Anne-Marie Brady warns MPs of Xi Jinping's 'foreign-influence campaign'

An expert on Chinese politics has warned MPs about President Xi Jinping's foreign interference agenda to bring the Chinese diaspora in New Zealand "under control". 

Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at Canterbury University who researches Chinese domestic and foreign politics and speaks fluent Mandarin, was one of several submitters to the Justice Select Committee on Thursday. 

In her submission, Brady urged the political parties of New Zealand to come together to address the issue of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) interference in the New Zealand political system. 

Brady's recommendations: 

  • Establish a non-partisan resilience strategy.
  • Exchange information and seek support from other like-minded states and sister political parties.
  • Focus on common points with China, while facing up to the differences and challenges in the wider relationship.

The professor warned of a "concerted foreign-influence campaign by the People's Republic of China" (PRC) in her 2017 paper Magic Weapons. It described the United Front, a CCP agency which aims to promote the policies and ideals of the CCP to control outside forces.

Brady's property was burgled in December 2017 and she suspected it was because of her paper criticising China. It sparked an outcry from academics around the world, who penned an open letter decrying China's alleged involvement.

Explaining her submission to MPs, Brady said she looked over her research materials "gathered over 30 years" and did further research to try and put together a template to explain what exactly the United Front was. 

"You're not meant to know how it works - it's secret," she said. "And nobody, even in China, has put together the kind of materials that I have and I only do because I'm an academic who wants to know."

The Chinese President - who Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently met with in Beijing - is a "strong promoter of United Front work tactics and has increased the resourcing and prominence within the CCP political system", Brady said in her submission. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo credit: Getty

In the Xi-era, Brady said United Front work falls into four categories.

  • Efforts to control the Chinese diaspora and utilise them as agents of Chinese foreign policy.
  • Efforts to influence foreigners into supporting and promoting the CCP's foreign policy goals.
  • Promoting China's agenda through communications and supressing critical perspectives. 
  • Rolling out the Belt and Road Initiative (which New Zealand supports). 

Brady said she's particularly concerned about influence over the Chinese diaspora in New Zealand, and said it's unfair that CCP censorship controls have extended to Chinese diaspora media, while New Zealand's mainstream media enjoys freedom. 

"Regardless of who owns a foreign Chinese language media outlet or China- focused media outlet, it must now conform to CCP censorship guidelines or it will be forced to close by means of intimidation such as removal of advertising or vexatious court cases."

Brady also raised concern about Chinese social media app Wechat which, as of 2018, had 180,000 users in New Zealand. Brady said it's the equivalent of an account for almost every New Zealand-Chinese resident.

"The outcome of the widespread adoption of Wechat outside China is the creation of a backdoor means to control China-related discourse in foreign countries through self-censorship, monitoring of content, and the threat of closing down foreign Wechat accounts that do not comply."

Brady also discussed the Uighur people in China and said they are the "most heavily policed sector of the Chinese diaspora" living abroad. An estimated one million Uighurs and other Turkic minority groups have been put in "detention camps" without charge in the Xinjiang Province.

She also talked about how the Chinese government tries to control and monitor overseas students, and tries to influence foreign politicians, academics, and entrepreneurs to promote China's national interest in the media.

Foreign interference

The main objective of the select committee was to look at whether there was foreign interference in the 2017 election, and discuss ways to prevent foreign interference in elections to come. 

Brady had a range of recommendations for MPs, including introducing conflict of interest legislation, whereby MPs, leaders of political parties, local body politicians, and their spouses, "should be required to provide an annual financial disclosure". 

She said loopholes where a candidate can hand over a donation under $15,000 to their political party, without having to declare it, "must be fixed", and that donations "should only be given to political parties, not to individual candidates". 

At last month's select committee, Former National MP Jami-Lee Ross made further allegations against leader Simon Bridges by implying he was involved in the Chinese community's attempts to have a Chinese minister appointed.

Last year, Ross alleged Bridges had committed electoral fraud by asking him to split up a $100,000 donation from Chinese businessman Zhang Yikun into smaller amounts, so they could be hidden from the Electoral Commission.

"Political parties should be required to do due diligence on all donations. The NZ Electoral Commission needs to have the resources to assist with this," Brady said, adding that she felt only New Zealand citizens should be able to vote. 

Brady's full submission can be read here