The Xinjiang problem that western nations must acknowledge

Xinjiang (Sinkiang) in northwest China is a high altitude area with mountain ranges and deserts. It is populated by Uighur Muslims, but also by Tibetan Xibe, Russians, Mongols, Han and other ethnicities. It has a population of about 26 million and is an autonomous region.

Unfortunately Xinjiang is being afflicted by Chinese state sanctioned human rights abuses that can draw comparisons with certain past regimes. The Chinese Government has marked the Uighur people down as a national security threat, which threatens the security of the Chinese Peoples Republic. With the utmost contempt for human rights, the Government has imprisoned over 1 million Uighur, or roughly equivalent to the population of the entire South Island in camps that are officially called retraining centres, but which bare the hall marks of concentration camps – grim, inhumane places characterized by rape, torture, murder, state sanctioned brain washing.

Where have we heard that before?

But there is more and it concerns us and our consumerist appetite. Xinjiang has significant cotton factories that are allegedly using slave labour. I cannot tell you what human rights abuses along the lines of slave labour have been alleged, but one can imagine those allegations are pretty damning and would bring China’s questionable human reputation into further disrepute. It would be lowering it to the level of the likes of Joseph Stalin and his notorious gulag system.

In order to hide the fact that somewhere between 800,000 and 2 million people have disappeared into these camps, China is relocating thousands of ethnic Han from other parts of the country into Xinjiang. It has clamped down massively on media access being granted and getting petrol from a service station or even sugar from a supermarket requires identification.

But how many western nations know about this and acknowledge that Xinjiang has been turned into one vast prison camp, never mind taking action against Chinese authorities? Many western nations actually do know of and acknowledge that China is conducting massive large scale human rights abuses in Xinjiang province. The United States and United Kingdom have both considered how to deny Chinese companies the ability to purchase western software and other products that might be used to expand the capability of the giant state security apparatus operating in Xinjiang.

New Zealand is also aware of what is happening in Xinjiang. The Government in July was one of 22 foreign nations to call on the Chinese government to stop the repression. But without doubt, our continued opposition to this will have its challenges. As the Government looks for new ways to express its concern, it will be aware of Beijing’s capacity for an angry response. It is an interesting and tricky tightrope to walk if one thinks about this. China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner.

I support New Zealand trying to find new ways to show its concern. As we go forward towards the 2020 election I hope New Zealanders think about how we want to be viewed by the world on this. I would not want to think that we are complicit in the abuses that are going on in Xinjiang province by way of the products we purchase. I would hope that New Zealanders ask their Government irrespective of who is in office at the end of next year to remember economic prosperity cannot come at the expense of human rights.


New Zealand should be challenging Chinese propaganda

The line “Anyone who offends China, no matter how remote, must be exterminated” might sound like something from a movie or a computer game. Except that it is not. It is a line from a Chinese propaganda film that has been made with New Zealand Government assistance.

It is not an acceptable use of taxpayer money to be funding Chinese propaganda films. Whilst the Chinese Government did not directly make the film, a state owned company called Bona was responsible for its production. The film qualified for N.Z.$243,000 in a rebate on theĀ  $1.2 million spent in New Zealand making it.

Propaganda is not necessarily accurate as Xinhua News Agency would have found out recently. A few days ago it broadcast that New Zealand was softening up on its official stance relating to the telecommunications 5G upgrade that is meant to be happening. Not so, as the New Zealand Secret Intelligence Service came out strongly and said nothing had changed.

Huawei, a company suspected to have Chinese Government influence and a significant supplier of cellphone technology in New Zealand – I have a Huawei device myself, had been in line to install a 5G network here. Since concerns over whether telecommunications giant Huawei’s potential to compromise the New Zealand telecommunications system popped up, a hard line has been taken against the Chinese company, which was black listed by the Australian and United States Governments.

When pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong five months ago, pro-Beijing Chinese students in Auckland tore down posters. When they escalated in August pro-China students angrily confronted Hong Kong Chinese over their support for the protesters. “Traitors”, “anti-Chinese”, “rioters”, among other allegations were hurled. Considerably more serious was a physical confrontation where a Hong Kong student was pushed to the ground. The Chinese Government Consul General in Auckland congratulated the pro-Beijing students for their strong response. It also attacked New Zealand media for showing bias and portraying China in a negative light.

I and several others responded to criticism published by way of a letter to the Editor of The Press of the Hong Kong protests by pointing out that Beijing’s version of “the law”, where arbitrary detention, unfair trials and executions, are the norm, were hardly fair. No counter reply was received, but I do not imagine our allegations went down well.

And then there is Xinjiang, a Chinese province near Tibet, which has been virtually locked down because its large Muslim population are accusing Beijing of grave human rights abuses. Camps with the consistency of gulags are alleged to have been set up. Amnesty International has been documenting abuses that have gone on there. Massive numbers of Uighur Muslims have been detained arbitrarily, and allegations of torture, slave labour and other activities that are contrary to universal human rights have been logged. China denies everything and says that it is a western beat up – which fails to explain why one person who has lost a relative in a round-up says nothing inflammable can be brought in Xinjiang, the internet is down.

So, if this is not Chinese propaganda, why are they so antsy about western journalists going to have a look? Why are pro-Beijing students resorting to knocking people over?

Upgrade to China Free Trade Agreement

New Zealand and China have upgraded the Free Trade Agreement that exists between the two nations. The Agreement which was originally signed by Prime Minister Helen Clark and Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2008, was presented by the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang today as an agreement that deserved to be upgraded.

All very well. New Zealand has significant trade with China and has a $5.1 billion trade surplus which Mr Keqiang acknowledged in remarks following the announcement of the new deal, for which negotiations were started by the National-led Government of Prime Minister Bill English and concluded by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Concessions appear to have been made by China. In the previous version of the F.T.A. China permitted 98% of New Zealand exports to have preferential access, whereas this time it is 99%. As the last deal was about making sure that New Zealand had a working agreement with China, this was about enabling business to be more easily conducted.

New Zealand maintains the right to regulate for purposes of complying with Te Tiriti O Waitangi, as it also does for purposes of regulating public policy. China has agreed to allow products to enter and not have to be re-certified on entry, which has been a problem for exporters. New Zealand exporters will also be able to self declare their goods as products of New Zealand.

Notably though, the number of New Zealanders who can get visas each year has not changed.

These are however testing times. China’s growing ambition in the Pacific is expressed in military, foreign policy and economic development. It’s growing interest in the South Pacific should be noted by New Zealand and monitored closely. China’s lack of regard for human rights in a part of the world not known for strong human rights policy is of significant concern to human rights N.G.O.’s in New Zealand.



The troubling case of National M.P. Jian Yang

Jian Yang came to New Zealand in the 1990’s after a stint doing a Masters of Arts and Doctorate of Philosophy at Australian National University. In 1999 he joined the University of Auckland as a senior lecturer in Political Studies and got citizenship in 2004.

15 years later, questions are emerging about the truthfulness of his background and whether or not he was a Chinese spook.

I will be honest that I am concerned that New Zealand authorities were not sufficiently thorough in ascertaining the history of Mr Yang. Mr Yang says that he was at Luoyang University of Foreign Language for the whole of a 15 year period, but did not acknowledge the fact that he was also at the Peoples Liberation Army Airforce Engineering Institute.

It might be that Mr Yang is completely innocent and that his earlier statements that all he did whilst was to teach new recruits English are entirely true. If so then there should be no further reason to doubt his activity. Except that there is.

