Is China interfering with New Zealand academics?

Academics at University of Canterbury have urged Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to speak out against the interference of China or Chinese nationals in the life of an academic who is an expert on their domestic affairs. The alleged interference against Professor Anne Marie Brady came to light after her Magic Weapons report into China’s application of soft power pressure in aspects of New Zealand such as education, media and politics, created ripples last year.

Ms Ardern has instructed intelligence agencies to investigate whether China has targeted Ms Brady. She says that if a report linked China to such activity then she would be prepared to act.

It would not be the first potential case of a foreign power interfering with New Zealand academics who have stumbled on in the course of their work goings on that are sensitive to said power. The tactics used have been similar to what Dr Brady says has happened to her.

To me such strong reactions indicate that the researcher has discovered something that could be criminal or politically embarrassing for a nation.

In 1999 China was accused of trying to make the police arrest protesters near a state banquet that the then Premier Jiang Zemin was due to attend. It is understood that Mr Zemin did not want to see protesters and was prepared to delay his arrival until they were moved/arrested. New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley was accused of asking the police to move protesters on. In the end the police said that they acted to preemptively to prevent Chinese security officials doing something more serious.

During other visits, Chinese officials have complained about New Zealand M.P.’s namely Rod Donald, Russel Norman and others from the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.

In other incidents, Sajo Oyang, a Korean fishing company with vessels operating out of Lyttelton, is thought to have been behind intimidatory behaviour around investigations into alleged human rights abuses on those vessels. Whilst this does not appear to have involved the South Korean Government, the characteristics of the intimidatory behaviour appear to have been similar to that suffered by Dr Brady. At the time of these occurrences, Indonesian crew on the vessels had left the vessels and sought legal assistance over the human rights abuses they allege to have suffered.

Will New Zealand politicians have the gonads to speak out and say that this is not acceptable behaviour? I would like to think so, but I have my doubts based on past refusals to condemn activity of a bullying nature by other nations – most China. The most likely resistance would come from the Green Party Members of Parliament. The New Zealand First Members of Parliament who were so principled during their time on the Opposition and cross benches appear reluctant to continue standing on it. Labour Members of Parliament might have their hands tied by the neoliberal party it has become and its departure from that of Walter Nash and Peter Fraser.

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