Left compass lost.

One of the disappointing aspects of the Anne-Marie Brady affair has been the reluctance and sometimes outright refusal of people on the New Zealand Left to condemn the criminal harassment directed at her as a result of her research into Chinese influence operations in Aotearoa. I shall enumerate the general reasons justifying their stance but want to note first that it is not similar to the very real fears of the independent minded expat Chinese community in NZ, who remain silent in the face of threats against them here as well as against their families and associates back on the mainland. It behooves readers to read, watch and listen to the Mandarin-language media here in NZ (even if needing translators) because the rhetoric employed by these outlets–which Brady has pointed out are with the exception of the Falun Gong mouthpiece Epoch Times all controlled by CCP-linked United Front organisations–is hostile to the point of threatening towards all those who do not toe the Party line. To get an idea of the hostility, check out the Facebook page of a fellow by the name of Morgan Xiao, a Labour LEC member in Botany Downs and “journalist” for some local Chinese media outlets. He clearly does not like Anne Marie Brady.

Amongst the NZ Left, there seems to be 3 main reasons why people do not want to support Anne Marie Brady or the general concept of academic freedom in a liberal democracy. The first, prevalent amongst academics, is concern about losing funding or research opportunities for publicly siding with her. The concern is obvious and acute in departments and institutes that receive PRC funding directly or which receive NZ government funding related to Chinese-focused studies. All NZ universities have such connections as well as being reliant on Chinese students for a large part of their tuition income, so the dampening effect is nation-wide. Academics are also worried that public association with a “controversial” scholar may somehow diminish the research grants and opportunities made available to them even if they do not work on matters related to China. Guilt by association is alive and well in the NZ academe.

Overlapping this is concern about Professor Brady’s sources of funding and ties to US think tanks. Some believe that this skews her research in a Sinophobic direction and that she in fact parrots the opinions of her US sponsors. I can only say that, even though it might have been prudent for her to not be closely identified with the US Embassy and conservative US organisations focused on China (although she also maintains ties to reputable institutions like the Woodrow Wilson Center), she was a well known China watcher long before she published the Magic Weapons paper and NZ-based sources of funding for overseas research are few and far between. Beggars cannot be choosey and under circumstances of limited research funding in NZ in general and at her home university in particular, it is not surprising nor compromising for her to accept funding from abroad so long as she is transparent about it and conducts her studies independent of any external political agenda. From all that I have read, that is what she has done. So even if her views dovetail with those of foreign entities in places like Australia and the US,  it does not mean that she is their puppet. Plus, no one has decisively refuted what she wrote in a paper that was always intended to be applied research product rather than a theoretical or conceptual scholarly breakthrough. In a word: her research is sound regardless of how it was funded.

Other academics refuse to support Brady because they personally do not like her. I do not know the woman but if irascible personalities were a disqualifying trait in higher education then there would be no universities to speak of here or elsewhere. Egos, intellectual insecurity and professional jealousy are constants of academic life, and it seems that they have percolated into the discussion about her work and its ramifications for her personal life. One can only be dismayed that some people cannot separate personal animus from defence of the principle of academic freedom (and freedom of expression in general), in this case the right of an academic to not be criminally harassed for her work.

Outside of academia the refusal of some Leftists to support Ms. Brady appears to be rooted in a form of “whataboutism” connected to strong anti-US sentiment. Although some old-school Marxists are equitable in their dislike for all imperialists, new and old, most of the “what about” relativists believe that the US and/or UK are worst imperialists than the PRC and in fact (in the eyes of some) that the PRC is a benevolent giant seeking to better international relations through its goodwill and developmental assistance. For them the whole story, from the content of Ms. Brady’s Magic Weapons paper to the subsequent burglary of her office and home and tampering with her car, are just concoctions designed to stain the image of China in NZ and elsewhere.

