Election 2020

John Hong takes tilt at national politics through Tea Party

A new party has popped up ahead of the election, describing itself as a "guardian against racism" -  but its co-leader's ties to a controversial Chinese businessman have already caught the eye of some

A former mayoral candidate with links to Chinese businessman Zhang Yikun is launching his own political party aimed at the migrant community.

John Hong, who last year became the first Chinese-born candidate for mayor in Auckland’s history, will launch Tea Party New Zealand at an event in the city this weekend.

On its official website, the party describes itself as a “guardian against racism by anyone inside or outside of government who would use racism and fear to gain political power”.

It labels itself as socially democratic but fiscally conservative, aiming to target the political centre and “contest the queen- or kingmaker position in the 2020 general elections”.

Among the party’s policies are a tax-free monthly payment of $1500 to every New Zealand family between October 2020 and March 2021, encouraging “high-value luxury personalised tours to attract wealthy overseas tourists”, and encouraging more international students to study in New Zealand.

Hong, who will co-lead the party with fellow former mayoral aspirant Susanna Kruger, was among 21 candidates vying for the Auckland mayoralty in 2019.

Despite a relatively late entry into the race, he secured fourth place with nearly 16,000 votes, having spent $133,037 on his campaign and attracted talk of a tilt at national politics.

Before entering politics, Hong worked as an executive for Auckland Council-controlled company, Panuku Development Auckland, where he was "head, investment and international relationships" tasked with attracting foreign direct investment into the city.

Hong has also chaired a New Zealand promotion committee for China’s Belt and Road Initiative, seen by some foreign policy observers as a soft-power push by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In addition, he works as a government relations advisor for the Chao Shan General Association of New Zealand, set up to support Chinese migrants, and foster relations between the two countries.

Zhang Yikun, pictured with Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy, has been charged by the Serious Fraud Office in relation to a National Party donation. Photo: Supplied.

The association was established by Zhang Yikun, the Chinese businessman charged by the Serious Fraud Office over a $100,000 donation to the National Party, first brought to light by former National MP Jami-Lee Ross in late 2018 as he alleged wrongdoing by then-leader Simon Bridges.

However, Ross himself ended up among four men charged by the Serious Fraud office earlier this year, with the other three - Zhang included - issuing a statement describing themselves as “casualties of the turmoil created through mudslinging during the high-profile fallout following Jami-Lee Ross’ revelations and allegations about the National Party”.

University of Canterbury academic and China expert Anne-Marie Brady has described Zhang as a leader in the Chinese Government’s foreign influence activities through the United Front.

Commenting on Hong’s new party, Brady noted on Twitter that its name could have a second meaning, with being “invited for tea” a euphemism used by some in China for being questioned by the police.

The phrase has different connotations in modern American politics, with the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement formed shortly after the start of Barack Obama’s presidency.

In the case of New Zealand’s Tea Party, the first word stands as an acronym for Taxpayers and Entrepreneurs Alliance, with the party saying: “Tea Party has vision of community where all are included to sit around the table for tea and receive their fair share [sic].”

Hong did not return a request for comment about his new party, which is holding a launch event at the Intangible Cultural Heritage Centre in Ellerslie on June 20.

The party does not yet appear to have registered with the Electoral Commission.

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