NZ: kauri and cowries [copiously UPDATED]

In an ongoing Antipodean streak, I’ve described how successfully united-front organisations have embedded themselves within both sides of New Zealand politics (“Skirt lifted, jewels unveiled“; “Kalendae octobres“). That description might eventually need an update, but not before a government is formed, which might still take a couple of days. [UPDATE (Oct 20): The new government will be a coalition of Labour, NZ First and the Greens. See updated interspersed through the post for what that can mean for kauri.] In the meantime, I propose to look at another aspect of PRC influence in NZ: PRC-orientated business, as illustrated by trade in one particular product, and its links to local politics.

As in my previous NZ posts, there’s some inevitable overlap with the revelations in the Brady report (Magic Weapons: China’s political influence activities under Xi Jinping), whither I refer the more inquisitive reader; I will add, however, some new data and point to recent developments.

This post explores the intersection of politics, business, palaeobotany, trade-portal forensics and rectified dendronymy.

The rectification of dendronyms
The kauri (Agathis australis (D.Don) Lindl.) is a large coniferous tree that grows only in the north of New Zealand’s North Island. The name is of Maori origin, and one of its Chinese names is what one might expect in such circumstances: a sound transcription, 考里松 kǎolǐ sōng ‘kauri “pine”‘. That name isn’t commonly used. To the timber merchants covered in the central section of this post, the most species is typically known as 贝壳杉 bèiké shān ‘conch “fir”‘. The shān part is unremarkable; it occurs in the names of several coniferous trees. But what about the ‘shell’/’conch’ part? Bèiké actually is for ‘cowrie’, a mollusk whose shells once served as currency. Although the English words are unrelated (kauri from Maori, cowrie from Hindi < Sanskrit kaparda), the similar pronunciation might have motivated a folk etymology at some point before the Chinese term was coined.

I can’t tell for sure where and when the confusion originated, but it’s clear that early 19th-century English-language authors used any number of spellings to approximate the Maori pronunciation, and these indeed included cowrie. An example is the first systematic botanical description of the species, by David Don0 in 1824, who acknowledges the gift of “a large mass of the Cowrie resin”.

dammara_australis_don2
Dammara (=Agathis) australis in Lambert et al., A description of the genus Pinus… (1824)

The authority for the currently used binomial name, John Lindley1 in 1829, has cowdie:

A. australis, or New Zealand Cowdie Pine[ ]is one of the finest trees in the world, often growing perfectly straight to the height of 100 feet or more, and yielding one of the best descriptions of wood for masts.

but also kawrie on the same page.

The stage was set for mixing up the names of the shells with the Maori word for the tree, also in writing, already in the early 19th-century.

[Update (Oct 18): I’ve had a look at early newspaper materials from New Zealand. The spelling kauri predominates. Of possible relevance is the fact that a spelling for Maori, very similar to today’s standard, was created in 1820 and spread very quickly. The earliest NZ newspaper attestations of words for kauri are from 1840 (the year the first paper was published there), and by 1842 the word occurs in a Maori-language publication, Te Karere Maori (Maori Messenger) (caveat: I don’t read Maori, and have not yet been able to confirm whether the text actually refers to the tree). By the time the the English-language newspaper record begins, the standard spelling might have spread beyond those literate in Maori. Here are some examples with various spellings of the name of the tree: ‘kauri’ (1840, 1840), ‘cowrie’ (1840), ‘cowry’ (1848), ‘cowdie’ (1840, 1843).

For earlier newspaper sources, Australia comes to the rescue (I’m grateful to Geoff Wade for calling my attention to NLA database sources): ‘cowdy’ (1820), ‘cowrie’ (1828). The earliest attestations I’ve found so far for the spelling ‘kauri’ are from 1837: they occur in a letter to the King from New Zealand petitioners, and a piece that names multiple local plants using their Maori names; both published in The Sydney Herald.]

As for the genus names, Agathis is transparently Greek (ἀγαθίς ‘ball of thread’, describing the female cone) and australis means ‘southern’, but the first genus Dammara is less obvious. The name is much older than Lindon: it was introduced to Western botanical literature in RumphiusHerbarium amboniense2, published in 1741. Rumphius describes the tree now known as Agathis dammara, calling it Dammara alba, a Latinisation of the Malay he cites as damar puti. Damar refers to a number of resin products in SE Asia3.

The kauri tree’s unique characteristics were noted in the earliest descriptions: Don mentions its restricted distribution:

Habitat in Nova-Zeelandiæ nemoribus copiosè præsertim circa Æstuarium Queen Charlotte’s dictum.

“Grows in the woodlands of New Zealand, with particular abundance near the estuary called Queen Charlotte’s” (perhaps referring to Queen Charlotte Sound (Tōtaranui)). He also says it

may be ranked as one of the finest timber trees which New Zealand produces

Agathis-australis-cone-2

Kauri cone via New Zealand Plant Conservation Network

Fine though the standing tree is, the relevant ‘kauri bonanza’ here involves subfossil kauri trees buried in the swamps of the north of the North Island. Thanks to the acidic soil, trees up to 45,0004 years old are preserved well enough to be of dendochronological significance, and, more relevantly here, to make the wood workable.

Besides the transcriptional 考里松 kǎolǐ sōng and the molluscan 贝壳杉 bèiké shān, a third name is used for this underground form: 新西兰阴沉木 Xīnxīlán yīnchénmù. This is not a proper species name; it means ‘New Zealand buried/subfossil wood’, which I suppose unambiguously describes kauri. 阴沉木 yīnchénmù can in turn be replaced with 乌木 wūmù or other (near-)synonyms.

The trade

The trade in swamp kauri began in the 1980s, but the real boom came in this decade. This on New Zealand Geographic piece describes an initial free-for-all period, followed by more proactive regulation brought in after damage to indigenous wetlands and assorted peculiar business practices generated attention. The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), which regulates the milling and export of the product, maintains a helpful page that includes quantitative reports going back two years.

[Update (Oct 18): Here’s a story from the ‘free-for-all’ period. In 2013, Mike Nager, then an environmental officer with a local council, was attacked by a group of men in an isolated location. He had bleach thrown in his eyes, which temporarily blinded him, and his face was cut with a knife. He was told to ‘stay away’. Nager was driving to testify as a witness in an illegal swamp-kauri extraction case. The attackers were never found. He returned to work, but began suffering from PTSD soon after and went on sick leave. The council fired him over a conflict related to his injury compensation; he sued and lost.]

According to the relevant laws and regulations, subfossil kauri is only allowed to be exported as “a finished product” or as “whole or sawn stumps or roots” not from “indigenous forest land”. There’s a specific definition of ‘stump’ (essentially, roots plus a section of trunk as high as the maximum diameter), but things seem less specific with ‘finished products’. The whole trade is controversial, and its detractors argue that enormous slabs sold as ‘tabletops’ or whole logs with some perfunctory carving described as ‘temple poles’ or ‘artworks’ are taking advantage of a legal loophole to actually sell the wood as a raw material. A conservationist group called the Northland Environmental Protection Society (NEPS) has taken the government to court alleging the subfossil logs are fossils, in a legal sense that would forbid their sale abroad; they lost and are now waiting for a Court of Appeal ruling.

[Update (Oct 18): Fiona Furrell of NEPS told me the ministry has announced they will sue for legal costs over the appeal, which, she says, would force the organisation to close. It’s unclear if any larger environmental groups, better prepared to afford legal battles, would take up the issue.]

The main export destination has been a certain populous Asian land. In the halcyon days of the subfossil kauri trade (2013 to 2015) more than 90% of all exports went to China:

kauri_exp0_16

Note that the graph is logarithmic. The peak is above 3500 m3/y. Source: MPI, Quarterly report of swamp kauri activity, Dec ’16.

After 2015, exports to China suddenly decreased. 2015 was also the year stricter monitoring was put in place. It’s not immediately clear if there’s a causal link between such scrutiny and the abrupt fall in exports to China.

kauri_exp1_17

From the June ’17 report.

Reports have continued to emerge of suspicious-looking kauri slabs offered for sale on trading portals, both in New Zealand and China. The government’s consistent position has been that the trade is proactively monitored and illegal exports do not occur.

For a halcyon-day example of this, let’s consider a Radio NZ report from June ’15. Pictures of kauri logs for sale had appeared on Chinese trading portal Alibaba 阿里巴巴. Logs can legally be exported if carved into an artwork in its definitive form, thus constituting a ‘finished product’. (Presumably, if some prosaic buyer chooses to recycle such completed artworks into, say, furniture, that’s their problem.) The relevant minister of the day, Nathan Guy, defended the trade:

I have seen some photos where some fantastic-looking swamp logs have been carved and they’re going to be an amazing feature for our country in an international country that they’re destined for.

It’s unclear if Guy was referring to this specific log:

kauri_rnz0
A fantastic-looking kauri log, offered for sale to an ‘international country’ on Alibaba, via Radio NZ.

People unamused at the government’s handling of this included Dover Samuels, a Northland Maori leader, and the aforementioned NEPS. Interestingly, a further individual unhappy with these fantastic, amazing NZ finished products exported to international countries was Winston Peters, leader of the small right-wing New Zealand First party. Peters, affectionately known as Winnie, has emerged as the ‘kingmaker’ after the last election, and is expected to announce which of the major parties he will allow to form a government this week. [UPDATE (Oct 20): The parties are Labour and the Greens, until now in opposition. Winnie himself is expected to be in government, possibly as deputy PM.] He happens to be from kauri country, and was MP for Northland at the time.

Here’s what Winnie had to say:

If they think that this sort of chiselled scribbles on an ancient Maori log is art, then they are not fit to the job that they’re occupying.

He referred to claims the MPI was following the law in allowing exports of such ‘finished products’ to proceed as “bunkum” and “balderdash“, and warned against the “environmental despoliation” created by uncontrolled digging.

