A MUTE POINT

Anne-Marie Brady has taken on one of the world’s most pow­er­ful coun­tries and she re­fuses to back down. By Greg Bruce.

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‘So just come down here,” she said, lead­ing me down the hall­way of the small, neat, mod­est brick-and-tile, three-bed­room place she shares with her hus­band and their three teenage chil­dren in sub­ur­ban Christchurch. “This is where they came in.”

Where who came in? That is a good ques­tion, the right ques­tion, the ques­tion po­lice are still try­ing to an­swer 11 months later. Oth­ers who have been try­ing: In­ter­pol and the Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice (NZSIS). That’s a lot of time, fire­power and in­ves­tiga­tive re­sources for a bur­glary of a small sub­ur­ban home that net­ted three lap­tops (one not func­tion­ing), an iPhone 4 (not func­tion­ing) and an old push-but­ton Nokia phone.

Crammed in next to Brady’s bed was a small desk where the Uni­ver­sity of Can­ter­bury pro­fes­sor had done much of the work on her pa­per ti­tled, “Magic Weapons: China’s po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence ac­tiv­i­ties un­der Xi Jin­ping”, which, fol­low­ing its pub­li­ca­tion on the web­site of lead­ing Amer­i­can think tank the Wil­son Cen­ter in Septem­ber 2017, made an im­pact that was both global and in­tensely personal — an im­pact which, on both fronts, seems to be grow­ing rather than dis­si­pat­ing.

The lap­top on which she had writ­ten “Magic Weapons” had stopped work­ing a week be­fore the bur­glary, in Fe­bru­ary last year. It was old and she hadn’t found time to fix it and ev­ery­thing was on a mem­ory stick any­way, so it wasn’t a big is­sue. The com­puter was un­der her side of the bed. They took it.

An­other lap­top, be­long­ing to one of her three teenage chil­dren, was also on her side of the bed. They took it. The old Nokia was on her book­shelf. They took that too. From her daugh­ter’s room they took a lap­top and the iPhone 4.

Some of the things they didn’t take: a lap­top that was on her hus­band’s side of the bed; the valu­ables that were on the same book­shelf as the aged Nokia; the cash that was clearly vis­i­ble in one of the bed­rooms they went through; any­thing else of value. They did scat­ter some clothes and toss the bed­ding, mak­ing what Brady says the po­lice called “con­spic­u­ous mess”.

I asked if she had ini­tially thought it a bur­glary. “No,” she said. “I knew what it was.” She’d re­ceived a warn­ing let­ter a few days be­fore. The let­ter fin­ished, “You are the next.”

After the break-in, she said, the po­lice told her, “If that’s a bur­glar, he needs to go back to bur­glary school.”

There was one other thing she wanted to show me, a pho­to­graph. It was of the lawn im­me­di­ately out­side her bed­room win­dow, taken just after the break-in. There, in the cen­tre of the frame, was one of her busi­ness cards. Prior to the break-in, she said, all her cards had been in a drawer. Noth­ing else had been taken from there.

She said, “It hasn’t fallen out in a hurry, cause it’s not part of any­thing they’ve got. They’ve ac­tu­ally placed it there. And, as you can see, my name, face up.”

She said the po­lice ig­nored it. “It was just sit­ting out­side there for ages. Even­tu­ally I col­lected it and handed it to them and told them, ‘That’s im­por­tant.’”

Po­lice say they won’t dis­cuss the specifics of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

THE ACA­DEMIC world is a place of care­fully re­searched and ref­er­enced state­ments, peer­re­viewed, cri­tiqued by ex­perts, re­vised, re­fined, con­ser­va­tively couched. It’s not a place in which bold and un­am­bigu­ous ac­cu­sa­tions of global im­port against one of the world’s most pow­er­ful na­tion-states are lightly made.

In that con­text, the first line of the ab­stract for “Magic Weapons” is a bit of an at­ten­tion grab­ber: “New Zealand is the tar­get of a con­certed for­eign-in­flu­ence cam­paign by the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China (PRC).”

The pa­per it­self is 57 pages and 267 foot­notes ag­gre­gat­ing and de­tail­ing China’s in­ter­fer­ence and in­flu­ence ac­tiv­i­ties in the

po­lit­i­cal, me­dia and com­mu­nity life of New Zealand and New Zealan­ders — a quan­tity of ev­i­dence of State-spon­sored med­dling that be­comes, quite quickly, over­whelm­ing.

