New Zealand’s intelligence service has accused China of foreign interference in its democracy, amid increasing tensions and geopolitical competition in the region.
In a declassified threat assessment report released on Friday, the country’s spy agency, NZSIS, said there were “foreign intelligence agencies who persistently and opportunistically conduct espionage operations against New Zealand”.
It discussed “the activities of three states in particular: the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia” – but focused much of its discussions of internal interference by the Chinese state, including “ongoing activity in and against New Zealand and our home region that is linked to the PRC’s intelligence services”. The agency called for greater awareness in New Zealand about the threat of foreign spying and interference.
The report comes as tensions continue to rise in the Pacific and the South China Sea. Earlier this week, analysts warned that a territorial dispute between China and the US-aligned Philippines, where Chinese coastguards used a water cannon on a Philippine boat, had “significant escalatory potential” and risked drawing the superpowers into conflict.
While New Zealand has broadly tried to preserve friendly relations with Beijing, China’s increasingly muscular presence in the Pacific has put that relationship under some strain, and news of a secret security pact with Solomon Islands drew a sharp rebuke from New Zealand last year.
Friday’s public threat assessment points to “increased strategic competition” in the Indo-Pacific region as driving the interference from China. Beijing’s “efforts to advance its political, economic, military and security involvement in the Pacific is a major factor driving strategic competition in our home region,” it says.
In a media statement from NZSIS, the agency said “This environment is prompting some states to seek advantage through subversive and dishonest means such as espionage and foreign interference against New Zealand and New Zealand’s interests.”
“Competition between states is becoming more acute,” NZSIS director-general of security Andrew Hampton added.
In previous security overview reports, NZSIS has spoken broadly about having gathered evidence of interference and espionage activities in New Zealand by foreign states and agents, but not named specific countries or governments. Friday’s report was more forthright – naming China, Russia and Iran specifically – while adding that Chinese intelligence workers were involved in the targeting of ethnically Chinese communities in New Zealand.
“NZSIS has detected interference activity from a number of foreign states. Most notable is the continued targeting of New Zealand’s diverse ethnic Chinese communities. We see these activities carried out by groups and individuals linked to the intelligence arm of the People’s Republic of China,” it said.
Security Intelligence Service acting director-general Phil McKee told MPs at a hearing in March that “some of the most insidious examples [of foreign interference] concern harassment of ethnic communities in New Zealand who speak out against the actions of a foreign government. There are examples where information is collected on them and used to threaten family members in their … home country,” he said.
As well as allegations of “foreign interference”, the report contained mention of espionage threats – but did not detail specific states spying on New Zealanders or politicians, saying only that “a number of foreign intelligence services persistently and opportunistically undertake espionage against New Zealand”.
In one case study – not attributed to a specific state – it said “an undeclared foreign intelligence officer … targeted and sought to cultivate a New Zealander with access to information and people networks of interest to the foreign state [and] almost certainly sought to obtain political, economic and national security intelligence through the relationship.”
On the threat from Iran, the agency said it had detected state actors “monitoring and providing reporting on Iranian communities and dissident groups”.
Separately, the reports said that “Russia’s international disinformation campaigns have not targeted New Zealand specifically, but have had an impact on the views of some New Zealanders.”
Source: The Guardian