NZ labelled 'soft underbelly' of Five Eyes spy network in Canadian report

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she listens to information from official channels, not workshops.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she listens to information from official channels, not workshops. Photo credit: Newshub/ Anna Bracewell-Worrall

For the second time in a week, New Zealand has been singled out as a soft target for Chinese influence.

Last week, a Senator and ex-CIA analyst told a US congressional hearing New Zealand politicians are receiving "major" donations from China, which has "gotten very close to or inside the political core".

And now, a Canadian report has warned China is trying to "influence political decision-making, pursue unfair advantages in trade and business, suppress criticism of China, facilitate espionage opportunities, and influence overseas Chinese communities" in New Zealand. 

The 'Rethinking Security: China and Age of Strategic Rivalry' document is "based on the views expressed during, and short papers contributed by speakers at, a workshop organised by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service as part of its academic outreach programme".

"Offered as a means to support ongoing discussion, the report does not constitute an analytical document, nor does it represent any formal position of the organisations involved," the Canadian government's website states.

The report describes New Zealand as the "soft underbelly" of the Five Eyes spy network, which is made up of New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the US and the UK.

"New Zealand is valuable to China, as well as to other states such as Russia, as a soft underbelly through which to access Five Eyes intelligence," it reads.

Peter Mattis, a former CIA analyst who spoke to the US Congress about the growing concern regarding New Zealand, told RNZ on Wednesday it warranted a close eye.

"This isn't the evidence to say someone's guilty or someone's innocent, or there's not a problem - but there's sufficient information there to suggest there is an issue, or at the very least, a very real risk."

Asked in Congress whether New Zealand's presence in the Five Eyes group should be questioned, he said: "Precisely."

"If New Zealand's political institutions are strong enough and can ameliorate the risks that are there... then I'm perfectly content to say, well that's proper and appropriate."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she hasn't heard any concerns from New Zealand's Five Eyes partners.

"I take my steer on these matters from official channels, not opinions expressed at a workshop," she told Stuff.

Mr Mattis said he could "see the irony" in the United States' concern that New Zealand's political sphere had been compromised, when its own President's connections to Russia are under investigation.

"I see the irony, and it's a justifiable concern, and it's one that I hope our institutions are sorting through properly, as Robert Mueller works through his investigation," he told RNZ.

He said New Zealand isn't the only country China has its eyes on.

"We're dealing with a very different China than we thought we were dealing with in the past... one of the features is that it's not a problem simply in New Zealand - it's a problem in a number of other countries, notably democracies."

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters paid a three-day visit to China last week, the first member of the coalition Government to do so.

He met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi as well as other high-ranking Chinese officials, including Minister of the Communist Party International Department Song Tao.