January 27th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Loy Yang just latest critical asset to go offshore

EDITORIAL Behind the power shift in the Middle East

CANBERRA OBSERVED Freedom of religion just an afterthought?

GENDER POLITICS Family Court washes hands of gender-dysphoric kids

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Western sanctions have forced Russia to upskill

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS China exerts soft power on our southern neighbour

ENVIRONMENT Senate committee puts marine life before people

SEXUAL ABUSE Royal commission report ignores cause of abuse

HIGHER EDUCATION Critical thinking and the culture of skepticism

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS U.S. urges Taiwan rearmament to counter China threat

PHILOSOPHY A reflection on thoughts of Richard Dawkins

MUSIC Group theory: A good band is greater than its parts

CINEMA Darkest Hour: A long time till dawn

BOOK REVIEW 'Populism' and the new social divide

BOOK REVIEW Poems outshine dross of inept introduction



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China exerts soft power on our southern neighbour

by Bernard Moran

News Weekly, January 27, 2018

Australia is often compared with countries such as Argentina and Canada, based on the observation that they are sparcely populated countries with huge emptinesses. But, at a deeper level, the country most like our own is New Zealand. It is so like to us and we are so used to NZ nationals living amongst us that their country of origin has become invisible to us.

Bernard Moran brings us word from the land hidden under the Long White Cloud, and we would do well to listen to him as we in Australia are vulnerable to similar infiltration by cajolement from the same quarter.

Moran makes use of the work of Anne-Marie Brady of the Department of Political Science & International Relations at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. Professor Brady is a China specialist and prolific author of articles and books on the Chinese Communist Party.

The extensive quotes from Professor Brady’s paper are used with the express permission of Professor Brady.

New Zealanders like to think of their country as being proudly independent, but that idea is appearing delusional with the release of research papers revealing the extent of China’s pervasive influence.

The first revelation came on September 13, 2017, with the news that a National Party (Liberal) MP, Yang Jian, had studied and lectured at an elite Chinese spy school before moving to NZ from Australia. Yang taught international relations in the Politics Department at the University of Auckland, before being recruited as a National Party MP. He had been a key fundraiser for the National Party within the Chinese community.

As an MP, Yang served on Parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee from 2014 and was a key liaison figure between the Chinese community and the consulates and embassy, as well as helping shape the National government’s China strategy. The National Party is now the Opposition and Jian Yang no longer sits on the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committee.

When the story broke, Yang claimed that he was recruited purely as a lecturer in English to the trainees at the spy school.

The second revelation came on September 20, 2017, with a two-page headline report in The New Zealand Herald (NZ’s largest circulation newspaper) entitled “China’s long reach” by journalists Matt Nippert and David Fisher.

The article was based on a 57-page paper delivered by New Zealand academic Professor Anne-Marie Brady at a conference in Arlington, United States, on September 16–17, 2017. Professor Brady’s paper was entitled “Magic weapons: China’s political influence activities under Xi Jinping’s United Front work”.

Professor Brady sets the scene:

“In September 2014, Xi gave a speech on the importance of united front work, using Mao’s term to describe it as one of the CCP’s ‘magic weapons’. The other two ‘magic weapons’ are Party building and military activities, both of which feature prominently in China under Xi.

“Xi-era political influence can be summarised into four key categories:

“A strengthening of efforts to manage and guide overseas Chinese communities and utilise them as agents of Chinese foreign policy.

“A re-emphasis on PRC [People’s Republic of China] enterprise-to-foreign enterprise relations with the aim of co-opting foreigners to support and promote CCP’s foreign policy goals.

“The rollout of a global, multi-platform communication strategy.

“The formation of a China-centred economic and strategic blog, for example, the One Belt, One Road policy.”

Why New Zealand is of interest to China

“China has a long-term strategic agenda in Antarctica that will require the cooperation of established Antarctic states such as NZ. New Zealand has cheap, arable land and a sparse population. The country is useful for near-space research, which is an important new area of research for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as it expands its long-range precision missiles, as well as having civilian applications.

“Chinese companies Shanghai Pengxin and KuangChi Science have used Shanghai Pengxin’s New Zealand dairy farms for near-space launches. New Zealand also has unexplored oil and gas resources.

