Is he a spy?

datePosted on 07:48, September 14th, 2017 by Pablo

There is a fellow in NZ who once lectured at an elite foreign military school that trained military and civilian intelligence agents. His position required him to meet certain protocols and standards in order to receive a high level security clearance. In return for receiving that clearance and his lecturing on topics of interest to the intelligence community, he was privy to classified subjects and materials as well as being allowed to interact with the agencies from which his students originated.

His students learned foreign languages as part of their studies, combining that with training in the practical and operational skill sets required of them once they graduated and entered the field.

After leaving the military education institution, the fellow in question went on to work closely with the intelligence community in his country of origin, eventually taking a fairly senior position within the defense and intelligence establishment and continuing to consult with it even after his departure from active government service.

Some time after, he moved abroad and found his way to NZ, where he was hired as a lecturer in politics at the University of Auckland and settled into his adopted country by buying property and engaging in community servcie. He became fairly well known in political circles, wrote academic titles on NZ and comparative foreign policy and engaged with government on topics of common interest.

The question is: is this guy a spy given his past? Could he have come to NZ as an undercover “mole” ready to be sprung into service by his foreign masters after lying dormant for some time?

I ask because another former University of Auckland lecturer now in public service as a parliamentarian has found himself under some scrutiny after it was revealed that he also had lectured to intelligence agents at military educational institutions in his country of birth. It seems that there are questions as to whether he left that life behind him when he came to NZ even though his academic and community life in NZ broadly resemble that of the first individual mentioned above. But now the political knives are pointing at him.

It seems to me that the question about whether either individual is a spy reduces to two things. What were the cirumstances surrounding their emigration from their countries of origin, and what sort of security vetting was done on them before they took up residency and later, when one decided to enter public life?

In both cases security background checks would have been done as part of their visa appllication process. In both cases the University of Auckland would have presumably checked their academic credentials (which is an issue because the second fellow apparently fudged his academic credentials on his citizen application form, which makes one wonder if due dilligence was done on him by the UA prior to it recommending him, as an employment sponsor, to immigration authorities). For the individual who entered public service, more extensive vetting conducted by the SIS or an agency contracted by it would have examined the case a bit more in depth.

Based on what I know of the second case so far, the individual in question is no more a spy than the first guy is, and the first guy is clearly not. The problem for the second guy is that he comes from a country ruled by an authoritarian regime with neo-imperialist ambitions that is known to use its diaspora as a human intelligence collection network, where emigrants take out citizenship and settle into target countries but continue to report back to intelliigence authorities in their homelands. For his part, the first guy was more involved in his home country’s intelligence community prior to his arrival in NZ than the second guy apparently was (as far as has been reported), and the first guy’s home country has an extensive record of imperialism, including covert intelligence collection in NZ and elsewhere in the South Pacific that historically dwarfs that of the second guy’s motherland. Unfortunately for the second guy, his country of origin is not a NZ intelligence partner like the country the first guy came from, and in fact is a major counter-intelligence target for NZ security agencies.

So the question remains: can either or both of these guys be legtimately called a “spy” based on their backgrounds prior to arrival in NZ?

I ask because I am the first guy and I do not like being misidentified without cause (as I have been from time to time). It is unfortunate that my former colleague now stands accused (even if by insinuation) of something that he might not be based on assumptions about what he used to be. For his sake as well as that of NZ security, it is appropriate and necessary for the SIS or other NZ security agencies (not the government of which he is an MP) to issue a clarification on the matter now that the question has been raised in  public and there is a cloud over his career and reputation.

17 Responses to “Is he a spy?”

  1. DSpare on September 14th, 2017 at 09:32

    You are not an MP, so don’t have access to the kindof information that someone on the; Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade committees, would have. So it doesn’t matter so much if you are a spy or not.
    There is another issue of an MP misleading the public though:

    Jian Yang told the Herald he didn’t name the Air Force Engineering University or Luoyang People’s Liberation Army University of Foreign Languages when making the applications that led to New Zealand citizenship, which he was granted in 2004…

    Asked if he made a false declaration on his citizenship application, Yang said giving the name of “partnership” universities instead of the institutes he actually worked and studied at was not a false declaration and was required if he was to leave China.