Also over­whelm­ing: the num­ber of mys­te­ri­ous, un­pleas­ant things that have hap­pened to Brady and her fam­ily since its pub­li­ca­tion.

AL­THOUGH SHE has lived in Christchurch for most of her work­ing life, Brady was born in a state house in Greys Ave in Auck­land in 1966, and raised mostly in West Auck­land.

She started school in Otara but her fam­ily moved to Glen Eden, near the Ti­ti­rangi bor­der, when she was still 5. She would spend pleas­ant hours on her own, walk­ing long dis­tances into the bush. She re­mem­bers it as a golden age. In the mid-1970s, with in­ter­est rates bal­loon­ing, her par­ents could no longer af­ford the mort­gage. They moved to New Lynn.

“I was home­sick for that house in Glen Eden for years,” she says. “I used to dream about it. A cou­ple of times I’ve gone around to look at it. I just had such a golden child­hood there.”

Her next school was open plan, about 100 kids shar­ing a sin­gle large space. She says of it: “No­body knows who you are and no­body cares.” She says it was, “aw­ful”. She says it was the be­gin­ning of what she calls, “My personal cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” — 10 years of education dur­ing which she “just switched off.

“In high school I was in the top class. It was ob­vi­ous that I was one of the bet­ter stu­dents but I wouldn’t put much ef­fort in. I didn’t need to. I mean school was that bor­ing. I could have re­ally ex­celled if I wanted to. But it was so, so bor­ing for me. It was aw­ful.”

In sixth form, she moved schools, hav­ing spent her en­tire fifth form year strug­gling, emo­tion­ally, fol­low­ing her par­ents’ di­vorce. She was con­stantly down, fre­quently tear­ful.

“I wanted to stop be­ing like that,” she says, “And so, be­ing in a dif­fer­ent school, peo­ple wouldn’t know me as the per­son who kept burst­ing into tears all the time.”

She now won­ders why no­body at her pre­vi­ous school thought her be­hav­iour un­usual or asked if they could help: “No­body would say any­thing. And it was a Catholic girls’ school. There were ter­ri­ble things go­ing on with some of my friends as well. Our New Zealand way of dealing with emo­tion re­ally is stiff up­per lip and avert your gaze.”

She moved to Lyn­field Col­lege, which at the time was the big­gest school in New Zealand. She didn’t par­tic­u­larly like it, but thinks the move helped her get over the strug­gles of the year be­fore. “Some­times it’s like that,” she says. “Just chang­ing your en­vi­ron­ment can change your habits.”

To­day, she is a world ex­pert on China’s Party State sys­tem, glob­ally re­spected and ad­mired, and not just within academia.

Her re­search and opin­ions have fea­tured promi­nently in the pages of, among oth­ers, The New York Times, Fi­nan­cial Times, The Guardian, The Econ­o­mist and For­eign Pol­icy, but un­til the events of the last year or so she was ba­si­cally un­known at home.

She says: “You wouldn’t want it to go to your head be­cause our up­bring­ing tells us that that’s not right. So I see the value of be­ing or­di­nary back home. I see it now. It took a while though.”

FIVE DAYS after the break-in, po­lice sent Brady a let­ter say­ing they hadn’t been able to find who was re­spon­si­ble and that un­less more in­for­ma­tion or ev­i­dence was found, they couldn’t pro­ceed with the case. Later that day and again the fol­low­ing day, Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern ex­pressed con­cern about the case and said she would be in touch with the agen­cies in­volved. Two days later, a po­lice spokesper­son said the case was still un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It has re­mained so ever since.

The day after the break-in at her home, some­body broke into her of­fice at the Uni­ver­sity of Can­ter­bury. It was the se­cond time her of­fice had been bro­ken into in three months.

In Novem­ber last year, Brady’s me­chanic called her after what was sup­posed to be a rou­tine ser­vice and asked: “Has some­one been tam­per­ing with your car?” The pres­sure in both front tyres had been re­duced in such a way as to desta­bilise the steer­ing and ren­der the brakes un­re­li­able. Both valve caps were miss­ing.

