Dangerous Mind: International interest in Professor Anne-Marie Brady’s research into the growing reach of Chinese "soft power" was sharpened recently by her disclosure of the presence of former Chinese nationals in the caucuses of New Zealand’s two largest political parties; most particularly, the fact that one of those Members of Parliament has historical links with the Chinese intelligence community (if only in a pedagogical capacity).
THAT PROFESSOR ANNE-MARIE BRADY has had her home and office broken into, and her lap-top stolen, is deeply troubling. That the perpetrators were brazen enough to warn her that their attack was imminent, only heightens that concern. The most compelling reason for feeling uneasy about Professor Brady’s misfortunes, however, is their obvious potential to seriously damage Chinese-New Zealand relations.
Professor Brady is a China specialist who has won international acclaim for her research into the methods used by the Chinese government to monitor and, where possible, influence the conduct and opinions of Chinese nationals living abroad; as well as for describing the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) efforts to build maximum support for the “Motherland” among the world-wide Chinese diaspora.
What has sharpened international interest in Professor Brady’s work is her disclosure of the presence of former Chinese nationals in the caucuses of New Zealand’s two largest political parties; most particularly, the fact that one of those Members of Parliament has historical links with the Chinese intelligence community (if only in a pedagogical capacity).
Taken together with her itemisation of the appointments of former political leaders of New Zealand to the boards of a number of Chinese financial institutions, the Professor’s revelations were more than sufficient to secure coverage in major media outlets in Australia, the UK and the United States.
The most recent reference to Professor Brady’s research is to be found in the influential US magazine, “Foreign Policy”. Concerned about the links between the Chinese Embassy in Washington and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association operating on the campus of Georgetown University, foreign-policy specialist, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, quotes Professor Brady on the information-gathering role of these Chinese Government-supported student groups:
“It’s a deliberate strategy to make sure that the Chinese students and scholars living abroad don’t become a problem.”
That the political and cultural views of young Chinese citizens studying abroad could become a problem for the Chinese Government is readily appreciated. As Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian points out, there are 330,000 Chinese nationals studying in the United States, alone, with scores-of-thousands more at other universities around the world. That’s an awful lot of highly-educated, highly-skilled young people to come home with “problematic” ideas!
This is much more than a theoretical proposition. As an at-least-nominally revolutionary party, the CPC will be well aware of the “Russians in Paris” syndrome.
Following the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, the armies of the victorious powers – which included the Russian Empire – occupied Paris. Young Russian officers suddenly found themselves in the midst of a free-wheeling culture which prized intellectual and artistic pursuits of all kinds – not least the passionate discussion of political philosophy.
Unsurprisingly, these Imperial Guardsmen returned home to St Petersburg with more than a taste for French cuisine and Parisian coffee. Travelling with them were the core principles of the French Revolution: “Liberty. Equality. Fraternity.” Within ten years, some of them (known as “Decemberists”, after the month in which they rose against the Tsar) were attempting to spark a democratic revolution in Russia.
The last thing the Chinese authorities want is a “Decemberist” revolt of their own. A revolt fuelled by ideas and ideals imported into China from the United States of America in the heads of their best and brightest university graduates. Those among the CPC leadership who had to deal with the consequences of the tragic events of June 1989 will not have forgotten that the symbol of that earlier student revolt was a papier-mâché replica of the Statue of Liberty.
The studied indifference towards Professor Brady’s research (not to mention her personal security) displayed by the New Zealand authorities, speaks to the existence of considerable sympathy within New Zealand’s own ruling circles for the stern measures which the Chinese authorities feel obliged to undertake.
Peoples’ uprisings may be a recurring feature of Chinese history, but they are generally remembered as short-lived periods of chaos and confusion, preparatory to the restoration of order and tranquillity by a centralised, authoritarian government, in whose strong hands the gods have reposed the all-important “Mandate of Heaven”.
It is, clearly, the view of the Ministry of Foreign Relations and Trade, the Ministry for Primary Industries, and Treasury, that an orderly and tranquil China is much to be preferred to a democratic and turbulent China. As a crucial market for its primary production, and an equally important source of foreign direct investment in its industry and infrastructure, China is obviously regarded by the New Zealand Government as an economic partner much too big to rile.
Equally obvious, is Professor Brady’s status as a New Zealand political dissident. Innocent of any crime, but guilty of that most heinous offence – upsetting the apple cart. If she is waiting for the New Zealand authorities to help her, then she will likely be waiting a very long time.
UPDATE: On Monday (19/2/18) came the welcome news that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has asked the Security Intelligence Service to investigate the break-ins to Professor Brady's home and office and the theft of her lap-top computer. Welcome, too, the news that the PM's intervention has breathed new life into the hitherto stalled Police investigation. It is, however, noteworthy that the PM has yet to use the word "China" in relation to Professor Brady's case.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 20 February 2018.