Huawei’s Christmas battle for Central Europe

[By Jichang Lulu and Martin Hála. Published on Sinopsis on 28 Dec 2018. On the Greenlandic connection, see links and tweets here. For additional Czech coverage, cf. „Ztraceno w překladu w průhonice Sokolovně“ by Hála and earlier Sinopsis pieces.]

An unusually blunt warning by Czech intelligence against the use of Huawei and ZTE products in telecommunications infrastructure was met with similar bluntness from the PRC. The embattled Babiš government, whose survival depends on the support of the country’s most CCP-friendly figures, was subjected to a pre-Christmas diplomatic ritual hyped by the state-media as “correcting” the spooks’ “mistaken” advice. After an outrage in the Czech Republic, the PM backpedalled and reiterated the NÚKIB warning was being treated “seriously”.

The Czech intelligence warning against Huawei and ZTE equipment via NeoVlivní.cz.

The Party-state’s concerted diplomatic and propaganda effort spent on awaking Czech politics from Yuletide hibernation and attempting to neutralise the intelligence warning signals the strategic stakes: a Czech Huawei ban could trigger a domino effect in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), a region still untouched by the wave of Western measures against the use of its equipment in 5G networks. Should Poland, in particular, join the Czech and Anglophone scepticism, Huawei could risk losing the region’s biggest market, and the one where it has placed its biggest 5G bet.

This post summarises some of the open-source evidence on Huawei’s background and practices behind the concerns about the company aired in the Czech Republic and elsewhere, before illustrating the PRC’s likely fears of CEE contagion with a brief discussion of the Polish case. The peculiar pre-Christmas démarche involving Babiš, the PRC embassy and the domestic and external propaganda machine is described in the context of the support Huawei frequently enjoys from state media and foreign entities cultivated through ‘friendly contact’ activity, a connection demonstrated in Australia and New Zealand.

The PR strategies Huawei has adopted, as well as its targets, overlap with those encountered in the analysis of global United Front work; the Party-state’s support for the company demands a wider discussion informed by the CCP’s international influence operations, a main focus of Sinopsis’ coverage of the Czech Republic and other locales. The Polish case neatly illustrates this connection: a local Huawei interlocutor is known as a contact favoured by the CCP’s International Liaison Department, a Comintern-inspired organ whose expansion to general political influence work we have been describing in a series of posts.

Among Huawei’s links to the Party, state and Army, its collaboration with Public Security in the PRC and, in particular, Xinjiang, could make its role in state surveillance and repression of particular interest in Central and Eastern Europe, a region that found itself on the receiving end of earlier totalitarian regimes. Huawei’s technology is among those that could fuel an upgrade of the CCP’s systems of social control to a new level of authoritarian governance; as Lenin stressed, Communist rule relies on both Party power and technological breakthroughs. For Lenin, Communism was Soviet power plus electrification; extrapolating, Xi’s New Era is orthodox Communism plus “intelligentisation” (智能化).

Huawei as a Party-state champion

Open-source information and previous statements from the intelligence community squarely back up the concerns aired by Czech cyber-intelligence.

The warning, issued by the National Cyber and Information Security Agency (Národní úřad pro kybernetickou a informační bezpečnost, NÚKIB) on 17 December, calls the use of software and hardware products of Huawei, ZTE and their subsidiaries a “threat against information security”. According to Czech press reports, the warning was originally meant as a classified document for internal government discussion. The unusual step of going public reportedly resulted from the fact that some of the intended recipients lacked the security clearance to read the report.

Besides the companies’ legal obligation to cooperate with PRC intelligence activities, the text mentions “organisational and personnel links between these companies and the state”, the agency’s knowledge about the companies’ work in the Czech Republic and the PRC’s “influence and espionage” activities there to justify fears that the presence of Huawei or ZTE products in information or communication systems could affect “the security of the Czech Republic and its interests”.

The 2017 National Intelligence Law (国家情报法) mandates “all organisations and citizens” to collaborate with intelligence work as requested. This legal obligation and the characteristics of the activity of such companies as Huawei and ZTE makes such ‘requests’ likely. As Elsa Kania notes,

[T]he trend towards fuller fusion between the party-state apparatus and commercial enterprises—and the ways in which that fusion might be leveraged to support intelligence work—should be taken into account in business and governmental assessments of risk.

Huawei’s current and previous top management includes individuals with backgrounds in the PLA, military-linked universities and the Ministry of State Security.

Huawei chairman Ren Zhengfei 任正非 was enlisted in the PLA between 1974 and 1983, after which he went on to manage Huawei using “Mao Zedong’s military thought”.

Sun Yafang 孙亚芳, Ren’s “most trusted deputy” and Huawei’s chairwoman until 2018, studied at the Radio Technology Department of the Chengdu Institute of Radio Engineering (成都电讯工程学院), then still under the joint management of the PLA General Staff Department. (The Institute’s successor, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC, 电子科技大学), remains committed to servicing national defence and takes pride in its military research, one foot of its research “tripod”. Hacker groups linked to UESTC were allegedly behind attacks (p. 37f.) against Indian targets, including the Offices of the Dalai Lama.) After graduating, Sun did communications work at the Ministry of State Security, the PRC’s main spy agency, until joining Huawei in 1992. According to Chinese press reports, these connections helped the company obtain state support when experiencing financial difficulties.

The company’s early contracts with the PLA, while a small part of its sales, were reportedly seen as important in terms of “relationships”. Kania estimates that Huawei is “still engaged in defence-related research and development”, citing its recent participation in projects related to civil-military fusion. Adam Ni, an expert on the PLA, argues that Huawei, although a private company, depended for its success on the state’s support “through a combination of protectionist measures, cheap financing, subsidies, favourable regulations, and diplomatic support abroad”.

A recent investigation by Danielle Cave found that Huawei was “the key ICT provider” for the African Union’s headquarters, whose servers had been transferring data to China until the breach was discovered, implying that the company was either incapable of detecting, or complicit with, massive data theft.

In 2012, a US House of Representatives committee heard statements from former Huawei employees alleging illegal practices. A former employee is suing Huawei in the US, alleging the company ordered him to participate in the theft of trade secrets and retaliated against his whistleblowing. An Israeli solar-energy technology manufacturer is suing Huawei for patent infringement in Germany.

Leninism plus smart surveillance

Telecommunications infrastructure and equipment are central to surveillance, a key tool of authoritarian social control. Xi’s stress on Party control, repression and propaganda stands to benefit from emerging technologies that can take the state’s ability to monitor, analyse and shape the private behaviour of large numbers of individuals beyond the wildest dreams of his predecessors in the Leninist tradition. Propaganda, far from being drowned out by the arrival of digital and social media, has embraced it, if anything getting closer to a literal form of Lenin’s boast of having the Party’s “truth” penetrate “everyone’s head”.

Likewise, the Party-state-Army’s repressive apparatus stands to benefit from advances in surveillance technology, notably aided by artificial intelligence. Like earlier totalitarian regimes, Xi’s CCP could find a technological breakthrough empowering a ruling “vanguard” to upgrade its domination of its state and society and project social control beyond its borders, achieving what Heilmann calls “Digital Leninism”. If, as Lenin put it in 1920, “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country”, Xiism could be Leninism plus artificial intelligence.

The security and human-rights implications of Huawei’s “smart” and “safe city” solutions are of particular relevance to the Czech Republic. Adriana Krnáčová, mayor of Prague until last month for the ruling ANO party, displayed a special interest in PRC smart-city technology: during her 2016 visit to Shanghai, she talked about smart cities “intensively” with the local government. Krnáčová revisited the topic during a meeting with the PRC ambassador the following year. The Prague government signed an agreement with Huawei on intelligent freight transport at a 2017 event that also promoted the company’s smart-city technology. Smart and “safe” cities are among the areas the company wants to cooperate” on in the next five years.

Huawei has recently partnered with the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, aiming to guarantee the region’s “social stability”. The company signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the Xinjiang government in 2016. Huawei has partnerships with city-level public security organs throughout the country, including in Ürümqi, as well as with the national Ministry of Public Security. The involvement of companies such as Huawei and Hikvision in Tibet and Xinjiang, the CCP’s “digital Leninism lab”, further clarifies their function as tools of state policy and makes a state-subordinate role abroad even more likely.

Huawei signs a strategic cooperation agreement with the Xinjiang government. Source: Huawei.

Huawei’s exports of smart-city technology have been expanding from authoritarian and hybrid towards democratic countries. The former Soviet Union is a potentially important market, with, e.g., a smart-city project slowly progressing in Baku, a 2017 agreement in Armenia, an (aborted) deal in Kyrgyzstan and talks with local governments in Russia.

Huawei signs an agreement with the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.

Smart-city forays farther West have arguably used the localisation tactics often deployed by PRC entities in Europe, seeking subnational-level faits accomplis by courting local officials and eschewing the attention of potentially critical national audiences.

Huawei’s ‘smart cityproject in Valenciennes seemed well received locally, with the mayor calling it “a €2bn gift to the city”.

Smart-city deals in Prague would give Huawei an upgrade from the regional successes it has seen in France and Germany to claim a capital city as it has done in Azerbaijan. It remains to be seen if the less authoritarian-friendly Czech public opinion will welcome this westward advance.

Global warnings

These circumstances have been largely known for years, and have long generated concerns among analysts, politicians and intelligence agencies in multiple countries. Only in the last few months, however, have these concerns crystallized into actual measures limiting the use of Huawei equipment, triggered by the United States and its intelligence partners rushing to exclude Huawei from 5G, the next generation of mobile phone technology.

The NÚKIB statement explicitly refers to previous warnings from Czech civilian and military intelligence. Indeed, the Czech concerns are not new: the 2013 annual report of the main Czech counterintelligence agency, the Security Information Service (BIS), called Huawei’s growing share of the local telecommunications market a “potential danger”. The use of Huawei phones at the presidential palace has generated controversy.

Since a US House of Representatives committee found in 2012 that Huawei had failed to establish its independence from the PRC state and the PLA, bad press has constantly rained on Ren’s company. That year, experts found Huawei equipment “riddled with holes”. A deal with AT&T to sell Huawei products fell through earlier this year “because of security concerns” after lawmakers from both houses wrote to the Federal Communications Commission warned about “espionage” risks. In February 2018, at a US Senate hearing, intelligence chiefs would not advise private citizens to use Huawei products.

Australia banned Huawei from the country’s broadband network in 2012. A 2016 deal to build an undersea communications cable between Australia, the Solomon islands and Papua-New Guinea was dropped over Australia’s concerns.

These difficulties pushed the company to focus on other markets, such as Europe. While Huawei has become a major player in network technology in several European countries, concerns about the security implications have been growing among analysts and security services.

Propaganda materials supportive of Huawei have used the British example to dismiss security concerns elsewhere. However, such concerns have long been present in the UK as well. In 2013, a parliamentary committee found the “self-policing arrangement” put in place to evaluate the security of Huawei equipment used in network architecture “highly unlikely” to provide “the required levels of security assurance”. Last July GCHQ downgraded their assessment of Huawei’s security, after finding shortcomings and exposing “new risks in the UK telecommunication networks”. Earlier this month, the head of the MI6 called for a “conversation” on the role of Chinese companies in the country’s 5G network, as news emerged that BT was removing Huawei equipment from its core 3G and 4G networks.

In Germany, Deutsche Telekom made headlines with a statement about “reassessing” its procurement strategy. Although the Federal Office for Information Security (Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik, BSI) has explicitly denied there are grounds for a Huawei ban, some within the ruling coalition are reportedly concerned about allowing Huawei to participate in the country’s 5G network. Analysts and politicians have expressed worries over Huawei infrastructure, earlier this year in the light of the intelligence service’s public concern about cooperation between Chinese companies and PRC security services, and now specifically on the 5G issue.

The NÚKIB warning came shortly after unusually blunt statements cautioning against Huawei from the Anglophone intelligence alliance known as the Five Eyes. Intelligence chiefs from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US met in Canada last summer to discuss the risks presented to their countries by Huawei in particular, and the PRC more broadly. The meeting took the unusual step of making its concerns public. Four Five-Eyes prime ministers had earlier agreed in London to avoid becoming dependent on Huawei’s 5G technology.

A series of measures against public procurement in the Five Eyes countries followed. Australia banned Huawei and ZTE from its 5G network in August. In late November, New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau blocked Huawei from providing 5G equipment to a telecom after identifying “a significant network security risk”. The New Zealand case is especially remarkable: with the exception of the Green Party, which had already called for an investigation of Huawei in 2012, the political class had avoided criticism or explicitly supported the company’s growth in the country.

The Danish case provides a good illustration of the effect the Five Eyes’ newly militant attitude can have on European allies, giving Huawei cause to worry about a domino effect. The Danish Defence Intelligence Service (Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste, FE) advised in strong terms against giving Huawei access to the country’s infrastructure in a 2011 classified report, before changing its mind two years later to approve a deal with TDC, the country’s largest telecom. While politicians and media reports continued to raise suspicions about Huawei, the FE continued to defend Huawei’s presence, stating in 2015 that TDC-Huawei agreements had “increased the security” of telecommunications networks. As late as last February, reacting to US warnings against Huawei equipment, the FE saw “no concrete grounds to advise against smartphones from specific manufacturers of countries”. Following the MI6 head’s recent statements, however, his Danish counterpart admitted Huawei’s possible involvement in the country’s 5G network is now of interest to the security organs, explicitly referring to “the dynamics between companies in China and the Chinese state”.

