Political science professor Anne-Marie Brady created a stir in New Zealand public policy circles last year when she published a paper on the various ways in which the People's Republic of China tries to influence our government and use it to promote China's interests in the world. There may be nothing remarkable about that but last week before an Australian parliamentary committee she mentioned she has since suffered several burglaries.
Her office at Canterbury University was burgled in December and last week her home was the target. Her computers, phones and a USB stick were taken. She says her sources in China have been interrogated by state security officials there. The Prime Minister, rightly concerned about the break-ins, said on Monday she would "certainly be asking some questions" of the New Zealand intelligence agencies.
The does not imply a New Zealand agency is responsible, though it is possible. Brady's work will be seen in official quarters as damaging to New Zealand's relations with China. But the break-ins at her home and office should be of even more interest to the Security Intelligence Service if China's agents or expatriates are involved.
Either way, it would be a particularly foolish thing to do as part of an attempt to discredit her. For that reason, the possibility that the break-ins were the work of ordinary criminals cannot be ruled out. But whoever did it has drawn attention to the warnings she has been giving for the past six months. Brady, who speaks Mandarin, believes New Zealand is too receptive to China's influence peddling which involves political donations, cultivating respected public figures and using them to promote China's global interests.
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She published her paper just before last year's election and both party leaders played down her concerns. Bill English said, "I don't see any obvious sign of things that are inappropriate." Jacinda Ardern noted Australia had launched an inquiry into foreign political interference and said she would be following it with interest. Brady's testimony of burglaries has got her attention.
The burglaries are indeed more worrying than her thesis. New Zealand has extremely good relations with China. This was the first Western country to forge diplomatic relations with the communist state, in 1972, and more recently the first to sign a free-trade agreement with it. These steps were as valuable to New Zealand economically as they were to China's international acceptance.
Now China is keen to take up the regional trade leadership the United States has surrendered with its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. New Zealand supports China's alternative trade pact proposals and its "belt and road" initiative, as every small trading nation should. But we should support it with our eyes open. China's political culture is not the same, critics are not tolerated, scrutiny not always welcome, loyalty is expected of Chinese everywhere.
Brady's concerns are valid and almost as important as her right to raise them unmolested.