New Zealand MP 'probed over close China links'

Dr Yang Jian, a China-born MP for the ruling National Party since 2011, speaking to the media yesterday. He said the allegations of his being a spy for Beijing are part of a "smear campaign" to damage him and his party before New Zealand's general el
Dr Yang Jian, a China-born MP for the ruling National Party since 2011, speaking to the media yesterday. He said the allegations of his being a spy for Beijing are part of a "smear campaign" to damage him and his party before New Zealand's general election on Sept 23.PHOTO: 1 NEWS

He denies being a spy after Financial Times report details his extensive ties with Beijing's intelligence community

WELLINGTON • A China-born Member of Parliament in New Zealand has been investigated by the country's national intelligence agency over his decade-long links with elite Chinese military colleges, the Financial Times reported.

Dr Yang Jian, 55, who has been an MP for the ruling National Party since 2011, yesterday denied allegations of being a Beijing spy.

He called himself a victim of a "smear campaign by nameless people" out to damage him and the party just before the Sept 23 general election, which is expected to be a tight race.

Dr Yang had spent more than a decade training and teaching at institutions, including China's top language academy for military intelligence officers, before he left the country at 32, the FT reported, in a joint investigation with Newsroom, an independent New Zealand- based media group.

In its report, Newsroom said he went to Australia and attended the Australian National University before moving to New Zealand, where he taught international relations at the University of Auckland.

National Party leader and Prime Minister Bill English and party president Peter Goodfellow, who recruited Dr Yang in 2011, both said that they were aware of his military background.

TEACHER OF SPIES?

If you define those cadets or students as spies, yes, then I was teaching spies.

DR YANG JIAN, acknowledging that he had taught people who had gone on to become Chinese intelligence officers.

Mr Goodfellow said he had "no idea" about any Security Intelligence Service probe, while Mr English did not comment.

Dr Yang has been a key fund-raiser for the party among the the country's large Chinese community. He served on the parliamentary select committee for foreign affairs, defence and trade from October 2014 until March last year.

FT said he "has consistently pushed for closer ties" with China, and also "for international policies that echoed those of the Chinese Communist Party".

New Zealand, together with the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia, are members of the "Five Eyes" intelligence network.

FT said no other Western nation was known to have a sitting MP with such extensive links to China's intelligence community. The revelation "raises questions about Western preparedness to deal with China's increasingly aggressive efforts to influence foreign governments and spy on them", it added.

"China has been very active in recent years placing and cultivating people at the grassroots political levels of Western democracies and helping them to reach positions of influence," said Mr Christopher Johnson, a former senior China analyst at the US Central Intelligence Agency, according to FT.

He warned that while Beijing appeared to see New Zealand as a softer target than countries such as the US and Britain, "it may also be using it as a testing ground for future operations in other countries".

Dr Yang yesterday slammed the allegations, and insisted he had been upfront and transparent about his education and employment, the Associated Press said.

FT said he majored in English language at the People's Liberation Army Air Force Engineering Academy in 1978, and also taught at the academy after he graduated. He then went on to the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute, an elite institution for China's military intelligence officers, the report added.

Dr Yang told reporters he had never been a spy, but acknowledged teaching people who went on to be intelligence officers, FT reported.

"If you define those cadets or students as spies, yes, then I was teaching spies," he said.

In Beijing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman would not comment on the internal affairs of other countries, but said "we are firmly opposed to false reports, groundless accusations and falsifications from some media", the Agence France-Presse reported.

Australia has in recent months expressed concern about Chinese intelligence operations and covert campaigns to influence its politics.

Last month, Singapore revoked the permanent residency of academic Huang Jing, 60, for working as an "agent of influence" for a foreign government. Dr Huang and his wife Shirley Yang Xiuping are permanently banned from Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2017, with the headline 'New Zealand MP 'probed over close China links''. Print Edition | Subscribe