The me­chanic, who didn’t pre­vi­ously know any­thing about the on­go­ing po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Brady break-in, said he be­lieved it to be sab­o­tage. Au­thor­i­ties are now in­ves­ti­gat­ing this too.

Out­side her of­fice, a sign warns that CCTV record­ing is tak­ing place in­side. She’s been told not to worry about her pri­vacy, that record­ing takes place only after hours. At home, she’s had her own cam­era in­stalled. Both her home and of­fice have been swept for lis­ten­ing de­vices by the NZSIS.

ON THE day I vis­ited her house last month, her twins were in their last week of school for the year. The fam­ily ate break­fast to­gether. She hugged the boys be­fore they left for school, then her teenage daugh­ter, who has just fin­ished school, did her hair.

Her hus­band, the fa­ther of her chil­dren, an artist, was do­ing some work around the house. He is Chi­nese and speaks lim­ited English but stopped to chat briefly and to point out his paint­ings of the Can­ter­bury land­scape on the walls.

He and Brady were in­tro­duced by mu­tual friends in April 1996, when she was a teacher at Peo­ple’s Uni­ver­sity in Bei­jing and he was a mem­ber of the well-known Yuan­mingyuan artists’ colony, also in Bei­jing. Brady didn’t want to talk too much about him. Her great­est fear about this ar­ti­cle was that it might

In Bud­dhism there’s this way of en­light­en­ment where the monk just comes along and hits you with a big stick, and it’s like, ‘Woah, I see the light.’ That was what Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy was like for me.

en­dan­ger the lives of his fam­ily in China.

After break­fast, she took me out­side to see the fam­ily’s chick­ens. They’ve had chick­ens for years but, the month be­fore the break-in, the last one had died of old age. After the break-in, Brady’s daugh­ter asked if they could get more. They pro­vide com­fort in trou­bled times.

“If the chick­ens are happy, that means ev­ery­thing’s fine in that mo­ment. They’re very zen lit­tle beasts. And the same with the cat. You know, ‘There’s noth­ing to worry about, the chick­ens are happy — it’s all fine at this point in time.’ They’re a barom­e­ter, ba­si­cally, a well­be­ing barom­e­ter.”

The chick­ens’ names are Pippi, after Pippi Long­stock­ing, the self-pro­claimed strong­est girl in the world, and Nancy, after Nancy Wake, aka “The White Mouse”, the New Zealand-born wartime re­sis­tance hero who boasted of killing a large num­ber of Ger­mans dur­ing the war, in­clud­ing one with her bare hands, and whose defin­ing quote came in an in­ter­view at age 89: “Some­body once asked me: ‘Have you ever been afraid?’ Hah! I’ve never been afraid in my life.”

BRADY SAYS she’s a re­lent­less op­ti­mist. She also says she’s a long-term thinker. She and her hus­band spent a long time think­ing about where and how they wanted to live, look­ing at 150 prop­er­ties be­fore buy­ing their place in 2002, in Up­per Ric­car­ton. It’s a lo­ca­tion that has al­lowed them to limit their car de­pen­dence and there­fore their ex­po­sure to in­creas­ing oil prices. It was rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive - the me­dian prop­erty price in the sub­urb is still only $472,000 — and they paid off the mort­gage as soon as they could, thereby lim­it­ing their ex­po­sure to po­ten­tial in­ter­est rate rises and fi­nan­cial shocks. They have a veg­etable gar­den and egg-bear­ing chick­ens which limit their ex­po­sure to is­sues with food se­cu­rity. They’re con­sid­er­ing get­ting wa­ter tanks.

Of fam­ily life, she says: “It’s amaz­ing, it’s re­ally won­der­ful and it’s a real gift. All the hard work and ev­ery­thing you do with the fam­ily and the house­work and all that, and ad­min as they get big­ger, it’s all a gift — this amaz­ing gift we have. Es­pe­cially the kind of work I do, it never ends, so it helps me to be a nor­mal, bal­anced per­son.”

On the day her daugh­ter was born, she wrote in her jour­nal the lyrics from the 1983 song This is The Day, by The The. “It’s a lovely song,” she says, recit­ing the lyrics: “This is the day when things fall into place. This is the day when your life will surely change.”