That was, of course, during the halcyon days. As we have seen, regulations got stricter after that, and exports to China subsequently decreased. However, a case similar to the one in the Radio NZ story was reported days ago by Peter de Graaf for the Northland Advocate. The article refers to tip-offs on suspected illegal exports to the MPI, including, again, Alibaba offers of massive amounts of swamp kauri slabs. One company involved was New Zealand Forest Enterprise, owned by James Qian (Qian Liping 钱黎平). De Graaf quotes an MPI spokesperson saying they “spoke” to Qian’s company, and found “it is aware of the rules. As a result, we have no further concerns in relation to its activities”. The MPI did not believe the slabs were “actual product for sale”, which raises the issue of what they were doing on a trading portal accompanying a sales offer. Qian, interviewed for the article, didn’t provide an explanation, but said the advert was “very old” and promised to take it down. I haven’t found the actual listing on Alibaba, perhaps because it’s no longer there, but 2013 offers from Qian’s company and a Shanghai distributor are still preserved on another trade portal. Quite likely, the story refers to the posting shown below, found on the English version of Alibaba and shared on social media.

kauri_twitter

Qian’s swamp-kauri offer on Alibaba English, via Malcom Justice (@MPD_NZ).

The adverts above, as well as the ones I’ve seen in complaints to the MPI, come from English-language websites. As a modest contribution to the kauri-advert canon, I’ll give a few examples from Chinese trade portals. I haven’t seen these particular pictures in English-language media, but of course others might have reported them on social media or directly to the MPI.

 
The Sino-kauri corpus

First, some slabs.

kauri_nfl0
新西兰五万年阴沉木原木大板 “50,000-year-old New Zealand ‘buried wood’ log slabs” (source)

These 4.5m-long slabs have some markings and a label which readers more cognisant of the industry might be able to identify. The advert, from 2015, can be found on New Zealand Forests Ltd’s page on timber-trading portal wood168.net (Zhongguo muye xinxi wang 中国木业信息网). Other products on offer include swamp kauri stumps, some more finished-looking slabs, and some non-kauri timber. (Readers who don’t read Chinese wishing to consult that page can search for product names containing the word 阴沉木 yīnchénmù ‘buried wood’.)

nfl_home
New Zealand Forests Ltd’s page on wood168.net

New Zealand Forests Ltd is led by Zhou Jiang 周疆, affectionately known as 豆花周 Douhua Zhou or Tofuman. In an interview with the Chinese Herald (先驱报), he tells how, after many successes in the food and other industries, he decided to enter the kauri business, establishing two companies, NZ Forests and Kauri World in 2010. Kauri World was dissolved in 2015, but NZ Forests remains active, with Zhou as a shareholder and director.

kauri_tofuman
Zhou Jiang 周疆, via the Chinese Herald, via read01.com

Zhou says that he established contacts with Maori groups to get their agreement to exploit the resource. In 2013, the company “inspired” PM English’s gift of the Kiwi-Panda Ball, crafted by swamp-kauri woodturner Alby Hall, to Xi Jinping, to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishent of diplomatic relations. The company’s press release notes that it “works closely with local iwi [Maori tribes] to promote New Zealand culture to the world.” As seen above, support for the swamp kauri trade was less than unanimous in the Maori community, but some clearly don’t object to NZ Forests’ activities.

[New Zealand Forests Ltd] notes that the ancient Kauri used to craft the Kiwi-Panda Ball has been carbon dated as nearly 50,000 years old and is therefore very appropriate to be presented to one of the world’s oldest civilisations with a recorded history of 5,000 years.

Astute readers will appreciate the flattering time-span inflation, appropriate to the exchange of gifts between illustrious dignitaries like English and Xi. As of press time, swamp kauri hasn’t been carbon-dated to 50000 years ago, and China doesn’t yet have 5000 years of recorded history. As the senior partner in the bilateral relation, the Chinese side was treated to more generous number inflation than the trees.

kauri_ball
Alby Hall, Kiwi-Panda Ball (panda hemisphere). Swamp kauri, “inspired by New Zealand Forests Ltd”, 2013. New Zealand’s official gift to the People’s Republic of China. New Zealand Forests Ltd press release via Scoop.

Here’s another slab offered by Zhou’s companies:

kauri_nfl2
From another 2015 posting

This one looks more finished, and could pass as a rustic table. It’s listed as offered by NZ Forests on the trade portal quoted above, and also on another one, China Timber (中国木材网), where it’s ascribed to one Fuzhou Yima Trading Co., Ltd (福州伊玛贸易有限公司). Fuzhou City government information systems don’t seem to record a company with that name, which could be due to a clerical error, the company’s extinction, or its non-existence. Regardless, the contact data on the page match those of Kauri World in New Zealand, the company introduction actually refers to NZ Forests Ltd, and the same picture seems to be used on both websites. There can be no doubt that this posting also belongs to Zhou’s company.

Let’s look at one final Kauri World offer.

kauri_nfl4

Another Kauri offer from 2015.

A closer look:

kauri_nfl3

Per the advert, the log weighs between 1.5 and 2 t, was unearthed in February 2014, and once finished could be worth between $200k and $500k. For the export to be legal, such finishing would have to take place before shipment to China. The log is only 5000 years old (possibly a typo for the customarily inflated 50,000) and has “multiple burrs” (数瘤), considered a good thing.

Similarly, the picture on Kauri World’s homepage, which serves as the Chinese version of NZ Forests’ website,

kauri_oocl.png

shows a swamp-kauri log being loaded into an Orient Overseas Container Line container, perhaps for shipment to another New Zealand location, since the product doesn’t look quite finished. If actually finished, the geometry of the base doesn’t augur well for its structural stability as a temple pole, so a different use could be intended. Then again, the picture doesn’t constitute a business offer and may differ from actual products being sold.

Incidentally, the fantastic, finished log featured in the Radio NZ story quoted above also came from New Zealand Forests Ltd. On the English version of Alibaba, they dispensed with any ‘temple pole’ euphemisms and called the pieces just ‘logs‘.

All the pictures above were most likely taken in New Zealand. It’s not clear whether the products they show were actually sold and exported, as the MPI might have blocked some such exports. It’s not hard to find pictures of swamp kauri being offered by traders in China. Here’s a piece of a rather particular shape, offered in 2014 by a Xiamen trading company (without any visible link to any particular NZ exporter).

kauri_cn0

I’ve also seen swamp-kauri offers from China-based traders posted as late as last year.

The legal and dendrometric subtleties involved in assessing the legality of exporting all those products escape me, but it should be clear that the limits of the ‘finished product’ concept were being tested.

Stone duality

Besides New Zealand Forests, one of the biggest players in the kauri trade was an Oravida Kauri, a Stone Shi business. Upon first encountering his name, some readers will assume it alludes to Marshall Stone and the duality named after him. Such an assumption would be mistaken: ‘Stone’ is simply the translation of his surname. His full Chinese name is Shi Deyi 石德毅. There is a certain duality between ‘Shi’ and ‘Stone’ as given names and surnames, and also between Stone Shi’s activities in China and New Zealand, and his links to business and politics.

Stone Shi’s best known activities are selling milk and buying airports. Anne-Marie Brady’s Magic Weapons report devotes him two paragraphs, worth quoting in full.

In 2011 Shi Deyi (also known as Stone Shi, 石德毅) donated $56,500 (via Oravida NZ) to National and secured a game of golf with John Key in return. The photo of the match is still used in Oravida publicity. Shi donated a further $30,000 via Oravida in 2013, in 2016 he gave $50,000, and then a further $50,000 in 2017. Shi is CEO of Shanghai Jiacheng Investment Management 上海嘉诚投资管理有限公司, but in New Zealand he is most well known as the director of the milk products company Oravida. Shi also bought Ardmore airport, Auckland’s second airport, in 2016. In 2005 Shi was involved in a fraud case in China; his business partner got life in prison, while he was sentenced to pay debts and compensation. Stone Shi is now a rotating chair of a Red Capitalists organization, the Shanghai Entrepreneurs Association (上海新沪商联合会). This is a grouping of 2,000 of the most powerful companies in China, and is under the supervision of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce as well as the United Front Work Department. The Shanghai Entrepreneurs Association is a channel for public-private partnerships in China. It currently has an MOU with the New Zealand China Trade Association.

Shi bought Oravida in 2010 under its former name Kiwi Dairy, from Terry Lee; a businessman associated with Shanghai Pengxin. Former New Zealand National PM Jenny Shipley is a director of Oravida, as, for almost five years until 2017, was David Wong-Tung, the husband of National MP Judith Collins. Collins’ relationship with Oravida attracted media scrutiny when she attended a private dinner with a Chinese customs official and Shi when Oravida were having difficulty exporting their products to China. The National government later gave Oravida $6000 to help it to overcome border issues.”

Brady also provides a picture showing Shi at a prime-ministerial golf match. As a modest contribution to the Shi golfing-portrait genre, here’s a PM-less portrait, from a Sheshan 佘山 golf club magazine.

shideyi0

After the fraud case in the early aughts, Stone Shi resurfaced in New Zealand, attracting considerable media attention with the airport purchase and high-level political connections. He was also fully rehabilitated in the Motherland, as shown by his prominence in the Shanghai Entrepreneurs Association.

Serendipitously enough, another airport-related incident occurred last month, a week before the election. A pipeline that fed fuel to Auckland airport (the big one, not Stone’s) ruptured, leading to cancelled and postponed flights. An investigation underway. The pipe’s owner believes it “was damaged by a digger before it ruptured”. The investigators have met some obstacles. The owner of the property where the accident occurred doesn’t live there, and investigators have not been able to locate him after presumably searching for a month. This is perhaps understandable, since he (it is a ‘he’ according to press reports) is allegedly not in the phone book and might have left the country. If abreast of these developments, ‘he’ might be disinclined to show up, since a fine could be waiting. The digging, media reports claimed soon after the incident, was in fact an “exploratory search for swamp kauri“. Later, it was said that the damage could have occurred back in the heroic age of the swamp (~’14). It has been asked whether the kauri exploration responsible for the rupture, or earlier damage to the pipe, was related for Oravida Kauri, now renamed Kauri Ruakaka Ltd.

