Brian Rudman: Political battles of mainland China have no place in central Auckland
The Chinese Government is hardly the first foreign country to try to stick its nose into the running of our little remote corner of the world.
The Americans haven't hesitated to try to influence the local decision-making processes on issues such as the Vietnam War and anti-nuclear-ship policies.
But the way the Chinese try to manipulate local migrant communities, and put pressure on local councillors, does seem to take this sort of interference up another notch.
In recent weeks, Auckland councillors have received a letter from Liao Juhua, the Chinese consul-general in Auckland, warning them off attending a Falun Gong-sponsored Chinese dance show at the Aotea Centre. An unknown number of parliamentarians have received a similar "stay-away" circular signed by 29 Auckland Chinese "front organisations".
The consul-general "kindly requested" Mayor Len Brown and Auckland councillors "to stay away from the event" because it was organised by "an anti-society cult banned by the Chinese Government".
He said: "The real intention of holding the event is to slander the Chinese Government and propagandise the cultic theories and heretical ideas of Falun Gong."
The letter to MPs is even more intemperate, referring to "an evil cult harboured with anti-scientific and political purposes".
It's not the first time the Chinese have tried to bring their internal battles to Auckland.
In 2002, the consul got his knickers in a twist over banners on Queen St and Karangahape Rd welcoming that peripatetic thorn in China's side, the Dalai Lama, to town.
The Queen St banner referred to him as "in exile in Auckland", while the Karangahape Rd banner demanded "China out of Tibet".
The Chinese wanted both signs to come down and the wimpish Mayor John Banks and his right-wing majority kowtowed to the demands.
The "China out of Tibet" sign clearly breached the "anti-political" sign regulations and should never have gone up. But the other was promoting a coming event and was clearly okay. But the Chinese went boo, and the city fathers ran a mile.
This time, Mayor Brown has chosen not to respond. His office has indicated he declined the invitation because of a prior engagement before the threatening note appeared.
Councillor Cathy Casey is one politician who has taken "great exception to the tone and content of the letter". Writing to the chief executive, she said: "This is New Zealand, not China. We embrace democracy and people's right to freedom of expression. I greatly resent the attempt of the Chinese consul-general to try and influence elected members against Falun Gong members in this way."
It would be naive to expect first-generation migrants, whether they be Falun Gong refugees or supporters of the Chinese Government, to immediately turn their backs on their past lives. Other waves of migrants haven't, so why should they? In 1922, for example, after a report appeared in the Herald of a rousing speech in the Auckland Town Hall during a St Patrick's Day rally, Catholic Bishop James Liston was charged with sedition for inciting disaffection against His Majesty and promoting hostility between different classes.
The New Zealand-born bishop had spoken of his parents being driven out of Ireland by "their foreign masters" - the British - and prayed for a time when Ireland would be free. A jury found him not guilty.
These days, the "rebellious" Irish are well-integrated ingredients of the Kiwi soup. History suggests the latest wave of migrants will, in time, be absorbed into the mix as well. But the process is not helped by diplomats from the old countries stirring up old battles in a new land.
As for a night out, councillors can decide for themselves what shows they want to see without advice from fake drama critics from Embassy Row.
By Brian Rudman | Email Brian By Brian Rudman
5:30 AM Friday Feb 4, 2011