Perhaps most dramatically, Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou 孟晚舟, who happens to be the daughter of the company’s founder, was arrested in Canada on Dec 1 at the request of the US. An extradition battle is now being fought at Canadian courts, with the stakes illustrated by PRC’s counter-move – the arrest of at least two Canadian citizens in China in what looks like preemptive hostage-taking. The current climate extends those concerns to a third case, and has lent media interest to the cases of several “forgotten” Canadian victims of politically motivated arrests in China, notably of Chinese or Uyghur ethnicity. Some of these cases feature the increasingly extraterritorial application of the PRC’s repression apparatus, with abductions outside the PRC’s jurisdiction and the unlawful treatment of foreigners of Chinese origin as PRC nationals—two characteristics illustrated in the case of Swedish editor Gui Minhai 桂民海, recently discussed on Sinopsis.

Huawei’s CEE front: the case of Poland

Given the very public concern about Huawei in Five Eyes countries, there isn’t much the PRC can do to counter the procurement bans there. Just like in the trade war, much of the battle is therefore taken to third countries, especially those cultivated by China recently through the BRI and related activities. The countries in former Soviet-bloc Eastern Europe targeted in the PRC’s “16+1” initiative are one of the hottest battlegrounds, sitting as it were on two chairs that keep pulling further apart: the EU and NATO memberships, actual or desired, on one side, and the “special relationships” with the PRC on the other.

The Czech warning is particularly significant as it risks setting in motion a domino effect in other Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, an important market for Huawei.

Contagion to Poland, the largest country in the region, would be especially damaging. Huawei’s Polish foray has been particularly successful. The Polish government has remained silent on the security implications of the use of Huawei products. Huawei’s way to the Polish 5G network seems unimpeded: while its French parent declines to use Huawei equipment at home, Orange Poland has begun 5G tests in partnership with Huawei. Last month, Huawei co-sponsored and took part in a debate on artificial intelligence organised by the Polish state news agency and featuring two ministers.

Recent developments show Poland’s significance within the CCP’s discourse management activities. Official caution towards the PRC has become pronounced, with PM Mateusz Morawiecki’s recent call to “maintain the proper level of deterrence, not against the forces of the free world, but against China and Russia” and, not two weeks ago, a MFA statement on industrial cyber-espionage attributed to China. Efforts to create a more friendly image of the CCP are illustrated in a full-page advert praising Xi Jinping in Poland’s leading centre-right daily, paid by an entity the paper has refused to identify. Huawei’s link to the CCP’s broader propaganda and influence efforts can be seen in the fact that one of the company’s Polish interlocutors is a senior target of elite “friendly contact”.

It was Marek Suski, the head of the PM’s cabinet, who announced last month after talks with Huawei in Shanghai that the company planned to invest in a research and development center near Warsaw. Suski is a preferred interlocutor of the CCP International Liaison Department (ILD), the organ whose ‘party-to-Party’ purview has been extended from fellow Communist parties to embrace the ‘bourgeois’ spectrum in a form of United Front work that targets foreign politicians.

Marek Suski meets an ILD deputy head before the 19th CCP Congress.

At a meeting with ILD deputy head Shen Beili 沈蓓莉 in October last year, Suski congratulated the CCP on the occasion of its 19th Congress and stated his party’s willingness to use the “joint construction of the Belt and Road” as an opportunity for cooperation. Last May, Suski made news in the country after a Polish journalist spotted him at an ILD-organised ‘dialogue with world parties’ event in Shenzhen. As Sinologist Katarzyna Sarek commented soon after the event, it was remarkable for Suski, a member of the ostensibly anti-Communist ruling Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS), to attend an event glorifying a ruling Communist party simultaneously with the celebration of Marx’s 200th anniversary (notably graced by a politician registered as an agent of the Czechoslovak secret police). To further illustrate the irony, in the very same month, the PiS government had to apologise after the police showed up at an academic conference on Marxism to establish whether a crime of propagating totalitarianism had been committed.

Friends on demand

Given the stakes, it’s hardly surprising the NÚKIB public warning against Huawei in the Czech Republic immediately led to a diplomatic showdown. In the Chinese press, the Huawei “ban” in the CR is portrayed as a litmus test of the company’s future in the “vast majority of countries in the World” (outside of the Five Eyes alliance). The CR is also relatively easy to put pressure upon, given the “elite capture” systematically performed in the last five years by, among others, the notorious CEFC conglomerate, one of whose top representatives, Patrick Ho (何志平), has just been convicted at a federal court in Manhattan on seven counts related to large-scale corruption involving senior UN officials and African politicians. Ho’s direct superior, (former) CEFC chairman Ye Jianming 叶简明, remains an official advisor to President Miloš Zeman, the most openly pro-Beijing Czech politician, despite being held for almost a year incommunicado in China by the CCP’s disciplinary organs.

Huawei has a history of employing ‘friendly contact’ and the recruitment of foreign figures for its PR efforts, intended to deflect attention from its background and practices and present itself as a ‘normal’ private company. As an high-profile entity linked to the Party-state-Army and enjoying its support, Huawei has used methods typical of the Party-state’s liaison and United Front activities, including ‘localised’ interactions targeting governments and academia. As the recent Czech developments illustrate, these efforts enjoy the backing of the PRC propaganda machine.

Despite the national ban, Huawei has continued to bid in Australia at the state level, notably winning a contract to build a railway mobile data network in Western Australia, ignoring security warnings. Years earlier, a minister involved in negotiating the deal had benefited from Huawei’s generosity during a China trip to get “an insight into Huawei’s operations”, partially paid by the company; the WA ruling party’s links with United Front figures have continued to emerge.

In New Zealand, a country noted for the degree of influence the CCP has achieved in local politics through years of United Front work, politicians have been particularly supportive of the company. Huawei has used the example of New Zealand’s “embrace” of Huawei “within their own security frameworks” in PR campaigns meant to assuage security fears. Former prime minister John Key’s support for Huawei goes back to 2010, when he personally announced its possible involvement in a broadband bid. Key defended Huawei in parliament in 2012, reportedly disagreeing with security agency warnings. Key’s “support” for Huawei, contrasting with Australia’s concerns, was recognised by PRC state media. The previous government lauded a Huawei investment last year. The current Labour-led government, which continues to refuse to address evidence of CCP influence activities in the country, reportedly hesitated before naming the PRC as the author of a global IP theft campaign. After the warning against Huawei 5G technology, the minister responsible for the intelligence services rushed to deny it was a “ban” against “a particular company or a particular country”.

Huawei has sponsored work praising its technology by the Brookings Institution, a US think tank.

Jeffrey Sachs speaks at a CEFC event with Patrick Ho in 2016. Source: 中国经济网.

Friendly ties and the state’s support for Huawei became activated as the company faced an unfavorable climate in the West. Notably, Jeffrey Sachs, an economist, published an op-ed attacking the US over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou. Challenged on Twitter, Sachs, a special advisor to the UN secretary general on sustainable development, praised “the many benefits of Huawei technologies for sustainable development” while denying he was aware of the Xi’s Xinjiang internment camps. Sachs had stated similar praise for Huawei in his foreword to a Huawei promotional brochure. Unusually for a Twitter discussion, the one involving Sachs motivated a condemnation from the Global Times.

Sachs is, in fact, linked to the efforts to install CCP discourse at the UN, recently covered on Sinopsis. As Inner City Press has noted, Sachs has been listed as an “advisor” in CEFC materials. For at least three years, he spoke at CEFC events featuring Patrick Ho, still at large, where he praised the agreement between CCP initiatives and the UN sustainable development goals. Crucially, Sachs has sat on the advisory board of former UN general assembly president Vuk Jeremić’s think tank CIRSD since its establishment in 2013. Jeremić is another of the UN officials Patrick Ho cultivated: he became a CEFC “consultant” right after leaving his post, and was paid hundreds of thousands to “open doors” for CEFC. Even though CEFC has been neutralised by the fall of Ho and Ye, CIRSD is among the organisations still active in the discourse engineering enterprise, which perhaps motivated the Chinese state-media intervention over a social media conversation. Sachs deleted his quarter-million follower Twitter account soon after these links were exposed.

Showdown in Prague

In the Czech Republic, the PRC has many “friendly contacts” to call upon. Unusually for the pre-holiday season, it only took four days after the NÚKIB warning for PM Andrej Babiš to convene the State Security Council (Bezpečnostní rada státu, BRS), a rather toothless government body, to urgently discuss the “ban”. PM Babiš has been much weakened by recent scandals around the apparent abuse of EU subsidies for his business conglomerate. In the state of almost permanent government crisis since the last elections more than a year ago, he is much dependent on political support from President Zeman. His minority government also needs the parliamentary support of the Communist party (Komunistická strana Čech a Moravy, KSČM). Zeman and the KSČM are among the most staunchly pro-CCP voices in the country.

The BRS issued a pithy statement emphasising, apparently for Chinese ears, the obvious fact that NÚKIB is independent of the government, which cannot make it revoke or revise its warnings. Among a series of brief paragraphs stating the obvious, one stands out: that the agency is not qualified to comment on the international situation or on other states’ legal arrangements. Since the main public justification for the NÚKIB warning was the legal requirement for PRC citizens and companies to assist in intelligence gathering when called upon, such statement sounds like an indirect rebuke to the document.

More importantly, the PRC side staged a peculiar diplomatic ritual when it forced a meeting between the Babiš and the ambassador in Prague, Zhang Jianmin 张建敏, on the rather undiplomatic date of Sunday, 23 December. The meeting was not reported by the government through the usual channels, but only by the embassy, on its website (Chinese, Czech) and in a Facebook post. The embassy’s account of the meeting makes Babiš appear as doing a full turn-around on the Huawei issue. He supposedly called the NÚKIB warning “a hasty decision”, caused by “a misleading warning”. The post then employs some rather arrogant language:

Ambassador Zhang pointed out that the warning issued by a Czech agency, which is not at all grounded on reality, had had a detrimental impact and the Chinese side resolutely protests against it. He said that the Chinese side acknowledges the Czech government’s effort to rectify the relevant mistakes and hopes that the Czech side adopts effective measures to prevent such events in the future and to effectively protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese firms.

The language did not go down well with the Czech public, already quite sensitive to Chinese activities in the country and the unconditional support it receives from part of the political establishment. Despite the holiday season, the FB post already generated a lot of discussion on social media, mostly highly critical. The opposition was quick to seize on it, with politicians variously stating that the Czech Republic has fallen “in the hands of servile collaborators with undemocratic powers” or that the PM’s reversal at “a meeting with representatives of a country that threatens” the country’s information security meant he was “escaping his responsibility” to protect it.

Andrej Babiš with ambassador Zhang Jianmin. Source: PRC embassy.

Such undiplomatic language, guaranteed to further undermine the PRC image in the Czech Republic, was more likely intended for international audiences, amplified through state media. The heavy-handed response by the PRC embassy seems intended to preempt a replicating effect in the region and beyond, where a similar debate about Huawei is likely to take place sooner or later.

The immediate propaganda reaction further cements the idea that the Babiš administration’s attempt to contain the effects of the NÚKIB warning followed coordinated PRC pressure. One day after the BRS statement, a story by Xinhua’s senior Prague correspondent declared the Czech government had “corrected its mistake” on Huawei. The story soon made it to the English-language Global Times, in the sloppy English characteristic of stories pushed by higher-ups in propaganda organs.

After the backlash over Christmas, Babiš resurfaced to refute the embassy’s account of the meeting.

The Chinese ambassador commented in an unusual and public way about a meeting he had urgently requested, where he stated the Chinese side’s position in a very non-standard way.

Babiš explicitly denied that the government had made a “mistake” with the intelligence warning, as PRC state media had proclaimed: “I don’t know what the ambassador is talking about”, he said, adding that “the government takes the NÚKIB’s warning seriously”. The Czech-language statement is, however, unlikely to reach the Chinese public or the larger audience targeted by the PRC external propaganda organs. The goal of ‘killing the chicken to scare the monkeys’ remains feasible, despite Babiš’ newfound sovereign zeal.

“Friendly contact” conquers all

The Party-state’s efforts to protect Huawei, from friendly op-eds to the Christmas démarche in Prague, show the usefulness of the long-term build-up of influence work. Even countries of less immediate international significance can become key assets: at a critical juncture for a ‘national champion’ desperate to keep the CEE market, politicians and commentators who have developed pro-CCP positions can be called in its defence. With a quick coordinated reaction between Xinhua and the embassy, the propaganda battle being waged in Prague can resonate throughout the region and beyond.

The PRC’s leverage over the Czech Republic, a country where its FDI has been negligible, ultimately reveals various forms of ‘liaison’ and United Front work as cheaper and more effective tools of foreign policy than trade and investment.

