How Russia and China could hurt New Zealand

Hillary Clinton has a major warning for New Zealand - beware of the rise of authoritarian leaders.

But it wasn't about US President Donald Trump. He can get voted out in just over two years' time and, she said, "bad guys get it in the end".

The warning was about what she called "authoritarian forces", led by Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom voters have no real power to get rid of, and who she says poses a "clear and present danger" to the world.

During her talk in Auckland on Monday night, Ms Clinton portrayed Chinese President Xi Jinping as being on the same track. He can now stay in power forever if he wants, thanks to what she called "democratic backsliding" - and said that could have consequences for New Zealand and our region.

The former US Secretary of State called this authoritarian push from both countries the "new global battle", which she says is just getting started.

Discussing the 2016 election she lost to Mr Trump, Ms Clinton levelled most of the blame at another foe.

"What we have learned from Russian interference in the election is more than alarming."

She accused the Kremlin of putting fake news on social media, hacking and even trying to manipulate voting.

"It is a clear and present danger to democracies and right out of Putin's playbook."

It's a danger because Mr Putin has just taken power again without any notable opposition and could hold onto it for as long as he wants.

She claims he also has a master plan. Mr Putin has positioned himself as the leader of an authoritarian and xenophobic movement - a movement she argues is rippling out around the world, including China.

The consequences of Mr Xi's decision to abolish term limits and consolidate power so he can technically rule until he dies have enormous global significance. It's hugely significant for New Zealand, where China has ever-increasing interests.

Both here and in Australia, experts are sounding the alarm about Chinese efforts to gain political power and influence policy decisions.

Ms Clinton relied on New Zealand research to back up her warning, citing Anne-Marie Brady of the University of Canterbury. Ms Brady's research is called "magic weapons", and details how New Zealand, the Pacific and Antarctica are being saturated with Chinese influence such as donations, enlisting former politicians and controlling dairy farms.

"It is just getting started," said Ms Clinton. "And we need to take it seriously."

Newshub has contacted the Chinese Embassy for comment.