Winston Peters says NZ being naive on China collecting data on politicians

New Zealand's leadership needs to be less naive, Winston Peters says, following revelations politicians and their family members were tracked by a data company linked to the Chinese military.

It was revealed on Tuesday a Chinese state-linked intelligence firm has been collecting vast amounts of information, with New Zealanders caught in the mix.   

Family members of Peters and other public figures, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, are thought to be on Zhenhua Data's database. 

The revelations drew the attention of a New Zealand-based China expert, who says she's trying to work out any data patterns.

Professor Anne-Marie Brady, from the University of Canterbury, told Newshub this could have long-term impacts.

"This has deep significance for our national security," she said.

It was revealed the database had profiles for former Prime Minister John Key's son, as well as Ardern's parents and sister, according to entries seen by NZME.

Speaking to Magic Talk on Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Peters argued New Zealand's leaders needed to understand what they were dealing with.

"Privacy should be defended and it's just not an automatic case where a whole lot of countries do this - in this case, you've got to ask yourself, why would they be doing it?

"I think it's long-since time that the leadership of this country gave up its level of naivety and understood who they were dealing with and what they were dealing with," the New Zealand First leader told host Peter Williams.

NZME reported the data listings included details such as towns of residence, social media account details, and job titles.      

Issues like this have not historically been taken seriously by the Government, Prof Brady explained.

Winston Peters.
Winston Peters. Photo credit: Newshub.

"We've been talking about foreign interference in New Zealand for three years now and the Government speaks about it in code language [and] avoids mentioning China," she told Newshub.

The Prime Minister's office says activity of this nature does occur but Ardern wouldn't comment on this particular case. A spokesperson for Ardern told Newshub the Prime Minister doesn't comment on individuals, including those close to her.

Prof Brady has long been suspicious of Chinese interference in New Zealand. She's previously warned MPs about what she's described as a foreign interference agenda by Chinese President Xi Jinping to bring the Chinese diaspora in New Zealand "under control".   

In a 2017 paper Magic Weapons, she warned of a "concerted foreign-influence campaign" by the Chinese Communist Party.

She suspected her paper criticising China led to her property being burgled in 2018.