She talked with her hus­band, way back, about what was im­por­tant to them and how they could cre­ate the life they wanted. “And we live it,” she says. “We don’t have un­nec­es­sary things be­cause we value free­dom for our­selves and our fam­ily and that is also to do with the work that I do, that I’m self-suf­fi­cient if nec­es­sary, be­cause I un­der­stand the risks, and have done for a long time.”

What she means is that the world is a pre­car­i­ous place and things don’t al­ways go to plan.

THE FIRST time she went to China was as a uni­ver­sity student on ex­change in Fe­bru­ary 1990, months after the mas­sacre at Tianan­men Square. She and the other New Zealand stu­dents were placed in a dorm for for­eign­ers, into which Chi­nese stu­dents weren’t al­lowed. None of the Chi­nese stu­dents would talk to them any­way. In class, the teach­ers wouldn’t say any­thing of in­ter­est or stray from the text­book. The level of stress was so high, Brady says, all the girls in her dorm stopped men­stru­at­ing.

“Clearly,” she says, “we were in a height­ened state of not feel­ing safe.”

The fol­low­ing year, while she was in China re­search­ing her mas­ters the­sis on Rewi Al­ley, two things were stolen from her room: a pho­to­copy from a sensitive book about Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party (CCP) ac­tiv­i­ties and a sensitive let­ter about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Al­ley and the CCP. Noth­ing else was taken.

On a later visit to China, her lap­top stopped work­ing shortly after she had covertly taken pho­tos of the out­side of the CCP’s cen­tral pro­pa­ganda de­part­ment for the cover of her book, Mar­ket­ing Dic­ta­tor­ship: Pro­pa­ganda and Thought Work in Con­tem­po­rary China.

Back in New Zealand, she took the lap­top to be re­paired and says she was told it had been dropped, “from a great height”, and the hard drive had shat­tered.

“Well,” she told them, “that never hap­pened.’”

They were even­tu­ally able to re­trieve ev­ery­thing off the hard drive ex­cept the pho­tos of the cen­tral pro­pa­ganda de­part­ment of the CCP. “Do you think ...” I be­gan to ask. “Yeah, of course,” she said. “Some­body went in, took the pho­tos, tried to de­stroy them and in the process dam­aged the com­puter. Of course.”

“So lots of stuff like that hap­pened over the years and that just hap­pens to peo­ple who do the kind of re­search I do.”

But what both­ered her more than any of that was the pres­sure she came un­der at the start of her ca­reer from a New Zealand aca­demic want­ing to pre­vent her re­veal­ing in her re­search that New Zealand’s famed “friend of China”, Rewi Al­ley, was gay.

“I re­ally grap­pled with it, be­cause I could see that if I was go­ing to con­tinue — like, was I go­ing to not talk about this is­sue and make my life eas­ier? Or was I go­ing to do what was valid from an aca­demic point of view?

“That was my mo­ment of choos­ing to step up and not be afraid.”

At that mo­ment, she didn’t know the whole thing would one day ar­rive in her bed­room.

SHE AL­WAYS knew she would go to uni­ver­sity. “Mum said I was go­ing, so I was.” But she didn’t have big am­bi­tions. At high school, she told the ca­reers coun­sel­lor she wanted to be­come a nanny in Lon­don. “I just wanted to get out of New Zealand,” she says.

On her first day at uni­ver­sity, with no idea what sub­jects to take, she ended up choos­ing the same sub­jects she’d hated at school.

“I was just bored. And I couldn’t read the whole year. If I can’t read a book, that’s a re­ally bad sign.”

At the end of the year, some­one gave her Janet Frame’s mem­oirs, which reignited her love for read­ing. Around the same time, one of her flat­mates was a 38-year-old China trader with mul­ti­ple de­grees. He sug­gested she learn Chi­nese. China was go­ing to be­come more and more im­por­tant to New Zealand, he told her, and New Zealand would need more peo­ple who could act as a bridge.

His de­scrip­tions of his trips to China in the 1980s were, she says, fas­ci­nat­ing, and their flat in Fort St was full of in­ter­est­ing Chi­nese arte­facts he’d brought home. The next year, she en­rolled in a Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy class and al­most in­stantly be­came in­ter­ested in and en­gaged with learn­ing again, in a way she hadn’t since the age of 9.

