Jacinda Ardern pushes back on claims China is behind NZ professor's intimidation

Source: 1News

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has pushed back on claims Australian intelligence agencies have identified China's spy service as the prime suspect behind the intimidation of University of Canterbury Professor Anne-Marie Brady.

The Australian government confirmed to an Australian current affairs show last night that China was behind the academic's harassment since late 2017.

But New Zealand's own year-long investigation into the situation remains "unresolved", the Prime Minister told TVNZ1's Breakfast today.

"There is nothing that I have seen to support those claims [made on the Four Corners show last night], and I make that point really firmly," she said.

"I made a statement that if I had any evidence to suggest that there was direct foreign targeting of Anne-Marie Brady, that I would look to respond to that. As has already been made public, the police have not found a particular individual or organisation responsible for the break-ins reported by Anne-Marie Brady."

Ms Brady has said her office has been broken into twice, her house burgled, her car tampered with and she received a threatening letter after she published a paper on the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in the Pacific.

The focus of the investigative journalism on the show last night was primarily on Australia, with a conclusion made at the end to reference New Zealand, Ms Ardern said.

"We are not the same country. Of course we all have our own circumstances. Having said that, when it comes to issues of foreign interference from no matter what country we cannot be naive that New Zealand isn't part of the influence programmes of different countries. We do need to make sure we have our own protections."

New Zealand needs to focus on foreign interference generally to make sure "we don't miss a beat when it comes to protecting ourselves", the PM added. That includes making sure New Zealand had rigorous laws around foreign donations, she said.

She disagreed with assertions by security expert and fellow Breakfast guest Paul Buchanan earlier today that China is "taking advantage of our very loose political finance laws".

The Chinese influence in Australian politics is significant and has become a cause for alarm, Mr Buchanan said.

"The concern is that they're perverting and undermining Australian democracy with these so-called influence operations."

The influence is more extensive in Australia than New Zealand, Mr Buchanan suggested. But political and economical elites on this side of the Tasman are much less inclined to investigate the extent to which Chinese influence pervades New Zealand's political structures, he said.

"I'd say that, other than the Greens, all the political party leaderships don't want to touch this cash cow," he said.

"Nothing the Chinese are doing in New Zealand is illegal - they're taking advantage of our very loose political finance laws."