Ardern should end silence on Yang situation
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.