Week in Review

Jian Yang in China for CCP military parade

Just weeks after Simon Bridges faced backlash over a trip to China and a meeting with the country’s spy boss, National MP Jian Yang has returned to Beijing for a major military parade. Laura Walters reports.

Controversial National Party MP Jian Yang is in Beijing for the People's Republic of China's 70th anniversary celebrations.

More specifically, he’s part of a group of distinguished guests attending the parade of the People’s Liberation Army from a special vantage point, at the invitation of the Chinese Government.

The parade has been described by foreign media as a show of military might - the biggest military parade in decades. It is also being used by Beijing to unveil some of its newest weapons amid myriad challenges facing the country's government, including the slowing economy and the trade war with the US.

National list MP Yang, who is best known in New Zealand for his former roles at military and intelligence universities in China, has travelled to Beijing with other leaders of New Zealand’s Chinese community.

A brief statement from the National Party’s leader’s office said Yang was one of 50 New Zealanders invited to the national day celebrations.

National said he paid for his own flights and accommodation, and was also using the trip to visit his parents.

Newsroom asked whether Simon Bridges was aware of the nature of Yang’s trip, and whether it was appropriate given the MP’s past, and the criticism of Bridges’ recent trip to China.

These specific questions were not answered, but the statement said MPs were required to notify the party whips of travel arrangements, for travel during Parliamentary recess.

On the face of it, Yang’s attendance at the national day event, along with other Chinese community leaders, is not remarkable.

He was one of many community leaders from New Zealand and other countries who attended the parade and an official reception at the historic Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.

But it comes amid a debate over Chinese government influence and interference in New Zealand, and hot on the heels of Bridges’ criticised visit to China.

Bridges, foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee and Yang visited China last month, where the National Party leader met with Guo Shengkun, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s 25-man Politburo.

Following his return to New Zealand, Bridges was criticised for meeting the person in charge of the country’s secret police, particularly at a time when the CCP is detaining and surveilling Uighur Muslims.

Bridges was defensive when asked about the meeting by New Zealand media.

“You’re coming in about this guy, ‘Ooh he’s the secret police guy’ - what he is is one of the leaders of China in the top 25 who is their justice and law and order spokesperson. I’d say to you with the greatest of respect, be responsible,” he said.

National Party leader Simon Bridges met with Guo Shengkun - the head of the CCP's secret police - while in China last month. Photo: Twitter

China experts watching Bridges’ performance differed in their views of whether he was aware of Guo’s position and whether he had been properly briefed ahead of the trip, but agreed the meeting was a bad foreign policy decision by National.

It’s against this backdrop that members of the Chinese community and China watchers have raised questions about Yang’s most recent trip to Beijing.

Some who spoke to Newsroom said they thought the National Party would have wanted to lie low in regards to New Zealand-China relations for a while.

Others said this was likely a signal to the business community the party was taking trade with China seriously.

One expert, who did not want to be named, also pointed out an invitation to such event would be expected, and someone from Parliament needed to represent New Zealand.

“Allow him to do his duties as a lawmaker for five minutes, and represent New Zealand overseas.”

But there were issues regarding the political optics of a New Zealand MP, who previously worked at a Chinese military university and had been accused of being a spy, attending a show of military might and nationalism.

Add to that the fact Yang was travelling with Zhang Yikun – one of the people involved in an ongoing Serious Fraud Office investigation relating to an alleged donation to the National Party.

It was this alleged donation that played a part in the public falling out between former National MP Jami-Lee Ross and Bridges last year.

Zhang is also the head of the Chao Shan General Association of New Zealand. Before moving to New Zealand, he was also in the People's Liberation Army, and took part in a significant military parade during a trip back to China in 2017.

Others on the trip include those from the Association for Promoting Peaceful Reunification of China, the United Chinese Association, and the China & New Zealand Cultural Arts Association.

These are the New Zealand chapters of pro-CCP organisations. A number of the people on the trip, and the organisations they represent and lead, were singled out in University of Canterbury professor Anne-Marie Brady’s Magic Weapons paper, as those involved in the CCP’s United Front Work programme in New Zealand.

But as one China expert and another member of the Chinese community pointed out, the perceived political questions may not be seen as issues by those who Yang appeals to.

The portion of the Chinese community that Yang interacts with, and garners donations from, would likely see his presence at Beijing’s military show and 70th anniversary celebrations as a positive.

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