Urgent Debate – the Exclusion of Chinese Journalist Nick Wang


I would like to commend the Speaker for taking so seriously the exclusion of an accredited parliamentary press gallery journalist, Nick Wang, from a photo opportunity on the 8th floor of the Beehive last Monday. The event was a meeting between the Chinese Vice-Premier, Zeng Peiyan, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Cullen, in Dr Cullen’s office. It is completely unacceptable that Mr Wang was excluded for political reasons, with the process of exclusion being initiated by an intelligence official from the Chinese Embassy in Wellington. The press gallery has united in support of Mr Wang, with press gallery chairwoman, Marie McNicholas, explaining that the police have a security role and are not supposed to be the “embarrassment police” to shield visiting politicians from critical attention.

We know that the Chinese Government does not brook dissent in its own country and that democracy advocates are treated harshly there. We also know, from instances around the world, that the Chinese Government puts pressure on foreign Governments to protect, if possible, visiting Chinese leaders from exposure to protest or difficult questions from the media.

In 1999 the New Zealand Police bowed to the wishes of the Chinese Government and kept protesters well away from the visiting Chinese President, Jiang Zemin — even putting buses in the way so that the President would not see the protesters. In December 2000 the Justice and Electoral Committee published the results of a parliamentary inquiry into the police actions against the demonstrators in 1999, and recommended that police general instructions be reworked, “emphasising that freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly are the starting point for the Police”.

Since then the policing of visits made by Chinese dignitaries has improved. My late colleague Rod Donald held a Tibetan flag on the steps of Parliament when a Chinese leader visited a couple of years ago, and he received almost universal sympathy from this Parliament, the Government, and the people of New Zealand when Chinese security officers tried to block him. However, I think our Government has to bear some responsibility for the police now thinking that they can act as the “embarrassment police”, to use Marie McNicholas’ words.

The Government kept the latest visit by the Chinese Vice-Premier quiet until the last moment, with notification to the media being in the ministerial diary only last Friday afternoon for Wellington events on the Monday. This repeats the short notice given to the visit last October by the Chinese Commerce Minister, Bo Xilai, when the media was advised of his visit only the day he arrived in the country. The Minister of Trade, Mr Phil Goff, said at the time: “… you could assume that China was sensitive to the fact that there may be protests at the meeting and we try to accommodate their needs in terms of allowing some dignity for the Minister.”

Senior Constable Dan O’Connell was clearly trying to “accommodate their needs”, to use Mr Goff’s phrase, when he said to Nick Wang outside the Beehive theatrette that they — presumably the Chinese — did not want his presence there and that if he did not leave they would cancel the ceremony. Mr Wang was eventually allowed to stay, but earlier he had been refused entry to the advertised media photo opportunity in Dr Cullen’s office. The videotape shows a Chinese security officer from the Chinese Embassy in Wellington talking to a New Zealand police officer, immediately after which she came over to Mr Wang and said that she had been told that he was Falun Gong and that “security issues” were involved.

This gives lie to a statement made by Superintendent Tony McLeod on radio this morning that the police were “absolutely not” responding to pressure from the Chinese delegation. Superintendent McLeod’s response is worrying, particularly when taken together with Inspector Bruce Blaney’s comment in this morning’s paper that Mr Wang was a “genuine security risk” and Inspector Blaney’s claim that he was “yelling and shouting”. Again, the video gives lie to this.

It is unacceptable for our police to imitate China’s repressive approach, where they commonly clamp down on a critical journalist and then claim it was all the journalist’s fault. That is exactly what our police did when they allowed the tame Chinese media into the Vice-Premier’s meet and greet with Dr Cullen, but then excluded an independent New Zealand journalist.

We live in a democracy. We cannot import repressive Chinese techniques into our own Parliament. This is a very serious issue. We must get an apology from the police and get them to retract their attacks on Mr Wang. Their behaviour is unacceptable if this House is to operate properly.