Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has expressed concerns about a break-in at the home of an academic investigating Chinese influence in New Zealand, saying she will “ask some questions” of officials.
However, Ardern has dismissed Canterbury University professor Anne-Marie Brady’s claims that New Zealand is lagging behind Australia in combating foreign influence.
Brady, whose Magic Weapons paper made waves around the world last September with its illustrations of Chinese soft and hard power in New Zealand, revealed the break-ins last Thursday while speaking remotely to the Australian Parliament’s intelligence and security committee.
Her Upper Riccarton house was broken into last Wednesday, which she said was particularly suspicious, the NZ Herald reported.
Three laptops, including one used for work, and phones were stolen. No valuables were taken, she said.
That followed a break-in at her office last December. She also received a warning letter last week “that I was about to be attacked”.
Speaking at her weekly press conference on Monday, Ardern said she had only seen media reports of the break-in, but would be seeking further information.
“If it were in response to the work she’s doing, everyone would be concerned, so certainly if there’s evidence of that we should be taking stock of it and taking action…
“I’ve only just been advised of the public reports, but I’ll certainly ask some questions in regard.”
Ardern said she would “certainly want to be informed” if there was evidence the break-ins were a targeted action.
In November, Newsroom reported Brady’s latest paper, which urged the Government to protect New Zealand from “China’s covert, corrupting and coercive political influence”, through a series of investigations and new laws.
That followed her earlier Magic Weapons paper, which listed individuals and companies that have been major donors to New Zealand political parties.
Last week, Brady criticised the Government for dragging its heels, saying New Zealand is a “couple of years behind” Australia in tackling foreign influence. Australia is considering banning foreign donations to political parties.
However, Ardern said while New Zealand had taken a different approach to Australia, “I wouldn’t for a moment concede that we aren’t live to issues of foreign influence generally”.
“[We are] constantly making sure that our laws are up to date and fit for purpose, but keeping in mind some of our laws are already quite different to Australia, particularly for instance funding [and] our electoral laws, but that doesn’t mean we can’t constantly appraise whether or not they are up to scratch.”
Newsroom was unable to reach Brady for comment on Monday.
The issue of China’s attempts to exert influence in New Zealand were put in the spotlight by Newsroom’s investigation into National MP Jian Yang, which revealed concerns about his connections to Chinese military intelligence.
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters called for an inquiry into Yang’s ties before the election, but has softened his approach since taking office.