‘Insider Threat’: New Zealand Public Servant Accused of Spying for CCP

By Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu is based in Sydney. She focuses on Australian and New Zealand national affairs.
March 13, 2023Updated: March 13, 2023

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) is declining to comment on reports that it detained a Chinese-born New Zealand citizen who worked as a public servant on suspicion of spying for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

“The NZSIS has a long-standing approach of not discussing what may or may not be specific areas of operational focus or individuals,” an NZSIS spokesperson told The Epoch Times.

Yuan “Jason” Zhao, a senior analyst for the NZ Public Service Commission, says he’s been accused of being an “insider threat,” according to the New Zealand media outlet Stuff. According to Stuff, Zhao said in a deleted fundraising website that he had been accused of providing “privileged insights” to the Chinese communist regime and for holding “close personal relationships” with officials from a foreign government.

“I’m innocent,” Zhao told Stuff. “Someone framed me.”

On its website, the NZSIS defines insider threat as “any person who exploits, or intends to exploit their legitimate access to an agency’s assets to harm the security of their agency or New Zealand, either wittingly or unwittingly, through espionage, terrorism, unauthorised disclosure or information, or loss or degradation of a resource or capability.”

On another fundraising website, Zhao alleged that he and his family were detained by the NZSIS at Wellington International Airport on Oct. 20, 2022, while returning from vacation. He accused the agency of prohibiting any outside contact for several hours and that his family felt “deprived of our human rights.”

The passports, luggage, and phones of Zhao, his wife, and their children, as well as his son’s laptop, were also allegedly taken away and checked. Zhao also claims that he was taken to a room and presented a form asking him to voluntarily accept an interview. He said he “felt forced” to sign the paper as his family was being held.

After the interview, the Public Service Commission suspended him from work.

The NZSIS told The Epoch Times that it doesn’t have enforcement powers “and cannot detain or arrest anyone, or require them to speak to us.”

“Anyone can complain to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security if they consider that they have been, or maybe, adversely affected by something done by the NZSIS,” the NZSIS spokesperson added.

Officials at New Zealand Public Service Commission didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

New Zealand’s Role as Indo-Pacific Tensions Rise

The espionage allegations arose on the eve of the AUKUS announcement, a trilateral agreement that will arm Australia with a nuclear submarine capability in the face of the growing threat from the Beijing regime in the Indo-Pacific.

While New Zealand isn’t a part of the AUKUS, it wouldn’t be able to “sit on the sidelines” during any potential conflict, retired Australian Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan said.

“This isn’t just about submarines; this is about diplomacy, this is about economics, this is about influence. And New Zealand is very much in the picture when it comes to all these aspects of competition with China,” he told Newshub.

Ryan noted that, like New Zealand, Australia’s biggest trading partner is China, yet it stood up to the regime in the face of an AU$20 billion (US$14 billion) economic coercion campaign.

“At some point, you just have to take a stand for your values. China’s values are not aligned with ours, and I’d suggest they’re probably not aligned with New Zealand’s,” he said.

“Our foreign interference legislation, our views on 5G are something that New Zealand might like to look at.”

During his first visit to Australia as New Zealand’s prime minister, Chris Hipkins said at a news conference that China is an “incredibly important” trading partner.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be areas where we disagree from time to time. We’ll continue to voice our disagreements with China when that happens, and we’ll always continue to strive to strengthen that ongoing relationship.”