A sub theme of this strand is the argument that if NZ is going to have to choose a master, better that it side with trade over security. That follows the logic that we are utterly dependent on trade for our survival but we are utterly insignificant as a security target. NZ involvement in the 5 Eyes signals intelligence network and Anglophone military partners is of minor concern, both in terms of the guarantees they give to NZ security as well as the difficulties posed by trying to abandon them.

Then there is the tin foil hat crowd. Leftist conspiracy theorists share views with Rightwing nutters about the “Deep State,” chemtrails, 9/11 holograms and assorted false flag operations, including the harassment of Ms. Brady. If you believe them the same people who target anti-1080, anti-fluoride, anti-vaccination and anti-TPP activists are behind the staged assaults on the Canterbury academic. I am not sure who these puppet masters are but I somewhat doubt that Ms. Brady is wrapped up in a chemtrail conspiracy.

If we gather up all of the arguments against supporting Ms. Brady, they boil down to two main lines of thought. First, that Anne Marie Brady has staged the break-ins and vandalism in order to promote herself via sympathetic PR. Second, that the attacks on her property were done by the NZSIS with or without US connivance in order to smear the PRC.

My answer to the first is that Ms. Brady was sufficiently well known at home and abroad before the attacks, so she did not have to stage anything in order to garner attention. If she did so in order to widen public attention on Chinese wrongdoings outside of academic and policy-oriented circles, then she would have to be very crafty indeed. Although that is possible, I tend to think it not probable.

As for the false flag suspicions. Why would the SIS and/or US expend resources and run the risk of detection in such a low level operation? What would be achieved that was already not in the public domain already? Even if the spy agencies thought about doing so, would not the costs of being discovered outweigh any benefits accrued from falsely framing the PRC? So on this one, too, I say “possible but unlikely.”

Of course, there is the third explanation, which is that people acting on behalf or under the instructions of the Chinese state did the deeds. These would not have to be intelligence operatives tasked by the PRC embassy or Beijing. They could be patriotic expats, perhaps living in NZ on student visas, who took umbrage at professor Brady’s claims and the publicity surrounding them. With or without the connivance of Chinese authorities they may have wanted to make an intimidatory point much along the lines outlined in the opening paragraph of this post.

What is clear, because the NZ Police have said that the investigation has passed on to Interpol, is that the perpetrators are likely overseas and will not likely be caught and extradited. Since the investigation into the burglaries is now 10 months old, it is equally unlikely that local common criminals are suspects (especially given that nothing of value was taken in the burglaries other than phones, lap tops and flash drives). So whether the government equivocates or not the finger of suspicion rests most heavily on the criminal harassment being the work of people unhappy with Ms. Brady’s work on China, and in particular her Magic Weapons paper.

What is ironic is that the United Front-Organised “influence operations” that she expounds upon at length are not illegal. Their genius lies in that they exploit the system as given, in NZ’s case being the looseness of campaign finance and political contribution regulations. They also exploit a lack of enforcement capability in the financial and other business sectors in order to overlap legitimate and ethically questionable behaviours. But all of this is, while ethically dubious, perfectly legal.

Engaging in criminal acts against a NZ citizen on sovereign NZ soil is another thing entirely. This moves from peddling influence to, indeed, engaging in intimidation as a “hard” form of interference. It is an intrusion on academic freedom but also a breach of professor Brady’s freedom of expression. it reinforces the view that no one is untouchable should they dare to criticise the Chinese state, and that NZ is powerless to stop more of the same.

That is why the government response has been weak and the Left reluctance to fully support Anne Marie Brady so disappointing. Because the issue is as much about sovereignty, democratic civility and human rights as it is about anything she wrote or her personal and professional attributes or flaws. One may understand why the Right wants to cast a blind eye on such mischief because capitalists put profits before people’s rights, and trade with the PRC definitely brings profit to a select few. But for a Left Centre government and many Left activists to not strongly repudiate criminal harassment of a local academic for any reason, especially economic reasons, is a betrayal of the basic principles upon which the democratic Left is founded upon.