With thanks to Anne-Marie Brady and Geoff Wade

The CCP’s model of social control goes global

[By Jichang Lulu and Martin Hála. Published on Sinopsis, The Asia Dialogue and China Digital Times on 20 Dec 2018.]

 

One of the most striking aspects of Xi Jinping’s “New Era” is the rapid externalisation of systems and policies previously only applied, for the most part, domestically. This external activism is of course a reflection of the CCP’s new effort to utilise the “historic window of opportunity” in international relations, identified by Xi as one of the defining characteristics of the “New Era”. The advancement of the PRC’s global interests, in particular through Xi’s ‘Belt and Road’ and other geopolitical initiatives, includes the extraterritorial expansion of social control mechanisms once mostly reserved to the PRC. These mechanisms comprise cooptive and coercive tactics: United Front work and repression, both intensified under Xi.

The academic study of global cooptation by New Zealand academic Anne-Marie Brady has proven sensitive enough to trigger cross-border coercion: the publication of her Magic Weapons paper on global United Front work has been followed with state-media attacks and a harassment campaign. In response, we initiated an open letter in her support that gathered 303 signatures, largely from the Chinese studies community. Beyond solidarity with a researcher facing apparent retaliation for her scholarly work, the response reflects widespread concern with the CCP’s intent to project its repression mechanisms abroad, shielding its cooptive influence mechanism from expert scrutiny.

Three Magic Weapons for the three realms of control

The CCP’s Leninist model of governance applies several basic mechanisms to maximize control over a vast population by a small “vanguard” without the explicit consent of the governed masses. The model is onion-shaped, made up of three concentric layers of governance. The tools to control these three realms are, to echo a Maoist simile, “three magic weapons” (三大法宝): Party building, armed struggle (succeeded by state violence) and cooptation tactics (the United Front).

The inner realm is the Party itself, the “vanguard” of China’s working class, the Chinese people and the Chinese “nation” (民族), controlled by the party discipline imposed by its core leadership. Resuming a trend often encountered in Communist history, Xi as the Party’s “Core” (核心) has been consolidated as potentially perpetual dictator. Party discipline is mostly enforced through extra-legal bodies, notably the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI, 中央纪律检查委员会), prominent in Xi’s “anti-corruption” campaign. When these instruments are not deemed sufficient and  discipline loosens, the Party is brought under control again with periodic purges. Individual Party members enjoy various privileges and certain career paths are only open to them, but at the same time are bound by strict Party discipline that subjects them to more direct control by the Core than any other social group.

The Party leads it all. Source: 81.cn.

Apart from its own members, the Party also aspires to control everything else, a notion expressed by a famous Mao Zedong dictum, which Xi Jinping has quoted and added to the Party constitution: “The Party, government, Army, civilian sector and education, East, West, South, North and Centre – the Party leads it all” (党政军民学,东西南北中,党是领导一切的). [1] Xi’s tenure has also strengthened the Party’s (and thus Xi’s own) authority over the central institutions through which it controls China’s society and economy: the Army and the state. Xi’s reform of the PLA, following an anti-corruption campaign, has disbanded the general departments, seen as concentrating too much power. The restructuring after the 19th Party Congress has reduced the separation between Party and state. Party control over state-owned enterprises has increased, admonishing them not to “forget the Party spirit [党性, партийность]” and stressing the Party’s leadership and the role of Party committees. The Party’s extra-judicial discipline system, once reserved to Party members, has been extended into state administration with the establishment of the National Supervisory Commission (国家监察委员会), in practice subordinate to the CCDI.

Cooptation and coercion outside the Core

The Party may strive to control everything, but farther from the Core, the two remaining Magic Weapons are needed to rein in the two extra-Party (党外) realms: repression and United Front work.

The inner layer in the onion outside the Party core is reserved for those who do not openly challenge the Party’s dominance in the system, and can be, at least temporarily, “united” with. Such alliances are carefully managed, without absorbing them into the Party itself lest they dilute its “purity”. There is, after all, a difference between the inner and outer circles (内外有别).  The “magical” mechanism to achieve this uneven alliance is the United Front (UF) work.

UF tactics were first prescribed by the Comintern to non-Soviet Communist parties as a way to reach state power through temporary alliances, eventually in the French and Spanish Popular Fronts; later, United and ‘National’ Fronts were institutionalised to help govern Communist states in Eastern Europe and East Asia. The CCP’s variant of the concept seeks to dominate such key social groups as business, religions and the Chinese diaspora by rewarding members with positions within an elaborate system of UF organisations that institutionalises these alliances: eight ancillary parties, chambers of commerce, patriotic religious associations, Overseas Chinese groups, as well as membership of non-CCP delegates in the National People’s Congress, the national Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and their versions at lower levels of administration. These appointments, useful to their beneficiaries as marks of official support, in turn keep such influential figures under control, turning them into ‘United Frontlings’ who can help advance Party policy.

First meeting of the 13th CPPCC. Source: Xinhua.

These groups were as essential to the CCP’s revolutionary struggle as they are to its rule over today’s PRC; like his predecessors, Xi continues to repeat Mao’s adage on UF work as a magic weapon. Beyond speeches, Xi has strengthened the role of the UF system and the Party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) within it, with tens of thousands of new cadres and the formal absorption of what used to be state organs.

As a third weapon, state repression can be seen as having inherited the role of armed struggle. It is reserved primarily for the outer circle in the governance model, inhabited by those deemed too hostile to be “united” with. The criteria for who falls into which circle outside the Party continue to shift, at the sole discretion of its Core. Those on the wrong side of this arbitrary divide can expect (often extremely vicious) repression.

Under Xi, persecution of lawyers and labour activists has dramatically increased. In Xinjiang, Xi’s apartheid-like policies criminalise expressions of non-Han and Muslim identity, confining hundreds of thousands, possibly over a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other mostly Muslim citizens to a network of internment camps.

Globalisation 2.0: Party control goes global

The traditional domain of the CCP’s control model is the territory it rules (the PRC), territories it aspires to rule (Taiwan and, before handover, Hong Kong and Macau), and the Chinese diaspora, target of the Qiaowu 侨务 (Overseas Chinese affairs) system.

As a natural consequence of the PRC’s increasing economic clout and Xi’s strengthening of Party power, this dual model of control is now spreading abroad. The Xiist expansion of the model globalises its domestic and diasporic version of social control, appropriating the existing political and social structures of target countries.

The tools of extraterritorial repression at the CCP’s disposal remain limited, but the PRC’s economic power continues to add new options. The crackdown in Xinjiang extends to the Uyghur diaspora, through forced repatriations, blackmail, threats, extensive  surveillance, spying and diplomatic pressure to prevent scrutiny of these activities. Threats of punishment to family members in China allows the Party to try and silence Chinese critics abroad. Direct harassment of dissidents overseas has also been documented. In Sweden, the Tibetan refugee Dorjee Gyantsan (རྡོ་རྗེ་རྒྱལ་མཚན་) was recruited by the MSS to spy on the local Tibetan community. Kidnappings beyond its jurisdiction have brought the PRC no major negative consequences, opening the door to more cases like that of Gui Minhai 桂民海, the Swedish editor abducted in 2015 in Thailand. Extraterritorial censorship, still often ineffective in the form of open threats to media outlets, works well with companies seeking business in China, as seen in the recent erasure of Taiwan from country lists on airline websites. The US government called the renaming requests “Orwellian nonsense”, but such rhetorical response did not prevent American airlines from eventually toeing the line.

Outside the overseas Chinese communities, extraterritorial coercion remains for the time being an exception, rather than a rule. Cooptation, on the other hand, encounters few impediments. The expansion of United Front work beyond its traditional domestic and diasporic domain preserves its core methods: empower friendly figures with favours, access and representation, while ostracising recalcitrant elements. Traditional UF groups, notably ‘Reunification’ councils, have seen their role expanded from the control of Chinese communities to the political and economic mainstream, as documented in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. UF organisations are instrumental in forging localised contacts with the PRC, as seen in the case of the Fujian ‘embassy’ of a Czech region. ‘Sinicised’ religion might become another way of targeting foreign societies, as already seen in state-driven contacts with Buddhism in Mongolia.

United Front worker James Wu with former Czech PM Petr Nečas. 2016.

Beyond the UF system, various organisations involved in international exchanges employ similar methods to coopt foreign elites. The CCP’s International Liaison Department (ILD, 中联部), which once mainly liaised with fellow Communist parties, has seen its purview expanded to include the ‘bourgeois’ spectrum. No less an authority than its former head Zhu Liang 朱良 has compared this rightward expansion to domestic UF work; the CCP’s ‘dialogues’ with parties from abroad indeed resemble the CPPCC. The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT, 中国国际贸易促进委员会), linked to, e.g., recent subnational-level attempts to bypass Australia’s reticence towards Xi’s “Belt and Road”, frames its activity as “international UF work”, functioning as a sort of global version of domestic business associations.

International UF work straddles the borders between official and private, and between legal and illegal activity. The global activities of CEFC, an ostensibly private firm linked to a PLA front organisation, illustrate this ambiguity. The company’s role in the cooptation of the Czech political elite has been covered in detail by Sinopsis. Beyond the Czech Republic, CEFC was among the entities working to engineer the installation of CCP discourse at the United Nations. CEFC’s “economic diplomacy” exposed the dark underbelly of BRI: bribes were used as liberally as more traditional interactions with “friends” of the CCP. The conferral of symbolic appointments characteristic of UF work is once again encountered in CEFC’s exchange of honorary ‘advisor’, ‘consultant’ or ‘guest’ positions: the organisation’s top brass has ‘advised’, or appointed as advisors, such figures as UN General Assembly presidents Vuk Jeremić, John Ashe and Sam Kutesa, Czech president Miloš Zeman, former Georgian PM Irakli Gharibashvili or, apparently, development guru Jeffrey Sachs.

Jeffrey Sachs at CEFC’s “Sino-American Colloquium”, 2014. Source: CEFC.

More generally, the tactical logic behind UF thinking can be seen at play geopolitically. Positioning Eastern Europe as a more manageable tool for pressure on Western Europe under the ‘16+1’ arrangement and appropriating ‘South-South’ concepts to seek alliances in the Third World are among the best examples. Often subsumed under Xi’s ‘Belt and Road’ geopolitical initiative, these interactions rely on the CCP’s methods of ‘friendly contact’ and UF cooptation of malleable political groups, businesses, think tanks and, importantly, academics and their institutions.

Coercion protects cooptation

Brady’s case combines the coercive and cooptive aspects of the CCP’s activity abroad. Brady’s study of the Propaganda system and her recent work on global United Front have brought tactical arrangements only accessible through Party writings to a broader audience. In particular, her Magic Weapons paper, on New Zealand as a case study of the CCP’s global influence operations, has revealed the remarkable success of UF work among the country’s elite.

Anne-Marie Brady. Photo by Silas Zhang.

The paper wasn’t universally welcome. Since its publication, burglars have stolen electronic devices from Brady’s home and office. Her car was tampered with in ways described as consistent with intentional sabotage. The months-long investigation of these attacks reportedly involves Interpol and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service. Academics who hosted Brady in China have been interrogated by Ministry of State Security officials. State media in the PRC and New Zealand media under the CCP’s ‘guidance’ have carried attacks on Brady. It seems reasonable to interpret these events as a harassment campaign meant to intimidate Brady and others researching the CCP’s political influence. In other words, coercive measures seem directed to prevent the exposure of cooptation mechanisms.

Our letter, following a statement by a New Zealand Chinese community organisation and three other local appeals, calls for an adequate response by local authorities to this harassment, and engagement with the substance of Brady’s research, so far not exactly forthcoming in New Zealand. It thus advocates scrutiny of both the coercive and the cooptive sides of the CCP’s control mechanisms.

Preserving the integrity of political systems depends on informed analysis of UF tactics able to vitiate them. Left unchallenged, these tactics can gradually undermine democratic governance, repurposing local institutions as tools of extraterritorial control. The New Zealand case is of unique interest for research on such tactics: in this democracy noted for its transparency, a donation from a prominent United Front figure was recently discussed in connection with a parliamentary candidacy for one of his associates; among political parties, the main beneficiary of UF-linked donations has been the one to echo CCP propaganda calling internment camps “vocational training centres”.

The CCP’s effort to coerce analysts into silence greatly concerns the China specialist community, judging by the unexpected number of signatures the letter attracted. These concerns are hardly conjectural. A signatory, Feng Chongyi of the University of Technology Sydney, was detained and interrogated for ten days in Guangzhou in 2017. The Swedish NGO worker Peter Dahlin, who also signed, was detained in China 2016 and only released after a staged confession. Colleagues who expressed support for the contents of the letter chose not to sign, fearing, in one case, being refused a visa and, in another, being taken hostage in retaliation for the recent arrest in Canada of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou 孟晚舟.

Beyond solidarity with a fellow researcher and interest in New Zealand’s democracy, the extent to which the appeal has resonated within the Chinese studies community points to global concerns over Xi’s increasingly authoritarian rule and the cooptive and coercive modes of its projection abroad.