The hypothesis is hardly far-fetched. The reasoning is simple: digging is already openly considered the most probable cause, based on an analysis of the broken pipe; industry sources talked specifically about swamp-kauri exploration, and satellite images shared by Twitter user @matarikipax appear to indicate traces of recent activity and a log lying on the ground; if the cause was indeed kauri digging, the first place to ask is Kauri Ruakaka, the nearest kauri business and a major player in the heroic age. It seems obvious that these links should be analysed. However, no mention of a Oravida Kauri or its successor Kauri Ruakaka has been made, as far as I’ve seen, in media reports.

Stone Shi, a National Party donor, is still a director of Kauri Ruakaka. Judith Collins, the National MP whose husband was a director at the company until a few months ago, is the minister of energy and resources.

[Update (Oct 18): The orchid

A rare orchid growing only in some Northland wetlands is threatened by draining of their habitat. Environmentalists claim illegal draining to extract subfossil kauri has pushed the plant to the edge of extinction.

The plant belongs to the genus Thelymitra, but its precise taxonomic status remains unclear. In the meantime, it’s known as Thelymitra “Ahipara”. Ahipara refers to a Northland locality near which the plant has been found. The name is Maori: ahi means ‘fire’ and para, among other meanings, refers to the king fern (Ptisana salicina). Some sources (Wicky quoting this dictionary; this article) give the interpretation “the fire where the fern was cooked”.

The New Zealand Native Orchid Group website has photos of the flower.]

This is not a pipe

Again, I’m not enough of a New-Zealandist and forensic palaeodendrometrician to provide an informed opinion on the legality of the proposed sales above. They might be fully compliant with the relevant definitions of ‘stump’, ‘finished’ and other xylurgical concepts. By giving those examples, besides enriching the kauri-advert canon with some Chinese-language specimens, I meant to illustrate how this China-orientated sector has been ‘testing the limits’ of the regulations, as well as the controversy surrounding the kauri trade. In that controversy, the government’s position is consistent with its general attitude towards China-related issues: the benefits of trade with China and Chinese investment overweigh environmental concerns and overrides the opposition of (some) Maori. In all fairness, the MPI’s response to complaints after the free-for-all era has been transparent, and a remarkable amount of information on the trade is publicly available. It’s the government’s position on a largely Chinese-dominated sector, consistent with its overall attitudes to the PRC, that I find worth taking note of.

Soon after the incident, a reporter claimed to have filed a story that covered the possible links between the pipe rupture and kauri digging with The Dominion Post. The editor who decided to put the article “on hold” denied there had been any political, legal or other pressure, but found “too many ifs, maybes [and] perhapses” in it. Perhaps that should be called an epistemological pressure; maybe, such pressure could have been resisted if the piece didn’t misrepresent the conditionals and probabilities. Even if that one article was bad, it’s quite remarkable that no one else has taken up the issue, in what would seem a competitive media environment. That was another motivation for consolidating my observations here.

The current state of knowledge is, indeed, a chain of conditionals. The various links between the location of the ruptured section, Stone Shi’s business and his political connections don’t warrant, at the moment, the conclusion that his company has any responsibility for the incident. On the other hand, the media silence on all these links only brings them to the foreground. Again, it might turn out that no work was ever done for Shi’s companies near the broken pipeline, but why is no one asking him, or even mentioning the possibility, or discussing it with people who’ve brought it up?

[Update (Oct 18): A source who requested anonymity to discuss the matter candidly refers to the ‘famous litigiousness’ of Oravida’s directors as a reason for the media’s failure to mention the possible links to the pipe rupture.]

I might update the post with any new developments.

[UPDATE (Oct 20): The emergence of a new government could have consequences for the future of the subfossil-kauri trade. Critics of it were in a minority position in politics until now. I have counted three MPs who have in the past been strongly critical of the trade: Winston Peters, of NZ First, quoted above; Kelvin Davis, deputy leader of Labour; Eugenie Sage, of the Greens. As it happens, the first two will now be in the cabinet, with Peters perhaps as deputy PM; it’s unclear if Sage will be made a minister, but as Greens environment spokesperson she presumably delivered her criticism on behalf of the party.

When stricter regulations on the trade were put in place in 2015, Kelvin Davis didn’t consider them sufficient:

They won’t make an iota of difference because they rely on honesty… and these contractors refuse to reveal how much of this ancient toanga they’ve dug up and shipped off overseas.

In a Green Party press release last March, Eugenie Sage was quoted as saying:

We simply shouldn’t be ripping up our wetlands for short-term profit when the environmental destruction will last for generations to come.[…]

[The minister for primary industries] needs to stand up to this industry and stop allowing this precious taonga to be mined until we know if and how it can be done sustainably.

Winston Peters‘ views were quoted above (‘despoliation’, ‘balderdash’). Here’s another quote, from a Radio New Zealand interview where he considers the issue of whether rough slabs, not unlike the ones opening my Sino-kauri Corpus above, can be reasonably considered ‘finished products’ ready to serve as table tops:

I’d invite the Minister, Mr Guy, to slide his rear end down these rough-hewn slabs and tell me that they’re finished. He’ll have splinters everywhere.

With these three people now in or near government, changes in the regulation or oversight of the subfossil trade could be expected, assuming of course they still mean what they previously said.]

[Thanks to Geoff Wade]

Notes

0 Lambert, Aylmer Bourke, Ferdinand Bauer and David Don, A description of the genus Pinus: illustrated with figures, directions relative to the cultivation, and remarks on the uses of the several species, vol.2, London: J. White, 1824. Available at the Biodiversity Library.

1 Loudon, J[ohn] C[laudius], An encyclopædia of plants… London: for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1829. Also available through the Biodiversity Library.

2 Rumphius, Georg[ius] Everhard[=Rumpf, Georg Eberhard], Het Amboinsche kruid-boek…/Herbarium amboinense…, vol. 2. Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht: Apud Fransicum Changuion, Joannem Catuffe, Hermannum Uytwerf, 1741. Available on the Botanicus Digital Library.

3 Rumphius also gives the Malay name damar batu, ‘stone resin’. I’m grateful to Geoff Wade for references and comments on the Malay terms.

4 Turney, Chris S.M. et al., “The potential of New Zealand kauri (Agathis australis) for testing the synchronicity of abrupt climate change during the Last Glacial Interval (60,000—11,700 years ago)”, Quaternary Science Reviews 29 (2010) 3677-3682. Available on the one of the authors’ Academia page.

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China wants Greenland station ‘ASAP’; one candidate site near planned China Nonferrous investment

China wants to establish a permanent ground research station in Greenland ‘as soon as possible’, Yu Yong 俞勇, a researcher at the beautifully named PRIC (Polar Research Institute of China, 中国极地研究中心), said at the yearly Reykjavik ‘assembly’ of the Arctic Circle, an organisation chaired by former Icelandic president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. This was first reported by Danish journalist Martin Breum for Sermitsiaq and on his Twitter account. Breum has long been covering Greenland, where he lived as a teenager, and has written a must-read book whose English version is free to download.

Breum tweeted a picture showing two candidate locations for the base:

 

breum

Via Martin Breum’s twitter.

The map shows two possible locations. One is in the southwest, near Kangaamiut or Maniitsoq. (Readers with better visual acuity and knowledge of Greenlandic geography may come to a more precise conclusion.) The northern one is of particular interest, and will be discussed below. The third red mark in the northeast, labelled 丹麦站 Dānmài zhàn ‘Danish station’ is indeed a Danish station, the military and scientific outpost Station Nord.

The Chinese delegation at the Reykjavik event includes several officials: State Oceanic Administration deputy director Lin Shanqing 林山青, MFA special Arctic representative Gao Feng 高风, and of course PRIC head Yang Huigen 杨惠根 (who sits at the board of the entity behind the event). Skimming through the programme, I see three sessions organised by Chinese entities (the PRIC (whose session is plenary), Beijing Normal University (北师大) and the China-Nordic Arctic Research Centre (CNARC, 中国—北欧北极研究中心)). In terms of quantity, that makes the Chinese presence comparatively strong among non-Arctic states, larger than e.g. South Korea’s. However, the Chinese delegation is unremarkable in terms of seniority next to, e.g., the UAE and, of course, some of the Arctic states.

It is remarkable that the event was chosen for the first official discussion of the Greenland station plans. On the other hand, it was left to a relatively junior figure, Yu Yong, a marine microbiologist with an ‘associate research fellow’ (副研究员) position. (Breum’s article misidentifies him as ‘vicedirector of PRIC’; the confusion might have been due to Yu’s status as ‘deputy head’ of a division within the PRIC.) Chinese plans for a base in Greenland had been under discussion for some time, in particular during a SOA visit to Greenland last year. What the announcement shows, besides the public disclosure of the potential locations, is that China can already count on the agreement of the Greenland government. As Breum notes, scientific research falls under the devolved purview of the Greenland government, and Copenhagen’s approval isn’t necessary in principle.

As quoted by Breum, Yu said China wants to build the station “as soon as possible”, while adding there’s no clear schedule yet.

The more impressive of the two proposed locations would of course be the northernmost one. The area will be familiar to regular readers: it’s near the Citronen Fjord zinc project, where minor miner Ironbark from Australia holds a mining permit. An arm of state-owned China Nonferrous (中色) has long had a series of non-binding agreements with Ironbark, showing an interest in financing and building the project. Zinc prices have been rising, which is good news for Ironbark, but the site’s remote location and lack of infrastructure make costs unusually high (indeed prohibitive, according to some). Ironbark shares don’t show signs of generalised enthusiasm for the mine.

