23 Jul 2020

Concerns raised over crash involving Chinese activists

8:11 pm on 23 July 2020

A car crash that killed two prominent members of the Chinese pro-democracy movement has sparked accusations of sabotage.

Anne-Marie Brady

Professor Anne-Marie Brady said there is worry sabotage was involved. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

The two men were among a group of activists heading to Wellington to present a submission calling for politicians to resist Chinese Communist Party influence.

Auckland-based journalist Ding Qiang, who had travelled to the capital earlier that day, said he did not learn learn until 8pm on Tuesday night that two of his close friends were dead and another had been seriously injured in a crash hours previously near Tokoroa.

"We were just waiting for them at the hotel when we got the phone call."

The men were among a group of 10 activists travelling to Wellington to present their petition to MPs calling on them to oppose infiltration by the Chinese Communist Party in New Zealand politics.

Federation of Chinese Democracy New Zealand Branch chair Xi Weiguo was killed along with writer Wang Lecheng, while another activist is in Waikato Hospital.

Ding said the circumstances seemed suspicious to many people - but he trusted the police to investigate.

"We think this crash is very, very strange. The road is flat and wide ... I hope the New Zealand government can investigate the incident thoroughly.

"The will of the deceased is to keep New Zealand as pure as it is without any foreign influence and manipulation.

"Mr Wang Lecheng and Mr Xi Weiguo paid the price with their lives to raise awareness among New Zealanders to cherish its purity. They used their blood to warn people of the politicians who're penetrated and manipulated by foreign forces, and also foreign spies who mixed themselves in the political world."

Ding said the activists had no desire to "sabotage" New Zealand's relationships with China.

"We just want NZ to be free from the manipulation of dark money politics."

In a written statement, police said "a careful and thorough investigation" was under way into the cause of the crash.

"However, an initial assessment of the scene indicates a northbound vehicle has crossed the centre line, glancing a southbound vehicle in the process before colliding head on with a third vehicle."

Canterbury University China academic Anne-Marie Brady told Parliament's Justice Select Committee that people were frightened.

"There is a lot of debate in our New Zealand Chinese community, [they're] very, very worried that there could have been sabotage involved in the accident.

"Whether there is or not, the fact that that was the instant response shows how vulnerable they feel, how unsafe they feel."

Prof Brady said she had flagged her concerns with police but she also wanted the SIS to investigate.

She said the Chinese Communist Party was having a pernicious influence on New Zealand politics - both at central and local level - through donations and party appointees masquerading as community leaders.

"You are not listening to the advice of SIS, who have given you very clear information about these proxy groups, and the influence that it has on our society."

A spokesperson for the Embassy of the People's Republic of China said Professor Brady's comments were "groundless and without any proof".

"Our ambassador has made it clear time and time again that China adheres to the principle of non-interference and we have never done anything to interfere with the political system of New Zealand and we have also never done such things as so-called sabotage the Chinese community as alleged by the professor."

However, international security analyst Paul Buchanan said China had a track record of interfering in other nations' affairs, including hacking.

Furthermore, "independent" Chinese voices in New Zealand regularly experienced intimidation by pro-Beijing groups, he said.

"It's not unjustified that independent members of the Chinese community may feel threatened to the point that when something tragic like this happens, they - if not jump to conclusions - then certainly suspect that the accident may have more sinister causes than a mere accident."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rejected the claim the Government was not taking the risk seriously.

"We are very mindful that this has been a pattern of behaviour from a range of different actors, particularly during countries' election periods, and we keep under constant review all the frameworks we have to protect ourselves from that."

The minister responsible for the SIS, Andrew Little, declined to comment on Professor Brady's comments or the crash investigation, saying it was a police matter.

Meanwhile, Ding Qiang and other activists were today visiting the families of the victims and preparing for funerals.

Ding said he was planning to return to Wellington to present the petition in the near future.

Beijing Spring editor and activist, Chen Weijian, who was also a member of the delegation to Wellington, said he hoped the police would carry out a detailed investigation.

"We were not travelling for leisure, we were travelling to the parliament to raise awareness on the CCP penetration.

"Coming up to the general election, there are some people with CCP background who want to join the parliament, and some are making political donations. We want to remind the political world of New Zealand to be aware of those things."