Be­van Rap­son on ris­ing un­ease over China’s grow­ing in­flu­ence here.

Rev­e­la­tions about a big do­na­tion to the Na­tional Party feed un­ease over China’s grow­ing in­flu­ence.

North & South - - Contents -

AMID AN ex­tra­or­di­nary few Oc­to­ber days of rev­e­la­tions about go­ings-on in the Na­tional Party, hints from its Mp-gonerogue Jami-lee Ross that he might “lift the bed sheets” on par­lia­men­tary “bed­hop­ping” threat­ened to raise the ante.

Were lurid de­tails of long-ru­moured ex­tra­mu­ral par­lia­men­tary ac­tiv­i­ties about to gush forth, de­stroy­ing ca­reers, wreck­ing mar­riages and fur­ther ex­pos­ing the seat of our democ­racy as a sor­did pit of hypocrisy and de­ceit?

The pos­si­bil­ity sent an­other jolt through news and so­cial-me­dia net­works al­ready hum­ming over Ross’s re­volt and rev­e­la­tions about his own

ex­tra-mar­i­tal and al­legedly in­tim­i­dat­ing be­hav­iour. Never mind the Prime Min­is­ter’s “nu­clear-free mo­ment” – Ross’s nu­clear-op­tion mo­ment raised the prospect of un­prece­dented per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal car­nage.

Con­sid­er­ing power’s sup­posed aphro­disi­a­cal qual­i­ties, and the long hours and dis­rupted home lives en­dured by many of par­lia­ment’s oc­cu­pants, it should be no sur­prise that it has its share of ran­dom trysts, flings and hookups, along with long-run­ning af­fairs and old-fash­ioned ro­mance. MPS and the oth­ers who work there are only hu­man, even if some, like for­mer Labour cab­i­net

min­is­ter Steve Ma­harey, will claim to lead lives of “blame­less ex­cel­lence”.

As this is­sue went to press, any fur­ther se­crets re­mained un­pub­lished: Ross hadn’t so far fol­lowed through on his veiled threat. He spent time in a men­tal health fa­cil­ity, then went pretty quiet. The news cy­cle moved on.

But if the Ross re­bel­lion didn’t lift any more sheets, it had al­ready lifted the lid on a few other things. Through Ross’s sur­rep­ti­tiously recorded con­ver­sa­tion with Na­tional leader Si­mon Bridges we found out, for ex­am­ple, that the Na­tional leader con­sid­ered at least one of his back­benchers, Mau­reen Pugh, to be – to

put it more kindly than he did – some­what un­der par ( he later apol­o­gised). We also learned that the al­lo­ca­tion of list places to eth­nic can­di­dates can be an un­seemly busi­ness in which “two Chi­nese would be nice” (Bridges) and “two Chi­nese would be more valu­able than two In­di­ans” (Ross).

Most im­por­tant of all, we got a crys­tal­clear pic­ture of how $100,000 from some­one said to be closely as­so­ci­ated with the Chi­nese Govern­ment can find its way into Na­tional Party cof­fers.

Ross’s tape didn’t stand up his allegations of elec­toral fraud, but it help­fully drew re­newed at­ten­tion to ques­tions about Chi­nese in­flu­ence in New Zealand pol­i­tics.

Com­men­ta­tors could again can­vas is­sues raised by Univer­sity of Can­ter­bury Pro­fes­sor Anne-marie Brady, who has de­tailed the Chi­nese Govern­ment’s use of or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the “United Front” to project and pro­tect China’s in­flu­ence in other coun­tries.

And they could again note the as­ton­ish­ing on­go­ing pres­ence in Na­tional’s cau­cus of list MP Jian Yang, who for­merly taught at an elite Chi­nese spy school and did not dis­close his links to Chi­nese mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence when ap­ply­ing for New Zealand res­i­dency.

One fresh per­spec­tive on the is­sue was pro­vided in the New Zealand Her­ald by writer and so­cial re­searcher Tze Ming Mok, who claimed the “wall of si­lence” about the ex­tent of China’s in­flu­ence here was harm­ing Chi­nese peo­ple in New Zealand: “It’s end­lessly ir­ri­tat­ing and in­sult­ing that both Labour and Na­tional have lazily as­signed Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties as the fief­doms of politi­cians openly backed by the Chi­nese govern­ment.”

SADLY, IT SEEMS New Zealand prob­a­bly shouldn’t these days be con­sid­ered a par­tic­u­larly safe haven for any­one want­ing to es­cape the grip of China’s one-party state. Can we hon­estly prom­ise im­mi­grants a fair go when the ten­ta­cles of their home­land’s regime are so wide-reach­ing within Chi­nese net­works here? Those brave dis­si­dents who choose to stand up against their govern­ment should prob­a­bly look else­where for sup­port, or an es­cape route.

The si­lence from our politi­cians over con­cerns about Chi­nese state in­flu­ence here has been deaf­en­ing. It would seem China now looms so large over our eco-

nomic for­tunes that do­ing any­thing to pro­voke the Panda is seen as wil­fully coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. This only con­firms the im­pres­sion that in this “Chi­nese cen­tury”, we are in­cre­men­tally but in­ex­orably be­ing ab­sorbed into a new em­pire.

