It would be surprising if our intelligence agencies were not spying on China in some way.

By law there is a path cleared for the GCSB and SIS to carry out intelligence gathering on foreign states. There are even legal exceptions which would allow the sort of "data link" exploit planned for two Chinese government offices in Auckland, revealed in documents obtained by Edward Snowden.

The law also says such intelligence gathering must be to support the "national security of New Zealand", the "international relations and well-being of New Zealand" and "the economic well-being of New Zealand".

The issue which does arise is our motivations for doing so - and whether those are purely New Zealand's motivations. A National Security Agency document, among other material taken by Snowden, states that the GCSB "continues to be especially helpful in its ability to provide NSA ready access to areas and countries that are difficult for the United States to access".


In essence, our relationship with China is of use to the US and allows New Zealand to operate as a Trojan Horse - or even Trojan Kiwi - for NSA intelligence gathering efforts.

We present internationally as a proud, South Pacific country which is forging its own principled path through history. In our bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, Prime Minister John Key said: "New Zealand has an independent foreign policy outlook that listens to and respects the views of other countries." Our branding for the bid carried the words: "Integrity, independence, innovation."

It appears, from the Snowden documents, our "independent foreign policy" is supported by a dependence on the Five Eyes intelligence network of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States.

As Mr Key has made clear, there is a "price" for being in this "club". The structure of Five Eyes shows who runs the "club" - the US is the sole country with the status of "first partner" with the other four countries accorded "second partner" status.

Membership means US interests are our interests and, hopefully, our interests are US interests.

There were similar revelations in Canada of the NSA enjoying advantage through the benign international image of its Five Eyes partners. There, the Canadian spy agency set up surveillance posts in countries which would have been less welcoming of the US. An NSA briefing document stated: "CSEC shares with the NSA their unique geographic access to areas unavailable to the US."

Successive Prime Ministers have said New Zealand gets a great deal more our of the relationship than we contribute. What is unclear is what our contribution might be.

The collaboration appears to be built on exchanges of the sort outlined in Snowden documents: sniffing out a Chinese government data link on Great South Road in Auckland and alerting the NSA's elite hacker squad to its existence; getting the US access to into countries where we are welcome but it might not be; giving the CIA details on targets in Bangladesh where that South Asian nation's security forces allegedly practice murder and torture; passing "full take" collection from the Pacific to the NSA for storage and analysis.


Is it sharing or trading? Is it the "price of the club" which, if we don't pay, we don't benefit?

Former Prime Minister David Lange carved a path for an independent foreign policy on nuclear weapons. He said in the famous Oxford debate "we have been told by some officials in the United States administration that our decision (to be nuclear-free) is not, as they put it, to be cost-free; that we are in fact to be made to pay for our action".

It was a threat made, said Lange, "not by our enemies, but by our friends".

If we tap the Chinese data link ourselves - assuming we are capable and it is worth the effort - and don't pass on information, do our Five Eyes partners refuse to tell us of terror plots in our backyard?

There is no reason these issues could not be debated more widely.

Mr Key said today nations do not talk about intelligence gathering - a statement not supported by recent activity abroad. Australia held a senate inquiry into the surveillance.

The British Intelligence and Security Committee recently released a detailed account of the intrusive capabilities of its intelligence agencies.

The European Parliament heard extensive testimony during its inquiry into the NSA from a number intelligence agency professionals.

New Zealand has its own inquiry to come. United Future Peter Dunne voted for the new GCSB Act secure in the knowledge he had won from Mr Key a regular inquiry into the activities of the security agencies, the first due to begin prior to the end of June 2015.

Presumably the inquiry will see New Zealand talking about the activities of its security agencies.

As a forum, its a good place to answer the question about our Trojan Kiwi spying on China.

If the nation is making trade-offs, does the nation need to know?