New Zealand said on Friday it is aware of intelligence activity linked to China in and against the island nation and the Pacific region.
“This is a complex intelligence concern for New Zealand,” the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) said in its annual report.
The Chinese embassy in Wellington said it was “strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposed” to the China-related content in the report, claiming the Chinese government was conducting “normal” exchanges with overseas Chinese citizens in accordance with international law.
China hopes relevant countries can create an open, inclusive and non-discriminatory environment for Chinese citizens overseas and local Chinese, the embassy said in a statement.
The accusations levelled against China are the latest in a string of recent comments from the New Zealand government outlining concerns about China’s assertive behaviour and its destabilising impact.
New Zealand, part of the Five Eyes intelligence and security alliance that includes Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States, has historically taken a more conciliatory approach towards China, its biggest trading partner, but in recent months has more often raised concerns publicly about the country’s actions.
The report, titled “New Zealand’s Security Threat Environment 2023”, is being made public for the first time as part of a government shift to better inform New Zealanders about risks the country is facing, and comes two months before a general election where foreign policy is being pushed into the electoral spotlight.
The report also highlighted “foreign interference” activity from Iran and Russia.
However, it said that the most notable case of interference was the continuing targetting of New Zealand’s diverse ethnic Chinese communities by groups and individuals linked to China’s intelligence arm.
The report added that, more broadly, the international security environment in which New Zealand operates is now more challenging and less predictable than in recent decades.
“Our links with other Pacific countries, and our shared interests in a stable, peaceful, prosperous, and resilient home region will draw the attention of foreign intelligence services,” it said. The report added that those intelligence services were looking to inform foreign governments on government policy and strategy and find ways to create conditions more favourable for themselves.
The Iranian embassy in Wellington did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while the Russian Embassy criticised New Zealand’s “interference” in Russian internal affairs by commenting publicly on the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny.
Andrew Hampton, NZSIS’ director-general of security, said in a statement released alongside the report that competition between states is becoming more acute, prompting some to seek advantage through “subversive and dishonest” activities.
The intelligence report also noted that technological innovation, global economic instability and declining social trust also posed threats.
“Our threat environment is evolving at pace and already appears noticeably different, as well as more complex, to what was seen at the same time last year,” it added.