[1] In the 1962 form, “industry, agriculture, commerce, education, the Army, the government and the Party” (工、农、商、学、兵、政、党); Mao had expressed the idea in similar terms as early as 1942, and it has been frequently restated and elaborated since. The locus classicus for the now canonical form is from 1973.

Thanks to Kuan-chu Chou.

New Zealand: United Frontlings bearing gifts

[Posted on Sinopsis on 16 Nov 2018]

When Todd McClay, foreign affairs spokesperson for New Zealand’s largest parliamentary party, repeated propaganda points on Xi Jinping’s policy of ethnic-based internment in Xinjiang, the CCP’s cultivation of his National Party proved it was worth the trouble. The National Party’s indifference towards torture and apartheid, which Labour, the senior partner in the ruling coalition, has not challenged, must come as a welcome display of solidarity with the totalitarian state’s propaganda machine as it fights mounting global criticism of Xi’s gulag.

The incident will not surprise those following New Zealand affairs. Each major party has a United Front-linked MP, ensuring CCP-friendly views are represented regardless of election results. Their numbers may soon increase: not a month ago, a recording emerged in which National’s leader can be heard discussing a further pro-CCP, seat in connection with a large donation from another United Frontling. Nor are New Zealand endorsements of Xiist policy new. The leaders of both major parties sent congratulations to the latest Party Congress. Both were represented at the CCP International Liaison Department’s December “Dialogue” with foreign political parties, a fact that went unreported in New Zealand.

The donation scandal has triggered media interest in the CCP’s influence, after a year of largely ignoring the local academic who exposed it. She has, however, consistently attracted attention from other quarters. A police investigation, involving Interpol and a national security unit, has been looking into break-ins in her house and office; it’s now also handling the case of the apparent “sabotage” of her car. Coincidentally, CCP-‘guided’ Chinese-language media has launched an attack on both her and New Zealand-Chinese democracy activists.

Internment camps as “vocational training”

McClay’s remarks were the National Party’s response to Harrison Christian’s story on Uyghur New Zealanders whose relatives have been detained in Xi Jinping’s network of “re-education” camps. His statement echoed the euphemisms currently used by the PRC government:

“Abuses of human rights are a concern wherever they occur. [H]owever, the existence and purpose of vocational training centres is a domestic matter for the Chinese [g]overnment.”

As shown in the next part in our series on the CCP International Liaison Department (ILD), McClay represented his party last December in Beijing. The ILD’s “dialogue” with Barbarian political parties reached a consensus:

The new consensus for the future of mankind was then enshrined in the “Beijing Initiative (北京倡议)”. It “applauds” Xi‘s “full and rigorous governance” of the Party, improving its “ability to govern and lead” and generate “historic achievements” and other desirable effects. Attendees called for “win-win cooperation” before expressing their “heartfelt appreciation” for the ILD.

The ruling Labour party was represented by its president Nigel Haworth, noted for his comments on Xi’s “wise leadership”, who praised Xi’s speech for state media to see. While Labour’s Xiist tribute was shown to the whole world by exoprop organ CGTN, McClay’s presence seems to have gone unreported in English.

At a session titled “Jointly pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative: role of political parties” (共建“一带一露”:政党的参与和贡献), McClay told China Central Television that the ILD “Dialogue” was an “opportunity for leaders of political parties from different countries to discuss global issues”. McClay estimated that “the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China not only benefits countries” along it, but also “builds a platform for developing a broader dialogue between countries”.

Readers of our coverage of the CCP’s drive to impose Xiist language at the UN, notably aided by former New Zealand PM Helen Clark, will recognise such language as similar to that prescribed in propaganda writing on Xi’s pet geopolitical initiative. National’s further endorsement of Xi’s ethnic gulag can thus be seen as the natural next step in the CCP’s discourse engineering work.

The road to Parliament, paved with $100k

In a recorded conversation (warning: coarse language), National Party leader Simon Bridges discussed with fellow MP Jami-Lee Ross a NZ$100k donation from local businessman Zhang Yikun 张乙坤. The exchange, secretly recorded by Ross, revealed that a dinner with the donor had included discussion of two Parliament seats, including one for Zhang’s associate Colin Zheng (郑时佳).

Bridges: [G]ood work though man, that’s a lot of money.
Ross: Yeah they’re good people. Now there’s no catch or anything to it. You may recall at the dinner they did discuss candidacy, and another Chinese candidate.
Bridges: Two MPs, yeah.
Ross: Colin Zh[e]ng? The younger one, he’s put his name in for Candidates’ College and so I assume he’ll get through and we’ll make some decisions as a Party further down the track as to what we want to do with candidates.

National claim the donation hasn’t yet reached them, but, according to Ross, Zhang already paid: he told Bridges that the money was “sitting in a Botany electorate account”. Meanwhile, Zhang’s associate’s ascent to Parliament remains unimpeded, indeed with the Party president’s “encouragement”. Two further members of the CCP-linked group he leads have been made justices of the peace.

A card-carrying United Frontling

Zhang Yikun’s United Front credentials are unimpeachable. His CCP links were first reported on a microblogging website by Geoff Wade, me and others, soon followed by a comprehensive Chinese-language article by Chen Weijian 陈维健 (an English translation is now available).

These links span several major components of the United Front (UF) system. He was a delegate at the Hainan provincial committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) for two sessions (2007-2018), and served on its Standing Committee during the second one. Until at least 2017 he was a member of the Chinese Association for Promoting Democracy (中国民主促进会), one of the eight ‘democratic parties and groups’ ancillary to the CCP (cf. Groot, p. 103f. et passim), and on its Hainan committee as early as 2002. Zhang and his association have exchanged visits with the Zhigong Party, another para-CCP group with significant New Zealand contacts. Zhang was a vice president of the Hainan Federation of Industry and Commerce and later an executive member of its national version, the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce (ACFIC). The ACFIC and other industry and commerce associations form an essential part of the UF system. The ACFIC is often effectively treated as a ninth ancillary party in official documents and meetings.

Zhang was the founding chairman of the Chaoshan General Association of New Zealand (新西兰潮属总会) and remains the chairman of its board; he also chairs the Teochew International Federation (国际潮团总会). Like many hometown associations worldwide, the ones Zhang leads are under the CCP’s aegis, the result of decades of Qiaowu 侨务 (Overseas Chinese affairs) work aimed at coopting diaspora groups. There can be little doubt about Zhang’s association’s subordination to the CCP, manifested in frequent interactions with Qiaowu and other cadres, notably United Front Work Department deputy head Tan Tianxing 谭天星, as well as in his being chosen to organise a world Teochew convention.

Like Yang Jian 杨健, the National MP whose background in PLA intelligence was revealed last year, Zhang is also linked to the Party’s Army. He was in the PLA Navy in Hainan in the ’90s and is also the honorary chairman of the New Zealand PLA Veterans Association.

Zhang Yikun signs the PLA flag at the NZ PLA Veterans Association 2017 New Year gala. Source.

Colin Zheng, whose induction into Parliament was discussed in one breath with the $100k donation, is an associate of Zhang’s. He has held leadership positions at the Chaoshan Association since its establishment and currently serves as its chairman. He’s Zhang’s business partner, frequently seen with him in public appearances, including at meetings with officials. Last November, it was Zheng who welcomed Xu Yousheng 许又声, then Party secretary of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office and now vice head of the United Front Work Department, with a speech invoking Engels’ passing remark on Shantou (New York Daily Tribune, 18 Nov 1858) and the ‘New Era’ heralded by the 19th Congress of the CCP.

Frontling money hits the news

Ross made the recording public after accusing Bridges of attempting to conceal the donor’s identity by splitting the donation into amounts below the reporting threshold. Although the recording fails to yield evidence of that, and it remains unclear if the donation was made at all, media reporting initially focused on the scandal as a political dispute within the National Party. Indeed the saga did not lack media fodder: bullying and harassment allegations against Ross, his admission of extramarital affairs with a fellow MP and a member of Bridges’ staff, his involuntary confinement to a mental health facility for a few days, and indeed Bridges “speaking inappropriately”, to his mother’s dismay.

The elephant in the room, viz., the apparent offer of Parliament seats to a UF-linked donor, was slow to attract media attention. This is in line with the previous record of most New Zealand media outlets. Scandalous though it might seem, the Zhang Yikun donation saga simply adds to a defining trait of contemporary New Zealand politics: the widespread, though underreported, influence of the CCP.

UF-linked donations, mostly to the National Party, were documented in Anne-Marie Brady’s Magic Weapons paper, published more than a year ago. Although the paper doesn’t discuss Zhang Yikun, it covers earlier UF-linked donations to National, which Brady estimates total at least NZ$1.38m, as well as to Auckland mayor Phil Goff (formerly with Labour), who earned NZ$150k at a fundraising dinner by auctioning a signed copy of Xi Jinping’s book On the Governance of China I (the tome is often given away for free, and its contents are available online). Although some salient aspects of Brady’s paper (and the attacks against her) were covered by the local press, notably Matt Nippert and more recently Harrison Christian, the structural links between United Front entities and New Zealand politics received scant attention.

Between racists and Xi Jinping Thought

The Zhang Yikun case did, however, lead to increased coverage. After initial reporting narrowly focused on the Ross-Bridges dispute, more substantial coverage and analysis began to emerge. Branko Marcetic provided the first serious treatment (warning: profanity in the title) of Zhang’s UF links in English, including original reporting. Tze Ming Mok’s New Zealand Herald op-ed recounts her experience of “wonks […] extremely concerned” about PRC influence who “can’t say much publicly” lest they imperil “their own Chinese government-linked funding”. Debate is precluded by “a wall of silence” whose “chilling effect is harming Chinese people in New Zealand”, “trapped between knee-jerk racists and Xi Jinping Thought”.

As a fitting illustration, the Herald refused to print Mok’s mention of Zhang’s UF links (which were by then firmly established based on public, official PRC sources). These were, however, covered by other local media outlets; Charlotte Graham-McLay’s reporting for the New York Times brought them to a global audience. Brady, largely ignored by local media since the publication of her report, was now sought by major media outlets, including for a half-hour interview with state broadcaster Radio NZ. Even state-owned network TVNZ devoted a podcast to the CCP influence issue. A petition by Freeman Yu demands Parliament “inquire into foreign influence in New Zealand politics”. Yu has faced attacks from pro-CCP voices, which, through such outlets as local state-media partner Skykiwi (天维网), tell “anti-China Chinese people” they are “not welcome in New Zealand”. (Propaganda Department vice head Sun Zhijun 孙志军 once visited Skykiwi to provide “guidance” to “tell China’s story well”.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Planet…

The cultivation of politicians by individuals associated with United Front organisations is not restricted to New Zealand. Under Xi Jinping, the work of these groups, once primarily focused on the Chinese diaspora, is now targeting those with “political influence, economic power and social prestige” in foreign societies at large, in an attempt to use community organisations as tools of political influence. The case of Australia made global headlines when donations from the leader of a peak United Front body were linked to support for China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.

In the Czech Republic, the case of James Wu (吴瑞珍), covered by Sinopsis and Hlídací pes, shows remarkable parallels with that of Zhang Yikun. Like Zhang, Wu leads several hometown associations. Both have had extensive contacts with the Qiaowu system. Wu was a member of a city committee of the CPPCC, and a non-voting delegate at the Fujian province CPPCC. In 2013, he helped organise a Prague visit by its chairman. According to a former business partner, Wu was always interested in political contacts, and indeed managed to become the ‘Fujian representative’ of Olomouc region. In other words, the interests of a Czech local government were represented in China by someone with posts within the CCP’s political system. In New Zealand, Zhang Yikun has established a close relationship with Southland District mayor Gary Tong, who indeed was in China as a “guest” of Zhang at the height of the donations scandal. Although Wu’s political influence bears no comparison to Zhang’s, he did try to fly higher than Olomouc: he managed, at least, to be photographed next to former PM Petr Nečas.

James Wu gets his picture taken with former PM Petr Nečas. 2016.
James Wu gets his picture taken with former PM Petr Nečas. 2016.

Repurposing the system

Despite the degree of attention, politicians from the major parties keep ignoring the issue. Given Zhang Yikun’s cultivation of links with both major parties, it’s hardly surprising that PM Jacinda Ardern continues to defend the country’s “transparency”. Four fifths of the donations to Ardern’s party between 2011 and 2017 were anonymous (a similar figure applies to National, which has maintained a similar proportion in the last year; Labour has admittedly improved).

The CCP’s long-term efforts to make New Zealand’s high politics serve its foreign-policy goals have successfully neutralised the country’s famed transparency. As a forthcoming ILD piece will continue to argue, tools Lenin and Stalin conceived with disruption in mind have been optimised to repurpose, rather than destroy, democratic political systems.

Confined discourse management and localised interactions in the Nordics

[Also posted on Sinopsis.]

