A prominent academic is urging the new Government to direct the country's Security and Intelligence Service to investigate China's local activities.
University of Canterbury professor Anne-Marie Brady, internationally-recognised for her work translating China's propaganda campaigns, made the call for New Zealand to follow Australia's lead in a policy brief published today.
"It is time to face up to some of the political differences and challenges in the New Zealand-China relationship, including the impact on our democracy of Chinese political interference," Brady said.
"When our national interests may be threatened, the government should be prepared to weather temporary short-term blow-back, for long-term political and economic gains."
Australia's department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and ASIO - its equivalent of our SIS - have both investigated and pushed back publicly at the growing influence of China on domestic politics.
Brady said China's "covert, corrupting and coercive political influence activities in New Zealand are now at a critical level".
The brief follows Brady's publication in the United States in September of extensive research outlining the links between China's broad diplomatic and economic "united front" influence campaign and a number of former New Zealand politicians and their families.
Brady said China under the leadership of Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping - who consolidated his power at the party's recent congress - has been more assertive and was seeking to become a "global great power and is seeking change in the global order".
She said the CCP's international influence-peddling was at levels not seen since 1949, when the party was seeking international legitimacy during an ultimately successful civil war to assert control of China.
"The CCP's united front activities incorporate co-opting elites, information management, persuasion, and accessing strategic information and resources. It has also frequently been a means of espionage," she said.
Brady said New Zealand was of interest to China due to our influence in the Pacific and Antarctica and access to arable land, dairy and oil resources.
The "united front" approach had co-opted New Zealand's ethnic Chinese community and now dominated local Chinese-language media and institutions, threatening local citizens' rights to freedom of speech, association and religion, she said.
"Not to address the issue of the CCP's efforts to control this group of New Zealanders is to ignore the basic human rights of 200,000 of our own people."
Brady said the National Government's approach of "getting the political relationship right" had succeeded in developing "extensive and intimate political links" but had encouraged the united front approach and this should be moderated.
Adopting a phrase from Chinese diplomacy, she called on the new government to "light a new stove", including the drafting of new laws tightening political donations
Brady contrasted the current era with the Cold War years, where Soviet influence was understood and closely monitored.
"But several decades have passed since the Cold War ended in Europe, and political elites in New Zealand appear to be unprepared for the new battle for influence coming from China," she said.
Mark Stokes, of the United States-based public policy group Project 2049 Institute, told Newsroom via email that Brady's recent paper outlines a "united front work doctrine" that seemingly guided Chinese influence in the United States.
Stokes said in part the doctrine aimed at to mobilising support for CCP policies on controversial issues like Taiwan, Tibet, Falungong and the so-called "One Belt One Road" policy.