COMMENT:

Much has been said about the importance of the good relationship between New Zealand and China but this is not to deny real differences in our values and political systems. That's why we need a quality, critical and independent debate about our differences and challenges.

However, there are at least two problems in this geopolitical space. First, as commentators in this newspaper have observed, "There is an anti-China narrative starting to emerge in New Zealand. But in New Zealand it's a debate thick with insinuation and scant on evidence." Secondly, the prevalence of political and racial stereotypes in this debate — someone needs only to utter certain words to gain expected traction.

According to media reports, a number of Chinese community leaders and I have featured in Professor Anne-Marie Brady's research on China's influence in New Zealand. Her paper Magic Weapons reportedly "named Huo as someone who [works closely] with PRC representatives in New Zealand". Those claims against me have appeared regularly in regurgitated media copy ever since. Some of the "evidence" is ridiculous and shall I say, entertaining. One has to wonder whether that research has been peer reviewed at all. For instance, one of the so-called facts provided in Professor Brady's paper against me is that I translated Labour's campaign slogan "Let's Do This" into a combination of two well-known Chinese phrases meaning "roll up your sleeves" and "work hard". The only problem was that it happened to be used by China's President Xi Jinping in one of his keynote speeches. I was therefore accused of promoting President Xi's agenda.

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As a Chinese-born MP, I have always regarded it as a privilege to serve in the House of Representatives and it is sad that each time this issue arises, one's loyalty and identity are called into question.

The latest bout was on March 7. The Justice Committee I chair was said to have denied Anne-Marie Brady the opportunity to make a submission on foreign interference in elections. This is not true. As part of the committee's triannual inquiry, we were asked to look at the resilience of our electoral system against foreign interference risks. We had agreed to ask the SIS and GCSB to talk to us before deciding whether to re-open submissions or update the terms of reference. (They are meeting us this week.)

The committee received an email from Professor Brady asking whether she could make a late submission. Dr Nick Smith moved a motion to support the request. His National colleagues voted for it and my colleagues and I voted against it. This was purely procedural and is consistent with the committee's policy regarding late submissions. We were considering urgent business (including bills with report-back dates due) and did not plan to have a thorough discussion about it.

Dr Smith chose to make this internal procedural matter public and pre-empt our discussions about it. He claimed the Labour members would not have allowed Professor Brady to make a late submission had he not done so. Dr Smith must have assumed that being a Chinese-born MP, I would not want to hear from Professor Brady. He is wrong in three respects.

Firstly, as outlined above, I am interested in seeing the evidence submitted and scrutinised. I would also recuse myself from the Justice Committee on this issue to avoid any perceived conflict of interest.

Second, many Chinese community leaders were named in Professor Brady's paper and the community certainly wants to know more about the nature of any foreign interference.

Third, the business connections of a large number of current and former National Party politicians came under scrutiny. Many people wish to hear more from Professor Brady on this issue.

The anti-China narrative is an easy story to tell, and may however easily tap into an unintended prejudice against the Kiwi Chinese community that has been settled here for over 150 years.

It is not only about Chinese. More than 200 ethnic communities call modern New Zealand home. Robust debate, not stereotyping or sweeping generalisations, will help examine the real issues.

Raymond Huo is a Labour list MP based in Auckland. Opinions expressed in this article are his own.