Five Eyes is the name of the intelligence alliance between the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand that has routinely shared sensitive intelligence since 1955. However, failure to respond to interference attempts by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) should endanger New Zealand’s membership, said Peter Mattis, a former CIA China expert testified to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission last month.
If Peter says this, I contend you should listen. He is a former colleague and has spent the bulk of his career following Chinese intelligence and security activities, researching its history and connecting dots that few others have the patience or intellect to do at such levels.
“In New Zealand, both the last prime minister, Bill English, and Jacinda Ardern have denied that there’s a problem at all,” said Mattis, now a fellow at The Jamestown Foundation.
To quickly move to a recommendation, I think that at some level the Five Eyes, or the Four Eyes, need to have a discussion about whether or not New Zealand can remain given this problem with the political core, and it needs to be put in those terms so that New Zealand’s government understands that the consequences are substantial for not thinking through and addressing some of the problems that they face. Japan would likely be on the short list to replace New Zealand if such a decision were to come to fruition.”
The committee heard from a number of experts on Beijing’s relations with U.S. allies and its attempts to influence these nations, a subject of intense discussion in New Zealand and Australia in recent months and yet another example that the broader U.S. security community is giving China the scrutiny and priority that it deserves.
“Australia and New Zealand both face substantial problems with interference by the CCP. In both cases, the CCP has gotten very close to or inside the political core, if you will, of both countries,” Mattis explained.
However, Peter Mattis believes that it’s the two different reactions from their governments that warrants such drastic action by the rest of the Five Eyes community. Australia commissioned a secret government study that uncovered CCP attempts to influence all levels of politics, and subsequently proposed new legislation aimed at targeting espionage, foreign political donations and foreign interference. New Zealand on the other hand, has not done enough — it might be argued that they’ve barely seemed to notice.
One of the cases that Mattis noted to the committee is that of Anne-Marie Brady — an academic who has been researching Beijing’s influential overseas arm, United Front. She had her home and office burgled in the last six months. during which laptops, phones and a flash drive were taken, and days before one of the break-ins Brady received a warning letter threatening “push back” against those who oppose Beijing.
“With respect to the reactions, and although the current prime minister has said that the attempts to intimidate and to steal materials from scholar Anne-Marie Brady will be investigated, that’s a far cry from any sort of productive action,” Mattis testified for the committee members He added, “One of the major fundraisers for [New Zealand Prime Minister] Jacinda Ardern’s party has United Front links, that you have to say this is close enough to the central political core of the New Zealand system.”
Ardern responded by saying that none of the Five Eyes agencies had raised such concerns with her.
Peter Mattis’ testimony also described how the CCP can wield its influence by having CCP-backed individuals leading Chinese community groups. In doing so, politicians who seek their advice are hearing from the CCP rather than local Chinese communities. Although Mattis and other China-watchers support Australia’s proposed legislation as a way of dealing with Beijing’s interference attempts, the legislation will mean little without genuine enforcement, something that will take significant political will and funding.
“Yes, they are taking these actions, but it’s far from clear whether or not they’re going to be complete and whether they’re going to take an effective form in pushing back.”
The world appears to be increasingly aware of Beijing’s far-reaching strategic intentions; hearings like this one are a good sign that the U.S. is paying attention. Even Tucker Carlson dedicated an entire episode of his prime time and highly rated show on Fox News to the China threat. This is one of the first real looks at the threat by the mainstream American media establishment.
All of the recent attention and interest is long overdue and completely warranted — and hopefully that attention is here to stay.
Featured image: China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, shakes hands with New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters in Beijing, Friday, May 25, 2018. (Thomas Peter/Pool Photo via AP)