There is, however, one entity that remains interested in the project: China Nonferrous, specifically its listed arm NFC (中色股份). One of its deputy general managers (副总经理), Qin Junman 秦军满, visited the Citronen site last August, accompanied by the crème of Greenland’s resources ministry: the minister (naalakkersuisoq) Múte Bourup Egede and the top career official, deputy minister (departmentschef) Jørgen Hammeken-Holm. The display of support is understandable: Citronen Fjord is one of two important, viable projects for Greenland’s economic development; the other one, the Kvanefjeld (Kuannersuit in Greenlandic) uranium and rare-earth project, also with Chinese involvement, is controversial, and indeed less to the minister’s liking. Ironbark is now working with NFC towards obtaining financing from Chinese banks.

If the project goes ahead, the Citronen mine would be, by a long stretch, the world’s northernmost (at 83°N), and indeed the northernmost settlement of any kind on dry land. During the initial phases of the project, most workers will be foreign, indeed most likely Chinese, so that nationality, and the state behind the entity doing the building, would hold the record. A competitor for that record could be the planned Chinese research station, assuming the northern site is finally chosen. It’s hard not to see the connection between these two planned locations; as is well known, neither Chinese scientific projects of this kind nor those of state-owned companies are disjoint from broader state policies. An obvious example is the Kvanefjeld uranium+REE project, where the Chinese investor is under the PRC Ministry of Land and Resources, and “implements a vision” reached at a meeting between the minister and Greenlandic officials.

(For those wondering: Citronen (‘the lemon’) Fjord isn’t so named because any citrics grow there. It honours Jørgen Haagen Schmith, who used the pseudonym as a resistance fighter during the Nazi occupation of Denmark. Walter Turnowsky has written about this for Sermitsiaq. I try to provide Greenlandic names for any Greenland locations I mention on this blog, but I’ve looked and asked around and apparently Citronen Fjord doesn’t have another name, possibly due to its remote location even by Greenlandic standards.)

As Yu’s map helpfully shows, the northern candidate site is located northwest of Station Nord, a rather strategic point. It’s only to be expected that the Danes are paying close attention at Chinese plans for the area. Indeed, some minor friction already occurred late last year, when Ironbark was applying for the exploitation licence; the Danish foreign ministry wrote to Greenland enquiring about the project, something the local authorities didn’t appreciate. The fact that no such enquiries had been sent concerning other mining projects without Chinese involvement makes the People’s Republic the elephant in the room.

Even though it hasn’t generated the mining boom that, as some might have imagined at some point, would suddenly make Greenland economically independent of Denmark, Chinese interests in the island are slowly increasing. Besides the mines and research stations, another interesting development is the last few month has been the start of the construction of a satellite ground station in cooperation between Beijing Normal University (北师大), Tele-Post and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (Pinngortitaleriffik/Grønlands Naturinstitut), announced last May.

Kalendis Octobribus: Jichang Lulu does Wellington

Which doesn’t allude to any improper goings-on with the Duke, but updates my recent incursus into New Zealand politics.

My previous piece (‘United Frontlings always win’) illustrated how successful the CCP’s united-front tactics have been in embedding the Party’s agenda into both sides of New Zealand politics. The definitive version of said piece has itself been embedded into a post on China Heritage, with an introduction and links supplied by Geremie Barmé (to whom I also owe the ducal line). For a fuller discussion of PRC influence operations in New Zealand, I refer you to the Magic Weapons report by Anne-Marie Brady.

 

For he’s a jolly &c.

Characteristically for Xi Era strategies, democratic power shifts have been hedged against. My post, originally written before last week’s election, focused on two United Frontling MPs: Yang Jian 杨健 of the National Party, who originally refrained from disclosing his PLA intelligence background (part of a “system” too “complicated” for the public to understand); and Raymond Huo (Huo Jianqiang 霍建强) of Labour, with active UF links and famous for using a well-known Xi Jinping quote as Labour campaign slogan.

yang
Yang Jian 杨健

 

raymond
Raymond Huo (霍建强)

Yang and Huo had been given safe places in their party lists and were reelected as expected. There was a third candidate from a PRC-linked organisation, Chen Naisi 陈耐锶 of the CSSA (Chinese Students and Scholars Association). Chen said she is “not in the least bit interested in politics” (Brady Report, p. 23); that lack of enthusiasm, or perhaps the fact that, unlike the senior United Frontlings, she was competing for an electorate seat, prevented her from entering Parliament.

Despite increasing media exposure of the CCP’s influence activities, the major parties remain unperturbed. Among other reasons, Yang, whatever his (now well-known) military background, is valued as an effective fundraiser for his party (the Nationals, not the CCP). According to Michael Reddell, National Party president Peter Goodfellow once said that “the Chinese are more important than the farms – they don’t complain and they pay up.” In exchange for donor herding, political parties seem happy to outsource the political representation of the Chinese-speaking part of their constituency to individuals cultivated by an authoritarian foreign power.

 

An inquiry into the nature and causes

A little problem for the Frontlings-in-every-basket strategy has emerged, however. The election resulted in a hung parliament; although the Nationals obtained the most seats, these aren’t enough to form a majority government. Both possible coalitions (led by the Nationals or Labour) need the support of a small right-wing party, New Zealand First, whose leader Winston Peters has become the ‘kingmaker’. Peters had been the only politician who called for an inquiry into Yang’s case; although I thought at first that was just one of those things people say during campaigns without quite meaning them, Peters has now repeated those calls days ago. If Peters makes that a condition in coalition talks, the only way for Yang to avoid the scrutiny he clearly doesn’t appreciate would be to step aside.

It’s not immediately obvious what such an inquiry would inquire into. The alleged ‘allegations’ about Yang allege things he has admitted himself, and had been hidden in plain sight in the Chinese press for quite some time. Were the scrutiny to be directed at the National Party’s vetting of a candidate with such a background, they would normally jettison Yang rather than be exposed to the ordeal. Perhaps Parliament’s time, letterhead and bottled water could be put to better use if the inquiry examined the larger issues discussed in the Brady Report, which are slowly percolating into mainstream media; but so far no politician has displayed such an inclination.

 

A celebration of Frontlinghood

For the time being, Yang fears no inquiries and has smilingly attended the National Day (国庆节) reception at the Chinese embassy. Even though, sources claim, guests tended to avoid him, he did get to pose with the PRC ambassador, with a military attaché attached for good measure.

guoqing
乡音 via Brady’s Twitter

Further to the kalendae octobres mood: China Heritage has a piece on the anniversary of the People’s Republic, whither let me refer you.

New Zealand: United Frontlings always win

[After the weekend’s election, a slightly edited and updated version of this post appeared on China Heritage, with a must-read introduction and collection of links by Geremie Barmé, to whom I’m grateful for republishing (and helping edit) the piece.]

A report by Anne-Marie Brady of the University of Canterbury, just released through the Wilson Center, gives the first comprehensive description of efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to exert influence on New Zealand politics, business and media. This post focuses on one aspect of Brady’s paper, with considerable overlap with its sources but also some additional details and comments. It’s been written in a rush, whence the generally rambling character and typos.

 

Skirt lifted, jewels unveiled

This post will eventually resolve into a discussion of the Xi personality cult as embedded in New Zealand campaign slogans; specifically, a slogan with sexual associations that has spawned variations where skirts are lifted and pipes are rubbed. But beyond these juicy details, Brady’s report is about united front activities, and I’d also like to summarise what I see as the essential characteristics of the Front idea. An idea that goes back to the 1920s, but is seeing its most splendid implementation under Xi Jinping.

The title of Brady’s report (“Magic weapons: China’s political influence activities under Xi Jinping”) alludes to a memorable bit of Maoist Scripture, the Chairman’s characterisation of the united front as one of the CCP’s revolutionary ‘magic weapons’ (法宝 fǎbǎo), the others being ‘armed struggle’ and ‘the construction of the Party’. The word fǎbǎo is (I think) first attested as a Buddhist term, a literal translation of Sanskrit dharmaratna. The ‘jewel of the dharma’, one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism, refers to the teachings of the Buddha. The semantic shift to ‘magic weapon’ likely happened in Daoism. Rather than a skirt, the Brady report lifts the veil on Xi’s reactivation of Mao’s weaponised jewel.

Although focused on New Zealand, Brady’s report discusses the CCP’s United Front (统一战线) tactics in general. The idea goes back to early Communism, whose theoreticians talked of the need for strategic alliances with other parties and movements as a preliminary stage to a Communist takeover. After its role in the Bolsheviks’ rise in Russia, the concept was adopted by the Comintern in 1921 at Zinoviev’s initiative. The name was already ‘united (workers’) front’ (единый (рабочий) фронт). The Comintern language of those days talks of joining forces with other ‘working class’ forces, meaning various factions in the socialist movement, by then split into a variety of groups within which Soviet-loyal Communists were often a minority. A Comintern appeal from 1922 calls for those who haven’t yet made up their minds to take up arms and struggle for “power” and “dictatorship” to “at least unite in the struggle for ordinary subsistence” against “exploiters and traitors to humanity“. The harangue is directed to all working class representatives, be they “Communists, Social Democrats, or Anarchists, or Syndicalists”. That sounds like building alliances, but a key aspect is that the Communist movement saw these tactics as temporary, intended to eventually give it hegemonic power. The Communist Party intended to stay separate from reformists or Anarchists it ultimately saw as their ideological enemies. The first ‘united front’ was essentially about instrumentalising European Social Democrats in the 1920s; later on, these alliances would become narrower (shedding the Social Democrats under Stalinism), then broader (the ‘Popular Front’ with ‘bourgeois’ forces against Fascism) and later discarded altogether after Stalin’s pact with Hitler.

