Comment

NZ’s increasing Hong Kong-like problem

Despite New Zealand’s status as an independent sovereign state, China’s ambition to influence its political affairs is apparent, writes Stanley Ng

The threat against University of Canterbury professor Anne-Marie Brady for her work on exposing China’s infiltration in New Zealand and the break-ins at her office and home calls for great concern, not just in New Zealand but also in other parts of the world.

I have almost lived all of my life in Hong Kong but chose to emigrate to the UK last year, after witnessing the means employed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to try to convert Hong Kong from a Special Administrative Region, with a high degree of autonomy free from Chinese control as enshrined in the Joint Sino-British Declaration and the Basic Law, into just one of China’s major cities.

In the past 20 years since Hong Kong was returned to China after 99 years of British colonial rule, Hong Kong people have come to realise that China’s promise to allow Hong Kong to retain its capitalist system, rule of law, freedom of expression and way of life for a period of 50 years is simply a big lie.

The experience in Hong Kong is therefore a valuable reference to other countries when dealing with China.

Hong Kong has never had a fully democratic government. The Chief Executive is elected by a small group of people (about 1200 at present) with intimate connection to China. Of the 60 members of the Legislative Council right after the handover, only 24 were directly elected in geographical constituencies. The others were able to obtain their seats through ‘small circle’ election that can easily be manipulated by the CCP.

Although the Basic Law states that the method for electing the Chief Executive and forming the Legislative Council (Legco) after 2007 can be amended if it is endorsed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legco and with the consent of the Chief Executive, and shall be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) for record, the ‘carefully chosen’ Chief Executive and tightly controlled Legco dominated by pro-China members have repeatedly defied Hong Kong people’s aspiration to true democracy. At present, the Legco has 70 members and only half are directly elected.

Newsroom’s investigation into National MP Jian Yang’s ties to Chinese military intelligence is a clear sign that China has found ways to exert greater political influence in other countries.

The Umbrella Movement that began in September 2014 during which tens of thousands participated in the protests, is a testimony of the frustration expressed by the Hong Kong people following the China’s earlier decision for a selective pre-screening of candidates for election of the Chief Executive.

It is obvious that China will never want or allow Hong Kong to enjoy full democracy. In the 2016 Legco election, the NPCSC controversially interpreted Article 104 of the Basic Law of Hong Kong to "clarify" the requirements that the legislators need to swear allegiance to Hong Kong as part of China when they take office, six pro-democracy legislators were subsequently disqualified by the court for not taking their oath in the proper way.

Apart from manipulating the political system, China also pours huge resources into the electoral process. Pro-China candidates are given tremendous financial support and it is well-documented that many voters are given cash or other material incentives for casting their votes for these candidates.

Despite New Zealand’s status as an independent sovereign state, China’s ambition to influence its political affairs is apparent. Political parties with MPs closely associated with the CCP have received hefty donations from wealthy ex-pat Chinese with links to China.

Newsroom’s investigation into National MP Jian Yang’s ties to Chinese military intelligence is a clear sign that China has found ways to exert greater political influence in other countries.

Professor Anne-Marie Brady’s report on means employed by China to infiltrate New Zealand are simply familiar scenes in Hong Kong. According to Brady, most Chinese newspapers in New Zealand, apart from Epoch Times, are largely funded by China. They have therefore more or less become China’s mouthpieces. In Hong Kong, maybe the only newspapers free from China control are the Epoch Times and the Apple Daily. They have been subject to great pressure and many companies would not place advertisements in these two papers for fear of reprisals by the Chinese authorities.

Education is another important target of China in trying to silence dissenting voices. Many academics who are critical of the Chinese and Hong Kong government are objects of vicious attacks by the CCP’s mouthpieces in Hong Kong.

As a highly authoritarian regime that has a long history of suppression of human rights and atrocities against its own people, China’s growing economic and political influence in other countries must not be taken lightly by any government.

Some have received threats similar to those suffered by professor Brady. Most recently, Professor Benny Tai of the University of Hong Kong was fiercely attacked for his comments in a seminar in Taiwan on the possibility of different regions in China being able to exercise their rights to decide on their political future following the demise of the present authoritarian regime.

Freedom of expression in Hong Kong is facing its greatest threat ever. In Australia, the last-minute abandonment of publishing a completed manuscript by Professor Clive Hamilton of Charles Sturt University’s Silent Invasion: How China Is Turning Australia into a Puppet State by the publishing company is another worrying sign.

China flexing its economic muscle is of course an integral part of its strategy to gain greater overseas influence. The financial and real estate sectors, which are the pillars of the Hong Kong economy, are now dominated by major Chinese players. China’s major state-owned banks such as the China Construction Bank, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank have rapidly increased their presence in Hong Kong in the past few years. The influx of Chinese companies has also pushed up commercial property prices and rentals, making it one of the most expensive in the world. Housing prices have also skyrocketed in the past decade or so since many mainland Chinese are anxious to move their funds abroad. Some analysts have warned that Hong Kong has become a major money laundering destination for wealthy Chinese officials and merchants. In New Zealand, the large-scale acquisition of residential properties, luxury apartments and farmland have also pushed up their prices, and making it more difficult for local people to purchase their own homes.

There is ample evidence that China is becoming more and more ambitious in assuming a more prominent role in the world stage. Xi Jinping’s One-belt-one-road initiative has been rightly judged by many as much more than a mega economic project.

As a highly authoritarian regime that has a long history of suppression of human rights and atrocities against its own people, China’s growing economic and political influence in other countries must not be taken lightly by any government.

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