Some of the challenges the CCP faces in managing public discourse in democratic societies can be overcome by insulating interactions at the local level. The decentralisation often seen in Western administrations gives local officials high levels of decision power, making them an ideal target for “friendly contact” efforts. Foreign debates over interactions with PRC entities often feature critical views, what writing on propaganda often calls the “China Threat Theory” (), generalising PRC reactions to the use of the phrase in the US in the 1990s. Xi Jinping’s rule features a global expansion of Party work, notably propaganda and United Front efforts that can help engineer environments favourable to CCP policies. The installation of Xiist concepts at the United Nations is a discourse-engineering success story, illustrating the use of multiple state and private entities and methods ranging from propaganda to bribery. Lesser endeavours, such as specific investment projects, have no access to the resources demanded by large-scale discourse management, but are just as relevant to national strategic goals. At the local level, perceptions of the potential benefits of engagement with Xi’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative are often remarkably optimistic, and knowledge asymmetry can help avoid scrutiny of the more controversial political or military aspects of cooperation projects. In such cases, localisation can let interactions reach successful outcomes within low-level jurisdictions, creating faits accomplis before national media attention can trigger critical (“threat”) narratives.

00weixielun

May the China Opportunity Theory (中国机遇论) defeat the China Threat Theory (中国威胁论). Source: CRI.

The following examples, drawn from Sweden, Norway and Greenland, illustrate the risks posed to localised interactions when information management fails to confine them to the local domain. In all three cases, PRC actors enjoyed a largely positive reception from local decision makers before public scrutiny took them to a more critical discourse environment.

Sweden: a creature of Perestroika Panic guides public opinion

Sweden is a challenging environment for the CCP’s discourse management activities. The media frequently covers Chinese topics with expert insight, including original reporting from China. Public discussion regularly features local China experts, often with critical views on CCP policies. A number of incidents have hurt the PRC’s image. Publisher Gui Minhai 桂民海, a Swedish citizen, was kidnapped in 2015 in Thailand in one of a series of PRC abductions of critical Hong Kong booksellers; he was later released, rearrested and forced to deliver a statement to CCP-friendly media, including Jack Ma’s South China Morning Post. Another Swedish citizen, the NGO worker Peter Dahlin, was detained in 2016 and only released after a staged televised confession. Dorjee Gyantsan (རྡོ་རྗེ་རྒྱལ་མཚན་), a Tibetan refugee recruited by the MSS, was sentenced to a year and ten months in jail in 2018 for spying on the local Tibetan community. Public criticism led to the closure of three of Sweden’s four Confucius Institutes (in Stockholm, Karlstad and Karlskrona) between 2015 and 2016, leaving only Luleå, itself the target of some criticism; a new, less ambitious one is planned in Borlänge, with a small local government rather than a university as partner, and called ‘institute’ despite apparently being expected to cater to secondary-school students, is already controversial.

10guicongyou

Gui Congyou, then director of the Department of European and Central Asian Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, at the Russian embassy in Beijing, 2016. Source: Sina.

The current approach to media management, while possibly beneficial domestically, is not improving China’s image in Sweden. A new ambassador, Gui Congyou 桂从友, was appointed in 2017, before which he had never visited Sweden or had any contact with Swedes. After working at the CCP Central Committee’s Policy Research Office (政策研究室) in the early 1990s, his career had a post-Soviet focus: he worked in Russia and at the MFA’s Department for Eastern European and Central Asian Affairs (欧亚司). In 2014, he conveyed to Russian media the PRC’s support for Russia’s position in the Ukrainian crisis. Gui’s formative years at the Policy Research Office amid post-Tian’anmen Perestroika panic and lack of acquaintance with Western media environments (and even the English language) perhaps made him the right person to implement a new set of aggressive media-management tactics to pacify Swedish media. They have failed to yield positive results.

The embassy’s loud responses to unsympathetic coverage, including attempts to smear Gui Minhai and direct verbal attacks against media and journalists, notably Jojje Olsson, have mostly generated negative publicity in Sweden and abroad. Fittingly, Gui Congyou’s PR strategy triggered associations with the former Eastern bloc when a commentator invoked Olof Palme‘s speech calling Gustáv Husák’s repression apparatus ‘minions / henchmen [lit. cattle; etymologically, ‘creatures’] of dictatorship’ (diktaturens kreatur). His Excellency’s attacks on Olsson, whom he advised to rename his website inbeijing.seInChineseTaipei’ to reflect his current residence, failed to silence the journalist, resulting instead in local and international support for him and even prompting a rare Swedish government reaction. The embassy’s campaign to discredit Gui Minhai has only increased support for him, which has included public appeals, demonstrations and, most recently, a book and events at the Gothenburg and Frankfurt book fairs. Last month, the embassy had to perform a lama drama over the Tibetan leader’s latest visit, while solemnly defending a tourist tantrum and fighting a satire show.

These actions are consistent with the intensification of a tantrum-based approach to diplomacy, featuring in-your-face attempts at extraterritorial censorship, from Australia to Denmark and Spain. these activities have proved counterproductive in terms of guidance of public opinion (舆论引导). By triggering constant media discussion of the PRC’s human rights situation and extraterritorial ambitions, such an approach has likely made local public opinion only less favourable to cooperation with China. Xi’s geopolitical initiative could, however, fare better if BRI projects are sheltered from such an adverse media environment.

“Lysekina”: a Swedish municipality meets a PLA-linked United Frontling

Last November, officials in Lysekil, a municipality with a population below 15,000, were approached by a group of consultants with an investment plan that included a new deep-sea port, an expansion of the existing one, road infrastructure and even a health resort “with Michelin-star restaurants”. The local authorities were given ten days to respond. They found the proposal “interesting” and commissioned a feasibility study from the same consultants who had proposed it.

20lysekina2

Prompt answer demanded. From the presentation to Lysekil officials. Source: Jojje Olsson on Scribd.

The consultants were representing Sunbase (新恒基, a Hong Kong company owned by Gunter Gao (Gao Jingde 高敬德), with the backing of state-owned China Communications and Construction (CCCC, 中国交通建设). That much was made known to the Lysekil officials.

The consortium’s background was less obvious. Gao is a prominent figure in Hong Kong United Front organisations. He is in his sixth term as a member of the national CPPCC. He was the founding chairman of the Hong Kong Association for the Promotion of the Peaceful “Reunification” of China (HKAPPRC, 中国和平统一促进会). His seniority within UF structures is evidenced by his participation in meetings with high officials, such as Du Qinglin 杜青林, then head of the United Front Work Department, in 2009. Besides his membership in United Front organisations, Gao openly supports the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB, 民主建港协进联盟). At a DAB fundraising event in 2016, he paid HK$18.8m for calligraphy (ultimately alluding to a Zuozhuan 左传 passage) by Zhang Xiaoming 张晓明, then head of the Central Government’s Liaison Office, which plays a central role in United Front work and political influence in Hong Kong (Loh, p. 229 et passim). His company used to share an address with eight groups entitled to vote for “functional constituency” representatives at the Hong Kong Legislative Council. Pro-Beijing media channelled his support for the authorities during the 2014 Occupy Central protests.

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Gunter Gao as Hong Kong representative at the 8th meeting of the Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China, Beijing, 2009. Source: 中国统促会

Gao has close links to the PLA. As his company’s website puts it, he has “generously supported the publication” of various “valuable books with the intent of promoting the glorious image of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as a civilizing and a powerful force and of spreading the superior tradition and revolutionary spirit of the PLA”, some published by the pro-CCP Wen Wei Po publishing house and one with a foreword by Jiang Zemin. One of his companies has been managing the PLA’s land in Hong Kong since 1997. Its other customers include the Liaison Office and Xinhua.

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The calligraphy specimen by then Central Liaison Office head Zhang Xiaoming that cost Gunter Gao $18.8m at a DAB fundraiser. Source: HK01

CCCC’s role in port building fits within the PRC’s strategic goal of becoming a ‘maritime great power’ (海洋强国). CCCC has been involved in projects in Chinese ports in Gwadar and Colombo. The planned Lysekil investment can be seen as a sign of a more general interest in global port infrastructure. Deep-sea port projects of potential interest to China have been discussed in the Arctic region (Finnafjörður in Iceland and Kirkenes in Norway), although concrete Chinese investment proposals have not yet been made public.

Open media discussion of this background had the potential to derail the project. The consortium’s demand for a quick response from the local authorities suggests they were aware of this risk. Indeed, news about the port plans leaked, leading to local and national media coverage and public criticism. It was nicknamed “Lysekina”, punning on the Swedish word for China. Gao’s United Front and military links were soon brought up, by the author on a microblogging website, and by Olsson (Swedish, English), the journalist later targeted by the embassy’s fury. Concerns emerged about its security implications, mentioning, in particular, the case of the Darwin port in Australia. The ‘China threat theory’ had indeed been triggered.

The prospective investors dropped the project in January 2018. Although it faced other hurdles, such as a landowner who refused to sell or lease, the investors’ representatives cited the public controversy as a reason.

Greenland and the two faces of Arctic propaganda

Greenland has a unique role to play in China’s Arctic strategy. Its mineral deposits match some of the goals of medium-term national planning on mining, specifically concerning rare-earth minerals. The island is an important location for scientific research; senior scientists and officials have repeatedly stressed the national-interest motives behind PRC Arctic and Antarctic science, “directly related to a nation’s ability to turn polar natural resources into commercial resources” (《极地国家政策研究报告》(2013-2014), quoted in Brady, p. 102). Organs under the Ministry of Land and Resources (since restructured into the new Ministry of Natural Resources) have driven geological research in Greenland, also promoting its findings to the mining industry and acting as the Greenlandic government’s main interlocutor. The country’s natural resource needs were invoked by a government-linked think tank promoting the first exploration project in Greenland in 2009, as well as by the research institute behind the only serious Chinese investment in Greenland to date. Plans for a permanent research station in Greenland were seen as a priority already in 2015; one of the locations discussed, at 83°N, would be the world’s northernmost settlement on dry land. Beyond natural resources, the Arctic is central to China’s national defence, both as part of its global maritime strategy and due to the region’s importance for nuclear security, since the shortest ICBM trajectories between China and the US cross the Arctic (Brady, p. 79).

An independent Greenland with China as its main trading partner and investor would be geopolitically advantageous to the PRC. The extreme asymmetry of the relationship could make it relatively easy for China to negotiate for Greenland’s support in discussions on Arctic governance. China’s efforts to cultivate the smallest of the currently independent Arctic states, Iceland, have already yielded a remarkable partnership: Iceland was the first European country to sign a free trade agreement with China and the first to award a Chinese SOE an Arctic oil and gas licence (since relinquished); recent Icelandic contributions towards the CCP’s global discourse-management goals include former president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson’s praise for aspects of China’s “leadership”, foreign minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson’s China Daily oped last month and a Reykjavik meeting to discuss ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ (or the weather, depending on who you ask) covered on Sinopsis. Given a generally positive attitude towards engagement with China among Greenland’s political elite, an independent Greenland would be even more receptive than Iceland to PRC economic and political influence. Indeed, the current attitude has emerged at little cost to China: despite China’s realistic medium-term potential to become the main investor in Greenland’s mining sector, only one serious investment exists so far, worth less than US$5m.

The PRC’s interests in Greenland are controversial, especially in Denmark. Greenland’s independence would mean the loss of Denmark’s status as an Arctic state. China may become a competitor for influence. In 2016, General Nice Group (俊安集团), a private company that owns an iron mining licence of no significant commercial value in the short term, attempted to acquire a derelict naval base in Kangilinnguit (Grønnedal). The plans were hard to construe as a commercial investment in Western terms: General Nice, a private iron trader plagued by debts and court cases, could hardly want such an asset except, assuming no state entities recommended the purchase, to make itself relevant to national interests as a form of ‘insurance’. The deal, approved by the Greenlandic authorities, was quietly blocked by the Danish government which soon rediscovered the site’s worth as a “strategic and logistical base”. The dreaded ‘China Threat Theory’ emerged in 2013, when controversy over potential Chinese investment in the Isua iron mine led to the fall of a government. A possible bid by CCCC to take part in airport projects generated concerns in Denmark and, reportedly, the US, leading to an agreement where the Danish government will help fund construction work at two airports. The Danish intervention was not to the liking of a junior party in the ruling coalition, leading to the collapse of PM Kim Kielsen’s third cabinet and the formation of a new minority government, still under Kielsen. The second government change caused by discussions of PRC interest was a net win for Kielsen’s government, putting it unexpectedly closer to getting Danish (and vaguely described American) funding for projects the Danish PM was sceptical about not a year ago.