Shame, then, on those who proclaim to be of the Left but on this matter clearly are on the Right side of the Chinese.

26 thoughts on “Left compass lost.

  1. With the GCSB officially frowning on Huawei’s 5G bid, this could further put NZ in an interesting position. Any use in tripartite summits, or are all the interested parties too far apart?

  2. Good analysis and great to see you take a stand. My guess would be the Huawei decision is linked. NZ would be perceived as the weak link of five eyes.
    Pushing back on that kind of bullying and intimidation is more important than any threatened trade implications. Hypocrisy on the left is hardly unexpected or unusual.

  3. Thank-you Pablo for your erudite contribution. It appalls me too that some of the worst criticism is coming from those who profess to be on the Left of the political spectrum.

    To suggest that AM Brady has “made it all up in an attempt to justify her stance” is so outrageous as to be slanderous.

    I went through a similar process some 30 odd years ago. It was a different time and for different reasons, but the modus operandi was remarkably similar. The claims made about me were wrong, and the likely culprits were local individuals but almost certainly attached to an off-shore Western Govt. agency.

    At this point I am reserving judgement on the NZ Govt in the hope that more forceful condemnation is forth-coming once the police investigation is complete and a conclusion has been reached.

  4. A welcome contribution to the discussion. As I’ve noted elsewhere if support for Brady on the left has been patchy, on the right it has been all but non-existent.

  5. I’ve pasted a link to this into Bowalley Road, where Chris and his Leftie commentators are having a very tough time disengaging from the reflexive fear that it’s the USA behind all of this.

    I’ve provided links to Reddell’s blog for those who may wish to read more of the background with Brady and hopefully stop this same kneejerk reaction.

    And I’ve invited some of Chris’s regular commentators to join the discussion here. Hope you don’t mind because I suspect you’ll have to waste some time arguing with folk who put you in the same box they’re trying to with Brady (CIA!!!!!!!).

    Also dumped into YourNZ, where the feeling is more 50:50, but with much the same thinking on the anti-Brady side.

    Sadly, submitting either you or Reddell to Kiwiblog seems like a waste of time.

  6. Dang, Tom. I sure hope that the three categories of Leftists do not flock over here thanks to your prompting. I have seen enough on Twitter to realise that there is little point in arguing with them, and given my background anything I say will just be dismissed as the words of a US stooge (as someone has recently called me). So let’s hope that they stay away.

  7. Thanks Michael.

    I am somewhat surprised that the Right has not been more united in its condemnation of the apparent intimidation campaign against Ms. Brady because there is plenty of anti-Communist sentiment in its ranks (even if the PRC is not longer Communist but instead is ruled by a one party state capitalist authoritarian regime) and freedom of thought and expression are purportedly keystone values of political liberalism. Not only has Ms. Brady been the subject of attempts to silence her, but her Magic Weapons paper showed how the PRC works to subvert the local political system as well as non-conformist views in the local Chinese expat community. So one would think that the Right would have multiple reasons for be leading her defence, but perhaps a turn to short-term economism has made some on the Right forget their philosophical roots.

    As for the Left, the Maoists and many Marxist-Leninists were always going to side against her even if the PRC is no longer a shining example of communism in practice. But it has been surprising to see social democrats and democratic socialists–who are presumably the bulk of the NZ Left and who presumably are very keen on human rights and freedom from oppression–remain pretty silent as well. Again, “whataboutism,” anti-Americanism and economic fixation seem to be part of the reason, to say nothing of the lunatic theories that circulate in “progressive” circles.

  8. …. but perhaps a turn to short-term economism has made some on the Right forget their philosophical roots.

    Right wing philisophical roots? In New Zealand?


    Did the nine years of John Holyoake Key not demonstrate once and for all that the vast bulk of the NZ Right have no philisophical roots?

    And I don’t mean to pick on Key or English. You could run through the list of Bolger, Muldoon, and all the way back to Sid Holland.

