During the weekend, on my Twitter account RobertGlennieNZ, I asked Tova O’Brien, reporter for Newshub if she would take up the case of National Part Member of Parliament Jian Yang, and his reluctance to do what I believe is a basic responsibility of any Parliamentarian: to front the media on reasonable request.
It was a largely spur of the moment thought, having just read an article about the difficulty of getting Dr Yang to talk to New Zealand media. I was expecting a few likes, retweets and replies. What I was not expecting was 313 likes; 60 retweets and 20 replies – Twitter activity levels that I thought would have been akin to someone standing for Parliament. Perhaps I struck a chord with people because the overwhelming feedback was positive, but the matter clearly resonated with many.
There was one reply that stood out among the responses. One person argued on Twitter that whilst it was neither right, nor wrong, Mr Yang had made a decision not to engage the New Zealand media and we should respect it. Another one said that Mr Yang will speak to media, but it is only Mandarin written/spoken media, which in a predominantly English speaking country is no use at all to the vast majority of New Zealanders; New Zealand journalism or New Zealand democracy.
I disagree. Yes, Mr Yang clearly made a decision. However Mr Yang holds an elected position in our Parliament. Whilst he is a list Member of Parliament who came in on the back of National’s party vote instead of winning an electorate seat, he has the same responsibilities as the other 119 Members of Parliament. In as far as Mr Yang is not prepared to talk to New Zealand media upon reasonable request, I believe he should not be in Parliament.
So, one might wonder why I am expending an entire article on Mr Yang. The fact of the matter is that there is more to the story of him in Parliament than most people realize and because of that, I am going to delve a bit into his history prior to becoming a National Party Member of Parliament, because there is a story to be told. Much of the evidence below comes from the work of Professor Anne-Marie Brady, a Chinese politics specialist at University of Canterbury.
Dr Jian Yang grew up in Jiangxi Province in China and attended the Australian National University where he earned a Masters of Arts and a Doctorate of Philosophy. During the 1980’s Dr Yang had a period where he was in the Chinese military in a civilian non-ranked capacity. Whilst in the military worked in the Peoples Liberation Army (P.L.A.) Airforce Engineering College and the Luoyang P.L.A. University of Foreign Languages.
Although Mr Yang has claimed not to have directly taught Chinese spies, he has admitted that he could reasonably be viewed as having done so virtue of his teaching. Official Information Act documents show that he did not disclose his military intelligence work. And further questions were asked in 2017 in Australia about his time in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
I was prepared to ignore those, as they are in the past, but more recently Dr Yang has been linked to the Chinese United Front, an organization working to push Chinese activities and influence in New Zealand. He was also invited to attend a military parade in Beijing to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 2019, which suggests to me that even if he is a New Zealand citizen, he is maintaining some sort of high level relationship with the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.
It strikes me as interesting that organizations across the political spectrum are refusing to buy into the National Party claim that Dr Yang has their confidence and that we should not be concerned. The Taxpayers Union for example say that Mr Yang has a responsibility to talk to the media. Political commentators such as Michael Reddell have expressed frustration at not being able to get Mr Yang to talk to English speaking media.
Dr Yang could resolve much of this fairly immediately by talking to the New Zealand media. As long as he refuses to do so, they are – as are New Zealanders – entitled to draw their own opinions about his actions and the motive for them.