The fact that mere talk of China deals has caused two government changes in a country without much actual PRC investment illustrates the sensitivity attached to China’s interests in Greenland; an awareness of this sensitivity informs the PRC’s messaging. While the Danish government tends to avoid identifying China on the record as a motivation for such moves as the agreement on airports, Danish reporting and analysis widely discuss the PRC’s potential ability to capitalise on Greenlandic independence ambitions, which a local writer sees as “life-threatening” to the Danish realm. The Danish intelligence service openly warns about the implications of PRC investment in Greenland, which could lead to “dependence”. The Greenlandic political elite’s commitment to developing infrastructure projects with uncertain profitability prospects, while actively inviting PRC participation, make discussion of a debttrap’ scenario predictable. (No PRC infrastructure loans to Greenland are known to have been discussed, but Chinese financing is expected for mining projects.) Accordingly, the PRC has been cautious to avoid any perception of support for Greenland’s independence. Protocol arrangements clearly treat Greenland as a subnational entity, at times in contrast to the Greenlandic government’s own communications; when necessary, the Chinese MFA has not hesitated to remind Greenland it “should follow the foreign policy upheld by Denmark”. In China, emerging academic discussion of Greenland’s independence still avoids discussing its consequences for the PRC’s geopolitical goals. Appeals to China’s well-known opposition to a universal self-determination principle are a poor explanation: as Gui Congyou, now the ambassador to Sweden, once told Russian media, the PRC is “against independence declarations by any nationalities through referendums, but this doesn’t apply to Crimea”. Rather, any perceived support would generate opposition, and Chinese non-action (无为而治) can simply let Greenland approach Beijing’s orbit of its own accord. China already buys, by one estimate, around 40% of Greenland’s seafood exports (seafood makes up 94% of the island’s total exports). The head of the Greenland Business Association claims to have discussed the possibility of a free trade agreement with the PRC ambassador during a recent visit to Greenland. After years of opposition from local authorities, Chinese workers were finally allowed last year to work at state-owned Royal Greenland’s fish processing factories. 62 workers had already been hired to work in Greenland as of a few months ago; mining projects will require at least hundreds. Local politicians are often receptive towards cooperation with the PRC; as the fall of the third Kielsen cabinet shows, Danish interests can generate more opposition. A low profile and the proper messaging towards Greenland can continue to increase the PRC’s economic and political leverage with little need for the Party-state to invest actual (monetary or political) capital.

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Guidance of public opinion. Source: Guangming Daily.

External propaganda (外宣, ‘exoprop’) turns attention away from Greenland’s importance within PRC policy; this strategy benefits from a lack of expertise on China among prominent commentators. Last January’s Arctic White Paper, a document for foreign consumption, does not even mention Greenland. This is in line with the general duplicity of the PRC’s polar communications towards internal and external audiences, which strictly follow the ‘insiders and outsiders are different’ (内外有别) principle, applied to both endo- and exoprop (Brady, p. 269 et passim). In English-language materials and state-supervised interactions with foreigners, PRC entities stress the country’s interest in scientific research while omitting its subordinate role to national economic and military needs.

The effectiveness of discourse-management tactics is enhanced by a frequent disregard for Chinese-language sources in publications about the Arctic, in what one may call the misère des études arctiques. A lack of Chinese skills (“in Chinese, the word for ‘sea’ literally translates to ‘vast, expansive space’” (misquoting Schottenhammer; cf.GSR 732h, Schuessler s.v. 洋, STEDT #6403, Serruys)) doesn’t deter scholars from discussing “how China sees the Arctic”. The 2018 Arctic White Paper, an exoprop product that mostly reaffirms known policies in general terms, was read as a strategy document and used to draw conclusions about China’s “main policy goals”; in a sign that reactions matched propaganda goals, an exoprop organ relayed Western remarks that the word “military” doesn’t occur in the paper (“and that’s maybe positive”); its discussion of a ‘Polar Silk Road’, by then a yearsold concept, was treated as novel (as for my own comments on the paper, they had some innocuous parts plagiarised by the People’s Daily’s English website). One think-tank report derived the “organizing principles” of the PRC’s Arctic policy from the White Paper and the English version of a speech at an international event. Another one, again ignoring original-language sources, overestimated Chinese FDI stock in Greenland by three orders of magnitude; a revised version, published after receiving my (unacknowledged) corrections, gives a smaller, though still erroneous, figure, and its lead author has continued to rely on calculations in which $2bn (overestimated FDI) is 11.6% of $1.06bn (underestimated GDP). While these examples of alternative maths and intellectual laziness are certainly not universal in writing about China and the Arctic, they illustrate the standards of scholarship and analysis in English-language writing about the region. As in other domains, China-illiteracy makes exoprop work easier.

The surreptitious “launch” of a satellite station project

In May 2017, a project to set up a dual-use satellite ground station in Nuuk was “officially launched” on Greenlandic soil. The ceremony was attended by Cheng Xiao 程晓, the leading remote sensing expert in charge of the project, and a hundred Chinese visitors, including retired PLAN Rear Admiral Chen Yan 陈俨, former political commissar of the South China Sea fleet and NPC delegate between 2003 and 2008. A Beidou pioneer with a military background spoke at the event. The trip to Greenland was also used to fly the first Chinese remote-sensing drone in Greenland, the Jiying 极鹰 3. Although these events were reported in Chinese, the Greenlandic government remained unaware of the project months after its official launch. First mentioned in English on my blog, the project’s existence only became known to the Greenlandic public and their elected representatives after it was covered in a story by Andreas Lindqvist for the local paper AG, using my translations from Chinese sources. My full account, including the background of the main individuals in attendance, was posted in December.

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The project illustrates the PRC’s double messaging in the Arctic. It was possible to organise a discreet event with a hundred participants in a town with a population of 493 by bringing them as a tour group. After the event, the tourists continued on an eight-day cruise of eastern Greenland. The tour was organized by Souluniq, a high-end tour operator long associated with communicating the importance of the polar regions to China’s national interest. The fact that the Chinese public for the event was a tour group attending this ‘launch’ as a patriotic-themed attraction, after lunch in a restaurant, was not disclosed in Chinese media accounts: indeed, the phrasing allowed readers to imagine a joint ceremony with the Greenlandic government, marking the actual start of the station’s construction. In fact, no date had been fixed for the actual construction of the station, a 7m antenna to be installed outside Nuuk; the required authorisation had not been sought with the Greenlandic authorities. To a Chinese audience, this was the launch of a major project in Greenland; for the locals, it was just another group of Chinese tourists. The project’s local partner saw its leader as just a fellow scientist, a perception that can help the project’s chances with the local authorities. Relevant Chinese audiences, on the other hand, have been made aware of Cheng Xiao’s key role in China’s polar strategy. A global network of satellite receiving stations is of strategic importance to the PRC; in the Arctic, one opened in Kiruna, Sweden, in 2016, to be followed by another one in Sodankylä, Finland. The dual-use Beidou satellite navigation system, in particular, needs more ground stations. The military aspect of the PRC’s polar strategy is clear to Cheng, who warns that “China’s threats come from the Arctic” and, according to a participant, discussed the military significance of the project during the Greenland tour.

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RAdm Chen Yan 陈俨 in 2011~2012. Source: 81.cn.

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RAdm (Ret) Chen Yan aboard the Sea Spirit cruise in Greenland, after the ‘launch’ ceremony.

This dual-propaganda feat was achieved thanks to a relationship Cheng had built with Karl Zinglersen, a database expert at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (Pinngortitaleriffik / Grønlands Naturinstitut). Cheng offered Zinglersen a satellite map of Greenland, made from American open-source imagery, as a gift, through the PRC Ministry of Science and Technology. Zinglersen had, by his own account, spent “decades” waiting for such a map from the Danish authorities. Talking to the Chinese press, Cheng has explicitly referred to this exchange as an example of engagement with Arctic populations through higher education and research institutions, since as “unofficial” entities they are able to “effectively counter the ‘China Arctic threat theory’.”

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Greenland Institute of Natural Resources database scientist Karl Zinglersen receives a satellite map from Cheng Xiao. Source.

Reactions followed reporting on the project’s discreet launch. In Greenland, the chair of the parliamentary foreign affairs and security committee found the surreptitiousness of the launch “a bit worrying,” while warning against getting “scared every time there is a Chinese project.” In Denmark, the head of the Defence College (Forsvarsakademiet) noted that the host government would need to have “full access” to data collected by the station, or otherwise it could “obviously also be used for intelligence gathering and military goals”.

Had it remained confined to the local domain, the project might have proceeded smoothly, perceived as cooperation between fellow scientists, then presented as a fait accompli for the approval of the local authorities. Its exposure, attracting the wrong kind of attention, could complicate its prospects. No further information on the project has emerged since its ‘official launch’ was revealed and it remains unclear when it will be built.

Knowledge asymmetry: all aboard the Shanzhai Choo-Choo

The effectiveness of the localisation approach depends on high levels of knowledge asymmetry. Among local decision makers, a general familiarity with American, European and in some cases Russian society and culture contrasts with a lack of knowledge of and interest in the PRC political system, despite ritual statements on the importance of relations with China. An expertise vacuum also provides a propitious environment for the CCP’s ongoing discourse engineering endeavours: often with CCP-linked support or incentives, think-tanks and other entities can help install a perception of the PRC as a munificent benefactor and the adoption of Xi Jinping’s geopolitical initiative as inevitable. A final Nordic example may illustrate this favourable environment.

Last January, the Värmland-Østfold Cross-Border Committee, an organisation that seeks cooperation between some of the municipalities on both sides of the Swedish-Norwegian border, hosted a Chinese delegation to discuss a possible $21bn investment in a high-speed railway line between Oslo and Stockholm. The host organisation’s leader and its partners are involved in TENTacle, a partnership between government and regional entities in nine countries in the Baltic region that seeks to develop transport infrastructure with EU funding; they often advocate Xi’s Belt and Road initiative. The head of the delegation, Huang Xin 黄新, gave a talk on “Bridging Scandinavia with China through the new Silk Road”. The railway proposal was welcome as an improvement over Norway and Sweden’s disinterest in building “modern railways”; the news was reported in both countries.

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Source: Grensekomiteen Värmland-Østfold.

Local prospective partners and journalists without China expertise failed to notice that the proposal came from a “rogue” entrepreneur whose authority to negotiate such a high-profile infrastructure investment was rather doubtful. As was quickly noted on social media, both organisations Huang Xin presumably represented have been reprimanded by the PRC government (he has also been a Huarong employee but wasn’t identified as such in accounts of the Norway visit). One, the China Association for Promoting International Economic and Technical Cooperation (CAPC, 中国国际经济技术合作促进会), which has seemingly been engulfed in a leadership dispute, was suspended for three months in 2017 for the misuse of the terms “civil-military fusion”, “Belt and Road” and “China” by one of its subsidiary entities. A name used by the other one, the China Overseas Investment Union (COIUN, 中国海外投资联合会), occurs on an official list of “rogue” or fake (shanzhai 山寨) entities.

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Huang Xin with COIUN boss Zheng Shuai 郑帅. Source: COIUN.

The bubble burst when the issue attracted the attention of national media in Sweden. Hanna Sahlberg, the state broadcaster’s Beijing correspondent, contacted CAPC, who denied even knowing Huang or his Oslo mission.

Cursory due diligence would have raised red flags about Huang Xin: whatever their legitimate activities and evidence of Party-state connections, both organisations he was said to represent seemed to be on the wrong side of the government not long before the encounter; when asked, one of the organisations denied even knowing the envoy. An American or European visitor of unclear affiliation would have hardly been taken as a serious interlocutor for a multi-billion project without further inquiry, and such suspicious signs as the ones surrounding Huang would have probably paused any discussion. Blind faith in BRI prodigality (‘the scattering of monies’), however, makes people forget the need for due diligence.

Influence for free: leverage without investment

The uncritical reception even a seemingly “rogue” entrepreneur can expect from some local partners shows how fertile the ground is for the localisation approach. Especially in societies where propaganda efforts have not yet succeeded in engineering a sufficiently favourable climate, the administrative decentralisation typical of Western countries can be exploited to compartmentalise interactions, confining them to more manageable locales. Although projects like “Lysekina” have faced difficulties once they spilled into the larger media environment, the potential for localised success is clear throughout the region.

In an example of a positive attitude, the head of a company owned by Sør-Varanger municipality in northern Norway, whose seat is Kirkenes, recently interpreted the Arctic White Paper as a sign that “the Chinese state” supports their development “vision”, including long-discussed plans for an “Arctic railway” to Finland that should turn the coastal town into “the Rotterdam of the Arctic”. Local officials have indeed adopted Xi’s “silk road” vocabulary.

The Nordic examples in this piece illustrate the potential of localisation tactics for the success of Xi’s geopolitical ‘Belt and Road’ strategy. The scenario is, however, not specific to Nordic locales. In a French example, Huawei’s ‘smart cityproject in Valenciennes seemed well received locally, with the mayor calling it “a €2bn gift to the city”. Beyond Europe, local government enthusiasm is easy to find, for example, in New Zealand, where an interesting example is provided by the links between Southland Mayor Gary Tong and noted United Frontling Zhang Yikun 张乙坤, noted for his political donations.

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A New Zealand council welcomes a local Xiist lobbying group and ‘their’ BRI. Source: NZCC.

In the Nordics, a degree of success is already visible in the form of local-level interest in BRI, even before a concrete case for the initiative as beneficial to local communities can be made based on concrete Chinese plans. The importance of discourse engineering is demonstrated by cases where a reigning perception that Xi and his initiative might bring large investments has been effective in the absence of actual economic leverage. ‘Positive energy’ (正能量) on BRI gives the CCP influence over foreign societies essentially for free. The ‘normalisation’ of Norway, achieved despite the PRC’s inability to exert real economic pressure after the Nobel prize to Liu Xiaobo, remains the best example. A Finnish minister’s nervous hesitation (29:54) when asked if the PRC is a dictatorship during an interview on vague cooperation plans could be a sign of things to come.