    Yes, the Sid Holland of communist waterfront crushing fame. But at the same time he did that he bowed his knee to almost every institution of the Welfare state created by the 1st Labour government. It was either that or face losing the 1949 election and beyond.

    And as he went, so have the other National governments. Few on the NZ Left ever seem to be willing to acknowledge that. Although on occasions there are paradoxical chuckles about how the argument has actually been won in fundamental ways – at least until it’s election time and the NATIONAL IS EVIL bullshit has to be cranked up again.

    Fine. That’s NZ’s “Right Wing”: transactional, accommodating, and managerial of whatever the Left build.

    And you’re surprised that they’re missing in this debate?

    I’m not.

  9. “Did the nine years of John Holyoake Key not demonstrate once and for all that the vast bulk of the NZ Right have no philisophical roots?”

    With the possible exception of shareholder returns and the next company AGM, at least since 1991. Since the Brexitrumpocalypse that particular status quo has been on shaky ground, as populists of all stripes are eating into established political parties the world over.

    As for yours truly personally, it’s a curly one. NZ can’t just run away from the issue – both China and America are too big to ignore – but at the same time NZ can’t just unleash the bull in the china shop. Maybe there’s a third option of some kind, possibly of the Irish or Swiss variety?

  10. @Kumara: Well, that’s an interesting question – how would Switzerland, at the height of the Cold War, have dealt with a Soviet intimidation operation against a Swiss citizen? And does that offer any model for NZ?

    This is not a rhetorical question, I’m genuinely asking – Pablo, I’m pretty sure you’re more clued up than the average joker about European responses to Soviet espionage?

  11. Tom:

    Sp what your are saying is that stripped of ideological foundations the contemporary NZ Right is just a bunch of selfish, greedy, short-sighted money-grubbing bigots? Even I would not go that far. Although I think that a lot of what passes for libertarianism is infantile, people like Peter Creswell (of not PC fame) clearly have strong ideological foundations. So does Lindsey Perigo, but his sexual weirdness and association Whale Oil undermines anything he has to say. I assume that there are Chicago-trained monetarists out there (although I do not remember any Kiwis I used to have to rub shoulders with a multinational cross-section of them in grad school), and presumably they would have been exposed to the Straussians in philosophy and political science (in my days at Chicago they were led by Joe Cropsey, who was Leo Strauss’s student in the 50s and who was the mentor to a post 1980 generation of neo-cons).

    All that having been said, I am not surprised that the NZ Right may be more venal than virtuous. Conversely, it is sad that the many on the NZ Left cannot separate support for principle from personal or professional prejudice and/or self-interest.

  12. To fully appreciate what Brady is up against – and New Zealand is failing to acknowledge, Clive Hamilton’s ‘Silent Invasion’ is a must read. A Canberra Professor, Hamilton’s extensive research into Chinese influence (and increasingly control) of Australian academia and certain politicians is extraordinary. Australians are not easily conned, but the Chinese are definitely in the ascendency. We can only speculate of what they’ve achieved here under Key, who threw open the doors to them. And if you question the fear of Huawai you won’t after reading Hamilton. The left? You’ll have to ask Jacinda Quisling.

  13. Thanks Chris,

    For the reminder about Mr. Hamilton. I am aware of who he is and of his contretemps (including his original publisher’s refusal to publish the book after pressure was placed on it). I am trying to keep my focus here limited to NZ but I agree that the book is worth a gander of for no other reason than to reinforce the notion that Anne Marie Brady’s concerns have not risen in isolation.

