Ardern should end si­lence on Yang sit­u­a­tion

The New Zealand Herald - - EDITORIAL & LETTERS -

The con­tin­ued si­lence from Gov­ern­ment and Par­lia­ment over Dr Jian Yang serves nei­ther the New Zealand pub­lic nor the freshly re-elected Na­tional Party MP. News of his study and work his­tory in China — he spent 15 years with in­sti­tu­tions closely linked with the mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence ap­pa­ra­tus of China’s Gov­ern­ment — cre­ated in­ter­na­tional head­lines when it broke the month be­fore the elec­tion.

The mat­ters raised are se­ri­ous. Hind­sight sees in­fer­ences drawn with the sud­den dump­ing last year of Yang from the for­eign af­fairs se­lect com­mit­tee. The New Zealand Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice (SIS) has re­port­edly been ask­ing ques­tions. In­ter­na­tional me­dia have rightly shown a keen in­ter­est in the af­fair.

But lo­cally, in­ter­est — and an­swers — have been strangely muted. Nei­ther Na­tional leader Bill English nor Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern seemed will­ing to ad­dress the is­sue dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign. NZ First’s Win­ston Peters ini­tially de­manded an in­quiry, but has gone silent on the mat­ter since his el­e­va­tion to Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs.

Yang him­self — out­side an un­sat­is­fac­tory press con­fer­ence af­ter the story broke — has de­clined to pro­vide fur­ther ex­pla­na­tion.

The SIS has prob­a­bly drawn con­clu­sions from its in­ves­ti­ga­tions that could ei­ther clear or damn Yang. But it has been un­will­ing to even con­firm any in­ter­est.

New Zealand’s econ­omy is al­ready closely tied to China, our sec­ond-largest ex­port mar­ket, and the fu­ture may well see this re­la­tion­ship de­velop fur­ther. But con­stant vigilance is needed to en­sure New Zealand’s in­de­pen­dent for­eign pol­icy is not threat­ened.

As for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Helen Clark noted: “New Zealand must en­gage with ma­jor pow­ers in its re­gion, but it should not be naive in its in­ter­ac­tions with any of them.” The si­lence on this af­fair seems in­dis­tin­guish­able from naivete.

Yang had not been en­tirely forth­com­ing over his past, hav­ing listed not the spy school he worked and stud­ied at, but the in­ten­tion­ally vague “Luoyang Uni­ver­sity” when ap­ply­ing to be­come a res­i­dent in 1998 and then a cit­i­zen in 2004.

Aside from ques­tions over what ex­actly the SIS has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing, the is­sue over Yang’s pro­vi­sion of vague and ap­par­ently in­ac­cu­rate ref­er­ences with New Zealand au­thor­i­ties also de­serves more sun­light.

Just last month the High Court ruled a man who failed to de­clare crim­i­nal con­vic­tions when ap­ply­ing years ear­lier for res­i­dence should be stripped of cit­i­zen­ship. It should be noted cit­i­zen­ship is one of the few pre­req­ui­sites to be­com­ing an MP.

Ardern has in­her­ited a role that in­cludes over­sight of New Zealand’s in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and will un­doubt­edly have been briefed on the Yang sit­u­a­tion. She needs to re­as­sure her­self and then, in ap­pro­pri­ate fash­ion, the pub­lic that the mat­ter has been — or will promptly be — prop­erly ad­dressed.

Ques­tions over New Zealand’s in­de­pen­dence, as well as the rep­u­ta­tion of one of its MPs, are be­ing asked. Nei­ther de­serves doubts to linger.

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