In the long term, Xi’s global expansion of United Front and propaganda work should successfully cultivate political and business elites, media entities and, crucially, the next generation of China scholars, in order to engineer favourable environments at the national and European level as well. In the meantime, localisation tactics offer considerable potential for the implementation of Xi’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative and other CCP strategies.

[Thanks to Chris Button, Magnus Fiskesjö, Andreas Bøje Forsby, Nadège Rolland, Matt Schrader, Geoff Wade and Andréa Worden]

 

Antipodica 0: Leading from the back end

This is the initial post of a triple on CCP influence in Australia and New Zealand. The first two pieces are a prelude to former PRC diplomat Chen Yonglin’s 2016 China in Perspective piece on Australia as “China’s backyard”, presented for the first time in English.

0. Leading from the back end
1. The cis-Tasman yard
2. Chen Yonglin: Australia as China’s backyard

Antipodean developments lured this blog away from its usual northern haunts last year. In September, Anne-Marie Brady published a comprehensive treatment of United Front (统一战线) activities in New Zealand (Magic Weapons: China’s political influence activities under Xi Jinping; for the history of the Maoist ‘magic weapons’ (法宝, dharmaratnāni), cf. this post by Victor Mair). The CCP’s use of the political, business and academic élites of foreign countries for its policy purposes is a well-known aspect of United Front work, but the success of such ‘work’ in New Zealand, Brady’s systematic presentation of it, and reactions from the local élite make Kiwi United Frontics worth following even for those not specifically concerned with South Pacific affairs.

My interest in New Zealand politics had been triggered somewhat earlier, when I came across what I believed was a hoax attempting to discredit Labour MP Raymond Huo (霍建强) and his party by associating them to a bizarre Xi Jinping quote (‘roll up your sleeves and work hard(er)’) known for its masturbatory overtones and other pun potential (cf. “Comrades, ‘hike up your skirts for a hard shag’“). Only after extensive consultation and analysis, with many a face-palm, could I conclude that the quote was very much authentic, and Huo had been kite-flying it in earnest as the official Chinese version of Labour’s campaign slogan. After Brady’s report came out, I embedded my comments on the Xi quote (‘Skirts lifted, jewels unveiled’) into a post that detailed how the major political parties in New Zealand have essentially outsourced the political representation of a minority to individuals linked to organisations controlled by the Party-state (“United Frontlings always win”, in turn embedded into a China Heritage post (Geremie Barmé, “The battle behind the front“)).

For brevity, my ‘United Frontlings’ post focused on two individuals, Huo the rolled-up sleeved Xi-quoter and National Party MP Yang Jian 杨健, famous for his PLA intelligence background. While nominally competing for the Chinese-speaking electorate, Yang and Huo are functionally United Front eggs in different baskets. But various degrees of CCP influence are apparent across New Zealand’s political class, way beyond the Yang-Huo double act. Magic Weapons discusses political donations to the major parties, business links to politicians or their relatives, SOE jobs for former office-holders, MPs in Belt-and-Road lobbying groups, all traceable to United Front organisations and various entities linked to the Party-state. It’s a Who’s Who of New Zealand’s élite politics: former prime ministers Jenny Shipley, John Key and Bill English; former Labour leader, Auckland mayor Phil Goff; former National leader Don Brash; National MP Judith Collins, the ‘fun’ candidate to lead her party [UPDATE: she lost]. Better-known cases of successful PRC influence involve autocracies, structural corruption, ideological affinity, resurgent nationalism, debt diplomacy; in New Zealand, a prosperous, stable democracy among the least perceivedly corrupt, dependent on China for less than a fifth of its exports as of 2016, what has been published about CCP influence provides evidence for the effective exploitation, using legal, if little transparent, means, of a lack of relevant area expertise in policy-making, business influence on politics, and politicians and officials’ appetite for retirement options. Despite obvious differences, many of these tactics could be replicated in other Western small states, in particular some in Northern Europe, under this blog’s official remit.

With a sizable Chinese community, New Zealand is also the arena for the CCP’s long-term battle to win overseas Chinese support for a range of domestic and international strategy goals. Overseas work has been largely successful, at least at the leadership level, aided in part by attitudes among the monocultural majority that have evolved from a racist past to a form of respectful ignorance and undiscerning acquiescence with the pro-CCP takeover of community organisations.  Those not conforming to the  views of the alliance between the political-business élite and United Front organisations can expect to be doubly marginalised. As one Chinese Kiwi recently put it: in China, you have to cope with being a dissident, and abroad, with being both a dissident and Chinese.

Information has continued to emerge since the publication of Brady’s report. In this post, I will discuss two events that illustrate New Zealand’s outsourcing of ‘Chinese affairs’ to the Party-state, with an excursus on state efforts to control student organisations, before concluding that these achievements of United Front work are unlikely to be undone in the medium term.

Kiwi pollies mark the Year of Cerberus

The Magic Weapons have been inordinately effective in ensuring New Zealand’s cooperation with certain aspects of CCP propaganda efforts. One key goal of United Front work is to win the loyalty of overseas Chinese communities (by a broad jus sanguinis definition that purports to include even the descendants of people who emigrated a century before the PRC’s establishment), attempting to identify the CCP with all expressions of Chinese culture; another is to present a positive image of the Party-state’s leadership to non-Chinese-speaking foreigners, legitimising it as supported by the ruling élites of as many foreign states as possible. New Zealand’s politicians provide help towards both these goals.

According to a source with knowledge of the matter, recent requests from a CCP-unfriendly NZ Chinese organisation to have ministers send Chinese New Year greetings were reportedly redirected to Raymond Huo, effectively making the ruling party’s leading United Frontling, whose PRC-consonant views are wellknown, the government’s gatekeeper to contacts with the Chinese community. In contrast, ministers and other politicians didn’t hesitate to attend celebrations with PRC diplomats. In other words, the Party-state, through its local advocates, can vicariously veto official support for something as apolitical as a calendrical festivity, at least when the persons seeking such support happen to have Chinese surnames. Brady has quoted a “senior Chinese diplomat” as comparing New Zealand’s relations with China to Albania‘s dependence on the PRC during the ’60s; prophetically enough, Enver Hoxha’s name in Chinese (恩维尔·霍查) is interpretable as ‘[the Party’s] Benevolence (党恩) holds thee [and all else (Shi 191.3)] together; [Raymond] Huo inspects’.

chen_ji00.png
鸡犬立而吠。 Cerberus, immanis ianitor Factionis.

Source: KPDNKK.

Still in the Avian Year, NZ grandees offered the Party-state fulsome praise at international propaganda events. Last November, former National PM Dame Jenny Shipley attended Chau Chak Wing 周泽荣’s Imperial Springs Forum. Dame Jenny, further elevated to the dignity of a China Construction Bank (建设银行) employee, attended a post-forum audience with Xi Jinping in Beijing, where her praise of Xi and his Belt-and-Road Initiative made it into a People’s Daily piece proclaiming the world’s support for ‘the Chinese Approach (中国方案)’. National’s president, Peter Goodfellow, quoted as valuing “the Chinese” because “they don’t complain and they pay up“, sent a congratulatory message to the 19th Party Congress, as did his Labour counterpart, Nigel Haworth, who also showed up in person at the Auckland consulate to talk about “Xi Jinping’s wise leadership“. Haworth also attended an ‘interparty’ meeting between the CCP and assorted foreign parties in December; he praised Xi’s speech on camera for state media CGTN: “I think he is taking a very brave step, trying to lead the world to think about global challenges”. (Ironically, before becoming an apologist for an authoritarian regime that jails labour activitists, Haworth had an academic career specialising in Latin American labour movements. One has to wonder what insights from that field led him to develop a sincere admiration for the likes of Pinochet.)

Huo as unofficial gatekeeper and all the official Xi-fawning should suffice to illustrate how New Zealand’s main political parties actively work to advance key aspects of the CCP’s propaganda work.

Jobs for the Frontlings

New Zealand leads the world, not only thanks to its pioneering time zone, but in terms of official interaction with United Front organisations. The political determination to outsource Chinese constituents to CCP-affiliated groups isn’t limited to the ascent of United Frontlings Yang and Huo. When Brady’s report came out, Labour was running another ethnic Chinese candidate, Chen Naisi 陈耐锶. A law student who sounded like a candidate malgré soi (Brady quotes an interview where she claims to be “not in the least bit interested in politics“), Chen has an important position that might have justified Labour’s choice: the former presidency of the New Zealand Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA, 中国学生学者联合会) and current vice-same of its Auckland chapter. As we will see, Chen didn’t become an MP, but was appointed to a largely taxpayer-funded post of some significance.

The significance of Chen’s appointment might not be obvious to a casual observer. What’s so unusual about a student leader becoming moving into ‘grown-up’ politics, or about someone born in the PRC leading a primarily PRC student organisation? Unlike the well-connected politicians and officials described above, Chen has hardly begun a career, and is, by herself, not terribly influential in NZ-PRC relations. Some of her views, quoted below, are rather remarkable, but the significance of her post lies in her capacity as CSSA leader. In the following digression, I will detail how, while CSSA membership can have little to do with politics, leadership of a CSSA chapter implies a willingness to work under the direct ‘guidance’ of the Party-state, as well as a degree of ideological agreement with it, often subject to the evaluation and supervision of PRC diplomats. As will soon become clear, Party-state control over overseas student organisations is mandated by Party regulations, has been documented by specialised academics, is observable through state-media sources, and is readily declared by the organisations themselves, also in New Zealand. Not only is agreement with authoritarianism apparently compatible with mainstream New Zealand politics: a major party and a state-funded organisation actively seek to work with a United Front group, perhaps trying to ‘improve China ties’ by giving jobs to those (correctly) perceived as linked to the Party-state.

Correct guidance

CSSAs have been receiving some English-language attention of late, highlighting state connections that remain less than obvious to the non-Chinese-speaking public. In Australia, Alex Joske has been researching them for some time; see e.g. his piece with Wu Lebao 吴乐宝, and a fuller treatment in a section of the Hamilton-Joske parliament submission. Even a cursory look at CSSA Chinese-language websites will show that they’re typically established by the local consulates or embassies, that often contribute funding and ‘guidance’. For convenience, a wealth of screenshots showing these links, primarily in US universities, has been shared these days on a micro-blogging site, notably by Shawn Zhang 章闻韶. After a recent piece focusing on one particular instance of Embassy funding, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is working on a longer treatment [UPDATE (Mar 7): Allen-Ebrahimian’s piece, with contributed research by Shawn Zhang, is out; plenty of detail on American CSSAs, based on multiple inside sources.]. Chen’s organisation, the Auckland CSSA, fits in this picture: a 2012 state-media article describes the association as “under the correct guidance of the education section of the Auckland consulate”. CSSAs are an aspect of the Party-state ‘Diaspora Affairs’ (侨务 qiaowu). James To notes that education attachés at diplomatic outposts began establishing CSSAs to support and ‘guide’ students abroad so as to “raise their patriotism” soon after 1989, as part of a general turn to nationalism intended to prevent the reemergence of dissent. The 1992 “State Council General Office Circular on matters relating to students studying abroad” (国务院办公厅关于在外留学人员有关问题的通知(国办发[1992]44号)) is clear about these policies: Chinese students abroad are welcome (or, if on government scholarships, required) to return, and graciously forgiven if they have been associated with “organisations opposed to the Chinese government”; those who take foreign passports must renounce PRC citizenship and will be “treated as ethnic Chinese of foreign nationality” (i.e., within the purview of qiaowu work); embassies and consulates are instructed to support them, as well as inform them of “our country’s situation”; students must be “educated” to respect local laws while “loving the motherland, protecting its reputation and interests and earning glory for the country”.

While these directives have been systematically implemented for decades, the Xi Era’s emphasis on United Front work also includes a stronger engagement with students abroad. In May 2015, in a speech at the work meeting of the Central United Front Work Department, Xi referred to those who study abroad as a “new focus of United Front work“. Within days, state media was featuring the work of the CSSAs and quoting selected CSSA leaders worldwide who answered this “call from the Motherland”, while popularising the gist of the speech on social media.

Quotes from the speech continue to be repeated and elaborated in doctrinary writing. A recent example is this piece published on Party theory magazine Qiushi 求是 under the Marxist Theory Research and Construction Project (马克思主义理论研究和建设工程) analysing Xi Jinping’s thought on the United Front, again with the “new focus” dictum.

The Party Central Committee’s 2015 “Regulations of the Communist Party of China on United Front Work (for trial implementation)” (中国共产党统一战线工作条例(试行)) include students abroad and back from overseas within the purview of United Front work, highlighting the role of the Western Returned Scholars Association (WRSA, 欧美同学会(中国留学人员联谊会); a venerable association no longer restricted to those who studied in the ‘West’). The WRSA, a United Front organisation, is having its purview extended to include supporting and liaising with students abroad and their organisations, pursuant to a set of recommendations issued by the Party Central Committee in 2016, emphasised in suggestions by a government-affiliated think tank ‘partnered’ with the WRSA, with which its leadership overlaps, and visibly implemented in links to at least some CSSAs.