  14. Mark:

    You are a lying troll. If you speak and read Chinese you know damn well what is written and said in the Mandarin language media, including social media such as the link I provided to that laughable clown known as Morgan Xiao (and btw, Labour needs to kick that moron to the curb ASAP). I have no obligation to justify anything to you because, among other evidence, Professor Brady has given examples of what I have mentioned, as has the redoubtable Mr. Xiao. As for the rest, the Wilson Centre is a world-renown institution of higher research including, among many other things, authoritarian demise and democratisation efforts around the world. I have spent a fair bit of time there and if anything the resident scholars like to buck government orthodoxy. That Brady was made a Global Fellow indicates appreciation of her intellectual labour, not bias. On this, you are an ignorant fool.

    It is clear that you did not even bother to read the post carefully because even if she takes funding from Taiwanese sources, that does not mean that she follows their agenda. It would be akin to saying that every Confucious Institute repeats the CCP line on all things, which is only correct if you do not believe in any degree of independence between fund source and fund recipient. Perhaps in the case of PRC/CI funding that is indeed true.

    Lets say all of your bogus assertions were true. Does that mean that the criminal intimidation of her was justified? C’mon, just spit it out, boy

    This is you first and final warning. Either give a good counter to what I have said this post–which is about the NZ Left, by the way–or go skewer yourself on a not-so-Magic Weapon.

  15. “One of the disappointing aspects of the Anne-Marie Brady affair has been the reluctance and sometimes outright refusal of people on the New Zealand Left to condemn the criminal harassment directed at her as a result of her research into Chinese influence operations in Aoetaroa (sic).”
    It seems to me that all you have done is propose a motive for the Chinese state to have burgled Brady’s home and tampered with her vehicle.
    Yet where is the evidence? Or do you not need evidence?
    Most reasonable minded people, whether from the left or the right, will not condemn China on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.

  16. Heh – sorry Paul!!!

    Since “Mark” is now on Bowalley Road and here, maybe he can toddle over to Reddell’s blog and repeat this piece of abusive, brain-dead garbage:

    I’ve read some of his drivel, and it is exactly that.Comparing the economic performance of China with cities like hong Kong and Singapore and countries which had almost a century head start when it comes to industrialisation (like Japan) shows he is a buffoon. And of course he completely ignores the impact of a century of foreign invasions of China in impoverishing the place, something that only stopped with the communist victory in 1949.

    Sizzingly intellectual.

    I’ve already put up response over at Chris’s place, but it takes ages for him to let comments through, and in any case, heading for Croaking Cassandra’s numerous, detailed links written by the “buffoon”, would be more productive.

  17. Tom:

    I have no interest in indulging trolls so gave this a**wipe the boot. I indulge Geoff only this once because he is a known entity, but the “give me evidence” line is fatuous given a) the silence of the cops and b) the alternative possibilities I drew out in the post. And whatever the evidence, ole Geoff tacitly joins the troll in the “she deserved it” crowd. I guess he and and the skidmark fellow believe that the allegations are all made up and just done to smear the good folk leading the PRC. In fact, that is pretty much what skidmark said, so Geoff just lowered himself into that ethical long drop.

    As it stands Geoff is another moral relativist in the one-eyed anti-imperialist category I outlined in the post. He sees all evil in the West and sees no evil in the East. I say, ask the Uighurs about that or any of the PRC neighbours adjoining the South China Sea. Because it turns out evil has many languages and a dominant one these days is Mandarin.

    If proof comes out that it was a false flag op or Brady did it to herself, then I will issue a public apology for reading things wrong. But if the story substantiates what I suspect, I expect Geoff to publicly recognise his error.

  18. Bugger. I was going to drop in a couple of pieces from Scott Hamilton on the Chinese machinations in Tonga as a response to “Mark”.

    I’m sure Mr Hamilton would have been vastly amused at thus being tied as a toady to the CIA and other aspects of US imperialism, which I’ve no doubt “Mark” would have.