    I get that he might have needed to go along with that policy of obscuringing employment location to get out of China. However, there is the whole period from 2004-2011 from when he gained citizenship to becoming an MP when he could have corrected those details. But he didn’t until he had to provide a CV to the; New Zealand’s Embassy in China, who would presumably have the onground knowledge to be able to see through the ruse if he’d used the name of a partnership university.

  2. Pablo on September 14th, 2017 at 09:39

    Yeah, the issue of obfuscating his affiliations on his citizenship application is not a good look. But it could be that he simply was scared that a more truthful answer could get him rejected, which in turn could impact on his employment at UA etc. (remember, I knew him pretty well as a former colleague and know that his academic publication record is decent if not better than many of those currently employed in my former department, which may or may not be an indication of his intention to break from the PRC orthodoxy when it comes to international relations).

    As a backbencher MP he is not privy to seriously classified anything. Heck, in my episodic consulting work with govt agencies I reckon I have seen and heard more senstive things, but then again, I coome from a “friendly” background.

    All of this can be clarified by an SIS/Immigration pronouncement on the allegations. Until then I will give him the benefit of the doubt, or perhaps should I say, as a professional courtesy. :-0

  3. Geoff Fischer on September 14th, 2017 at 10:26

    Underlying this affair is the question of whether New Zealand considers itself to be an independent state, or part of the Anglo-American imperial system.
    If the former, then anyone who has served in the intelligence apparatus of any other state – China, the US, Britain, Australia, Canada – should be treated on exactly the same basis which means that Jian Yang should be subject to no more and no less scrutiny than Pablo or any of the many New Zealanders who have served in the security services of other states in the Anglo-American alliance.
    If, on the other hand, New Zealand is, as its whole history and current constitution proclaims, a client state of the Anglo-American imperial system then Jian Yang has a background in the security services of a “hostile” state and might be considered an inappropriate person to exercise political power in New Zealand, quite apart from any considerations of possible espionage.
    So because New Zealand is part of the Anglo-American system, and because China is perceived as a threat to Anglo-American global hegemony, Jian Yang becomes a problem for the regime here in New Zealand, and something of an embarrassment for the National Party.
    New Zealand does not want to gratuitously offend China (and cannot afford to) but still lacks the courage to make its own way in the world as an independent state. It walks a tight rope between China on the one side and Britain and the US on the other. A partial solution might be for Jian Yang to disown and renounce his homeland of China and its government, but he would have legitimate reasons of his own for not wanting to do that. So what can he do? Nothing much at all. He has talked about legal action, but I doubt whether he has a case in law against
    He, and the National Party, are caught in a political conundrum of their own making and my sympathy for Jian Yang is mitigated by the fact that he has chosen to throw his support behind a colonial regime which has oppressed our people for the past 177 years, and continues to do so to this day.

  4. Sanctuary on September 14th, 2017 at 11:37

    “…Underlying this affair is the question of whether New Zealand considers itself to be an independent state, or part of the Anglo-American imperial system…”

    That is an oddly naive question, given our membership of the Five Eyes makes us one of the pillars of the inner sanctum of an Anglo-American empire that has basically dominated the planet since about the end of the Seven Years War. I tend to see the five eyes as one global power of different client states united by their positions as winners in a glorious imperial past. Archaeologists in the future will find English language KFC stores and Levi jeans and all the detritus of a culturally indistinguishable global power from Aberdeen to Invercargill via Washington and Perth, just as they find indistinguishable objects of Roman culture from Scotland to the Euphrates today. The arrogance and assumptions of imperial power may rest more lightly and in a more understated form on our shoulders, but it does rest there.