But there’s more to united front strategies than temporary alliances with working-class forces to the left or right of Soviet-style Communism itself. The instrumentalisation doesn’t have to stop at these notional ideological allies within the socialist spectrum. Brady’s report quotes from Lenin’s The Infantile Sickness of “Leftism” in Communism (Детская болезнь “левизны” в коммунизме), a 1920 tract where he attacks Western European Communists farther to his left. Although the work doesn’t literally mention any ‘fronts’, the tactics it describes subsume their description by the Comintern one year later as a particular case. Beyond the alliances with socialists and trade unionists mentioned the appeal quoted above, Lenin advocates tactical cooperation with ‘bourgeois’ organisations: it’s only possible to “vanquish a more powerful enemy” by “skillfully using […] opposing interests between the bourgeoisie of different countries” and between different bourgeois groups between each country, “as well as every, even the smallest, opportunity of gaining an ally0.” (From this Russian version.)

Lenin devotes an entire section of the tract to the question “[Should we] participate in bourgeois parliaments?” (Участвовать ли в буржуазных парламентах?). Lenin’s ‘infantile’ leftist adversaries would answer in the negative. But for Lenin, parliamentarism has become “obsolete” only “in the propaganda sense”, which somehow also means in the “world-history sense”; its “era” has ended. In practice, it’s not “politically obsolete”, it’s still there, so it should be used. Communists should participate in elections, with the purpose of awakening the “backward strata” (осталные слои), the “ignorant rural masses” (тёмная деревенская масса).

United-front tactics for China began in the 20s, with the Communists’ alliance with the (then much stronger) Kuomintang against warlords. The KMT saw this alliance as a way of controlling the emerging Communists, something they didn’t succeed at and led Chiang Kai-shek to purge the leftists in 1927. The idea was refloated later, to fight against the Japanese invasion. From the beginning, recognising the Chinese Communists Party’s weak position, the Comintern favoured playing united-front with the Chinese ‘national bourgeoisie’. Here’s what Stalin had to say on the topic in 1927, when Chiang turned against the Communists marking the end of the ‘first united front’. In a speech to the plenum of the Party Central Committee1, he talks of three “stages of the Chinese revolution”: the first one, already completed, was the “revolution of the nation-wide unified front”; the “bourgeois-democratic revolution”, then underway; and a “Soviet revolution”, still to come. The speech was summarising an earlier article in Pravda2, where Stalin differentiated between the need for an alliance with the entire KMT in the first, accomplished, stage, and the current situation, where the left wing of the KMT should be used against the right: in the ongoing “struggle between the two paths of the revolution” (its continuation or “liquidation”), “the revolutionary Kuomintang in Wuhan” would “become in practice an organ of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”.

stalinmao
People’s Daily, Dec 18, 1949 via Renmin wang

After Stalin’s ‘third stage’ finally succeeded in 1949, the united front (统一战线 tǒngyī zhànxiàn or 统战 tǒngzhàn for short) took on other forms. Brady mentions the use of ‘foreign friends’ for informal diplomacy and what would become a central aspect of the PRC’s united front work, the control over ethnic Chinese communities abroad. Though culturally and politically diverse, and in the past often hostile to the CCP, by and large diaspora communities have become dominated by PRC-friendly organisations after decades of united front work. Such control over media, business and cultural organisations, as well as over elected representatives in local democratic institutions, creates a strong pressure to acquiesce to PRC policies and views. Once the diaspora is ‘tamed’, its organisations can be repurposed to advance China’s broader policy agenda on the next level, that of mainstream politics, business and media abroad.

In the PRC, the united front isn’t just the name of a political concept. It’s a Party organ of ‘full-ministry rank’ (正部级), the United Front Work Department (shortened name: 统战部 Tǒngzhàn bù) directly under the Central Committee, with offices at the Party committees of lower levels of administration. It speaks volumes about the level of knowledge of the politics of a world power in the Western press that the name of the organisation and policy are is put in (scare?) quotes. An example is this NZ Herald story about Brady’s report. Another is a hilarious incident in which Chau Chak Wing 周则荣, an Australian-Chinese businessman whose political donations were discussed in an ABC-Fairfax investigation, threatened litigation in a letter stating he “has no knowledge of an entity referred to […] as the United Front Work Department”. Australian journalist Alex Joske promptly provided pictures and an official account of a meeting Chau had with district-level United Front officials, not a year before his ‘lack of knowledge’ of such an entity. This is like referring to the ‘Culture Ministry’, or an alleged US ‘State Department’, or the so-called ‘Republican Party’. Like Mike Flynn denying the knowledge of ‘such an entity as a Russian embassy’. There’s nothing secret about the UFWD, and learning about it demands no Sinological prowess. Writing about it is widely available in English (Groot, Angliviel de la Beaumelle…). Those of a more investigative disposition might even try visiting the UFWD’s website. Media powerhouses equipped with so-called ‘telephones’ could even try calling +86-10-58335141 during Beijing office hours (international rates might apply).

United front work has intensified under Xi. Besides its usefulness for international policy purposes, as discussed by Brady, domestic UF organisations, such as the ancillary parties, can be used to handle ‘new social strata‘. This term mostly refers to private businesspeople, which the Party wants to control and reward but not massively incorporate into its ranks. Another example is the clergy of the institutional religions, whose management, training, ‘Sinification’ and instrumentalisationare key united front tasks; monks and priests are supposed to be subservient to the Party, but can’t be admitted into it.

This is another key aspect of united front work. From Lenin onwards, its purpose has not been to proselytise, or form a majority under an ideological consensus, as might be the goal of other political or belief-based organisations. As the history of the united front shows, ideology is simply a tool; state Communism has sought alliances with the Western centre-left, later only with orthodox Communists, then with a broad ‘bourgeois’ arc reaching past the centre, and then directly with Nazism; or, in the Chinese case, with the entire Kuomintang, then only its left wing, later foreign leftists, assorted brands of non-Soviet Communism, and finally a variety of foreign politicians willing to collaborate with its initiatives. Whatever ‘Communist’ might mean to those identifying as such in other countries, the Chinese Party of that name is not primarily an ideological organisation. The country it controls has been through various economic policies which might not be to Marx’s liking. Once, links were sought with Western Communists; nowadays the foreign Far Left is mostly irrelevant to the CCP’s interests, and mainstream ‘bourgeois’ parties are actively cultivated, as exemplified below. Religion, the ‘opium of the people’, its another set of belief systems it commodifies. It does not wish to build an ideological majority, the way a democratic political party would; it simply strives to maintain and extend the power of a stable, centralised, hierarchical organisation, over time, territory and resources. It chooses who can join it; other useful entities and individuals it doesn’t wish to formally phagocytose are controlled (mainly) through the united front organisations.

So that’s the United Front in a nutshell. An official Party organisation, with buildings, phone numbers, publications, that instrumentalises non-Party entities for advancing the goals of the Party-state, within China, in territories China fancies but doesn’t administer, and abroad. The ‘abroad’ part is what Brady’s work is about, and New Zealand is but one case.

Brady’s report covers several areas of United Front influence building in New Zealand, including media (something I’m reserving for some later writing), politics, business and their intersections. In this post, I’d like to mention a few details about the politics part. One reason is that this aspect hasn’t received a lot of attention globally (UF-linked political donations in Australia being an exception). Another one is that there’s a general election in New Zealand in a few days, and the way revelations about certain candidates have been received is revealing in itself. For the record, I have no horse in that race, and will discuss candidates from both major parties.

All roads lead to Xi Dada

New Zealand provides an example of successful United Front domination of a diaspora community. As of this election, the top ethnic Chinese candidates are linked to CCP organisations and support PRC policies. In New Zealand, the Chinese community can only realistically aspire to political representation by its own members through individuals approved by Beijing. This situation, enabled by the leaders of the top parties, effectively allows the extraterritorial implementation of PRC policy.

The most visible ethnic Chinese politician in New Zealand is Yang Jian 杨健 of the National Party. Yang is currently an MP and will almost certainly continue to be after Saturday’s election. With Yang, the Nationals (currently in government) consistently command a majority among the ethnic Chinese electorate some 50% above their overall polling.

Last week, an investigation by the Financial Times and local media Newsroom revealed Yang’s background in military intelligence. He studied and then taught English at the PLA Air Force Engineering Academy (空军工程学院, since renamed University 空军工程大学), and later again studied and worked at the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute (洛阳外国语学院), a PLA intelligence school. Yang denied ever being a spy, although he admitted his students at Luoyang used the English he taught them to “collect information” about the communications of other countries; “if you define [it] that way, they were spies”.

Yang seems to have hidden his military background from public English-language sources until 2012, once he was already an MP. He said he didn’t mention his studies and career at those PLA institutions in his citizenship application, naming instead civilian partner universities which weren’t his actual place of work. By his own account, such less-than-factual statements were a requirement of the Chinese government if he was to leave China, although he had left that country years before. “It was required by the system,” he said in a Chinese-language interview. “There was nothing I could do.” Another reason not to make his background known was that “people might not understand“, because “the Chinese military system is complicated.” A desire to protect the public from exposure to complicated issues was also perhaps his admonition to a journalist not to write too much about his personal background, as he was recorded saying.

In the same Chinese-language interview quoted above, Yang says he used to be a Communist Party member, but he isn’t one any more. That presumably means ‘not an active member’; as Brady notes, you don’t just ‘leave’ the CCP. You are considered a member unless expelled. Considering Yang’s excellent relations with Chinese state entities and the praise state media award him, it would be ridiculous to assume he was expelled. In all likelihood, Yang is in fact a CCP member. Chen Yonglin 陈用林, a former PRC diplomat who defected to Australia in 2005, cast further doubt on Yang’s claims he was a PLA ‘civilian officer’. Based on his knowledge of military institutions before reforms in the late aughts, Chen estimates Yang was in fact a ‘soldier’ and probably reached the rank of  captain.

While a student in Australia, his first foreign destination before moving to New Zealand, Yang was active in the predecessor of the local Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), another organisation with strong state links. Alex Joske and Philip Wen have written about the Australian CSSA.

Media reports claim the New Zealand intelligence service has been looking into Yang’s background.

