A National Party MP who studied at an elite Chinese spy school before moving to New Zealand has attracted the interest of our Security Intelligence Service.
The list MP Jian Yang did not mention in his work or political CVs a decade he spent in the People’s Liberation Army-Air Force Engineering College or the Luoyang language institute run by China’s equivalent of the United States National Security Agency.
That agency, the Third Department, conducts spying activities for China.
Newsroom has been told that to have taught at the Air Force Engineering College, Yang would have almost certainly been an officer in Chinese military intelligence and a member of the Communist Party, as other students and staff have been.
Yang studied and then taught there before moving to Australia where he attended the Australian National University in Canberra. He migrated to this country to teach international relations in the politics department at the University of Auckland.
He was hand-picked by National Party president Peter Goodfellow to become an MP on its list in 2011, wooed directly by the former Prime Minister John Key and has been a key fundraiser for National among the Chinese community in Auckland.
As an MP he variously served on Parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (from 2014 until last year), Commerce, Transport and Industrial Relations and Health and Science select committees and is prominent in New Zealand’s interactions with the Chinese community and diplomatic and consular missions in Wellington and Auckland. He remains a Parliamentary Private Secretary for ethnic affairs.
Newsroom has worked with the Financial Times in Hong Kong to investigate Yang’s background.
We can reveal Yang confirmed in a recorded interview in Chinese with the Financial Times that he attended both military institutions.
In his comments to the FT researcher, Yang twice urged her to concentrate on the New Zealand election. “You don’t need to write too much about myself,” he said, adding later: “As for me myself, actually I don’t feel it’s necessary to include so many detailed things.”
Interviewed today, by Newsroom, Yang refused to comment, saying repeatedly on camera: “Talk to my boss” and “I have nothing to hide”. He then drove away.
Yang later released a statement saying he refuted “any allegations that question my loyalty to New Zealand”.
The statement said he had been “nothing but upfront and transparent” about his education and employment.
Yang challenged those who were “propagating these defamatory statements” to front up and prove them.
“This is a smear campaign by nameless people who are out to damage me and the National Party 10 days from an election, just because I am Chinese.”
An expert in Chinese intelligence Peter Mattis told Newsroom from the US that someone who attended and then taught at the Air Force Engineering College and attended the language institute would almost certainly have been an officer in China’s PLA and member of the Communist Party.
Newsroom understands New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service has scrutinised him at times over three years, including interviewing one person about him last year.
The SIS said today it would not comment on operational matters, especially investigations involving individuals.
A hearing of Parliament’s Privileges Committee into intelligence surveillance protocols for MPs occurred in late 2013. If an intelligence agency has cause to monitor an MP, the SIS director or Inspector-General of Intelligence is to brief the Speaker of the House. The Privileges Committee, chaired at the time by Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, polices contempts, which can include anything that could impede or restrict the rights of MPs to conduct their business unimpeded.
The FT goes on:
Openness, diversity and tolerance are the greatest strengths of the world’s liberal democracies. But to autocratic regimes like China, these same attributes are vulnerabilities ripe for exploitation.
…It is entirely possible that Jian Yang, an MP for New Zealand’s governing National Party since 2011, severed all ties with Chinese military intelligence when he left China in 1994 and has had no contact with any Chinese agents since then. But the fact he was able to enter parliament with very little scrutiny and serve on a committee overseeing foreign affairs, defence and trade, and that his education and military intelligence background appeared nowhere on his official biographies in New Zealand, raises some troubling questions.
…In response to reports about his military intelligence background, Mr Yang has suggested he is being “smeared” purely because he is Chinese. This defence goes to the heart of the problem facing liberal democracies. All citizens in these countries should feel safe from being profiled and targeted by intelligence agencies just because of their ethnic background or the country they were born in.
Strong protections of human rights and personal privacy clearly differentiate a country like New Zealand from China, where the ruling Communist party carries out unchecked surveillance on a massive scale and assumes all non-Chinese in the country are potential foreign spies.
It is also true that many western countries, including New Zealand, have an uncomfortable history of racism towards immigrants from certain places, including China. But it is hard for Mr Yang to argue he is being targeted because of his ethnicity rather than the decade he spent training and teaching in some of China’s top military and intelligence institutions. The fact he has consistently advocated international policies that match those of the People’s Republic of China, and that he appears to work closely on many issues with the Chinese embassy in New Zealand, makes his military intelligence background even more relevant.
If he was from, say, Italy, had trained and taught for a decade in Italian military intelligence academies and then became an MP in New Zealand who regularly spoke out on behalf of Italian interests, it would be equally problematic.
It is also hard for Mr Yang to argue that reporting on his background 10 days before a general election in New Zealand is somehow racist persecution when he has gone to some lengths to conceal his past from the general voting public.
But not from Bill English apparently, which is not a great look for a struggling incumbent:
This goes to Australia’s dual citizenship debate. Vetting of parliamentary candidates has never been more important than today. And those trying to undermine it should leave Canberra pronto.