In an Oct. 11 report, New Zealand online news website Newsroom uncovered that some government offices were using surveillance cameras developed by Hikvision, whose controlling shareholder belongs to a Chinese state-owned enterprise.
Hikvision’s surveillance technology has been employed in the large-scale human rights abuses in Xinjiang, where the Chinese regime has sought to clamp down on the mostly Uyghur Muslim population, including through constant state surveillance.
Newsroom found that Hikvision security cameras were installed at the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) office in Auckland; used by the Auckland municipal transportation department to monitor traffic; employed by the Tauranga City police to catch criminals; and operated by Whanganui City for license plate recognition.
The MBIE office would not confirm that it used the Chinese brand, but Hikvision’s cameras were in plain view at the MBIE office reception area, according to The Newsroom.
Hikvision’s close ties to the Chinese regime and previously reported security vulnerabilities have prompted some governments to shut them out.
The company’s primary owner is China Electronics Technology HIK Group, which is a subsidiary of China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC). That firm was in turn founded by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
Prior to heading Hikvision, its chairman Chen Zongnian had worked for decades at CETC.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed an independent researcher’s discovery that some models of Hikvision cameras contained a backdoor that would allow a hacker full access to the device. The Department concluded that the cameras were “remotely exploitable/low skill level to exploit.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. government banned federal agencies from procuring equipment from Hikvision and another Chinese security camera manufacturer, Dahua Technology, citing the risk for China to conduct espionage via the devices.
U.S. lawmakers are now considering sanctions against Hikvision for their role in assisting Xinjiang authorities to commit human rights violations.
In June, media reports revealed that Hikvision had developed an AI-enhanced surveillance system with the capability to recognize “ethnic minorities” for policing purposes.
IPVM, an online news website covering the video surveillance industry, has also documented Hikvision’s extensive participation in Xinjiang surveillance systems, through their bids for public projects.
After Newsroom reached out to New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) about the use of Hikvision cameras, the ministry said it would conduct an audit of its surveillance camera system.
“We do not see any cause for concern but are looking to undertake an audit of all our CCTV systems. We are working through a national electronic security procurement project that will further clarify controls on specifications and standards,” an MBIE spokesperson said.
Despite security concerns with Hikvision, the company has grown tremendously in recent years, owning over 21 percent of the global video surveillance equipment market share, according to IHS Markit, a market research firm.
Meanwhile, media outlet Stuff New Zealand recently revealed the full extent to which Beijing directly funds its Confucius Institute programs in the country.
After filing a public information request, Stuff found that in the past three years, New Zealand universities have received $2.3 million NZ dollars ($1.5 million) from China.
Duncan Campbell, adjunct teaching fellow at Victoria University’s School of Language and Cultures, told Stuff that such huge sums are “inappropriate” when schools “should be putting that or more into the proper study of China.” He described the funding as “outsourcing” education on China to the Chinese Communist Party.
Victoria University’s Confucius Institute received more than $360,000 NZ dollars (about $235,000) from Beijing last year, more than half of the program’s total budget, $620,000 NZ dollars (about $406,000).
Universities themselves also provide some of the funding to their hosted Confucius Institutes, which frequently report back information to the Chinese consulate, according to email correspondence Stuff obtained through the public information act. Stuff cited emails about a forum on China’s One Belt, One Road initiative—a project to establish Beijing-centered trade routes around the world—that the Auckland University Confucius Institute planned to organize.
Because all of New Zealand’s universities are public, that means New Zealand citizens are effectively paying for China to spread its agenda overseas, according to professor Anne-Marie Brady at Canterbury University.
In March 2017, New Zealand signed a memorandum of understanding with China for a partnership in the One Belt, One Road.