New Zealand and its people first and foremost would have been pleased to hear that any such threats was being stymied?   But then it has never really been clear whose interests the China Council, and its Board and staff, serve.  No doubt at least the public servants involved try to tell themselves they are really working in the interests of New Zealanders –  by pandering to Bejing at every opportunity –  and as for the rest of them (business people, MPs) why would they greatly care about New Zealand interests when personal interests are advanced by using taxpayers’ money in an attempt to keep the population quiet and Beijing happy?  We are told that both MPs, for example, have close ties to the PRC Embassy and to various PRC United Front bodies.  Jian Yang goes further than that –  not only a former PRC intelligence official and a Communist Party member, but he seems to spend inordinate amounts of his time –  paid as a New Zealand MP –  in some mix of business and propaganda in the PRC (in league with his party president Peter Goodfellow).

These people seem to have no values, represent no moral perspective, that might underpin New Zealand and its freedom and political system. They seem to act as if the PRC is just another normal country. More likely, of course, they know it isn’t and yet they just don’t care. There are deals to be done, donations to flow. And in the China Council’s case, our taxes are paying for it.

But what caught my eye over the weekend were a couple of tweets from the China Council’s Executive Director, former diplomat, Stephen Jacobi.  It is a personal account, but when you are the chief executive there is no credible distinction.

I’m no great fan of Destiny Church or Brian Tamaki, but in this single tweet Jacobi diminishes himself even further.   A New Zealand citizen, keen to have a programme he is promoting run in prisons –  but who hadn’t even got round to applying for funding/permission –  represents a threat apparently far exceeding that of the People’s Republic of China.  Yeah right.

Whether it is the theft of intellectual property, the intimidation of Anne-Marie Brady, the threats to ethnic Chinese New Zealanders (and the attempts to divide their loyalties), the way in which our political system is compromised by donation flows from people with close PRC associations, the presence in Parliament of Jian Yang (in particular) and Raymond Huo – neither of whom has ever uttered a public word critical of one of the worst regimes on the planet –  the presence of PRC-government funded workers (selected for political loyalty/reliability) in our school classrooms, the partnerships our universities have formed with this regime, and the way they’ve exposed themselves to economic pressure and threats from the regime, the way our mayors (and MPs) seem to fall over themselves to associate with the PRC, or a Leader of the Opposition who seems not to like non-binding agreements except when they aspire to fusing civilisations with the PRC (it was his signature on the BRI agreement last year)……and that’s just some of the stuff at home, let alone what they do in other countries and to their own people.   The PRC is, quite simply, consequential in a way that Destiny Church is unlikely ever to be, even in New Zealand. And, of course, Jacobi knows all this, but he has a job to do….and never mind about the facts or the threats.

The previous tweet –  actually retweeted –  on Jacobi’s feed was perhaps equally telling about how the powers that be in New Zealand see things

The Confucius Institutes, part of the PRC government’s worldwide programme attempting to influence opinion in their favour (or at least neutralise it) –  instruments of PRC foreign policy,  hosted and highlighted by the New Zealand consulate in Chengdu (where these people who labour for Beijing were visiting for the worldwide conference of the Confucius Institute movement).  I guess it is a bit confusing when your former senior official, Tony Browne, former New Zealand Ambassador to China, now sits on the global advisory board for the Confucius programme, advancing Beijing’s interests (while helping run training programmes for rising Communist Party officials).  The Newsroom article this morning on some of these issues is worth reading.

(I guess MFAT has form in these area. I’ve just been reading Anne-Marie Brady’s book about Rewi Alley and was struck –  if perhaps not surprised –  by the way New Zealand government’s were attempting to use that shameless fellow traveller and apologist, who openly defended and championed the PRC through the worst of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, to advance their dealings with a vile regime –  the same party, same regime as now, just better suits and better technology.)

How much better for our taxes to be used to expose New Zealand kids, and New Zealand citizens, to the nature of the regime which, in sheer brutality and suppression of human freedoms, must now rank among the very worst we’ve seen?  But I guess that might disrupt the trade opportunities of the people on the China Council’s boards.  Deals might not go through, donations might be interrupted.  Well, frankly, values are things for which you are willing to pay a price. And it isn’t clear that China Council has any such values – and none of them ever utter any.

Are these people any worse than our political “leaders”?  Perhaps not –  although probably no elected politician would be quite as crass as Mr Jacobi –  but that is a standard so low, it is barely even worth considering.

At a personal level, Mr Jacobi appears to be a Christian himself.  This appeared on his Twitter account yesterday

There probably aren’t many Anglicans in the PRC, but I’m sure Mr Jacobi is well aware of the mounting campaign by Xi Jinping to domesticate, sinify, and (preferably) eliminate religion – Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or whatever – from China.  When the largest country in the world adopts that sort of approach –  not just around religion – it is a threat to us all.   As another more famous Anglican once put it

No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne

I’ve recently subscribed to a newsletter, Bitter Winter, from an Italian think tank on religious freedom (or lack of it) in the PRC.  These, perhaps, are the sort of evils our universities willingly partner with.   This is the sort of stuff our officials and politicians simply ignore.  But then these are the same people who disgrace themselves singing from the Party songbook about “vocational training” in Xinjiang.

That’s religious freedom.  Then there is political freedom (lack thereof), freedom of speech, freedom from surveillance, the rule of law, and so on. Not one of these the PRC has, or even claims to aspire to.  And yet MFAT, our politicians, and the China Council –  all funded by tax dollars – seem content to treat the PRC as a normal country, run by basically decent people, rather than as an evil regime with no moral core, a regime from which every decent person should keep their distance, and a regime which every decent person should avoid putting themselves in the thrall, and under the threat, of.

It isn’t even as if there is the excuse of novelty –  Nazi Germany was five years old in 1938, not 69 years old.   We know very well what the PRC regime is like –  even those who defend it know, even if they prefer to pretend otherwise. We could (and should) choose a distant and formal relationship –  if your firm wants to deal with Beijing, don’t expect help from the government –  but instead the deals and donations seemed to have warped any sense of decency, in ways that would have been unimaginable 45 years ago when New Zealand was first establishing diplomatic ties with the PRC.