    Coming back to Yang, it seems to me he is obviously serving two masters. People like Yang don’t just happen by accident when the PRC is involved. He apparently specialised in HUMINT and I don’t doubt for a minute his former colleagues in the PLA get excellent character assessments as to who are the movers and shakers, who is a friend and who is an enemy of China, who is biddable and who is not, who are the warhawks and what are the foibles and peccadillos of not just the ruling government caucus but the entire political and economic power elite that Mr. Yang rubs shoulders with in Wellington and Auckland. To my mind, given he hails from an erstwhile potential enemy of the Anglo-American global hegemon, that makes him a spy.

  5. Pablo on September 14th, 2017 at 11:56


    Everything you say in the last paragraph regarding what Jian may pass along to the PRC is the basic stiff that diplomats do. No need for spying in that case. The issue remains whether the cirumstances of his arrival and his background make the case for his being a spy. I continue to reserve judgement on that fuly aware of how PRC HUMINT netowrks operate. Either way, he is done as an MP. The cloud of suspicion will remain after the election unless the SIS clears him categorically, and should it not do so he will be for all intents and purposes guilty by insinuation.

    The question I remain puzzled by is, if what I hear is true, a NZ academic served as the source of the allegations. Was it out of a sense of patriotic duty or out of professional rivalry or jealousy? Time will tell…

  6. Redbaiter on September 14th, 2017 at 12:04

    It bothers me that political commentators in NZ who adopt the “serious academic” model, always allow references to the NZ MSM to spoil their work.

    The MSM is bad anywhere, but here in NZ, its the dregs. Who is going to work here but the worst of the worst? They’re rank amateurs in almost every field but so much more so in international politics.

    This story of the Chinese “spy” is actually a good story, but its not done justice in the NZ MSM, and nor is it done justice in Pablo’s commentary because he sources that MSM.

    It would take too many words to correct the wrong impressions that flood this piece, but I do recommend researching the issue in the Australian media.

    They do have professional journalists across the ditch, and this is an issue that has been under discussion there for some time.

    The essence of my disagreement with this piece is the facile and dated perception of it as a “spying” related matter. As if its all about secret messages left in drops and the rest of that kind of John Carre style stuff.

    China in the West, and that includes most of the Pacific and its rim, is not about spying, its about influence, or to be more accurate, gradual influence.

    Its about the long game, a vision that stretches forward a 100 years or even further.

    That’s why China is in NZ. That’s why its in NZ politics. That’s why its in so many countries, Fiji, different parts of Africa. Australia.

    Nothing so facile as cloak and dagger spying. This is a gradual cultural offensive that if not countered, will see all of these countries gradually fall under Chinese Communist Party influence. Most likely by perfectly legitimate political means.

    Except in matters of technology and or defence policy, but even these are really only side issues that China doesn’t pursue with any gusto as it might upset the long term plan. The barely perceptible gradualism.

    Here’s an article looking at the bigger picture.

    Here’s another article looking at what is happening in Australia.

    Chinese communists are already deeply entrenched in NZ. The media’s excitement over this one guy is a bit silly really. I guess its in the most part designed to help the Labour Party recover a bit of the ground its lost recently.

  7. Pablo on September 15th, 2017 at 01:45


    Your point about influence peddling is well taken, but how is that any different from what the US Chamber of Commerce or any number of ethnic/nationalistic/religious associations do in NZ? Or do you think that all types of long game influence mongering is subversive?

    You also seem to have misunderstood the thrust of the post. It was not about any “cloak and dagger” stuff. It was about how we should be cautious about extrapolating that a person has been deliberately planted by a foreign government as a covert intel collector based upon what that person did 30 yeaars ago in his homeland. At this point I am agnostic on whether that happened in the yang case until I read/hear more from NZ security agencies.

    The reason there is concern about my former colleague is that he comes from an authoritarian state with expansionist ambitions (at least in terms of economic power and diplomatic influence, to say nothing of military projection) and a history of using Chinese expats as HUMINT collectors in their adopted countries. Fpr his own sake and that of his political career, I would expect that Jian Yang demand that the security authorities reveal what they have on him, if anything.

