Christchurch: New Zealand, Aotearoa or the Land of the Long White Cloud deep in the South Pacific, is one country grappling with the nefarious influence of China.
Few are more qualified to speak of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) activities in New Zealand than Anne-Marie Brady, a professor of political science at Canterbury University in Christchurch.
Brady, who is fluent in Mandarin, has devoted her academic career to studying Chinese domestic and foreign politics, including its efforts in New Zealand, Antarctica and the South Pacific.
“New Zealand has definitely been experiencing China’s political interference tactics just as other countries have,” she told ANI.
Professor Brady is at the forefront of efforts to publicize what the United Front Work Department (UFWD) is doing in New Zealand, and she has not hesitated to expose its links with New Zealand politicians.
It is perhaps this tenacity that brought Brady international headlines after her university office and home were burgled several times, and her car sabotaged.
Brady herself believes there is a firm Chinese connection to such intimidation, although it must be said that the New Zealand Police nor the intelligence service has yet pinpointed a culprit.
Nevertheless, Brady jokingly described the case as the deepest and most intensive burglary investigation in New Zealand’s history.
Referring to the murky links between the CCP and New Zealand politicians, Brady told ANI: “The Chinese Communist Party’s influence activities have had a very big impact on New Zealand politics, and a really good example of that was revealed last year through the National MP [member of parliament] Jami-Lee Ross and information that he shared about a prominent Chinese businessman who is based in New Zealand, whose name is Zhang Yikun and who has very, very close links to the PLA [People’s Liberation Army], the CCP and United Work Front activities.”
Ross himself resigned from the National Party in connection with a wider scandal, although he remains an MP. Referring to Zhang, Brady elaborated: “He was making targeted donations to the National Party, to Labour and the Maori Party, and has put political demands on those donations. And that’s just one example of it. I talked about it at length, these kinds of situations, in my paper Magic Weapons that was released in December 2017.”
Chinese-born Zhang, who calls New Zealand home but who has not deigned to learn English, facilitated a set of political donations to the National Party totalling NZD100,000, plus he suggested to the party leader Simon Bridges the name of an associate who could become a next ethnic-Chinese MP. It turned out that Zhang has extensive involvement in the UWFD, and he is a figure who mixes with the highest echelons of the CCP.
Also exposed in 2017 was National MP Jian Yang, who failed to disclose to the New Zealand authorities that he had served as an intelligence officer and a teacher at a PLA spy school. Despite Jian’s dubious background, he was allowed to sit in a foreign affairs committee of parliament. He confirmed he was a CCP member, but insists this is not the case now. Yet such revelations have made a mockery of New Zealand’s national security standards and the country’s vulnerability to Chinese influence.
Brady pointed out, “New Zealand is one of the many countries experiencing the CCP’s United Work Front tactics, and it’s very difficult to address. And for a small state, the first task is to look at your legislation and see where there are gaps and where there needs to be places to tighten up gaps that are being exploited.”
She continued, “And the second thing we need to do is talk about it, because there are a lot of things that go on in United Front Work that might be technically illegal but they do have a deleterious effect on democracy, and they still are a foreign government interfering in the politics of another country. So if people know and understand the situation, they can make choices, rather than be passive…So it’s important that our political leaders talk about is as well.”
China is also now calling itself a “near Arctic state”, a term that was introduced some time ago as a trial balloon. “They didn’t get much push-back so they thought it was alright, but that was the term that America got really concerned about. The US is busy with other things, and the White Paper last year was quite a wake-up call for the Pentagon and others who would normally be interested in the strategic aspect to the Arctic.”
The above reference is to the State Council Information Office’s release of ‘China’s Arctic Policy’ White Paper on 26 January 2018. “So seeing it in the White Paper, that China is calling itself a ‘near-Arctic state’, was definitely interesting and concerning, plus the talk of the Polar Silk Road. The thing is, China has actually been saying this for several years but nobody was paying attention or taking it seriously.”
Finally, ANI asked Brady about her thoughts on Chinese influence in the South Pacific. Alarm broke out last year when an Australian newspaper reported that China was seeking to establish a naval base in Vanuatu.
Brady assessed: “China has got a lot of military links in the Pacific now, so they have been providing training, uniforms and buildings for the Tongan, Fijian and PNG [Papua New Guinean] militaries for a number of years now, for at least ten years. And they offer not just short-term training but whole degree programmes for officers for the Fijian military amongst others to go to China.”
She commented, “It’s interesting that some commentators are saying Australia is increasingly militarizing the Pacific, but that’s not accurate, I think. China has been engaging in more and more military-related activities in the Pacific and that’s arousing the concerns of Australia and New Zealand, so it’s where it started that you need to deal with before you look at the follow-up response.”
Brady also spoke of all of China’s Pacific partners who have signed up for the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. “If you’re a member of the Belt Road Initiative, you’ll also be part of the so-called digital road, and that will bring you into the BeiDou network and all the partners are supposed to have BeiDou and to have ground stations.”
Indeed, there are already more than 60 signatories to the OBOR initiative. “I talked about the military component of BeiDou, so you’ll have one or more Pacific nations with a BeiDou ground station,” she warned.
This demonstrates that the impact for New Zealand is different from what people imagined national security was in the days of World War I or II, for instance, where an enemy might send a submarine or lay mines.
“In this era, a lot of the conflict will be fought through cyberattacks, so our part of the world is strategically important because of a much bigger global picture. And the strengthening of the Chinese military will impact on our security and our ability to defend ourselves,” Brady said.
She underscored how national security has been transformed in the modern era. “It’s a completely different game that’s going on, so having strategic [Chinese] assets in the Pacific partners will have an impact on our broader security.”
In World War II, the Pacific island nations served as New Zealand’s shield. “If any of them – for example Vanuatu, New Caledonia or Fiji – were completely under the control of a hostile power, that would affect our shipping routes, just as it did in World War II.” That threat was why New Zealand and Australia went to help the Free French in New Caledonia soon after the fall of France in 1940.
Brady concluded, “So the Pacific – the integrity, the sovereignty, the true independence of the Pacific nations – is as important to us as it is to them.”
Canberra and Wellington are only belatedly waking up to the threat. “They are taking it seriously,” Brady commented, “but they have limited resources and the problem is that they’re not always pulling together. It’s like a team of horses but sometimes they’re pulling in different directions.”