It’s hardly sur­pris­ing a small, re­mote coun­try with lim­ited se­cu­rity re­sources will play nice with the big­ger kids in the geopo­lit­i­cal play­ground. We also re­main an out­post of the Amer­i­can-led Five Eyes in­tel­li­gence club, though our will­ing­ness to cosy up to the Chi­nese has re­port­edly dis­ap­pointed its other mem­bers.

Hav­ing a bob each way can also be seen as sen­si­ble for a small player, even if Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s na­tion­al­is­tic and iso­la­tion­ist im­pulses add an un­pre­dictable el­e­ment, threat­en­ing to loosen our ties to our tra­di­tional al­lies and per­haps weaken our abil­ity to with­stand Bei­jing’s grav­i­ta­tional pull.

We’ve al­ways had plenty of do­mes­tic crit­ics of the post-world War II Amer­i­can “em­pire” on which our se­cu­rity strate­gies have re­lied. Even the Na­tional Party knew there was lit­tle ap­petite here for fol­low­ing the US into Viet­nam in the 60s. Peace ac­tivists were de­lighted when our nu­cle­ar­ship pol­icy all but scup­pered the New Zealand-us re­la­tion­ship back in the 80s.

But it’s worth re­call­ing now that most of the wrongs per­pe­trated by the US around the world – in Viet­nam, Cen­tral Amer­ica, Iraq and else­where – were ex­posed by Amer­i­can news or­gan­i­sa­tions; its for­eign-pol­icy fail­ures were de­bated, in pub­lic, by its politi­cians. As China be­gins to flex its mus­cles, don’t ex­pect its state-con­trolled me­dia to pro­vide any­thing other than fawn­ing ap­proval, or its politi­cians to even just oc­ca­sion­ally break ranks and con­tra­dict the party line.

DID SOME­ONE say fawn­ing? The re­cent visit by the Duke and Duchess of Sus­sex pro­voked a pre­dictable splurge of shame­less Royal­ma­nia, as Harry and Meghan, cu­ri­ous ves­tiges of that other now- de­funct em­pire re­spon­si­ble for our na­tion’s very ex­is­tence, braved the driz­zle and down­pours of a New Zealand spring.

The peo­ple in­ter­viewed about their en­coun­ters with the lat­est and coolest Royal it­er­a­tion yab­bered as ex­cit­edly as any One Di­rec­tion fan. The in­ter­view­ers weren’t much bet­ter in their unc­tu­ous live crosses. The Roy­als are so ob­vi­ously a rat­ings win­ner, that no note of re­flec­tion on the mean­ing of it all could

mar the cov­er­age.

It fell to for­mer cab­i­net min­is­ter and United Fu­ture leader Peter Dunne to mark the visit with a call for moves to­wards be­com­ing a repub­lic. And turn­ing our gover­nor-gen­eral into a pres­i­dent seems a sim­ple enough way of sym­bol­is­ing our sta­tus as an in­de­pen­dent na­tion, al­though it wouldn’t con­trib­ute much to­wards our au­ton­omy un­der to­day’s su­per­pow­ers.

That’s down to our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, who ad­mit­tedly have a fine line to tread, even if it’s hard to imag­ine them be­ing any more cravenly in thrall to Bei­jing than gov­ern­ments of ei­ther po­lit­i­cal stripe have been in the past decade or two.

De­ci­sions such as that faced by Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Kris Faafoi over whether to bar China’s Huawei from build­ing our 5G net­work will even­tu­ally help de­ter­mine how much we con­trol our own des­tiny. Huawei is re­garded by some of our al­lies as be­ing linked to the Chi­nese mil­i­tary and there­fore at risk of be­ing used to com­pro­mise net­work in­fra­struc­ture in for­eign coun­tries. The Aus­tralian govern­ment has blocked it and an­other Chi­nese firm, ZTE, from pro­vid­ing com­po­nents for next-gen­er­a­tion net­works across the Tas­man, and Faafoi says a sim­i­lar ap­proach could be an op­tion here. If se­ri­ous con­cerns are raised – and why wouldn’t they be? – he says he’ll be con­sult­ing our se­cu­rity ser­vices be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion, so watch this space.

Our long-term in­ter­ests mean we have to jeal­ously guard our in­de­pen­dence. Along with a prin­ci­pled, staunchly in­de­pen­dent ap­proach by cab­i­net min­is­ters faced with Huawei-type de­ci­sions, we could do with one or two more low­lyranked MPS – a dif­fer­ent breed of rebel to Jami-lee Ross – de­fy­ing the cosy con­sen­sus over China’s in­flu­ence and us­ing par­lia­ment to ven­ti­late con­cerns.

Lead­ers and front­benchers are con­strained by diplo­matic re­quire­ments, but a back­bencher could put on a tin hat, and take the chance to be some­thing more than lobby fod­der for once. Whether such an MP is oth­er­wise con­sid­ered ex­ple­tively “use­less”, is among par­lia­ment’s party an­i­mals and has rea­son to feel ner­vous about talk of lift­ing the sheets, or has lived a life of blame­less ex­cel­lence, their coun­try needs some of its elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives to step up and speak out. On the down­side, they prob­a­bly couldn’t count on too many sub­se­quent jun­kets to China. +

A Chi­nese marine on the frigate Huang­shan off Dar­win dur­ing a large mil­i­tary ex­er­cise that in­cluded the New Zealand Navy.

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