New Zealand Professor’s Research on CCP Influence Clears University Review

December 12, 2020 Updated: December 16, 2020

New Zealand academic Anne-Marie Brady said there was nothing to justify the “complaints,” “gagging order,” and suppression of academic freedom that she had faced for months after she coauthored a report documenting the Chinese regime’s influence operations. 

The University of Canterbury (UC) said on Dec. 11 that a review of the report found that Brady and her co-authors had met the responsibilities of its policy as well as New Zealand’s 1989 Education Act.

An internal review of Brady’s report (pdf), titled “Holding a Pen in One Hand, Gripping a Gun in the Other,” was ordered by UC after she presented the paper to New Zealand’s parliament in the summer, and a number of complainants challenged certain “assertions and inferences.”

News of the review prompted more than 190 international experts on China-related matters to sign an open letter in support of Brady, with some saying that the professor was being administratively harassed by UC for her work. It also sparked widespread concerns over academic freedom.

“The committee noted that professor Brady’s work was based on a lengthy period of research and cites extensively from other sources,” UC told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement. 

It noted however that as the report was intended for parliamentary submission and succinct, the committee leading the review recommended that some phrases could be amended to provide clarity.

Officials at UC didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for clarification of its statement. 

The Report

The paper is an investigation by the professor into how China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) exploited civilian channels for military purposes in New Zealand.

Brady, who specializes in Chinese domestic and foreign politics at UC, wrote in her latest paper that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “is preparing China for what the Chinese leadership believes is an inevitable war.”

“The New Zealand government needs to work with businesses and universities to devise a strategy to prevent the transfer of military-end-use technology to China,” the research states.

It also claims that a number of universities in New Zealand have links to Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, and that some academics have participated in Beijing’s well-financed recruitment program, the Thousand Talents Plan, which has come under close U.S. scrutiny over possible threats to national security.

The Thousand Talents Plan, which was rolled out by Beijing in 2008, is China’s most prominent state-run recruitment program. Hundreds of similar operations exist at the central and local government levels, aiming to attract promising overseas Chinese and foreign experts in the fields of science and technology to fuel China’s innovation drive.

The CCP plays a central role in executing the recruitment plan.

The report also pointed to UC’s partnership with Northwestern Polytechnical University to establish the Human Interface Tech Lab. Northwestern is designated as a “high-risk” institution involved in extensive military research, according to the Australian Strategy Policy Institute’s University Tracker.

“By accessing universities or tech companies in states with an advanced technology sector like New Zealand, the PLA can get a foothold within the international network of scholars working on a given subject area,” the paper states. 

“New Zealand commercial and educational links with PLA-affiliated organizations and individuals raise national security, as well as reputational, ethical, and intellectual property risks. Some of these links potentially breach New Zealand’s international commitments and domestic laws.” 

A review of the report was ordered by university Vice Chancellor Cheryl de la Rey. She said the paper has “manifest errors of fact and misleading inferences,” according to UC’s deputy vice chancellor of research, Ian Wright.

De la Rey didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by The Epoch Times. 

Suppression of Academic Freedom

Responding to the review’s findings, Brady told The Epoch Times that neither her lawyers nor she could see anything to justify the complaints or the gag order.

“Staff and students at the complaining institutions, Victoria and Auckland universities, have as much at stake as me in knowing that their vice chancellors will also stand up for academic freedom,” she said. “They asked UC to suppress my academic freedom against a parliamentary submission. My submission contributed to better legislation updating the regulation of strategic goods.”

Complainant Jennifer Dixon, deputy vice chancellor at the University of Auckland (UA), asserted that several “assertions and inferences” made about an academic identified in the report—Wei Gao, a materials science and engineering professor—were inaccurate.

A spokeswoman for UA told The Epoch Times in a statement that UC’s review didn’t cover its specific complaint.

“We stand by our original complaint, and are concerned that the review did not address the issues raised … relating to assertions and implications made about professor Wei Gao,” it said, asking Brady to amend her publication to reflect Gao’s “academic record.”

Brady, in her statement, criticized the review process of her report.

“We must know how it came to be that academic research can be attacked with disciplinary powers, instead of the normal transparent publication of competing views and claims,” Brady said.

Epoch Times Photo
Anders Corr, founder of Corr Analytics, a political risk analysis firm. (Corr Analytics)

Anders Corr, principal of Corr Analytics, told The Epoch Times that the China Democracy Foundation welcomed the university’s decision.

“Let’s hope it serves as a lesson to other universities not to try and squelch the freedom of speech of their academics with bogus investigations into their work. The proper way to dispute academic work is with better academic work,” Corr said.

“The university knows this and was way out of bounds, especially as professor Brady’s article was in response to a request by the New Zealand Parliament and therefore had the protection of parliamentary privilege.”