Jian Yang was a worried man when he called me on Tuesday June 30, 2020.
The former National MP — codenamed "the spy" by some in his caucus due to the fact that he once taught military intelligence officers English communication skills within China — was under pressure from his party's new leader Todd Muller.
National's leadership was insistent Yang make himself available for interviews with mainstream media since Jack Tame's TVNZ Q&A show the prior Sunday had yet again showed him refusing reporter Whena Owen's requests for an interview.
With an election at that stage pending in mid-September, it was hardly a good look that the only media Yang was prepared to talk with were Chinese.
Nor, too, the fact that former National chief whip Jami-Lee Ross was among four defendants facing Serious Fraud Office charges over Chinese-linked donations to the party.
National may not have been able to hose down the latter issue, but it could do something about Yang.
I later met with the former MP down at Parliament.
The points he made to me then — and had said he was prepared to say publicly in an interview to be set up with Herald journalists — were that he had never been interviewed by the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) about his earlier career in China.
Irrespective of the initial Financial Times revelations of his military links and later disclosures by the Herald that he had not revealed these links in his New Zealand citizenship application, the SIS had not called him up for an interview.
Nearly two years later that still seems ridiculous. If security agencies believed there was a potential intelligent threat from having Yang and Labour's former MP Raymond Huo in Parliament, why would they not talk with them?
Yang had previously admitted teaching students English at the People's Liberation Army-Air Force Engineering College, a Chinese military university, and had spent time at the Luoyang Language Institute, run by the Third Department, which has been reported as carrying out spying activities for China.
National had quietly withdrawn him as a member of the parliamentary foreign affairs select committee after the earlier disclosures, though Yang maintained his services were instead needed on the education committee, which reflected his prior experience as a leading academic in New Zealand.
Yang had also previously admitted to being a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) while in China. But he told me in 2020 he no longer held CCP membership and was a loyal New Zealand citizen.
Among other views he was prepared to canvass was his belief that Professor Anne-Marie Brady exaggerated claims that she had been burgled to position herself internationally. He knew Brady from the Australian National University and had previously supported her for a grant.
When it came to his own parliamentary role, he believed National had found it useful to use him to open high-level doors in China, particularly for former Prime Minister Sir John Key.
He had helped National to build links with the Chinese community in New Zealand. He was also involved with the Next Federation. This group had forged strong links with Chinese provincial governments and has been useful to some major NZ corporates.
Yang said he was prepared to work through his life story and "answer all of the Herald's questions".
He reckoned the prior leadership of the National Party — including Key and National Party president Peter Goodfellow — had told him not to front the media and to let issues lie. But Muller had a different approach and wanted him to talk.
The wheels were put in motion for him to talk with myself and Herald investigative journalist Matt Nippert. Yang went back to his advisers.
We had scheduled the interview for July 8. But Yang pulled back and on July 10 announced his retirement from politics.
This week Politik website editor Richard Harman revealed National and Labour made a two-party deal in mid-2020 to withdraw from politics two MPs who were said to have overly close relationships with China.
In previous high-level briefings held under the Chatham House rule, it has been obvious that New Zealand's intelligence community was concerned about the way in which both major political parties had chased Chinese-linked political donations.
In Yang's case, he has also been out of line forging an itinerary for former National Leader Simon Bridges in China — including with a member of the Chinese Politburo. Such an itinerary should have had strong involvement from NZ's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and former National foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee.
While this may have been done with the best of intentions, it just meant more controversy.
As for Labour's Raymond Huo, he had come to New Zealand in 1994 and worked as a Herald journalist before taking legal studies at the University of Auckland. He was twice a Labour MP.
Huo is personable, but he was also out of line when he endeavoured to prevent Parliament's justice committee, which he then chaired, from taking a submission from Brady in its foreign interference inquiry.
It will have done no harm for National or Labour for this history to surface on the eve of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's visit to Queenstown for annual talks with Jacinda Ardern.
The real compact that Labour and National need to make is to clean up the political donations environment.
Not simply quiet moves to withdraw MPs who may (or may not) have presented a threat.