National MP Jian Yang to retire

Four months after he announced his re-selection, a National Party MP whose links to Chinese spy agencies attracted the interest of New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service has announced he will not stand in the next election

A three-term National Party MP who studied at an elite Chinese spy school before moving to New Zealand has announced his retirement.

List MP Dr Jian Yang made the announcement the day before the Northern region of the National Party was due to consider list rankings, with National leader Todd Muller denying the party hierarchy put any pressure on him to stand down.

He had previously announced his re-selection as a list MP in a press release to Chinese-language media in March, but no similar statement was issued to English-language media outlets.

"After careful consideration and talking to my wife and children, I have decided that after serving three most rewarding terms in the National Party caucus, I will not stand in the 2020 general election," the release said.

Yang has ducked interviews with English-language media after a joint Newsroom and Financial Times investigation into his past uncovered his ties to a training school for Chinese spies. 

In a press release announcing his resignation Yang said it had been a privilege to be part of the Key and English governments and thanked the Chinese community for their "unfailing" support. 

"As a member of Parliament with Chinese heritage, I made my contribution to NZ-China relations. My trips to China with Prime Minister John Key, Ministers and colleagues are some highlights of my political career.

"I have witnessed the rapid growth of New Zealand’s trade with China and I am pleased to have played a role in it."

Controversial CV

Yang spent a decade in the People's Liberation Army-Air Force Engineering College, an institution run by China's equivalent of the United States National Security Agency. That agency, the Third Department, conducts spying activities for China.

Newsroom was told that, to have taught at the Air Force Engineering College, Yang would have almost certainly been an officer in Chinese military intelligence and a member of the Communist Party, as other students and staff had been.

Responding to Newsroom’s investigation, Yang said he was not a spy but conceded that he did teach English to spies at a language school run by the PLA.

Yang studied and then taught there before moving to Australia where he attended the Australian National University in Canberra. He migrated to this country to teach international relations in the politics department at the University of Auckland.  

He was hand-picked by National Party president Peter Goodfellow to become an MP on its list in 2011, wooed directly by former Prime Minister John Key and has been a key fundraiser for National among the Chinese community in Auckland.

Muller responds

In a statement responding to Yang's retirement, Muller praised his MP for his work over his nine years in Parliament and said he wished him well for the future.

“Jian has contributed a great deal as a National MP during his time in Parliament. His nine years of service have involved a lot of hard work.

 “As a list MP he has travelled the country, supporting many different communities helping them with different issues. His dedication has helped the Chinese community in New Zealand better understand and participate in politics."

Speaking to media in Rotorua, Muller said he had not put any pressure on Yang to step down at the election after the MP's reluctance to talk to media put him back in the spotlight in recent weeks.

"He has been a solid and great contributor and he’s obviously decided it’s time to move on, and he goes with our best wishes and support."

Asked about Yang's decision to decline numerous interview requests in recent years, Muller said "every MP has their own degree of visibility" and claimed it was wrong to say he did not make himself available to the media as he had done so in his capacity as National's statistics spokesman.

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