    It is possible that the security authoirties know that he ia spy and have opted to monitor him so as to establish who his handlers are, what contacts and networks he operates with and in, what his targets of interest are, etc. Perhaps that monitoring is known to the National government leadership, hence their waffling on his status. But if that is the case, now that his cover has been blown there is little point in continuing the secrecy as his associates are going to go to ground, to include leaving the country rather than risk arrest. Or, he could be innocent.

    Either way, be he innocent of the allegations or not, the SIS needs to show its hand with regard to him.

    He has not helped his cause by admitting that he fudged his background in his citizenship application. Besides the legal implications of making false declarations (or semi truthful ones), the fact that he said that it was policy for the PRC to tell emigrants to not reveal affiliation with military agencies on such applications raises a host of diplomatic questions, e.g., is he really saying that it is official Chinese policy to encourage emigrants to conceal/lie/obfuscate their backgrounds when emigrating?

    Given the numbers of Chinese students, academics, investors and businesspeople that have taken up non-temporary residence in NZ, what does that imply for NZ immmigration vetting?

    Methinks that Mr. Yang has opened a major can of worms.

  8. Geoff Fischer on September 16th, 2017 at 10:04

    It becomes easier to understand why Jian Yang might have thought it alright to list the “partner universities” as his employer when we consider how the citizenship process works in New Zealand. I recall a case in which an applicant for citizenship, coming from a democratic European republic, expressed misgivings about pledging allegiance to a hereditary monarch, as required in the New Zealand citizenship process. He was officially advised that in pledging allegiance to the reigning monarch he was really pledging allegiance to democracy and the rule of law. So the New Zealand system encourages, and even requires, people to state what they might like to think of as the truth in place of the actual truth and reality. Can the state therefore fairly castigate Jian Yang when he submits to and takes upon himself the New Zealand state’s own curious attitude to the truth?
    I also emphasise the point made by others that there is no serious allegation that Yang is a spy, meaning that he is not held to be in breach of New Zealand laws on espionage. Therefore the SIS has no legitimate role to play in this affair. It is a purely political issue, and what interests me most is that it shows how easily a person with a Communist Party background in an authoritarian state can fit into a political role within the New Zealand National Party and the New Zealand state. That should come as no surprise. Quite a few Marxists and Communists have previously occupied high office in the New Zealand Parliament and the New Zealand state, and a Marxist currently occupies the most senior position in New Zealand’s security-intelligence system. We should worry about that, but I can see nothing different in the case of Yang, except for the fact of his ethnicity.

  9. Erewhon on September 17th, 2017 at 08:12

    ” a Marxist currently occupies the most senior position in New Zealand’s security-intelligence system.”


  10. Pablo on September 17th, 2017 at 08:47


    I believe that he is refering to Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwynn’s past associations. Whatever she was in the past I tend to doubt that she is toeing the class line these days–unless it is a bourgeois class line.


    Interesting point about the Queen, aka “head of state.” Perhaps because I am a Yank or because I do not take the whole HOS business seriously, I simply did not factor into my calculus of consent that particular angle. But I wonder how many people actually “consent” to being subjects of the queen? Or is the relationship to the Crown treated by most (especially Pakeha) as an epiphenomenon without practical application to contemporary reality, much less daily life and policy-making? If that is the case, none of those who see things in such a way offer their contingent consent to the Crown but instead to the liberal democratic regime that purportedly is led by it.

    One thing is certain: pledging loyalty oaths to distant royalty is not on my menu so I am going to have to think long and hard about certain life choices.

  11. Geoff Fischer on September 17th, 2017 at 21:11

    The refusal of Waikato iwi to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen (Victoria at that time) was the casus belli cited by George Grey in justification of the British invasion of the Waikato. So an epiphenomenon which resulted in dozens of villages burned, thousands of our people killed, and millions of acres of land seized from its rightful owners. So far as I am aware no one has been killed for refusing the oath of allegiance in recent times, but people have been refused employment, citizenship, and the right to sit in Parliament. So it clearly remains a matter of importance to the Crown, as it is to us.
    Yes, it is common knowledge that Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn is a committed Marxist, one time member of the Trotskyist Socialist Action League, who, notwithstanding that she had a degree in law from Auckland University, spent 6 years as an industrial agitator at the Whakatu freezing works. She remains loyal to her Marxist beliefs, and in good standing with her fellow Marxists. There is a lot more that could be said about Cheryl Gwyn and her role as Inspector-General, but I will leave it at that for the moment.

