Newshub Nation: Chinese propaganda researcher predicts CCP influence in New Zealand 2023 election

New Zealand's relationship with China is critical for trade and therefore diplomacy remains a high priority for the Government.

However new research from Doublethink Lab suggests Chinese migrants in NZ are particularly susceptible to propaganda from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

All eyes have been on Chris Hipkins' visit to China this week with President Xi Jinping describing the relationship with New Zealand as "strong and robust".

Meanwhile, in this year's Budget, the Government allocated $9 million to a "foreign interference work programme" for our ethnic communities.

Newshub Nation's Simon Shepherd sat down with propaganda researcher Ai-Men Lau to hear about why Chinese migrants to New Zealand are particularly susceptible to influence from China. 

Taiwan-based think tank Doublethink Lab is already studying foreign interference in New Zealand's Chinese community and they've surveyed 1000 people specifically about CCP propaganda.

Lau said that China's influence is often exhibited through western social media, such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, which are censored in China.

"We have seen Chinese Communist Party officials on those platforms," Lau said, and part of her research was monitoring the content they were producing. 

"They are promoting their own narratives on those platforms."

Lau said the CCP is also targeting local Chinese media in New Zealand. 

"Chinese language media across the globe has been noted and has been reported to be targeted and co-opted and influenced by the Chinese Communist Party."

She has observed the CCP ramping up efforts to influence overseas Chinese communities and the affiliates of those communities in foreign countries. 

"In other countries we're seeing a lot of business incentives where you are allowed state content through content sharing agreements and state cooperation agreements, and also participation in press conferences for journalists to portray China in a positive light."

While Lau is yet to see research discussing direct influence like business incentives in New Zealand media, she said "I don't think it's a stretch to say that it is not happening".

Lau's research focused on individuals who are subjected to CCP propaganda while living overseas, an area she said is understudied. 

She said the CCP "see overseas Chinese communities as their citizens, regardless of whether or not they actually have PRC citizenship".

Lau's New Zealand research asks, "Are there certain factors that might make these communities more susceptible or not susceptible to pro-CCP propaganda, and what exactly is that impact?"

"Overall levels of agreement with CCP propaganda were higher in Chinese communities here in New Zealand compared with Malaysia," Lau's research found.

However, she said there were differences in the degree of agreement with the propaganda depending on how much people identified with being Chinese.

"While there was overall levels of higher agreement with CCP propaganda with those who identified as Malaysian-Chinese or Chinese, we actually saw quite much higher levels of disagreement among the Taiwanese, the Hongkongers and the Singaporeans."

For the research, Doublethink Lab surveyed 500 ethnic Chinese respondents and 500 non-ethnic Chinese respondents to achieve a comparative context. 

"We did see higher levels of agreement largely correlated to media use and demographic factors, as well as other attitudes towards government and society," she said. 

Lau believes the power of influence from CCP propaganda depends on where Chinese New Zealanders "get their information from".

"We did find that those who were more likely to agree with CCP propaganda also had very high Chinese social media use."

Interestingly, Lau also said "those who are more concerned with racism and race relations were more likely to agree with CCP content".

"If they experienced racism or if they were concerned about it they might have more likelihood to believe the CCP."

Lau's research also found that the CCP is seeking to influence overseas politics with the propaganda they are releasing. 

"It's about making friends and winning influence rather than sowing distrust.

"It's more similar to just exerting influence through means of trade, economic relations, business engagement."

Lau thinks that people will be reluctant to come forward in New Zealand's "Foreign Interference Work Programme".

"We saw we see this in other countries such as Canada. 

"We're seeing people who are reluctant to come forward because they know that what they might engage with politically sensitive topics might land their families in hot water back home."

Going into New Zealand's general election in October, Lau expects to see "pushes to sway and influence people to vote for certain candidates" from the CCP. 

Regarding donations to political parties, Lau said "I think there will be some funding that needs to be closely examined".

Lau said one way to counter this is "more civic engagement with these communities in disseminating political information that is independent of the CCP affiliated organizations to the community".

"I would say that the Chinese diaspora is the foreground of influence, and that is where the engagement and the research and the monitoring really needs to happen."

Doublethink Lab, who Lau did her research with, recieves 5 percent of its funding from the Taiwanese Government. 

Watch the full interview for more. 

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Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.