The New Zealand government’s relationship with China has come under the spotlight after a former CIA analyst in the US said the nation’s participation in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance needs to be reconsidered.
Giving testimony to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission , Peter Mattis said Jacinda Ardern’s Labour party had accepted money from donors with links to the Chinese Communist party, while former prime minister Bill English had routinely briefed a National MP who was revealed to have worked at an institution that trained Chinese spies.
“Australia and New Zealand both face substantial problems with interference by the Chinese Communist party,” Mattis told the hearing.
“In both cases, the CCP [Chinese Communist party] has gotten very close to or inside the political core, if you will, of both countries. The primary difference between the two has simply been their reaction.”
“In New Zealand, both the last prime minister, Bill English, and Jacinda Ardern have denied that there’s a problem at all,” he went on.
“I think that at some level the Five Eyes or the Four Eyes need to have a discussion about whether or not New Zealand can remain, given this problem with the political core.”
The Five Eyes is an intelligence network made up of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Nigel Haworth, the Labour party president, said he had no idea “what or to whom” the Mattis testimony was referring, and all political donations to Labour were above board and complied with the Electoral Act.
“All party donations over $15,000, including who they are from, are listed on the Electoral Commission website for anyone to inspect,” Haworth said.
The National leader, Simon Bridges, said it was “completely false” that former prime minister and National leader English routinely shared information.
“I haven’t seen any suggestion of this [Chinese influence]. New Zealand has strong international relations and robust processes in place to ensure our political processes are completely independent of any other country,” Bridges said in a statement.
China expert Prof Anne-Marie Brady from the University of Canterbury has frequently warned of growing Chinese influence in New Zealand, a message echoed by Hillary Clinton on a recent trip to the country, saying New Zealand needed to take the threat “seriously”.
“If a proud, independent democracy like New Zealand can’t deal with Chinese political interference activities, this is a really bad sign to the rest of the world of the way things are going,” said Brady, who has had her home and office burgled in thefts she has linked to her work on Chinese foreign influence.
“Other countries are worried about New Zealand, and the apparent silence on the issue from our government … New Zealand is the canary in the coal mine, if we can’t deal with it, who can?”
By Eleanor Ainge Roy