Week in Review

Harassment of outspoken China expert continues

China expert Anne-Marie Brady will finally have the opportunity to address Parliament on China’s interference in New Zealand’s political system. Meanwhile, Brady says harassment of her and her family continues, Laura Walters reports.

China expert Anne-Marie Brady says New Zealand is at a pivotal moment as it responds to the complex new security environment and the Chinese Communist Party’s political interference.

The University of Canterbury Department of Political Science and International Relations professor will address the Justice Select Committee on Thursday, to share her expertise on China’s interference in foreign countries and their political systems.

Brady has been dragged into the limelight, following the release of her 2017 paper Magic Weapons.

The paper detailed examples of the Chinese state’s efforts to influence politics and the Chinese diaspora in New Zealand. It raised issues around the independence of New Zealand’s political system, and named National MP Jian Yang and Labour MP Raymond Huo – among others - as having close links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and its united front work programme.

Her criticisms of the CCP’s “sharp power” push has made headlines around the world, but have also led to extensive harassment of her and her family.

There have been a number of suspicious burglaries, anonymous phone calls to her house, and an issue with her car, which appeared to be a case of vehicle tampering.

In February, police said it took the incidents seriously and a “lengthy, detailed and extensive investigation has been conducted”.

Jacinda Ardern has always said matters surrounding the harassment of Anne-Marie Brady is a matter of police investigation. She has not been made aware of any information linking the Chinese state to the incidents. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

However, the matters remained unresolved, and police said there were no further lines of inquiry to pursue unless new information came to light.

While it seemed the investigation had stagnated, Brady and her family, have continued to receive anonymous calls on their home phone, which is unlisted.

Meanwhile, her replacement Visa credit card, and her husband’s replacement Eftpos bank card and credit card, have disappeared from the mailbox – hers out of her university pigeon hole, and her husband’s from their family letterbox.

Some of her mail also appears to have been opened.

Brady said police were now investigating the apparent mail tampering, the missing bank cards, and the further anonymous phone calls.

A police spokesperson said the investigation remained open, pending receipt of any new information, but remained unresolved. She did not elaborate further, and said the status of the investigation had not changed.

“However if any new information is received, it will be carefully assessed for relevance.”

‘Now is the time to stand up to China’

Academics around the world have come out in support of Brady, and her right to conduct her research without fear.

Western academics were scared of speaking up, Brady said, adding that some were worried about being denied visas to travel to China.

She believed the harassment would not stop until the New Zealand Government confronted China.

“There has never been a better time for us to stand up to China,” she said, referring to the strong trading relationship, and the importance China placed on its relationship with New Zealand.

Brady’s written submission, which she will talk to at the select committee hearing on Thursday, looks at the background and political context of China’s desire to influence foreign countries and populations, including examples of China’s interference in New Zealand.

“Getting the China relationship right is going to be one of New Zealand’s greatest foreign and domestic policy challenges in the next few decades.”

She also makes recommendations about how New Zealand can build its resilience in terms of cyber hacks, political campaigns conducted via media and social media, and political party donations.

Brady recommends establishing a non-partisan resilience strategy, exchanging information and seeking support from like-minded state or political parties, and focusing on common points with China “while facing up to the differences and challenges in the wider relationship”.

Some of Brady’s recommendations include: strengthening New Zealand’s cyber defence capacities; and having the Electoral Commission engage with WeChat’s parent body, Tencent Corporation, to discuss how to prevent disinformation and ensure balance, accuracy, and fairness in local and central electoral coverage, as well as on other domestic political matters.

She also suggests laws similar to Australia’s lobbying and political donations regulations, and the establishment of an Anti-Corruption Commission.

“Confronting the issue of foreign interference is a difficult matter for any state, let alone a small state like New Zealand, whose economy is focused on trade and tourism,” Brady said.

“The strategic order is shifting and New Zealand needs to adjust its foreign policy.”

New Zealand needs to continue to engage with China in a constructive way, while working to protect the integrity of its political system, she said.

“Getting the China relationship right is going to be one of New Zealand’s greatest foreign and domestic policy challenges in the next few decades.”

Long road to Parliament

It has not been a straightforward road for Brady to be heard by the committee, with her initial request to be heard as part of its inquiry into foreign interference denied.

That decision was later reversed, and chair Raymond Huo recused himself during the inquiry, due to a perceived conflict of interest. National’s Maggie Barry was acting chair for the duration of the inquiry.

Brady is one of eight submitters to be heard by the committee on Thursday.

She will be joined by Freeman Yu, who launched a petition calling for an inquiry into foreign influence, following the Simon Bridges-Jami-Lee Ross donation saga last year.

Yu’s written submission focused largely on Chinese-language media censorship in New Zealand, and the online attacks and hate comments he received following his launch of the petition, some of which was reprinted by popular Chinese-language media outlets in New Zealand.

The issue of foreign donations came to the fore last year, after rogue MP Jami-Lee Ross raised a questionable donation deal between National leader Simon Bridges (left), and Chinese community leader and businessman Zhang Yikun (right). Photo: Supplied

Meanwhile, Rodney Jones, economist and the principal of Wigram Capital Advisors, said the concerns of foreign interference in the New Zealand political system had too often being lightly dismissed.

In his written submission, Jones says the implicit trade-off underlying much of the debate was New Zealand has to sacrifice its political freedoms, or capacity to have an independent voice, in return for gains in its trade relationship with China.

“Rather, the focus of this committee should be entirely on what steps can be taken to strengthen and protect our democracy,” he says.

Like Brady and others, Jones advocates in his submission for reform of foreign donation laws, but says the big issues were moral and ethical, rather than legal.

Political parties needed to proactively limit the opportunity for foreign influence as part of their obligations to New Zealand’s democracy, he says, adding that his oral submission would focus on how to build resilience.

Brady and others will speak to the Justice Select Committee on Thursday morning. A second group of submitters would appear on May 23. You can read her full written submission here.

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