Tauranga councillor Larry Baldock has been accused of going too far to protect the city's relationship with China by seeking to delete controversial references to China from the official record of a council meeting.
Baldock sought to remove some of what Tauranga Falun Gong practitioner Judy Shakespear told the council on December 19.
It included encouraging the council to obtain information on organ harvesting during its visits to Tauranga's sister city of Yantai in China.
But when the minutes of the meeting went to be confirmed at last week's council meeting, Baldock sought to edit the record that summarised what she said.
''We don't need to go into that sort of detail, given our sister city relationship,'' Baldock told last week's council meeting.
The minutes of the December 19 meeting quoted Shakespear as saying the ''Chinese regime was carrying out genocide'' and that ''organ harvesting was occurring on a regular basis''. The minutes said Shakespear ''provided examples of Communist Party allegiance by Chinese living in New Zealand'' and ''outlined the negative and far-reaching impact of communism''.
Mayor Greg Brownless said the minutes were meant to be a report of what took place. Councillor Max Mason said they were Shakespear's personal views.
Baldock agreed that Shakespear did say these things. ''But I don't think there was any support for that around this table.''
Referring to future council-led delegations to Yantai, Baldock told Brownless: ''You will be going there, so good luck.''
Baldock received no backing from the rest of the council and the matter lapsed. Minutes of meetings were regularly corrected or amended when councillors spotted inaccuracies or omissions.
Interviewed after the meeting, Baldock said he knew how sensitive the Chinese were and if they saw the minutes, they would not understand that the council ran public forums in which anyone could speak.
Just because someone came to talk to the council it did not mean the council supported what they were saying, he said.
Baldock said his primary concern was the reference to the council being asked to take up the matter of organ harvesting on its next sister city visit to Yantai.
Pressed on whether he wanted to delete other comments from the official minutes, Baldock said he was also talking about other points made by Shakespear. There was no obligation to report everything people said at forums.
He said the issues raised by Shakespear were best left to central government to deal with, so the council could focus on making sure that its sister city relationships were effective.
''What I was proposing had nothing to do with censorship. It was an item that was not part of the formal council agenda.
''Do we need to minute everything that was said or only note who was speaking and the general topic. I hope it will lead to changes about how we instruct staff to record the items of public forums in our minutes.'' Baldock said.
Shakespear responded to the Bay of Plenty Times that in her opinion, people like Larry would do whatever they could to protect relations with China - the relationship came first.
''So morals or ethics or doing the right thing does not come into it, and that is what I find disturbing,'' she said.
Shakespear said she accepted that what she was saying was unpalatable to a lot of people.
It was unfortunate that people who enjoyed the freedoms of the West were willing to support what she described as a ''cruel and oppressive'' Chinese regime.
''I was not asking councillors to disengage from their sister city relationship but to have the courage to question their Chinese counterparts about the organ harvesting and to ask where the organs were coming from,'' she said.
Shakespear said she was a practitioner of Falun Gong whose members were being incarcerated in China in their thousands for their beliefs. The core beliefs of Falun Gong are truthfulness, kindness and tolerance.
Candy Yan, the president of the Bay of Plenty Chinese Business and Commerce Association, said she sometimes had meetings and attended functions at China's New Zealand embassy and she was confident that if the council explained it was a record of a meeting and one person's opinion, it would not be a problem for sister city delegations.
She did not understand China's government systems enough to know whether they would see the council's minutes or what they would think.
Yan understood Baldock's intention but she did not think it would be a problem. ''From my understanding of the system here, I wouldn't think anything - I would know it was a public forum and one person's opinion.''
The Bay of Plenty Times was unsuccessful in trying to get a response from China's New Zealand Embassy to Shakespear's criticism.
- Combines meditation with the moral philosophy articulated by founder Li Hongzhi.
- Li travelled throughout China giving seminars from 1992-94.
- His first lectures outside mainland China took place in Paris in 1995.
- Li has resided permanently in the United States since 1998.
- Practised in 70 countries and translated into over 40 languages.