National Party MP Jian Yang says he is not a spy but concedes he did teach spies at a languages school run by the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) in central China.

Yang, who is the National Party’s only Chinese MP and a major fundraiser for the party, held a media conference after Newsroom revealed his background in military intelligence.

Yang spent 15 years studying at institutions run by the PLA before moving to Australia and then New Zealand.

He taught at the PLA University of Foreign Languages in Louyang and is part of the PLA’s third department, which intercepts, collects and monitors the communications of foreign countries.

Yang said his job was to teach students to how to listen, read and write English.

“If you define those cadets or students as spies, yes, then I was teaching spies. If that is the case. I don’t think [they were spies]. I just think they are collecting information through communication in China. If you define that way, then they were spies. But for us, it was just collecting information.”

Yang agreed when he was asked if his students were using the English they were learning to monitor the communications of other countries.

“If you say spying, then spying,” Yang said.

Yang said he was a civilian officer in the PLA but not a ranking military officer.

Asked if he was a member of the Communist Party, Wang said he was but stopped being a member when he left China in 1994.

Prime Minister Bill English says he knew his MP Jian Yang attended military intelligence schools in China and when asked directly if he knew Yang trained at schools that produced spies English said “that’s my understanding of the meaning of military intelligence”.

Questioned if he was happy to have someone who’s been a member of the Communist Party and a ranking PLA officer sitting on a foreign affairs and trade committee, English replied “I think we need to be careful here because Dr Wang is now a New Zealand citizen.” “We are talking about a New Zealand citizen here.”

English would not comment on whether the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) had scrutinised Yang over three years, as reported by Newsroom in a special investigation. He said it was an operational matter.

Newsroom sources say that in 2016 Yang was investigated by the SIS. The Prime Minister at the time, John Key, would have had to give his permission for any investigation.

In 2016 Yang was taken off the select committee for Foreign Affairs, defence and trade.

Speaker David Carter confirmed to Newsroom he would have to be informed of any monitoring of an MP by an intelligence agency.

However, he refused to say whether he had been briefed by the SIS director regarding any concerns about Yang.

“That would be not appropriate for me to make any further comment on that at all.”

National Party President Peter Goodfellow claims the MP’s background was known to the party and had been checked out by a lobbying firm Saunders and Unsworth but that firm denied having done any review on Jian Yang.

English tried to brush off the revelation about his MP’s background by saying National Party politicians and the Chinese community were aware of Yang’s background.

The detail of Yang’s military intelligence education was reported internationally by the global news site the Financial Times, which worked with Newsroom to examine Yang’s background.

Its report, written by its highly-regarded Asia editor and former Beijing bureau chief Jamil Anderlini, said: “No other western country is known to have a sitting member of parliament with such extensive training in China’s military intelligence apparatus.”

Anderlini also wrote: “The fact he has served for six years in the governing party of a member country of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance raises questions about western preparedness to deal with China’s increasingly aggressive efforts to influence foreign governments and spy on them.”

However, English said Yang had been in New Zealand a long time [since 1999] and had been open to public scrutiny in the six years he had become an MP.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says New Zealanders should be very concerned that a National Party fundraiser and a list MP, highly placed inside the party, was a member of the Chinese intelligence service.

“National List MP Jian Yang has not been transparent about his extensive training and service in China’s secret intelligence agencies,” says Peters.

“He did not disclose any of that in his CV.

“The National Party either spectacularly failed to check out this candidate, or were totally naïve about what his background meant.”

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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