Foreign Affairs

China hits back at interference allegations

The Chinese government says it has never interfered in New Zealand’s domestic affairs or the internal affairs of any country, following allegations about a Chinese businessman's donation to the National Party.

During a press conference on Thursday, China foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang went further and called on every county “to make a clear and open commitment to the world that it will not interfere in the internal affairs of others under any circumstances, and in any way”.

The comments came in response to allegations in New Zealand about potential Chinese interference in politics.

Earlier in the week, ousted National MP Jami-Lee Ross alleged that a $100,000 donation to National from Chinese businessman Zhang Yikun, who has himself not been accused of any wrongdoing, was divided up at the direction of his leader Simon Bridges.

A secret recording released by Ross of a phone call with Bridges also included discussions about Zhang’s business partner possibly becoming a National candidate.

'Rot at the heart of our democracy'

University of Canterbury China expert Anne-Marie Brady said at the heart of the “bloodbath” was an allegation of Beijing-backed political donations being laundered to escape New Zealand’s donation reporting laws.

“Time to face up to the rot at the heart of our democracy and break the hold of corrosive outside money: Reform electoral finance,” she tweeted.

Zhang has a close relationship with the Chinese Communist Party, is a party member, an active member of New Zealand’s Chinese community, and served in China’s People’s Liberation Army.

Earlier this month, a member of Auckland’s Chinese community launched a petition calling for a parliamentary inquiry into foreign influence in New Zealand politics.

And Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said the issue needed further scrutiny, saying the tape released by Ross showed a “cash for candidates” scheme.

Beijing responds

But when asked about the situation unfolding in New Zealand, Kang said China had never intended to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

“A basic principle of China's diplomacy is adherence to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, one of whose core contents is mutual respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.”

He also said similar allegations had been made by a number of countries in recent times.

The Chinese embassy in New Zealand echoed this sentiment in a written statement to Newsroom.

“Chinese Embassy wishes to make it clear that non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs has always been one of the core principles in China’s foreign policy.”

“Speculations on China’s role in New Zealand politics are totally groundless.”

The embassy’s statement went on to say China has never used any person to interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs.

“Those speculations on China’s role in New Zealand politics are totally groundless.”

University of Auckland Chinese politics senior lecturer Stephen Noakes said it was important to have discussion about the political system, including whether the checks and balances were adequate.

Everyone, including politicians, should also be able to question China’s actions on the mainland and overseas, without self-censorship.

Noakes said he believed questioning China would not lead to retaliation, but there seemed to be a fear of speaking up, born out of a misunderstanding of how the country and its government functioned.

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