A National Party MP whose links to Chinese spy agencies attracted the interest of New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service has been quietly reselected for one of the party’s list-only spots at the 2020 election

Dr Jian Yang has announced his reselection as a list-only candidate in a press release republished by several Chinese-language media outlets, but there has been no English-language statement from either Yang or National.

The Chinese-language statement praised Yang’s “fruitful work in the Chinese community”, and said he would also provide support to electorate candidates in their campaigns.

Shortly before the 2017 election, Newsroom and the Financial Times revealed that Yang’s studies and work at elite Chinese military institutions – which were not mentioned in his work or political CVs  – had brought him to the attention of the NZSIS.

Newsroom was told at the time that to have taught at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force Engineering College, Yang would have almost certainly been an officer in Chinese military intelligence and a member of the Communist Party, as other students and staff have been.

Responding to Newsroom’s investigation, Yang said he was not a spy but conceded that he did teach English to spies at a language school run by the PLA.

“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.”

Documents released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act subsequently showed that Yang did not make clear his stints at the PLA institutes in a 1997 application for New Zealand residency, instead putting down what he said were “partner universities”.

China ties scrutinised

Yang’s reselection comes as the wider National Party has come under scrutiny for its foreign policy approach to China and its relationship with Chinese donors.

A controversial trip to China by National leader Simon Bridges last September, including a meeting with the man in charge of the country’s security and intelligence apparatus, was revealed by Stuff as having been organised by Yang with minimal input from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Separately, four men – including former National MP Jami-Lee Ross – have been charged by the Serious Fraud Office over a $100,000 donation reportedly given by a Chinese community leader to National.

National’s leader Simon Bridges said at the time that “as expected”, neither he nor his party had been charged following the investigation.

“I have always maintained I had nothing to do with the donations. As I have always said, the allegations against both myself and the party were baseless and false,” he said.

A National Party spokesman confirmed Yang had been reselected for one of the party’s list-only spots.

It was not standard practice for every sitting MP to have an official press release confirming their reselection unless their status had changed or there was a new candidate in a seat, the spokesman said.

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Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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