The anxiety of Chinese influence


In September 2017, Anne-Marie Brady, a scholar of China at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, published a report titled “Magic Weapons: China’s Political Influence Activities Under Xi Jinping.”

  • Last week, Brady spoke to the Australian Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, according to the New Zealand Herald. She told them that her office was broken into in December, and that in the last week, she received a “warning letter” that she was about to be attacked, followed by a burglary at her house — only laptops and mobile phones were taken.
  • “People I’ve associated with in China, just last year, were questioned by the Chinese Ministry of State Security about their association with me,” Brady added. She suspects these events are connected with her work on influence activities.
  • Yesterday, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, ordered her country’s intelligence agencies to investigate Brady’s claims, according to the Herald.

Ardern is not the only high-level political leader in an English-speaking country to raise alarm over Chinese influence recently.

  • Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull in December declared — in Mandarin, to boot — that his country would “stand up” to Chinese influence in December, and his government introduced legislation to restrict the activities of foreign political donors and lobbyists. This legislation has still not been formally debated, but Beijing immediately reacted to Turnbull’s remarks with fury. (Read more on China-Australia relations here.)
  • There are “increasing signs that China is using its $9 billion annual spend by international students as leverage” to pressure Australia over these and other issues, the Australian reports (paywall). The Chinese consulate in Sydney posted a safety warning to Chinese students in the country on February 14, while a number of education exchanges between the two countries have been postponed or canceled in the past month.
  • “New Zealand risks becoming a ‘Western ally with Chinese characteristics’ because it has embraced a less strident tone towards Beijing’s assertiveness,” according to an Australian think tank, as reported by the Australian Financial Review (paywall). The report urges Australia to step up military engagement with its smaller neighbor “to shore up the alliance.”
  • The American FBI director, Christopher Wray, last week warned of a “whole-of-society” espionage threat from China to the U.S., particularly via “non-traditional collectors” such as students and academics.
  • The remarks were harshly criticized by Asian-American advocacy groups in the U.S., including the Committee of 100, which mobilizes Chinese-American leaders to advance U.S.-China relations, and cautioned that Wray’s warning “fans the flames of hysteria.”