Politics & Policy

International Coalition Backs Embattled Expert on Chinese Foreign-Influence Operations

Soldiers march with a Chinese Communist Party flag during a rehearsal for a military parade in Beijing, China, October 1, 2019. (Jason Lee/Reuters)
Professor Anne-Marie Brady’s work on CCP political interference in her native New Zealand is under review by university administrators.

Nearly 150 China-focused experts and academics signed on to a letter this week expressing their support for Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, whose work on the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign political interference has been the target of a review by the school’s vice chancellor.

The paper that triggered the review is “Holding a Pen in One Hand, Gripping a Gun in the Other,” Brady’s investigation of how China’s People’s Liberation Army has infiltrated civil society and higher education in New Zealand for the purposes of military research. The CCP “is preparing China for what the Chinese leadership believes is an inevitable war,” Brady writes in the paper. “The New Zealand government needs to work with businesses and universities to devise a strategy to prevent the transfer of military-end-use technology to China.” The report asserts that New Zealand universities — including the Victoria University of Wellington, Massey University, and Lincoln University — have partnerships with Huawei, in addition to alleging the participation of academics in Beijing’s Thousand Talents Program.

The University of Canterbury’s vice chancellor, Cheryl de la Ray, ordered a review into the report after Brady presented it to New Zealand’s parliament this past summer. De la Ray put the paper under review because it has “manifest errors of fact and misleading inferences,” Canterbury’s deputy vice chancellor of research Ian Wright told Stuff, the biggest news website in the country. A number of the academics and universities mentioned in the document have denied Brady’s claims.

Brady declined a request for comment, saying that she has been instructed by university administrators not to discuss the inquiry. But the academics who signed onto this week’s letter have defended the integrity of her scholarship and maintained that the accusations against her are baseless. Among them are Adrian Zenz, the researcher who has spurred a public reckoning with the CCP’s drive to eradicate its Uyghur population in Xinjiang, and Clive Hamilton, the Australian professor who wrote a book that brought widespread public attention to Chinese political interference in his country.

Describing the “ground-breaking” nature and “profound impact internationally” of Brady’s work, the letter states:

We, who know this area, can see no manifest errors or misleading inferences based on the evidenced material provided in the report. The paper does not make “inferences.” People who study it may draw some, but that does not mean the paper made them, misleading or otherwise. Since Professor Wright publicly voiced the allegations a group of us peers again went through Professor Brady’s Parliamentary submission. We find in it no basis for the allegations. Some of the links in its comprehensive sourcing have gone stale since she submitted it but those URLs all still work if put into Wayback or archive.today.

We are disappointed to see no prompt follow-up, explanation or clarification of the University’s position concerning the allegations. The impression left by that published report should have been corrected to show that the University did not intend any endorsement of the complaints, nor an approval or acceptance of complaints to the University as the appropriate way to criticise academic work. The silence has been interpreted as collaboration in slander against a very distinguished scholar whose work has been consistently based on sound social scientific methodology.

Brady has previously faced harassment for her work on Chinese influence. Over the past couple of years, she has been the target of break-ins, mail tampering, and theft of banking information, she told the New Zealand Herald in 2019. The reason for this is no secret: Her work on China’s political influence in New Zealand paints the picture of a country whose participation in international organizations, close access to Antarctica, dairy industry, and research on technologies with military applications has made it an enticing target. New Zealand’s value to Beijing is also “as a soft underbelly through which to access Five Eyes intelligence,” she has written of the intelligence partnership that also includes the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Brady’s travails raise further questions about the true level of CCP influence in New Zealand and around the world, and about how people who stand to be embarrassed by their ties to the Chinese regime work quietly to deter dissent. Charles Burton, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Canada who was one of the letter’s organizers, called it “unfortunate that this matter is being addressed in a secret university tribunal” without due process or public scrutiny. Burton also says he worries that some human-resources departments could see this situation as an invitation to take similar Beijing-friendly steps going forward.

There’s no evidence that Canterbury undertook its review of Brady’s work at the behest of the Chinese government, which makes the episode even more worrying. After all, when foreigners with an interest in preserving their ties to the CCP suppress scholarship inconvenient to its strategic aims on their own, the regime’s aggressive, malignant foreign policy becomes that much harder to counteract.

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