The case has also attracted the attention of the Chinese government. At the regular MFA press conference, a spokesperson managed to say they wouldn’t comment on the internal affairs of other countries, and then add that reports by the ‘relevant media’ are irresponsible. Pari ratione, Yang Gate is not purely an ‘internal affair’ of New Zealand, which actually makes sense.

Remarkably enough, the National Party defended Yang after these revelations, claiming they were actually aware of his background in military intelligence. Yang is a valued fundraiser for his party (I mean the Nationals, not the CCP). The Nationals claim Yang was properly vetted back in the day, but the company they say they hired to conduct the vetting deny that ever happened, then said they ‘interviewed’ him once. Cutting through the blather, the vagueness in all these statements make it hard to believe senior Nats understood what sort of work was done at the institutions where their main Chinese MP spent more than a decade.

Perhaps even more remarkably, despite what an external observer would see as devastating evidence compromising a candidate before a tight election, his direct political adversaries in the Labour party produced absolutely no criticism of Yang. I’m not terribly knowledgeable about NZ politics, so perhaps I’m being naive, but is it normal to have such a major security revelation on a senior political figure days before an election and hear nothing from his rivals?

The leader of New Zealand First, a minor right-wing party, is so far the only politician calling for an inquiry into Yang’s case.

Other commentators have criticised Yang: Rodney Jones called for his resignation. Michael Reddell talks of a ‘cone of silence’ about the presumably explosive revelations about Yang possibly related to the CCP influence throughout the NZ political establishment described in Brady’s paper.

Reddell also reports a rather shocking development. Chris Finlayson, NZ’s attorney general and the minister responsible for intelligence, was asked at a (rather congenial) candidate meeting about Yang’s case. His answer: “I’m not going to respond to any of the allegations that have been made about/against him. I think it is disgraceful that a whole class of people have been singled out for racial abuse. As for Professor Brady, I don’t think she likes any foreigners at all.” A former student of Brady’s happened to be at the event and forced Finlayson to apologise.

Here are some captioned images of Capt. (alleged) Yang in martial poses and having a good time with his comrades in arms at a PLA anniversary gala, courtesy of my Twitter account.

 

Dilectus centurionum

Bonum vinum laetificat cor hominis

Divide et impera

The Frontling omertà

In theory, Yang Jian’s direct adversary should be Raymond Huo (Huo Jianqiang 霍建强), a Labour Party MP. Yang and Huo compete for the Chinese-community electorate; Yang has been found to have a background in military intelligence, which he had declined to disclose in the past; Huo, whatever his sympathies, isn’t tainted by work for a foreign military. Recent polls have put Huo’s party a few points short of unseating the Nationals, or even able to lead a coalition. How can he not use this?

The only explanation that makes sense (and that is consistent with reactions from other senior politicians) is that he wouldn’t like to speak up against United Front interests.

Raymond Huo raised some eyebrows some time ago when he began using a Xi Jinping quote as the Chinese version of Labour’s campaign slogan “let’s do this!”:

luxiugan

 

The Chinese phrase, 撸起袖子加油干 lū qǐ xiùzǐ jiāyóu gàn, means “roll up [our] sleeves and work hard”. Its current popularity stems from its use by Xi Jinping at the latest new year address (8:44). Victor Mair discussed the phrase in extenso on a Language Log post, to which I contributed a few details.

A similar phrase wouldn’t be a bad translation of the Labour slogan, were it not for the obvious Partyspeak association. The specific choice of words (which is what makes it an unmistakable Xi quote) is slightly problematic, namely regarding the first character, 撸 . As Mair notes, this isn’t the most common way of saying ‘roll up your sleeves’ in the standard language (that would probably be 卷 juǎn). Xi chose to use a Northern colloquialism, rather dissonant with the style of official speeches, probably attempting to sound folksy. The choice isn’t very effective, and probably wasn’t really thought through, by Xi or his speechwriters. Besides ‘roll up’, 撸 means ‘rub’, and brings to mind a slang word for male masturbation, 撸管 lū guǎn ‘rub the pipe’. And not just in my dirty mind; it’s easy to find online attestations of puns on the phrase (挽/卷起袖子加油撸起 ‘roll up your sleeves and rub it’, 撸起管子加油干 ‘rub the pipe and get at it’…).

I refer you to Mair’s post for a case where punning on the phrase led to the dismissal of an official (‘Comrades, “hike up your skirts for a hard shag‘). In its modified form, 撸 ‘roll up; rub’ becomes 撩 liāo ‘lift’, and 袖子 xiùzi ‘sleeves’ becomes 裙子 qúnzi ‘skirt’. It should be clear that the slogan is just asking for salacious punning.

The fact that 撸 is a Northern regionalism is also telling. The verb is largely limited to Northern forms of Mandarin. Indeed, it’s one of a set of ‘physical action’ verbs whose pronunciation can’t be traced back to Middle Chinese (the common ancestor of Mandarin and most other modern Sinitic languages). Though widely understood, the word is likely to be felt as regional by many, possibly most, Chinese speakers in Huo’s constituency. There actually happen to be many ways of saying ‘roll up [sleeves]’ in Chinese; besides 卷 juǎn, there’s 翻 fān, 折 zhé, 挽 wǎn

Xi certainly didn’t coin the 撸 phrase, but since he uttered it has become associated with him. Just try googling it: recent results are overwhelmingly about the Party slogan. It has has been painted on walls, printed on banners. Articles, songs, enactments, dance performances have been devoted to it. All that in Party-state contexts; jokes and memes emerged in less official venues. Anyone who follows Chinese media will understand that the slogan is pure Partyspeak, an artifact of the cult of personality.

 

lu

A performance with Xi’s slogan in the background. Source: 苏州市人力资源和社会保障信息中心.

 

After Brady’s report came out, mentioning the Xi-quote slogan, Huo defended the translation, calling it an “auspicious Chinese idiom that is known widely by Chinese constituents”; given how well it resonates, “it is no surprise that Xi Jinping also used this idiom in his New Year Greeting”. So, this is something lucky we say in New Year, its use by Xi is a mere coincidence, you don’t understand. Echoes of Yang’s ‘complicated system’ above the public’s intellectual abilities: everything Chinese is abstruse, exotic, inscrutable to the general public and better left alone. Needless to say, there’s nothing “auspicious” about the idiom; if anything, it has the same go-getting, gung-ho connotations as ‘roll up your sleeves’ in English. That has nothing to do with “auspiciousness”, and there’s nothing uniquely Chinese about it. The need to roll up your sleeves before doing physical work is familiar in many other sleeved cultures. But in the middle of this bizarre appeal at exoticness, Huo actually confirmed the Xi allusion is what it is: “[m]y team tested this translation among many in the New Zealand Chinese community and this quote stood out as the best one” (my emphasis). So it’s not just an ‘auspicious’ idiom, it’s an actual quote.

As for where Huo got the idea, or which ‘community members’ he tested it on, that’s a bit hard to establish, especially because its use was rather short-lived; Huo seems to have stopped using it after floating it on Twitter and being questioned on why he was quoting Xi. An early-August report by local outlet Skykiwi (天维网), reproduced by PRC state media, has Huo quoting the slogan. An earlier use of the idiom can be found in a Guangming Daily story from April, an interview in Beijing with John Hong (Hong Chengchen 洪承琛), a member of the New Zealand Belt-and-Road Promotion Council (新西兰“一带一路”促进委员) with government contacts in Fujian province (Brady, p. 39). In an opening typical of reporting on the government’s successes, the article quotes Hong as praising the prospects brought about by the signature of a Belt-and-Road agreement with New Zealand, thanks to which “we will also roll up our sleeves and work hard” (我们也要撸起袖子加油干). The key word is “also”: it’s understood that, after Xi’s new year injunction, “everyone” in the PRC is rolling up their sleeves; Hong means now New Zealand will join them. Huo is himself an ardent proponent of New Zealand’s participation in Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, as will be seen below.

In short, Huo chose a phrase that clearly alludes to the personality cult of an authoritarian leader as a campaign slogan for a major party in a democratic election, and dropped it when called out on it.

When I first learnt about the slogan, it took me some time to realise it wasn’t a joke. My first reaction was that the ‘Raymond Huo’ Twitter account it was promoted through was fake, and that the picture was an attempt to discredit him by associating him with the CCP. But not only Huo was indeed behind the translation; parroting Partyspeak is actually entirely consistent with his activities and advocacy.

Huo has established a New Zealand OBOR Think Tank and a New Zealand OBOR Foundation, devoted to “help promote the idea and educate New Zealanders on the One-Belt One-Road initiative”. It has “linked up with China’s National Development and Reform Commission, as well as Chinese construction companies and private equity firms to look at opportunities.” Huo’s Belt-and-Road advocacy was widely reported by Chinese government organs, such as the State Council Information Office and the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese (全国归国华侨联合会), a United Front organisation.

The establishment of Huo’s Belt-and-Road shop is seen as pretty significant by the Chinese government: its establishment was ‘witnessed’ by the general consul in Auckland and no less than two visiting provincial governors (of Henan and Hubei).
As is typical of united-front activities under Xi, this isn’t simply a Labour Party affair: the think tank is led by Huo together with Johanna Coughlan, sister-in-law of the current PM, Bill English (Brady, p. 40). This achieves a wonderful success for United Front efforts: support for the PRC’s policy goals is embedded in both major parties. Whoever wins in New Zealand elections, Xi’s geopolitical agenda can count on their support.

Huo is far from denying the existence of PRC influence in New Zealand. His views are clear: a Radio NZ story on Xi Jinping’s 2014 visit quoted him as asserting that the Chinese community is “excited about the prospect of China having more influence in New Zealand“, and that “many Chinese community members told him a powerful China meant a backer, either psychologically or in the real sense.”

And here’s Huo’s understanding of how the Chinese community is meant to be represented (from a speech delivered to the NZ China Society): “Advisors from Chinese communities will be duly appointed with close consultation with the Chinese diplomats and community leaders.”

