WELLINGTON - Prominent New Zealand researchers on Monday called on Wellington to defend academic freedoms following the harassment of a university professor investigating Beijing’s foreign policy.
The open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern from 29 university academics and human rights campaigners, including Amnesty International New Zealand, was triggered by the alleged intimidation of prominent China researcher Anne-Marie Brady.
Brady has gained international attention for her work, notably a paper on China’s political influence activities under President Xi Jinping using New Zealand as a case study.
Her home and office were burgled in February, and her car was tampered with this month.
The letter noted suggestions that Brady was targeted because of her China research.
Police have only described their investigation as a “complex case” and confirmed Interpol is involved.
But in their letter to Ardern, the academics — including two from the United States and Britain — noted suggestions the harassment of Brady was related to her work on “overseas influence campaigns” by China, New Zealand’s largest trading partner.
“We have been shocked and disturbed by the reports of intimidation and harassment suffered by Professor Anne-Marie Brady,” the letter said, calling on the prime minister to be “transparent about the outcome of any investigation.”
“Attempts to intimidate and harass one academic in New Zealand have implications for the freedoms of all the others — and indeed, for the freedoms of all who live here,” it added.
“We also urge Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern … to be very clear that any intimidation and threats aimed at silencing academic voices in this country will not be tolerated.”
Ardern has been reluctant to discuss the issue, saying it is a police matter and she would not comment until their investigation is completed.
In a recently published paper, Brady noted China’s foreign policy impinged on New Zealand’s national interests “in a peaceful environment in Antarctica, the South Pacific, and the Indo-Asia-Pacific.”
Meanwhile, the United States’ China policies under the Trump administration are also posing difficulties for New Zealand-U.S. relations, Brady wrote.
“The New Zealand government has to try to balance its economic security against security interests and sovereignty — but if national security is seriously challenged, then economic security becomes a secondary concern,” she added.
“In a time of global economic uncertainty and geopolitical flux, getting the China — and U.S. — relationship right is one of the biggest challenges in New Zealand foreign policy.”