  12. Erewhon on September 18th, 2017 at 13:25

    Cheryl’s Marxism or non-Marxism aside, Inspector-General is not the highest title in the security-intelligence system.

    That belongs to the Prime Minister in their role as chairman of the Cabinet National Security Committee, which is ultimately responsible for all intelligence policy, and even for operations in the case of an emergency.

    Prior to the National Security Committee being set up, the Prime Minister was still the ultimate authority in their role as Minister responsible.

    The Inspector-General’s role is obviously very important but to call it the highest position is pretty clearly erroneous, and one doesn’t need to be an expert or even a familiar amateur to know this.

    It seems your assertion seems more to do with a desire to scaremonger about Marxism in the New Zealand intelligence services than anything else.

    The New Zealand intelligence services can certainly be very scary, but not due to any Marxism. (They’re more likely to be scary to Marxists than scary because they’re Marxists).

  13. Erewhon on September 18th, 2017 at 13:34

    ” Perhaps because I am a Yank or because I do not take the whole HOS business seriously,”

    Doesn’t America have a head of state in its President?

  14. Will on September 18th, 2017 at 22:55

    You and the now MP were the most rigorous and best lecturers I had at UA. I studied East and South East Asian politics with Jian and can confirm he never tried push Chinese agenda on disputed islands or any matters otherwise. I’m not a National voter but Jian is a good guy… Anyway I was hoping you were going to reveal some other former lecturer as a spy in your piece for a minute there Pablo, would have explained their agenda.

  15. Pablo on September 19th, 2017 at 05:13


    I was referring exclusively to the Queen as NZ HOS. Of course all presidential systems have the Executive as Head of State.

  16. Geoff Fischer on September 19th, 2017 at 23:16

    In reply to Erewhon
    My reference was to the most senior staff position in the security intelligence apparatus. I accept that in theory the security apparatus is subject to political oversight, though the nature of security-intelligence work is such that the politicians tend to take their lead from the security-intelligence services rather than oblige those services to submit to political control and direction.
    “Cheryl’s Marxism or non-Marxism aside” I don’t think there is any disputing that Cheryl Gwyn is a Marxist.
    You wrote “It seems your assertion seems more to do with a desire to scaremonger about Marxism in the New Zealand intelligence services than anything else.”
    The presence of Marxists in the senior ranks of the security intelligence apparatus of New Zealand demands serious discussion. Is it further evidence of the capitalist/communist convergence phenomenon? If the interests of global capitalism and global communism have indeed converged, as Ms Gwyn has argued, what implications does that convergence have for the prospects of a free and open society?
    Although I have said that the presence of Marxists in the highest levels of the security intelligence apparatus is a “worry”, this is not scaremongering. It is a serious issue, and no one should seek to avoid the question by evading the central fact of Cheryl Gwyn’s Marxism.
    Given the position of Ms Gwyn can you explain what might make the “New Zealand intelligence services … scary to Marxists”?

  17. Geoff Fischer on September 20th, 2017 at 09:50

    My first point was that as things stand the Jian Yang affair is a political matter, and my second point was that given the convergence phenomenon that has been observable in the communist and capitalist states (including New Zealand), in the changing relations between those states, and in the changed attitude to Marxism within New Zealand’s “deep state” institutions, no one can reasonably argue that Jian Yang is not a fit person to take a central role in the New Zealand political establishment. I personally believe that convergence, well illustrated in the persons of Jian Yang and Cheryl Gwyn, may not be a wholly benign phenomenon, but that is something which needs to be studied with care and rigor. At any rate there is no profit in trying to pretend that we still live in the bipolar world of the nineteen-fifties, when Marxism and capitalism were at loggerheads and the conventional wisdom was that ne’er the twain should meet. The twain have met. Whether they have come together on stable ground is another matter.

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