Huo is from Anqing 安庆, Anhui, perhaps the basis for his contact with another Anqing native, Jiang Zuojun 蒋作君, a prominent figure in the Zhi Gong Party 致公党 (one of the ancillary parties to the CCP). Jiang has held many senior government posts, although always at a ‘vice’ level as befits someone from an ancillary party. He has been vice-minister of health, deputy secretary of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, vice-governor of Anhui. The Zhi Gong Party typically liaises with overseas communities for United Front Work purposes, as evidenced in this meeting between Jiang and Raymond Huo on this Think-Tank-cum-Fund. An official account of the meeting, originating from the Zhi Gong Party and published on the website of the Central United Front Work Department, quotes Huo as emphasising “the unique function overseas Chinese have in disseminating” the Belt-and-Road concept (海外华侨华人对于宣传“一带一路”的独特作用).

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From the right: Zhi Gong Party Liaison Dept Head Xu Yi 许怡, Jiang Zuojun, Raymond Huo, Johanna Coughlan, NZ prime-ministerial sister-in-law. Source: Central United Front Work Department.

And here’s a final picture of Huo, taken during a visit to Anqing “at the invitation of the City’s Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese”:

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Source: Anqing City United Front Work Department

 

It should be sufficiently clear that Huo is another United Frontling. There’s nothing surprising about his incorporation of Xi’s personality cult into electoral politics, or his silence on the revelations on Yang Jian’s background. Regardless of his views on non-China related issues (which do indeed differ from the National Party’s), Huo isn’t Yang’s opponent as far as the CCP agenda is concerned. For united-front purposes, Huo is simply an egg in another basket.

By focusing on two key individuals from both sides of New Zealand politics, I intended to show how successful united front tactics have been in ensuring permanent control of the Chinese community politics by hedging against democratic power shifts. This is only one of its successes. I refer you to Brady’s work for an overview of the extent of its penetration in politics beyond the Chinese diaspora, business and media. Its pervasive character helps explain why the reaction to the Yang case was so muted, suggesting a ‘code of silence’, with the most senior figures in the major parties essentially glossing over the problem.

The terms in which Brady’s work is being discussed by politicians and the media reflect little understanding of what’s going on. The Yang case made for great headlines that tried really hard to use the word ‘spy’, but he might successfully argue that he is not literally a spy. And even if he was, spying on each other is something countries do. Other UF-linked individuals mentioned in Brady’s report are even less likely than Yang to have been involved on literal espionage. The Brady report isn’t about finding spies. Reactions seem to be addressing a straw-man. Raymond Huo, the Xi-quoter, denied “insinuations against his character”, but it’s not clear that any have been made. If anything, Huo is consistent in his support for CCP policies and increased PRC influence. This is not a spy thriller, but a story about the institutions of a democratic country being coopted to serve the agenda of a much larger state ruled by an authoritarian regime. Most of the people involved might very well have acted legally at all times, and their support for certain policies isn’t necessarily an issue of moral ‘character’. The issue is whether the actions of many in the NZ elite are a risk for the country’s security, independence and democratic system. The latter has obviously been damaged. Restricting attention to the Chinese community, democratic politics has been vitiated to effectively allow extraterritorial control by the CCP and deny voters a true choice of political representation. The intersection of each of ‘National’ and ‘Labour’ with ‘Chinese’ is firmly under the aegis of the United Front. Perfunctory reactions from top politicians are a sign that UF successes aren’t limited to that community. Such control over an advanced democracy is something the united-front pioneers in the ’20s and ’30s could hardly have predicted.

 

Notes

0 The English translation Brady quotes (from a 1950 edition) says a ‘mass ally’; ‘mass’ is missing in the version of the Russian original published on marxists.org, which is what I used for the translation above. Another Russian edition, available on maoism.ru, matches Brady’s English, ‘mass’ and all. I couldn’t immediately find which specific editions the texts come from, but at least the one on maoism.ru comes from a later edition, as the footnotes show; that’s why I chose to quote from the ‘mass’-less version. Its unclear if the interpolation is Lenin’s or someone else’s, but the difference is immaterial. The English translation (with a more idiomatic title than the one I quoted, used in the first English translation from 1920) is generally faithful to (its version of) the Russian. I’ll try to remember to update this note if I ever happen across a physical Russian edition of Infantile Sickness.

1 Международное положение и оборона СССР: Речь на объединенном пленуме ЦК и ЦКК ВКП(б) (The international situation and the defence of the USSR: Speech at the joint plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)), Aug 1, 1927. Both Stalin texts from the collected works edition reproduced on Mikhail Grachev‘s website, translations mine.

2 Вопросы китайской революции: Тезисы для пропагандистов, одобренные ЦК ВКП(б) (Issues of the Chinese revolutions: theses for propagandists, approved by the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)), Pravda, Apr 21, 1927.

CUPped: Relevant Organs, Tudor zombies join forces, attack

henry8

Now that Cambridge University Press has tried to obey PRC orders to censor academic journals, its prestige, surely its only remaining attraction for an author or reader, has vanished. Loubere and Franceschini remind everyone that there’s no actual need for scholars to rely on publishers like CUP. As an example of how things can be done differently, I would like to point to the Zombie Lingua case.

Zombie Lingua is a nickname for the crawling corpse of the linguistics journal Lingua, owned by Dutch publishing house Elsevier. Some time ago, Lingua editors tried to get Elsevier to make the journal open-access. Elsevier didn’t appreciate that, so the editors scuttled the journal, resigned, moved to the Open-Access plane and restored the journal there. Since Elsevier own the name Lingua, they renamed the reincarnation Glossa, which is Greek for ‘glossy’. Unhappy with the reincarnation, Elsevier decided to revive the vacated journal, beginning the Zombie Lingua saga. Eric Baković and Kai von Fintel have been covering it on Language Log. Their latest piece (‘More Zombie Lingua shenanigans‘) links to raw correspondence with Elsevier executives.

From the article:

[T]his was an attempted negotiation between the full editorial board of the journal, entirely responsible for the vetting and shepherding of its content, and the journal’s publisher, entirely responsible for charging readers too much for subscriptions to particularly-formatted versions of this content and authors too much for the apparent privilege of publishing individual articles in Open Access (with no compensatory discount on subscriptions, mind you – this is what has been properly called ‘double-dipping’).

Willing academics have been found to raise the residual title from the dead. Baković and Fintel claim one of them wrote this: “We should consider ourselves lucky that publishers deign to even touch our work.” I wonder who would like to write for, read, or be caught in the vicinity of such a publication as Zombie Lingua.

I wouldn’t touch Zombie Lingua with a toilet brush.

That said, it’s hard to blame companies for seeking profit. Academics and university administrators have set up a non-competitive system where you can charge both suppliers and customers for content produced by free labour. Bedoctored indentureds, deals with Beijing, admin’ mingling op de gracht, loads of face, all aux frais de la princesse. What’s not to like? There aren’t many such legal niches left.

The fault doesn’t lie with Else4 (Springer, T*F, the Jay Store…). If they evaporated tomorrow, anyone able to concoct a posh/heraldicky logo would take their place, as long as scholars are willing to channel funds into the double-dipping/één halen, twee betalen industry. As Baković says, Elsevier don’t offer any service remotely commensurate with their charges. All they do is let you play the citation-stats game. You’d think that institutions made up of educated grown-ups would be above vying for likes, or at least paying for the privilege. And gooey, would you be wrong. I’ve yet to find a teenager grateful that Facebook &al. “deign to even touch” their posts.

The ‘academic community’ does include many bright minds, so it’s remarkable it’s taking them so long to devise a way out of this madness. Like everyone else providing services to academia, publishers work for a living and see such ‘motives’ as the progress of some scholarly endeavour as a side effect, if any of their business at all. They act rationally, as Baković says; indeed it would be creepy of them to care about your sciencing. Let them stick to profit. The difference between publishers and other university outsourcees, like cleaners, is that the latter provide a useful service and are expected to be competent. As initiatives like Glossa show, publishing a peer-reviewed journal no longer requires subcontracting to a publishing house. We’re talking about tasks like contacting reviewers, exchanging emails, doing or delegating basic proofreading, LaTeX typesetting and web design. These do demand time and money, but the bulk of the work, namely producing quality content, is already done by authors and reviewers.

Even those who don’t care about the efficient use of university funds might consider how the current non-open access model affects academic freedom. This is highly topical, days after Cambridge University Press chose to collaborate with Xi Jinping’s ongoing bibliocaust, as instantiated in the selective censorship of China Quarterly. The CUP statement does say they’re “troubled” and have “already planned meetings” with “[R]elevant [A]gencies[ 有关部门] at the Beijing Book Fair”, but anyone familiar with the idiom will read that as just fraffly-sorreh for ‘we’re in bed with the censors; live with it, or tell us how CQ is going to generate £300m p.a.‘ CUP volte-faced this time, but the long-term trends are obvious. According to Glossa editor Rooryck, they might be at play at Elsevier, who “just coincidentally happened to sell a lot of new subscriptions in the populous Asian country that the new associate editor should have come from.” Academics submit to these publishers at their own peril; their work might get CUPped any minute, should it obstruct smooth business with authoritarians.

Perhaps CQ should just do to CUP what Lingua did to Else4, and others might do to Springer, the Jay-Store or T*F. Not denying CUP has published all manner of cool stuff, but it might have outlived its purpose, like other Henry VIII things. CQ could very well follow Lingua’s lead and teleport itself to the Open Access world, after some inevitable slight renaming (e.g., 拆哪 Chāi nǎ: Quartered).

But while it’s academics who keep feeding Tudor zombies, predators and double-dippers, I don’t mean to deflect attention from Baković and Fintel’s target, which is Zombie Lingua‘s shenanigans. Who would want to be associated with something so inauspiciously-named as Zombie Lingua? ‘Zombie Lingua’ brings up all manner of wrong associations, like bad kissing, to use a euphemism.

