New Zealand’s opposition leader has been accused of hijacking the government’s foreign policy after displaying what China experts describe as an “alarming” attitude during a visit to Beijing, and meeting a politburo member believed connected to the secret police.
Simon Bridges spent five days in China last week and among his engagements was a meeting with politburo member Guo Shengkun, who was previously responsible for the ministry of public security. Guo is secretary of the powerful Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, which oversees all law enforcement, including the secret police.
In a television interview with Chinese state-owned media organisation CGTN, Bridges said his impression of China’s progress and development was one of “amazement”. “It was always changing … it keeps developing, you can feel the prosperity.”
“The last 70 years in China has seen the most remarkable economic transformation in history, it has taken more people out of poverty than ever before.”
“All in all it’s an amazing story and it’s one I think New Zealanders relate to because we have been direct beneficiaries of it as well.”
Bridges later wrote on Facebook: “Today the economy has been transformed and they are rightly proud of the hundreds of millions who have been lifted out of poverty.”
Professor Anne Marie Brady of Canterbury university, an expert on Chinese politics, described Guo as “in charge of China’s secret police”.
You can feel the prosperitySimon Bridges
She said the Communist party used links with other parties to form bridges with other governments, and in return offered “status, trips to China & BRI [Belt and Road Initiative] events, as well as access to CCP [Chinese Communist party] leaders for business opportunities.”
Brady’s alarm at the meeting was echoed by other New Zealand China experts. Stephen Noakes, a senior lecturer in Chinese politics at Auckland university tweeted: “Bridges’ comments re Xi’s China are bonkers.” David Capie, director of the centre for strategic studies at Victoria University of Wellington described Bridges’ comments to CGTN as “extraordinary”.
“Alarming to have such a big gap between govt & opposition views/language concerning such a critical relationship.” Capie tweeted.
A privilege to be at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to meet with Guo Shengkun to discuss the many areas our countries have in common and how we can strengthen ties. pic.twitter.com/HpX5yNaI2s— Simon Bridges (@simonjbridges) September 6, 2019
Bridges was also questioned about the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong, and appeared to veer from the New Zealand government’s cautious position by again praising China and failing to mention the democratic right to protest.
“We understand and accept China’s sovereignty in Hong Kong. We want to see the peaceful resolution. I think the recent step around the extradition bill, to remove it, that’s been very positive,” Bridges said.
A spokesperson for Bridges refused to say if the opposition leader was aware of Guo’s links to secret police, but said the visit to China was paid for out of the leader’s budget.
Bridges told New Zealand media that his meetings in China had been overblown mischaracterised and the superpower was a valuable trading partner. Bridges emphatically denied he had had any dealings with the secret police.
“You’re coming in about this guy, he’s the secret police guy, what he is is one of the leaders of China – in the top 25 – who is their justice and law and order spokesperson. I’d say with the greatest respect, be a bit responsible”,” Bridges said.
Foreign minister Winston Peters has been contacted for comment.