Todd Muller defends Chinese Communist Party-linked National MP Jian Yang, who's accused of avoiding English media

National MP Dr Jian Yang and National leader Todd Muller.
National MP Dr Jian Yang and National leader Todd Muller. Photo credit: File / Newshub

A National MP with links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been criticised for not being accessible enough to English media outlets - but his boss Todd Muller disagrees. 

Dr Yang, a list MP who joined Parliament in 2011 and admitted to once training Chinese spies, was recently criticised in a TVNZ report over refusing an interview with a Q&A journalist for more than two years. 

Louis Houlbrooke from the right-wing Taxpayers' Union said he was "staggered" to learn that Dr Yang had been refusing to give media interviews to the country's state broadcaster despite "sitting on a cool $179,000" as an MP. 

But Dr Yang has the support of his new leader Todd Muller, who bumped him up the National Party list from 33 to 27. Muller says it's not true that Dr Yang is avoiding the media because he has fronted on issues to do with statistics. 

"He's done close to 10 in the last 18 months in his role as spokesperson for statistics across all the various media outlets," Muller told Magic Talk on Monday. "This view that he's somehow not fronting for media isn't correct."

The last time Dr Yang released an English media statement was almost a year ago when Stats NZ's Chief Statistician Liz MacPherson resigned over the handling of the 2018 Census.

"He's made very clear statements to the media in the past... He's statistics spokesperson so I would think that's fair that when he talks to the media it's in that context," Muller said. 

Following his re-election as a National list-only candidate for the September election, Dr Yang released a statement but only in Chinese, which was published by Chinese-language media.  

Concerns over Dr Yang's ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were raised in 2017 when he admitted to training Chinese spies so they could monitor other countries' communications. 

Dr Yang denied ever being a spy and denied ever having intelligence training. 

He once taught at the People's Liberation Army-Air Force Engineering College, and spent time at the Luoyang Language Institute, run by the Third Department, which carries out spying activities for China.

It was later revealed he did not disclose his links to the schools in his citizenship applications and instead described them as "partner" universities which had a relationship with military institutions. 

Muller said Dr Yang has been transparent about his past. 

"He's been very clear in the past in terms of his history and the length of time he's been in New Zealand. Obviously one of the key points is when he left the Communist Party, he left 26 years ago. These things tend to want to be trawled over again."

In October 2019 Dr Yang was one of 50 New Zealanders who were invited to attend the CCP's 70th anniversary celebrations in the Chinese capital.  

He also accompanied former National leader Simon Bridges on a trip to China where a meeting was set up with Guo Shengkun, described as head of China's 'secret police'.

Muller pushed back against criticism of Dr Yang's ties to the CCP. 

"It's a massive country for us in terms of trade and relationships and my experience in the context of all the corporate export roles I've had is that as you build relationships with people in China, they are members of the Communist Party - that's sort of how it works, right?

"You end up having conversations and building deep relationships with people who have roles in the Communist Party and China because that's their system."

The National Party's ties to China came under the spotlight in 2018 when former National MP Jami-Lee Ross claimed wealthy Chinese businessman Zhang Yikun donated $100,000 which was then broken up into eight smaller sums so it didn't have to be declared.

Ross accused his former boss Simon Bridges of electoral fraud over the donation, but a Serious Fraud Office investigation resulted in Ross facing charges along with Zhang Yikun and two other associates - not Bridges. 

Ross has pleaded not guilty and the group are due to appear in court on Friday

Muller said he expects the rules to be followed.  

"I don't know the detail on that to be honest... All I know is that from a party perspective, it is very important that we follow all the appropriate disclosure rules.

"Obviously there is a matter before the counts that will eventually work its way through and let's see what the courts ultimately determine."