Politics

Chinese donor’s up-and-comers made JPs

Two high profile members of Zhang Yikun’s Chao Shan General Association in Auckland have been made justices of the peace, and one is progressing through National’s candidate college.

Zhang Yikun’s business partner Colin Zheng (Zheng Shijia) has taken part in National’s candidate college and was made a justice of the peace last year, after being nominated by Jami-Lee Ross, his local MP.

He is a trustee of the Chao Shan General Association, set up by New Zealand Chinese who share the same hometown of Chaoshan, part of the megacity of Guangdong in China.

Zheng’s name first arose in the Jami-Lee Ross saga, after Ross released a tape of a private conversation between himself and National leader Simon Bridges.

On the tape, Ross talks about a donation from Zhang – Zheng’s business partner and fellow trustee of the Chao Shan General Association. He then talks about Zheng becoming a National candidate, and the value of ethnic MPs. The conversation happened after Zhang hosted Bridges at a private function at his house, and a subsequent fundraising event.

Labour and National have both accepted donations from Zhang via fundraising events and auctions in the past. But the $100,000 donation is disputed. Both parties say any donations have been dealt with legally.

Following the release of the tape, National has been accused of running a cash for candidacy scheme, and of having Chinese Government interference in the party.

This accusation came about due to Zhang’s strong links to the Chinese Communist Party, including party membership, a career in the People’s Liberation Army, being part of the government’s United Front work programme, and taking part in meetings with Chinese Government officials in New Zealand and China.

And last year, Newsroom and The Financial Times revealed National MP Jian Yang taught students at a Chinese spy school before moving to New Zealand.

National has denied accusations of accepting cash for candidates, or of Chinese Government influence. China Government officials have also denied having ever interfered in New Zealand’s domestic issues.

On Tuesday, National Party president Peter Goodfellow said Zheng was a member of the candidate college and would be considered as a candidate for the 2020 election. Goodfellow said he knew Zheng, and had personally encouraged him to sign up for the programme.

Meanwhile, the Chao San General Association’s youth chairman Chen Zhi was made a justice of the peace earlier this year.

Chen was nominated by Labour’s Mt Roskill MP Michael Wood – Chen’s local MP.

Wood said Chen was a Mt Roskill local, who he had come to know during functions the Chao San General Association had held.

He was not aware of Chen donating to the Labour Party, but said Chen had attended fundraising functions with MPs.

Chen attended a fundraising function in July, where Labour MPs Wood and Raymond Huo were present, along with National MPs Jami-Lee Ross, Jian Yang and Erica Stanford. Zhang and Zheng were also present at the fundraiser.

Wood said he had never discussed candidacy with Chen. Labour Party president Nigel Haworth said he had never discussed possible Labour candidates with Zhang.

Chen, who is also a shareholder of Chao Shan Trustee Limited along with Zhang and Zheng, refused to comment. Zhang and Zheng are currently in China and could not be reached for comment.

The saga has led to growing calls for a review of electoral financing laws and Chinese Government influence in New Zealand politics.

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