A bit of background on the nice fella Simon Bridges didn't accept money from:
To be fair , he's not the only bad banana in the bunch.
It is a little hard to believe that someone who established himself here, clearly has considerable resources at his disposal, but can’t even be bothered learning English (he isn’t some struggling 80 year old on a parent visa, say), has the interests of New Zealand primarily at heart, when liaising with or donating to, political parties. Do you really not have to know even conversational English nowadays to become a citizen? Perhaps when he returns to Auckland someone could ask him, through a translator, about whether he has anything negative to say about the brutal regime whose diplomats he hangs out with, and whose foreign policy initiatives he seems to have helped advance?
And, of course, if this particular case puts the spotlight on National, it was Labour/New Zealand First who awarded the man’s honour, and when Labour was last in government there was the infamous case of the award of citizenship to a donor, against the strong recommendation of officials. And, look, the minister involved is a Cabinet minister today.
National seems to have been particularly effective at tapping the ethnic Chinese donor “market” in recent years. They were in government. One can only imagine how the Labour fundraisers are now looking at the possibilities, and that any such approaches are likely to fall on receptive ears. Is Labour willing to resist the temptation? Probably not judging by the willingness of the party hierarchy to praise the CCP and Xi Jinping. Oh, and there was the large donation to Phil Goff’s mayoral campaign from the mainland.
A few months ago, I reported this from a (Chatham House rules) seminar I was invited to
There was clear unease, from people in a good position to know, about the role of large donations to political parties from ethnic minority populations – often from cultures without the political tradition here (in theory, if not always observed in practice in recent decades) that donations are not about purchasing influence. One person observed that we had very much the same issues Australia was grappling with (although our formal laws are tighter than the Australian ones). Of ethnic Chinese donations in particular, the description “truckloads” was used, with a sense that the situation is almost “inherently unhealthy”. With membership numbers in political parties dropping, and political campaigning getting no less expensive, this ethnic contribution (and associated influence seeking) issue led several participants to note that they had come round to favouring serious consideration of state funding of political parties. I remain sceptical of that approach – especially the risk of locking in the position of the established parties, or locking out parties the establishment doesn’t like – but it was sobering to hear.
What is the issue? It isn’t that New Zealand citizens, of whatever ethnic background, shouldn’t be able to donate to political parties. The concern in the PRC context is that (a) the donors themselves are often dependent (their own businesses) on continued access to the PRC, and often have families back there exposed to the (not very) tender mercies of the party-State, (b) the extent of PRC Embassy and related United Front organisation influence on the local ethnic Chinese community, and (c) the not-unrelated risk of the flow of donations drying up should the recipient party ever do or say anything upsetting to Beijing. The PRC regime is of a character, and determination, not like the home countries of most of our other migrants.
Yikun Zhang himself seems almost peripheral to Jami-Lee Ross’s concerns/allegations, as reported so far. But I hope that the incidential disclosure of his name, and apparent close relations with the National Party (in particular) will help to spark a more honest conversation about the flow of Chinese money to political parties, in the context of a more realistic assessment of the nature of the regime, its methods, its interest. And, on the other hand, a renewed demand for a much greater degree of integrity – a willingness to say no, just occasionally, to stand for the values the underpinned our political system for a long time – among our politicians and political processes. It wasn’t that hard, in the end, to get rid of Jami-Lee Ross. What about Jian Yang?
Sadly, we can expect more silence, more complicity, and not just from the National Party, but from every single one of our parties and their leaders.