The Ministry of Education (typically responsible for ‘guiding’ CSSAs through the education sections at diplomatic missions), in a celebrated directive from its Party organisation calling for more patriotic education, also called for the propagation of Xi’s “Chinese Dream” to students overseas through a network linking “the Motherland—embassies and consulates—overseas students groups—broad numbers of students abroad” (original; NYT coverage).

While this firmly anchors student organisations in official state policy and United Front doctrine under Xi, a recent example can illustrate the importance of students overseas for Xiism and show coordinated state ‘guidance’ of the CSSAs at work.

The Muscovite Letter

On 30 December last year, Xi Jinping replied to a letter from the Moscow State University CSSA on such edifying topics as the spirit of the 19th Party Congress. Its authors included the MSU CSSA’s president, Lu Sentong 卢森通, a lawyer who has also held positions at the Russian Association for the Peaceful Reunification of China (a United Front group) and the Union of Chinese Students in Russia (中国留俄学生总会, Союз китайских учащихся в России), to whose presidency the embassy has just elevated him. The letter was reviewed and forwarded to Beijing by the Embassy. Xi’s reply stops at around 300 characters, mostly used to extol the role of the young in the Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation and setting up a parallel to Mao’s 1957 speech at the same university during his visit for the Moscow Conference.

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像早晨八九点钟的太阳。Inter ludis virgines, stellis nebulam candidis spargis.

Mao Zedong with diplomatic staff and student representatives at the Chinese embassy. Moscow, November 1957. Source.

State media found the missive newsworthy. On the very 30th, the letter was read on China Central Television, during the 7pm news (Xinwen lianbo 新闻联播). Selected students, including the CSSA leader, watched it live at the PRC embassy.

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Students including MSU CSSA leader Lu Sentong 卢森通 watch the Imperial reply to their letter read live on Xinwen lianbo. PRC embassy in Moscow, December 30th, 2017 (Source). As of press time, it’s unclear if prior warning existed that Xi’s missive, dated that very day, had been given, or if the students and diplomats just happened to dress like that and meet up at 2pm on a Saturday to watch the universally loved broadcast.

The People’s Daily published Xi’s reply on its front page the next day.

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People’s Daily, 31 December 2017.

Education sections of diplomatic missions worldwide then proceeded to organise study sessions with students and scholars under their jurisdiction, in order to analyse the ‘spirit’ of Xi’s reply. This process, involving CSSAs and other groups, was then widely reported by state media, government-affiliated sites and publications, and some of the associations themselves on their websites and social media. The WRSA, the United Front organisation given increased jurisdiction to liaise with those who study abroad, has also reported on these exegesis sessions; it also organised what could be seen as the Mother of All Muscovite Missive Exegetics Meetings, attended by Dai Junliang 戴均良, deputy director of the Central United Front Department. The exoprop system was also set in motion to bring the good news to foreigners, even including such foreign partners as TASS, thanks to its increasing cooperation with PRC media.

The spirit of the Moscow Letter was studied in Singapore, Sweden, the US, Finland, South Korea; in Moscow, again; and in Aukcland, where, already on 31 December, the Consulate arranged a forum with students and visiting scholars. (The Auckland session didn’t involve the CSSA, but a small group of students on government scholarships (公派), who are more often expected to participate in this kind of event.)

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Season’s Greetings: Auckland New Year’s Eve Xi-Exegetics session organised for students on government scholarships, by Consular injunction. The banner quotes Xi’s 19th Party Congress report, with one character missing I believe (source).

No such thing as a discounted lunch

The global pantomime set up to fête Xi’s 300-odd characters is only one example of centrally coordinated political work aimed at students overseas; similar events, including ‘study sessions’, took place at other junctures, such as, of course, during the Party Congress. Of course, this doesn’t imply that political work constitutes the bulk of CSSA activity, or even a significant or noticeable part of it, as experienced by most members. Much as in the case of other student groups, the point of CSSA membership is surely access to social events, various forms of support or such goodies as restaurant discount vouchers, rather than the privilege of attending study sessions with Their Excellencies. In many cases, as in the rather poorly attended New Year’s Eve Imperial Moscow Correspondence Exegesis Symposium in Auckland, or, say, the Party Congress study session at Australian National University, involving the relatively rare sight of a (possibly ad hoc) Party cell on foreign soil, political work is only for visiting scholars or students on state scholarships, sometimes not even involving the actual CSSAs. On special occasions, however, the broad masses of CSSA members can be summoned, and not a few will respond: Hamilton and Joske describe the embassy-organised rallies to welcome Li Keqiang to Australia in 2017, with “hundreds of students” who were trained, and assigned roles in groups that included “security squads”.

Like other external groups involved in United Front work, the CSSAs spend most of their time and resources on non-political activities that offer actually useful services to a certain non-Party social group of UF interest. Members can be attracted by any number of incentives, from ‘discounted lunches’ to patriotic spirit. On the other hand, leaders of such organisations are surely clear about their political role: they place themselves under the ‘guidance’ of the education section of the local diplomatic mission (as in the case of Chen’s Auckland organisation); their election sometimes even takes place on consulate premises; candidates can be subject to the approval of a consulate, or directly designated by the embassy. A CSSA leader such as Labour’s Chen Naisi can’t credibly claim independence from its ‘guiding’ entity.

Chen’s own public statements are worth quoting. Asked about the revelations about Yang Jian’s military past during an English-language interview before the election, she claimed they would have “increased the level of support for Yang from the Chinese community.” She thought the community would have “emphatised” with Yang. Since the ‘community’ was actually divided over Yang, Chen probably had in mind her own ’empathy’ for a political adversary. She added: “In China it’s very hard not to have anything to do with the Communist Party, or even the military regime itself. It’s part of the working life. The hospital, the schools are all part of the regime.” Such a statement is either trivial (state institutions are of course somehow related to the Party in a one-Party state), or false (it’s not particularly easy to become a CCP member, let alone to have a career at a PLA institution; Yang’s career has little in common to that of, say, an average SOE employee).

Hätt’ ich nicht so viel getanzt

Although Chen lost the election, thus succeeding in staying away from all the ‘uninteresting’ politics, she is an advisor to the New Zealand China Council, a partially taxpayer-funded “cross-sector, peak body for the New Zealand-China relationship”. Its Advisory Council also includes both United Frontling MPs, Yang and Huo. Led by a former official turned consultant without known Chinese expertise, the Council works as a lobbying group advocating Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, sometimes in cooperation with such organisations as Confucius Institutes (cf. a recent “Belt and Road Forum“, a genre affectionately known as BARF). His own website shows him performing a bowing dance, too cringey to reproduce here, in front of Li Keqiang 李克强, to his Premierial hilarity.

Chen Naisi is certainly politically junior to well-connected United Frontlings Yang and Huo, but her organisation’s profile and her own views leave no doubt that, by giving her such visible roles, Labour and the NZ China Council are signalling their acquiescence with relevant CCP policies. Labour, just like National, clearly agrees that the CCP’s United Front organisations have a natural right to represent New Zealand Chinese. The Council is also clear in its commitments; it has summarily dismissed the evidence of CCP political influence operations, and reaffirmed its advocacy of Xi Jinping’s geopolitical Initiative.

Conic relief

Soon after the revelations on Yang Jian and Brady’s report, Michael Reddell, an economist and former official, complained of the “cone of silence that seem[ed] to have descended over elite New Zealand” around Yang’s case. Indeed, Yang remains an MP, was consistently defended by Bill English, former PM and until recently leader of the National Party. I don’t think I’ve seen any senior Labour politician air the slightest criticism of a rival MP with a background in PLA intelligence. As seen above, senior politicians, officials and state-funded lobbyists continue to offer adulation to the Core and to advocate his Initiative. Local coverage has been modest, mostly limited to the work of one investigative journalist, Matt Nippert, at the nation’s paper of record, and some articles from news outlet Newsroom.

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原委如此。Conus insignis galeae cristaeque comantes. Source.

Brady was quickly placed under the cone. When Chris Finlayson, then the attorney general, was asked about Yang’s case and Brady’s work at a campaign event, he refused to “respond to any of the allegations” against Yang (which allegations Yang has confirmed himself) and proceeded to complain about “a whole class of people” being “singled out for racial abuse”, before insulting Brady: “I don’t think she likes any foreigners at all.” While her work has been quoted by scholars and journalists the world over, and was probably a key factor in initiating the current scrutiny of Chinese influence in the West, it has had little visible effect in her own country. Reactions came from state nationalistic tabloid Global Times (环球时报), which posted a piece through social media quoting NZ-based “young scholar” Ken Liu (Liu Yuxi 刘羽西) attacking Brady’s views (since she “lacks understanding of China and still looks at it using Cold-War thinking”). Liu is a member of the NZ China Friendship Society, as well as of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese (中国侨联), a United Front group. He has contributed praise of China’s political system to Skykiwi (天维网), a Chinese-language website linked to state media.

Ardern’s concerns

A more kinetic response followed. Brady had her office and house burgled. Laptops and phones were stolen, while “[[o]ther] valuables weren’t taken”. The burglaries did generate considerable press coverage; PM Jacinda Ardern expressed concern about possible links between the attack and Brady’s work, and announced she would “be asking some questions” of the intelligence service.

Whatever indignation the Relevant Burglaries might generate, New Zealand’s political, business and academic landscape makes it rather unlikely that the CCP’s influence operations will be seriously questioned. Ardern might be sincerely concerned about people being burgled, but, if my sources are to be believed, her government continues to keep a United Frontling as gatekeeper to Chinese-community interaction. Her party is presided by an apologist of totalitarian ‘wise leadership’. Her Loyal Opposition has even stronger CCP links, takes pride on its PLA-intel man; National, and so perhaps one day the government, might [UPDATE: not so] soon be led by Judith Collins, the peculiar business background of whose family couldn’t be freely discussed when she was a minister, and could become fully taboo under her premiership.

As observant readers might have noticed, Brady’s surname pops up rather frequently in this and other accounts of Zelanian United-Frontics. Brady is a well-known scholar and has pioneered the subject, but it’s rather unusual to see almost no one else broach the topic. New Zealand has, after all, a fair number of Sinologists; their silence speaks volumes. Discussion of CCP influence elsewhere has led to vigorous debate, while in New Zealand it’s just Brady. Brady, shm(r)ady!

More generally, nothing suggests a change is imminent in the monolingual, monocultural majority élite’s view of China (and everyone and everything ‘Chinese’) as an exotic totum that will rain deals, junkets and votes on you if you just help it conceal its dirty laundry, ape the lingo of its eternal Leader, entertain it with a mock-Asian bowing dance and show it your stupeur et tremblements. While an obvious improvement over ethnic prejudice, this is still intellectual laziness. Our favourite Frontlings know how to play the ‘inscrutable’ card to the China-naïve: when confirming he hid his background from the public, Yang Jian said the “system” in China was too “complicated”; Raymond Huo called his prosaic Xi-speak election motto “an auspicious Chinese idiom”; Chen Naisi explains Yang’s background as just everyday life in China, comparing PLA intel-school staff to rank-and-file SOE employees. If you don’t know Chinese, can’t find China on a map of China, and are too lazy to learn, those are acceptable responses. Such organisations as the NZ China Council, ~⅔-funded by the public to play a role in engaging with a major trade partner, are led by the China-illiterate, and effectively outsource all thinking tasks to advocates of the entity they’re meant to engage. When it comes to China, common sense is suspended; or do how-to-negotiate books sold at Wellington Station teach you to let the other side do your due diligence for you?

As it continues to slide down the BARF-y Road, New Zealand is worth keeping an eye on for those interested in United Front Work and techniques for coopting Western élites. Since no policy change seems likely, one should expect United Frontlings and the motley prancing lobbyhood will at least stay funny. Huo’s borderline-onanistic Xi-speak campaign slogan is admittedly hard to beat, but the ever-gushing geyser of what Barmé calls New China Newspeak will hopefully produce something on time for the next election. Should the Nats need an advisor, I might try and merge Holyoake’s “Steady does it” into Xi’s Donkey Theory (驴论); but there’s surely more potential in an amalgam of Xi’s rerefloatment of Mao’s “Knife Handle [in the Party-and-people’s hands]” (党和人民手中的刀把子) and Judith Collins’ “I stab from the [F]ront”.

This concise introduction to the Backyard piece will now continue across the Ditch.

1. The cis-Tasman yard

NZ: kauri and cowries [copiously UPDATED]

[UPDATE (Feb 2): The investigation on the pipe rupture has finished, the Northern Advocate reports. An unknown illegal swamp digger “may have” triggered the damage. No one will be prosecuted.]

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:

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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.

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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.

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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’.)

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Another Kauri offer from 2015.

A closer look:

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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,

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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).

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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.

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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.

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.

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Yang Jian 杨健

 

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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.

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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.