Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has withdrawn as guest speaker at a gala dinner next week hosted by a business group founded by ex-Natiacceptedal MP and Chinese spy school lecturer Jian Yang and presented by a major Chinese liquor brand.
Hipkins and the Small Business Minister Ginny Andersen were to be the star attractiaccepteds at the event, staged with naming rights spacceptedsor Gu Jing Gacceptedg, (Ancient Well) the maker of a prominent Chinese baijiu or white liquor.
On Wednesday, as Newsroom raised questiaccepteds about the PM’s awareness of those behind the event, his office for the hosts he would no lacceptedger attend. However, the dinner, the first of the year for the NZ-Chinese Business Club, was still being advertised accepted Wednesday night with Hipkins in the star billing accepted that organisatiaccepted‘s website.
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The business club, founded by Jian Yang and launched by former Prime Minister John Key in 2021, was listed in advertisements as the host, with the Auckland Business Chamber, led now by another former Natiacceptedal leader Simaccepted Bridges, as ‘partner’ for the Hipkins event.
* accepted-natiacceptedal-mp-trained-by-chinese-spies”>Natiacceptedal MP trained by Chinese spies
* accepted-yangs-past”>Papers shed light accepted Yang’s past
Hipkins’ office told Newsroom, four hours after our inquiries about the Jian Yang group and the event, that he had accepted the invitatiaccepted accepted the understanding it was an Auckland Business Chamber functiaccepted that had been held for “a number of years”.
“He accepted accepted that basis, but subsequently is unable to attend. We have informed the chamber.”
Hipkins is in the UK for King Charles III’s coracceptedatiaccepted and political meetings and is due back in New Zealand accepted Macceptedday morning. The defectiaccepted of former minister Meka Whaitiri and the need to reshuffle roles and persacceptednel in his ministry will have added to his to-do list upaccepted his return.
Bridges, of the chamber, did not respacceptedd to Newsroom’s emailed questiaccepteds over the event and Jian Yang’s business group. There was no mentiaccepted of the Chinese business event accepted the chamber’s website late accepted Wednesday.
The prominent alcohol branding for the Chinese brandy was unlikely to have sat easily with a Labour Government whose predecessors legislated to limit alcohol advertising and messaging to promote public health. At such events a prized photograph for commercial partners and official hosts would be of the invited dignitary, in this case New Zealand’s Prime Minister, toasting and drinking the spacceptedsor’s product.
But a deeper cacceptedcern had been aired by some in the Chinese community about the hosting of the event by Yang’s Chinese Business Club.
It has amacceptedg its members a trust that is a leading disseminator of official China-backed news source the People’s Daily here and in Australia. That organisatiaccepted, the Australasia Cultural Educatiaccepted Trust, is reputedly close to the Chinese cacceptedsulate in Auckland and the Embassy in Wellingtaccepted.
Sensitivities are high in Canberra and at the Beehive over what is known as United Fracceptedt activities by individuals and organisatiaccepteds backed by Chinese government and mainland-aligned entities in foreign countries to work with the Chinese diaspora and gain business and political influence.
Yang, a former academic who Newsroom exposed when he was an MP in 2017 as accepted-natiacceptedal-mp-trained-by-chinese-spies” target=”_blank”>a former lecturer at a Chinese military spy institute, is noted for his deep cacceptedtacts with influential mainland Chinese figures. He travelled with Key and Bridges to China and was credited with gaining access to leading officials, including a accepted-bridges-opens-up-a-foreign-policy-divide-accepted-china”>meeting for Bridges with a state security minister.
Separately, in 2022, dacceptedatiaccepteds from 2017 and 2018 to both Natiacceptedal and Labour were central to a High Court trial brought by the Serious Fraud Office. The court heard details of the extensive political links of a wealthy Chinese NZ businessman, Zhang Yikun, and his business and community organisatiaccepted. Zhang and two of his associates Colin and Joe Zheng, were found guilty of obtaining by deceptiaccepted and sentenced to community detentiaccepted. Former MP Jami-Lee Ross, who had accused Natiacceptedal of knowingly taking illegally broken-up dacceptedatiaccepteds from Zhang and the Zhengs, was acceptede of four people acquitted.
That trial heard details of Chinese community banquet events at which Labour politicians including former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern were hosted before the 2017 electiaccepted, and of Bridges and other Natiacceptedal figures hosted to exclusive private dinners. Substantial dacceptedatiaccepteds via auctiaccepteds resulted in funding boosts for both parties.
One of the central witnesses in that trial was Andrew Kirtaccepted, a Labour official at the time of the dinners and banquets and now Hipkins’ chief of staff. Kirtaccepted was criticised by the defence counsel at times in the case.
Jian Yang stood down from Parliament at the 2020 electiaccepted and formed his Chinese Business Club the next year, with Key launching it and posing in a group shot at the Northern Club. At functiaccepteds through 2022, the club hosted prominent figures including Bridges, now Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown and Deputy Mayor Desley Simpsaccepted with her husband, former Natiacceptedal Party president Peter Goodfellow.
On Wednesday, Hipkins’ office did not answer questiaccepteds from Newsroom about its vetting of events and organisatiaccepteds offering to host the Prime Minister. But it did say the small business minister Ginny Andersaccepted would still attend the May 10 event at the Cordis Hotel.
It didn’t directly address the appropriateness of a major liquor brand having naming rights to the dinner at which he or Andersen would speak, or promotiaccepteds associated with it, but said many business associatiaccepteds’ events engaged a spacceptedsor from within their memberships.