[Pic: Cambridge’s Henry VIII, via Wiki]

update on General Nice: assets ordered seized

In another blow to the licence holder for the (inactive) Isua project in Greenland, a court in Zhejiang province has ordered the seizure of shares in several General Nice (俊安集团) companies. This includes the entire share capital of Tianjin General Nice Coke and Chemicals Co., Ltd (天津俊安煤焦化工有限公司) , whose legal representative is the chairman of General Nice Group, Cai Suixin 蔡穗新.

This adds to the legal troubles that haunt various General Nice companies, as well as the family in charge of it (including chairman Cai, his sister Cai Suirong 蔡穗榕 and their father Cai Mingzhi 蔡明志). I have given a sample of these cases in earlier posts.

The latest court order doesn’t directly target the owner of the Greenland project, but a Hong Kong case does. All cases against General Nice I’m aware of, in at least three jurisdictions, are related to unpaid debts. As detailed in my previous post on the topic, companies in the group, as well as Cai senior personally, have made it to the Supreme People’s Court “List of Dishonest Persons Subject to Enforcement” (失信被执行人名单) after dodging court-mandated payments. Besides public humiliation, List members can be subjected to other forms of government punishment, such as not being allowed to buy plane tickets.

Liu Xiaobo and Normalised Norway

Norway’s ‘normalised’ relations with China, under which it has promised it “will not support actions that undermine” “China’s core interests and major concerns,” have been tested after the Chinese government revealed Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波 was terminally ill. The administration of prime minister Erna Solberg refused to discuss his imprisonment, calls for him and his wife Liu Xia 刘霞 to be allowed to travel abroad, and his death. The experiment has been successful: Norway has proved exceptionally easy to influence through sanctions, at essentially no cost to the Chinese government, setting the stage for further enforcement of Chinese policy in the larger region.

A holiday from human rights

The government only commented on Liu’s illness through a foreign ministry spokesperson, who found the news about Liu’s diagnosis “sad.” He had earlier explained why Norway declined to raise Liu’s case during Solberg’s Beijing visit last April using a no-sex-on-the-first-date line of argument: “This first visit [was] not the right time to go into the full breadth of all issues.” After Liu’s death, the only official statement, attributed to Solberg, called him “a central voice for human rights and China’s further development,” and stated her “thoughts” are with his family. Minutes before the press release was posted, Aftenposten was told Solberg was “on holiday” and wouldn’t answer questions on the matter.

In 2009, while in opposition, Solberg had hoped Norway would be like “fireworks” in the UN Human Rights Council, as opposed to the government of the time, under which Norway had “chosen to tone down criticism” of the human rights situation in other countries. Questioned by the press over how those remarks squared with her silence on Liu, she said she still thought Norway should be pyrotechnical about human rights, although in ways “that are functional, and do something meaningful.” Although she sees “no contradiction” between her earlier statements and her actions as prime minister, her silence on China’s human rights situation could be called a rather extreme form of ‘toning down criticism’ and her Norwegian “fireworks” a bit of a damp squib.

To assess the effects of China’s ‘normalisation’ of Norwegian government policy and discourse, it’s important to determine if the politicians in power at the time find human rights unimportant out of a sincere ideological conviction, or have just taken a holiday from the issue. Solberg is on the record as approving the Nobel to Liu and “the link between respect for human rights and peace,” but past remarks by Jan Tore Sanner, current minister of local government and modernisation in Solberg’s administration, provide a clearer answer. Sanner was among those who nominated Liu for the peace prize. He rejoiced when “[his] man” won: “we cannot turn a deaf ear when China violates human rights,” which are a “universal”, not just Western, value. In early 2011, he met with Chinese dissidents, including Yang Jianli 杨建利. Later that year, he attacked the government’s silence on Liu: one shouldn’t only defend human rights “when it costs nothing.” Relations with regimes like China’s “must be combined with a clear line on human rights issues.” Norway “must demand Liu Xiaobo’s freedom” and “lead international pressure to improve the human rights situation in China.” In 2012, he lit “a candle” for the imprisoned Nobel laureate.

In 2013, he became a minister. His outspokenness about China ceased abruptly. He refused to talk about Liu during his illness, despite headlines recalling his earlier stance. When he died, his ministry informed that he was “on holiday.” Sanner’s earlier advocacy for Liu makes it hard to imagine that he sincerely sympathises with China’s authoritarian regime. Sanner and Solberg’s Conservative party (Høyre) is a centre-right, pro-market, pro-European force, a poor ideological match for the PRC. Under Normalisation, voices clearly unaligned with Chinese policies have gone silent. Statements of ‘sadness’ over Liu’s illness and death are consistent with the PRC’s official line, only mildly challenged in the ‘central voice’ press release.

Back to 1938

Norwegian media has been filled with criticism of the administration’s silence. Politicians from across the political spectrum expressed disappointment, with Petter Eide of the Socialist Left Party (SV) calling the administration “useful idiots” who will “do exactly what China wants.” Solberg, he speculated, must have felt “relieved” when Liu died. Jan Arild Snoen, a journalist with centre-right sympathies, regretted the government’s choice of “fish over human rights.” Torbjørn Færøvik, a writer and frequent commentator on China, warns that Norway “is influenced by China, not the other way round.” Sofie Høgestøl from the University of Oslo’s human rights centre writes that “Liu’s case shows that Norway’s normalisation agreement with China deserves greater public debate.” Several newspapers published editorials attacking Solberg over Liu.

Several commentators have compared Liu’s case to that of Carl von Ossietzky, the only other Nobel peace prize winner prevented from collecting the award. The similarities are obvious: both Nazi Germany and the PRC treated their laureates as traitors, lobbied against the prize, saw the Nobel as an affront, reacted with sanctions (symbolic in the German case, compared to the PRC’s unofficial salmon boycott). In each case, the Norwegian government distanced itself from the Nobel committee’s decision. Just like Liu, Ossietzky was prevented from travelling to receive the prize and died of tuberculosis in 1938. Both cases prompted the creation of alternative prizes. Hitler’s, called Deutscher Nationalpreis für Kunst und Wissenschaft, was awarded to, among others, Alfred Rosenberg. A Chinese anti-Nobel, the Confucius Peace Prize (孔子和平奖), never received such high-level government endorsement, and proved unpopular even among its laureates, who have included Vladimir Putin, Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe. While Nazi Germany only applied symbolic sanctions on Norway, the PRC imposed an unofficial boycott on Norwegian salmon. A Dagbladet editorial in early July feared “the biggest scandal in the history of the Nobel prize” was about to “repeat itself” as Solberg “wash[ed] her hands” over Liu’s case.

Criticism also came from abroad. Beijing-based dissident Hu Jia 胡佳 told Aftenposten he found it “unbelievable” that PM Solberg “has been elected by the people in a democratic country, the country where the Nobel peace prize is awarded.” When she visited China in April, she “behaved like just a salmon seller” without saying a word on on human rights or Liu. Yang Jianli, whom Sanner and his party had once hosted in Oslo, called the government’s silence “a shame”: Norway lacks “a moral compass.” Norway’s commitment to global human rights has lost credibility.

Your ichthyology determines your ideology

Solberg plainly admitted the government fears angering the PRC government by speaking up: “important global processes” mean Norway “must have a relationship with China,” which is why their “viewpoints on the Xiaobo [sic] issue [Xiaobo-saken]” were only conveyed through a spokesperson. Solberg’s apparent unawareness that Xiaobo is Liu’s given name provides a first glimpse of the level of expertise on ‘global processes’ at the top of Norwegian decision-making.

Norway’s choice of ‘salmon over human rights‘ isn’t simply a pragmatic decision to prioritise the economy over principles or soft power. It displays of a level of understanding of the relevant variables entirely consistent with the global know-how evidenced in Solberg’s familiarity with Chinese personal names. As I discussed in an earlier piece, Chinese sanctions had a negligible effect on Norway’s economy. The Chinese boycott over Liu’s prize left the bulk of bilateral trade intact, and indeed Norwegian exports to China increased faster than to the rest of the world during the six-year freeze. The one significant industry hit by the sanctions was salmon farming, and only in terms of missed opportunities. The sector continued to grow despite the unofficial China import ban, and, according to research that accounted for various sanction-avoidance strategies besides official trade statistics, the true volume of salmon exports to China likely grew even under the boycott.

It’s hard to find an example of such a successful use of sanctions as the salmon boycott. At virtually no cost to China, an undeclared, partial import ban aimed at a rich country over which it had minimal economic leverage achieved the silence of a Conservative government that includes an erstwhile outspoken PRC critic. In a previous piece for CPI Analysis, I compared Norway’s ‘normalisation’ to Mongolia’s response to a similar Chinese tantrum, over the Dalai Lama’s latest visit. Mongolia, a less prosperous country whose economy is heavily dependent on China, placated Beijing’s wrath with a vague statement to domestic media. The argument that Norway had no choice but to yield to Chinese pressure overlooks the extent to which Chinese Arctic interests need Norwegian cooperation. No Norwegian attempts to resist, denounce or reciprocate the boycott were made known. One is left wondering what sort of expertise on China is available to Norwegian officials. This contrasts with comparatively savvier approaches to relations with, e.g., the EU or Russia. If the Norwegian government cares so much about interactions with China, they could benefit from learning to negotiate with its authorities from a more adult position than fearfully humouring the PRC’s whim, in exchange for the promise of an eventual permission to sell fish. This also holds for those among the opposition who stand a chance of forming the next government. Post-Solberg, today’s fierce China critics might just get normalised upon elevation to the cabinet, becoming the next Jan Tore Sanners.

Beyond Liu’s case, what Norway has ‘normalised’ is the use of economic sanctions as a tool of Chinese foreign policy in the region. PRC policies on free speech seem to apply in the Norwegian cabinet when it comes to Liu Xiaobo. The question now is which Nordic institution will be the next to offend the Chinese government the way the Nobel committee did, triggering a round of sanctions to normalise another country.