4 Nov 2018

Are we letting China breach New Zealand's sovereignty?

From Sunday Morning, 10:04 am on 4 November 2018

When it comes to Chinese political influence, New Zealand's allies consider that we are something of a soft underbelly, according to Kiwi academic Anne-Marie Brady, who has studied Chinese politics for decades.

Leaders from four of the Five Eyes nations - Australia's Malcolm Turnbull, Britain's Theresa May, Canada's Justin Trudeau and New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern - meet in London.

 Leaders from four of the five nations in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance - Australia's Malcolm Turnbull, Britain's Theresa May, Canada's Justin Trudeau and New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern - at a meeting in London in April 2018. Photo: Pool

New Zealand's sluggish response to China's interference in our domestic political processes has led to the Five Eyes intelligence alliance (comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States) being dubbed 'Four Eyes and a Wink', Brady tells Wallace Chapman.

"That's what people in many different capitals of the world have said to me [about] how New Zealand is perceived – and perceptions matter."

The Communist Party of China (CPC) is using its country's vast resources to extend Chinese foreign influence via three so-called 'magic weapons', says Prof Brady.

One is its United Front strategy – which she describes as ammunition "you cannot deflect against".

Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin first used the term 'United Front' to describe activities of political influence and President Xi Jinping is turning up the dial, Brady says.

The CPC sees its superior organisational skills and its military forces as the two other 'magic weapons'.

Party leaders believe that it was these three 'magic weapons' that enabled them to rise to power in 1949, Brady says.

"Xi Jinping has highlighted all three and the Party is back. The role of the Party is very strong in China today, whereas it was somewhat withering away over previous decades."

Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2017

Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2017 Photo: TYRONE SIU / POOL / AFP

In Asia, the Cold War did not end in 1991, she says.

"It ended in the Eastern Bloc, it did not end in Asia. And the CPC, the Vietnamese Communist Party, Laos, to a certain extent and the Korean Workers Party continued on [with] the same policies that they'd followed in the Cold War era."

We now know that back in the mid-1970s, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon was briefed that groups such as the New Zealand Chinese Friendship Association were fronts for Chinese political influence, she says.

"Two decades of double-digit growth in China means that the CPC is very well-resourced and continuing to use these proxy organisations and more in the present day as part of a much more assertive Chinese foreign policy."

Anne-Marie Brady

Anne-Marie Brady Photo: Supplied

Chinese-language media within New Zealand is of particular concern to Brady as it is now more closely aligned with Chinese state media than ever before.

The Chinese government targets New Zealand's Chinese population and Chinese-language media in their efforts to influence and interfere with New Zealand politics, she says.

"It wouldn't be good for China if there was a truly diverse independent Chinese-language media outside of the Chinese mainland. You would get voices that were critical of the government and critical of Xi Jinping."

The Xi Jinping government's policy is to merge Chinese-language media outside of China with the editorial line of mainland China – and this is happening here in New Zealand, she says.

"[The Chinese-language media in NZ follow] the Xinhua (Chinese state media agency) set line or the Falun Gong paper The Epoch Times is the only alternative.

"It wasn't always this way, but it's come to be this way and it is a clear breach of our sovereignty if a foreign government is setting the editorial line in our media."

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Photo: 123RF

In a time when traditional media is contracting, Chinese language media in New Zealand remains healthy, she says.

"There is a surprisingly large range of TV stations, radio stations and newspapers in Chinese languages in New Zealand, considering the [Chinese] population is about 200,000 and English-language traditional media is struggling to make enough money to be viable.

"Who is helping to fund this media?"

Powerful nations have always used their influence, but the effort China is putting into this under Xi Jinping is off the scale, Brady says.

"The CPC has a lot of resources because they don't just use state resources. I talk in my research about the party-state-military-market nexus. So-called 'Red Capitalists' – people who have become prosperous off the party – will use their funds to forward Chinese government policy."

Then there is China's vast diaspora.

"There was a call to arms by Xi Jinping in August this year to the whole of the 60 million Chinese diaspora. In his imagination, [these people are] a resource for the [Communist Party of China] to utilise."

READ: "One of the things we need to do in New Zealand is to start to see China the way it really is" - Anne-Marie Brady told Morning Report on 19 October.

Anne-Marie Brady is a professor of political science and international relations at the University of Canterbury.