“New Zealand is a member of the UKUSA intelligence agreement, the Five Power Defense Arrangement and the unofficial ABCA grouping of militaries, as well as being a NATO partner state.

“Breaking NZ out of these military groupings and away from its traditional partners, or at the very least, getting NZ to agree to stop spying on China for the Five Eyes, would be a major coup for China’s goal of becoming a global great power.

“New Zealand’s ever closer economic, political and military relationship with China, is seen by Beijing as an exemplar for Australia, the small island nations in the South Pacific, as well as more broadly other Western states. New Zealand is valuable to China, as well as to other states such as Russia, as a soft underbelly to access Five Eyes intelligence.

“New Zealand is also a potential strategic site for the PLA-Navy’s southern-hemisphere future naval facilities and a future Beidou-2 ground station. There are already several of these in Antarctica.

“All of these aspects make New Zealand of interest to China’s Party-State-Military-Market nexus. Unlike in the Cold War years, when the CCP’s agents and spies were united by a common faith in Maoism-Marxism-Leninism, in the present day, modern agents of influence may be working to extend political and strategic interests at one moment, while lining their own pockets in the next. Current policy encourages the blurring of political and economic interests in the pursuit of extending China’s soft power.”

The magic weapon

“There are currently around 200,000 ethnic Chinese residents, out of a population of 4.5 million New Zealanders. The majority of Chinese live in Auckland, where they make up around 10 per cent of the population. Chinese consular authorities keep a close eye on all Chinese community activities, especially in Auckland.

“They have achieved this through close links with core pro-Beijing community groups, and maintaining oversight over other Chinese community groups, ethnic Chinese political figures, and Chinese media and language schools.

“Moreover, during the Xi era, the PRC embassy in Wellington has supported the setting up of new organisations that report back to united front bodies in China, and, according to two former Australian-based Chinese diplomats, by placing supporters and informers in NZ Chinese organisations that are more independent minded and pose a potential threat to China’s interests.

“The current level of supervision over the Chinese ethnic community in NZ is a remarkable achievement. All throughout the Cold War years, with only a few exceptions, Chinese New Zealanders were neither pro-CCP, nor pro-PRC, even if they were not necessarily pro-Chinese Nationalist Party, or pro-ROC [Republic of China on Taiwan]. This is classic CCP party-building and organisation work. Chinese language media, community groups and language schools were previously proudly independent.

“It should be remembered that the ethnic Chinese permanent residents and citizens of NZ are a very diverse group. Not all are Han Chinese, not all are originally from the PRC. Many come from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand or elsewhere.

“Following the pattern of many other nations, in the space of a few years, NZ’s Chinese language mass media has gone from being independent and localised, to being an outlet of China’s official messaging through content cooperation agreements with Xinhua News Service and annual media training conferences in China.

“Some media outlets have also employed senior staff members who are closely connected to the CCP. As part of Xi-era efforts to ‘integrate’ the overseas Chinese media with the domestic media, NZ Chinese media organisations are now also under the ‘guidance’ of CCP propaganda officials. Here are some examples.

“The leading Auckland Chinese paper, The Chinese Herald, now has close personal links to the PRC consulate and works with the All-China Federation of Overseas Chinese. Previously the paper was totally independent, but like many other papers, it has been steadily ‘harmonised’ with Chinese media control agencies.

“In 2011, Auckland’s only Chinese language 24-hour radio station was taken over by a subsidiary of China Radio International, followed by Panda TV, Channel 37, the Chinese Times and Kiwi Style.

“Then in June 2017, at a hotel in Auckland, the State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office hosted a meeting to discuss the integration of overseas media with local media. Li Guohong, vice-director of the Propaganda Depart­ment of the State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, and other senior CCP media management officials, met with local Chinese media and community groups.

“This is one of the main ways the CCP relays instructions to the domestic Chinese media in order to avoid a paper trail. Party directives are accorded a higher status than national law.”

Keeping Kiwis in line

“As it has in many countries, the PRC has made considerable efforts to shape how China is reported in the mainstream media in NZ. The former National government’s ‘no surprises’ policy on China is a reaction to this work. PRC diplomats put considerable pressure on NZ academics, journalists, politicians and other thought leaders who speak up critically on China-related issues.