She says: “In Bud­dhism there’s this way of en­light­en­ment where the monk just comes along and hits you with a big stick, and it’s like,

‘Woah, I see the light.’ That was what Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy was like for me.”

The next year, she started learn­ing to speak and read Chi­nese and knew within a month it was what she wanted to do.

“For some­one who was an in­tel­li­gent per­son, it’s like be­ing in prison if you’re in a sit­u­a­tion where you’re bored for 10 years. That’s a hor­ri­ble feel­ing for some­one who ac­tu­ally nat­u­rally loves learn­ing and read­ing and en­quiry. So it was a huge re­lease to be in­ter­ested in some­thing again, and some­thing that I could see had real value and I could make a dif­fer­ence if I worked hard — I could be part of some­thing that needed to be done.”

IN 2017, as she plunged deeper into the na­ture of China’s in­ter­fer­ence in New Zealand while work­ing on “Magic Weapons”, she be­came in­creas­ingly con­cerned.

“I was get­ting more and more dis­tressed and anx­ious and scared about what I was find­ing. This was way be­yond any­thing I’ve ever done be­fore,” she says. She felt the pa­per didn’t be­long to her, that it needed to go to the govern­ment agen­cies who deal with the kind of things she was un­cov­er­ing.

She says: “I con­tacted the SIS and they never called me back. Turns out they have a bad mes­sag­ing ser­vice.”

She also turned to peo­ple she knew work­ing in govern­ment de­part­ments: “I had peo­ple, se­nior peo­ple I could talk to, who know me, who know I don’t cry wolf. They never got back to me.

“This was very, very real and very, very con­cern­ing and once I got the pa­per to the level that some­one could read it ... and I tried to reach out and didn’t get a re­sponse, that was very scary.”

She says she knew pub­li­ca­tion would put her and her fam­ily in dan­ger, and that she needed to be 100 per cent sure what she was pub­lish­ing was ac­cu­rate.

Prior to be­ing re­leased pub­licly through the web­site of the Wil­son Cen­ter, the Amer­i­can think tank at which she was a global fel­low, the ar­ti­cle was read by col­leagues of hers in the pol­i­tics de­part­ment and law school at the Uni­ver­sity of Can­ter­bury and by four or five China spe­cial­ists from Aus­tralia. She es­ti­mates it was re­viewed by more than 10 peo­ple. A typ­i­cal peer-re­viewed ar­ti­cle pub­lished in an aca­demic jour­nal will be read by two or three peo­ple.

She says she de­cided to make the ar­ti­cle freely avail­able on­line so New Zealan­ders could see it for them­selves. “Then they can choose,” she says. “They can have some choice in this China strat­egy.”

AS WE sat last month in the two-time crime scene that is her of­fice at the Uni­ver­sity of Can­ter­bury, Brady told me she didn’t go look­ing for the role she now oc­cu­pies but nei­ther will she back down from it. Peo­ple have to stand up, she said, not re­main silent, not be cen­sored, not be muted.

“Our democ­racy is made by us ev­ery sin­gle day,” she said. “We’re con­stantly mak­ing it and shap­ing it. We shouldn’t give up on it.”

She said we’re lucky to live in this so­ci­ety — “this amaz­ing com­mu­nity” — that’s been cre­ated by gen­er­a­tions of New Zealan­ders.

“I found stuff that I couldn’t un­know. I’ve got the priv­i­lege to be paid to think and to write and to be the aca­demic. And in our law, un­der the education act, my job — and it’s in my con­tract too — is the critic and con­science of so­ci­ety. So that’s why I ac­cepted my role, be­cause I have this priv­i­leged po­si­tion, and what’s the use of be­ing in a democ­racy if we don’t step up when the time comes?”

I said one an­swer might be that you want your fam­ily to be safe.

“See those pic­tures?” she said, and pointed to three small pho­tos, pinned to the wall, just above sev­eral framed pho­to­graphs of her chil­dren. “That’s my grand­fa­ther, Fran­cis John Brady, chief su­per­in­ten­dent of po­lice, and that’s Ruby Brady, his wife, and above that’s Nancy Wake. I put those up after Fe­bru­ary to re­mind me of stroppy peo­ple and coura­geous peo­ple, peo­ple who did the right thing. So, yeah, you’ve

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