  19. A curious thread. The NZ right is part of a broad classic liberal anglosphere of support for the individual over the state. You are all lefties, why are you not embracing the warm embrace of the PRC. After all, it is a socialist meritocracy. Surely it is OK in your opinion for the rights of the individual to be suppressed in favour of social stability? Hobsbawm beckons.
    The reality is not between left and right but between the progressive statist corporatist authoritarians on the one hand and classic liberal belief in the primacy of the rights of the individual. The PRC and AI combined terrifies me.
    The Huawei decision is a sensible and proportionate response. I genuinely hope it is linked.
    Suggestions of false flag are too ridiculous to require rebuttal.

  20. Ireland or Switzerland? Spare me.
    On the one hand building an entire economy by sucking on the European social welfare tit, engaging in fake assembly and pro corporatist tax schemes for the benefit of the likes of Dell, Google and Facebook paired with corruption and runaway property development is not a genuinely sustainable model. The Irish are fine people, governed by fools.
    On the other the Swiss system of democracy, whilst admirable has been paired and supported by a moral vacuum where it is more important to be a safe haven for the money of dictators than fight against the evil of Nazism on their doorstep.
    New Zealand is following a decent path. Part of Five eyes and the Western alliance but having a good relationship with China. NZ plays a leading role in opening up global trade. That can only be a good thing.

  21. Phil:

    The post is about the NZ Left silence on the Brady affair. It is not about the relative merits of different social systems. Please stick to the subject.

  22. The “a**wipe” decided to turn up on Your NZ

    While I also think he’s probably a troll I could not resist giving him a few serves, since he’s now appeared in three blogs with the same arguments and I just figure that confronting even the trolls is part and parcel of this fight.

    Cut and pasted some of your comments in the process. Hope you don’t mind.

  23. Tom:

    Good luck dealing with him over there. One example of his ignorance and pro-PRC bias is his continuing insistence that the Woodrow Wilson Center is a “neo-con” institution and that Brady is a propaganda tool of it. I dealt with the Wilson Center from the early 1980s until I moved to NZ and maintain contacts with scholars there. It is part of the Smithsonian Institution and includes world class scholars from around the world who study the social sciences. It has had a long standing commitment to democracy promotion, is a founding sponsor of the academic journal Journal of Democracy and has been a pillar for study of human rights, press freedom, political transitions and the strengthening of civil society institutions. Here is its home page: http://www.wilsoncenter.org. You can also easily find a wikipedia page that outlines its 50 years of service (which of course means that its inauguration preceded the neo-cons, but never mind that).

    The fact skidmark does not know this or chooses to misidentify the Wilson Center is just a small example of his mindless trolling on behalf of the PRC. Best he do it elsewhere than here.

  24. … his continuing insistence that the Woodrow Wilson Center is a “neo-con” institution…

    Oh I just nailed him on those obvious points a couple of hours ago.

    Don’t know whether it’s ignorance or just a simple smear job to avoid arguing on point. But even if he did know, he’d probably just repeat the smear.

    Good luck dealing with him over there

    Yeah – well I do wonder if I’m wasting my time, but I perhaps have more of it than you, and this fight needs to be fought.

    Gosh – perhaps my Kiwi patriotism is recovering?

  25. Good for you to call him out. I simply cannot be bothered although I certainly have a stake in the outcome (especially since I am in the process of taking out NZ citizenship). My bottom line is pretty simple: I detest authoritarians of all stripes and have an equal distaste for imperialists no matter where they originate and whether their power is exercised in a hard or soft way. But I do recognize the differences between gradations of evil, the idealism that propels much foreign interventionism (e.g. “democracy building” efforts), the good intentions that may be involved in many international exchanges and the use of seemingly benign agents, institutions and measures to advance hidden (and often unsavory) agendas. There is no good/bad dichotomies in my thinking, but there sure are better and worse scenarios embedded in them.

    It is a pity that with Drumpf at the helm, the admittedly checkered record of the US in international affairs is now compared unfavorably to that f a one party authoritarian state that is a systematic violator of human rights on an individual and mass scale at home and an equally systematic manipulator of international norms. Put another way: would you care for some social credit scrutiny with your Belt and Road connections?

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