WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND — New Zealand’s spy agency accused China on Friday of espionage and foreign interference, a frank assertion from a country typically wary of angering its largest trading partner.
China’s growing “assertiveness” was fuelled by a strategic tussle in the Asia-Pacific region, New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service said, where Beijing has been seeking to outmuscle Washington and its Western allies.
The declassified “threat assessment” also said Chinese intelligence agencies had been persistently monitoring ex-pat Chinese communities that had settled within New Zealand.
“Only a small number of states engage in interference against New Zealand, but some do so persistently and with the potential for significant harm,” the report read.
New Zealand is part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance alongside the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.
But Wellington has been criticised in the past for taking a softer line on China — putting its close trading relationships ahead of the security concerns of its allies.
By releasing the report to the public for the first time, New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service has signalled a newfound willingness to speak out and risk the wrath of Beijing.
Alongside China, the report singles out espionage activities linked to the governments of Iran and Russia.
Iran had been monitoring “dissident groups”, the report read, while Russian campaigns to spread disinformation were starting to sway a small number of New Zealanders.
The report also said violent extremism, a key concern in the wake of the 2019 Christchurch mosque massacre, continued to be fuelled by anti-government rhetoric spread online.
“False and discredited information shapes pathways to violent extremism but also creates opportunities for foreign interference,” the country’s spy boss Andrew Hampton said.