One of New Zealand’s leading China experts believes Jacinda Ardern’s government should develop a new strategy for the global superpower as the fallout from a leaked database of high-profile individuals grows.
Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at University of Canterbury, says there are several hundred Kiwis on a “very concerning” database held by Zhenhua Data, a Shenzen-based company with links to Chinese state intelligence, uncovered this week.
There are also thousands of Australians in the database.
Those listed include politicians, judges, ambassadors, foreign affairs officials and bureaucrats.
It also has information on Ms Ardern’s parents and sister, and former PM John Key’s son, one-time underwear model, equity trader and vlogger Max Key.
Ms Brady says the database includes public information as well as detail “that’s not easily found”.
“There are names in there you would have to have an extremely intimate knowledge of New Zealand politics (to find),” she told Radio NZ.
“(It’s a) Who’s Who and their family members.”
Ms Brady said those on the list “can be vulnerable, they can be targeted and offered business opportunities … or blackmail, you name it”.
“Our politicians would be extremely upset to know their children have been targeted and their broader family members and partners,” she said.
“This is very concerning. It’s happening on a grand scale.”
Ms Ardern, who is also national security and intelligence minister, is yet to comment and is generally loath to comment on security matters anyway.
Foreign minister and deputy prime minister Winston Peters told the NZ Herald “there are malicious actors out there seeking to profit from trafficking private information and people need to protect themselves”.
Transport minister Phil Twyford said he was “horrified” by the leak. Opposition leader Judith Collins agreed, asking the PM for a briefing.
New Zealand is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, including the UK, USA, Australia and Canada, which sits geopolitically in opposition to China.
In recent months, it has been less forthcoming in criticising China than other Five Eyes members, on issues such as Taiwan’s membership of the World Health Organisation.
Ms Brady, who has investigated China’s influence within New Zealand’s political system, said the government needed to revisit its strategy.
“We have had a three year conversation about the Chinese Communist Party’s political interference activities in New Zealand,” she said.
“The government will usually only barely refer to it as foreign interference.
“We have a China strategy that was set in 2012. It is out of date. We need an overhaul.
“And we need some clear and calm information for the New Zealand public on how to get the relationship with China right and how to manage the risks. That has not been properly articulated.”