Croaking Cassandra covered Mr Yang’s past in China and Australia in an article a few weeks ago. Some troubling points arose:

  • He covered up – or was made (his claim)to cover up – how long he was really at Luoyang University – he says from 1978 to 1993, but Baidu and Wikipedia say it was only founded in 1980
  • His praise of the Chinese Communist Party and willingness to be seen meeting with Politburo members of a backward regime
  • A notarised certificate has never been explained
  • Chinese military personnel are generally not allowed to emigrate overseas or even have a stand Chinese citizens passport – Mr Yang

And Mr Yang seems to have an aversion to talking to New Zealand media. All Members of Parliament should understand that they will at some point be interviewed for one reason or another by New Zealand media in the course of upholding their fourth estate responsibilities. They should further understand that as citizens of a democratic nation New Zealanders are entitled to ask critical questions, that unless they are about matters of standard privacy, or genuine irrelevance to the public good, should be answered in good faith.

Perhaps more troubling than the Croaking Cassandra allegations, is the thunderous silence that goes with Mr Yang. No talking to English language media – i.e. New Zealand media; no attempts by his boss Leader of the National Party Simon Bridges or National Party President Peter Goodfellow to find out the full truth about Mr Yang. Nor has the Government said anything. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not challenged Mr Bridges in Parliament to explain the status of Mr Yang. Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters has gone quiet too, though that might be best put down to not wanting to displease China or his boss.

In my view Mr Yang is not fit to be in the New Zealand Parliament for the duration it takes him to be totally honest about his past. By this I mean both with the Department of Internal Affairs who gave him citizenship to New Zealand and the State Intelligence Service, who need to know whether this man is a security hazard or not.

I would like to see Messrs Yang, Bridges and Goodfellow justify Mr Yang’s involvement in Parliament if he cannot do this.

US military chief in New Zealand

The United States Secretary of Defense is visiting New Zealand just days after being appointed to the position. Mark Esper, who replaces former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine General James Mattis is on a five nation trip where conversations will most likely centre around Iran and China.

Whilst so early in the set, I cannot imagine Mr Esper immediately wanting concessions from New Zealand, I do not want New Zealand to be involved in another U.S. military misadventure. New Zealand might be – and should be – friends with the United States, but keeping a bit of distance. I am quite sure most New Zealanders want nothing to do with a potential war against Iran that will most likely achieve at best significantly worsening U.S relations with the Muslim world.

At best a war with Iran will be limited to the United States and Iran. The latter would probably use its considerable special forces to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, and the Iranian backed militias might launch a rocket barrage at Israel. A greater fear is whether Russia decides to become involved or not. Russia could simply move military assets into Iran or Syria without actually using them as a warning to the United States. But Russian military commanders and politicians have at times made ominous references that a war against Iran would be a catastrophe. At worst it could result in a Russian military response against American forces – at which point a nuclear confrontation is not out of the question.

Perhaps more immediately problematic for New Zealand is China’s growing military assertiveness. It has built an artificial island in the Spratley Islands with an airfield and facilities for ships to dock at. China has since stationed military patrol and combat aircraft there. As vital shipping lanes pass through these waters on the way to/from various nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines, the United States has sought to dissuade China from further expansion.

China’s military expansion is dangerous because it is aligned with more subtle moves such as massive investment in countries around the world. Some critics argue China is literally buying up other nations by establishing Government owned companies that then set up operations in other countries and buy their way into major assets – in Westland recently a dairy company was sold to a Chinese Government controlled company.

New Zealand sees this in Fiji and other small Pasifika nations. A few months ago there was a controversy about a resort being built on Fiji and the destruction of large tracts of coral reef to enable boat access to the resort. When locals and New Zealand expatriates living there tried to remonstrate the owners got aggressive and there were scuffles. Other countries such as Tonga have significant debt to China, which has led to concerns about Beijing’s attempts to extract leverage. And in Vanuatu, although both countries denied reports, there were suggestions that China has been looking for a place to establish a military base.

Whilst New Zealand needs to be careful not to anger either the U.S. or China, it needs to be clear that the south Pacific is the chief domain of New Zealand and Australia. More than it does either of them, the well being of these little island nations is paramount to our well being.