Two men who were killed in a crash near Tokoroa on Tuesday were driving to Parliament to petition the Government about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Taupō police confirmed that 47-year-old Yuezhong Wang and 48-year-old Weiguo Xi died after the three-car crash on State Highway 1.
Both men were from Auckland.
Three others were left seriously injured in the crash near Galaxy Rd, about 1pm on Tuesday.
Police say a "careful and thorough investigation will follow" to determine why the crash occurred.
"An initial assessment of the scene indicates a northbound vehicle has crossed the centre line, glancing a southbound vehicle in the process before colliding head-on with a third vehicle."
Victims 'hugely influential'
Close friend and Canterbury University professor Anne-Marie Brady told the Rotorua Daily Post the men who died and another who was left critically injured were "hugely influential members of the New Zealand Chinese community".
Wang Lecheng had been a member of the Independent Chinese Pen and Xi Weiguo was the chairman of the Federation of a Democratic China in New Zealand.
The third, Yu Hongming, was recovering in the intensive care unit in Waikato Hospital and was the Secretary General of the New Zealand Values Alliance.
"They were on their way to present a petition to the Government asking them to take the issue of CCP political interference in New Zealand's democracy seriously," Brady said.
She said the "accident is a terrible tragedy" and the deaths were a "huge loss to civil society in our New Zealand Chinese community".
"These people are so important and brave. They stand up for the silent majority and the New Zealand Chinese community. It is really scary for them."
Brady said there was speculation within the Chinese community that the crash could have been a form of "sabotage", but she had been assured by police they would be checking all avenues in their investigation.
"For many, their first thought was that of fear."
She said now they were all "really worried" about Yu Hongming.
She said she had spoken to a good friend of Yu Hongming who had visited him in the hospital and he was "doing okay".
The three men were "very brave" in standing up and petitioning against the CCP and their part in the country's election, she said.
A police statement said inquiries were ongoing to establish the circumstances of the crash.
The Chinese Embassy in New Zealand said it had contacted government agencies to confirm whether Chinese citizens were involved in the crash and was awaiting a response.
MPs ask about 'sabotage'
Brady appeared before MPs at Parliament's justice select committee today and was asked about the crash.
To a question from Labour MP Clare Curran, Brady said "there's a lot of debate in our Chinese community, [which is] very, very worried that there could have been sabotage involved in the accident", TVNZ reported.
Brady said she had expressed her fears to police and explained why there might be concerns.
"Whether there is [sabotage] or not, the fact that that was an instant response of the people in that community shows how vulnerable they feel, how unsafe they feel."
Police were still investigating the crash and Brady said they should consider all possibilities.
"If they didn't know to look for sabotage, perhaps they wouldn't look for this," she said.