China Hones Its Influence Tactics in New Zealand
Over the past decade, China under Xi Jinping has shifted away from its previous, relatively hands-off approach to other countries’ internal politics and societies. (To be sure, Beijing had always intervened in some of its nearest neighbors, like Taiwan and Southeast Asia, but it had mostly avoided wielding extensive influence within most countries' political systems, universities, and societies.) That has changed under Xi, who has overseen a massive expansion of efforts to wield power within other states—until the zero-COVID debacle and Beijing's deteriorating global image put a damper on China's influence efforts.
Some of the motivations for China’s expanded influence campaigns today are of the seismic changes in Chinese domestic politics during the era of Xi Jinping, the growing appeal (until the past three years) of China’s developmental model, and the simple fact that China is becoming a major global power—economically, strategically, and diplomatically—and wants to wield more influence within other countries and over global narratives.
But there has been another motivating factor behind this expanded campaign to wield influence inside other countries: opportunity. Until recently, many leading liberal democracies were vulnerable to China's tactics.
Having gained some experience with influence tactics in places like Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Southeast Asian states, Beijing began to adopt these strategies more widely—particularly in New Zealand and Australia. New Zealand was, at first, one of the softest targets among liberal democracies. For more on how China has targeted New Zealand with its influence activities, see my new Dominion Post excerpt.