“In 2005, NZ Greens MP and co-leader Rod Donald, was blocked and surrounded by Chinese officials when he unfurled a Tibetan flag on the steps of the NZ Parliament during a visit by CCP senior leader Wu Bangguo.

“In 2007, NZ parliamentary press journalist Nick Wang was evicted from a photo opportunity at a meeting between Chinese Vice-Premier Zeng Peiyan and Labour Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen, on the instructions of a ‘Chinese intelligence official’.”

Professor Anne-Marie Brady found herself in hot water over her unpublished research on China’s interest in Antarctica’s mineral resources. In 2015, Chinese polar officials applied pressure to the University of Canterbury, Antarctica NZ, the Christchurch City Council and NZ diplomats in China.

It took the support of the University of Canterbury’s Vice-Chancellor, Dr Rod Carr, who upheld the principle of academic freedom, to finally put a stop to this interference.

Client state

In a policy briefing of November 2017, entitled “Looking for points in common, while facing up to differences: a new model for NZ-China relations”, Professor Brady starts with two key findings:

China’s covert, corrupting and coercive political influence activities in NZ are now at a critical level.

The NZ Government needs to make legislative and policy changes that will better protect our interests and help protect against foreign interference activities.

“The formation of the Labour-New Zealand First-Green coalition Government in October 2017 offers an opportunity to take a fresh look at NZ’s relationships with China. The two countries signed a free trade agreement in 2008, and China is now NZ’s second largest trading partner after Australia.

“China hasn’t had to pressure NZ to accept China’s soft power activities and political influence: successive NZ governments have actively courted it. Ever since New Zealand-PRC diplomatic relations were established in 1972, NZ governments followed policies to attract Beijing’s attention and favour, through high-profile support for China’s new economic agendas.

“The NZ National Party government (2008–17), followed two main principles on China:

“The ‘no surprises’ policy, which appeared to mean avoiding the NZ government or its officials, or anyone affiliated with government activities, saying or doing anything that might offend the PRC government (for example, the clearly muted response to China’s activities in the South China Sea), which inevitably had a chilling effect on normal policy discussions.

“An emphasis on ‘getting the political relationship right’, which under the National Party came to mean developing extensive and intimate political links with CCP local and national leaders, their representatives and affiliated actors in NZ. Both these approaches, fed and encouraged the success of China’s political influence activities in NZ.”

What can be done?

Professor Brady sees signs that the new coalition Government will seek to re-adjust NZ-China relations and, like Australia and Canada, face the challenge posed by foreign influence activities, what has been called hybrid warfare.

“The new Government should follow Australia’s example in speaking up publicly on the issue of China’s influence activities and make it clear that interference in New Zealand’s domestic politics will no longer be tolerated.

“New Zealand should enter into discussions with Australia and other like-minded nations on the implications of China’s One Belt, One Road policies and other aspects of Xi’s new foreign policy on global politics, economic independence, and the control of strategic assets.

“The coalition Government must instruct its MPs to refuse any further involvement in China’s united front activities, just as in the Cold-War era when NZ politicians were very conscious of Chinese and Soviet ‘Front’ organisations, and most kept well away from them. A genuine and positive relationship with the local Chinese community needs to be established, independent of the united front organisations authorised by the CCP, which are aimed at controlling the Chinese population and controlling Chinese language discourse.

“In addition, the new Minister of the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) must instruct the SIS to engage in an in-depth investigation of China’s subversion and espionage activities in NZ. The SIS can draw on the experience of ASIO, which conducted a similar investigation two years ago.”

Professor Brady recognises that should these precautions be implemented, China under Xi is likely to react strongly, but the Government has to be prepared to weather the storm to protect New Zealand’s long-term national interests.

Where do the Americans feature in all of this? New Zealand has to trade to keep solvent, but, as Professor Brady notes, successive U.S. presidents have refused to sign any free trade deals. The anti-nuclear legislation that led to the breakdown of ANZUS in 1987, may still rankle and has not been forgotten.

A future bilateral-trade agreement with post-Brexit Britain offers some hope of escaping from the current bind, but in the meantime Professor Brady recommends guidance in the saying of Zhou Enlai, the PRC’s first Foreign Minister: “Seek common points while facing up to differences”.

Bernard Moran is a semi-retired journalist living in Auckland who has previously been an occasional contributor to News Weekly and the National Observer.

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