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A demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy in Jakarta, on December 21, 2018. The protesters demanded that China stop detaining thousands of minority Uighur Muslims in camps and political indoctrination centers in its Xinjiang region. (Getty Images)
A demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy in Jakarta, on December 21, 2018. The protesters demanded that China stop detaining thousands of minority Uighur Muslims in camps and political indoctrination centers in its Xinjiang region. (Getty Images)

The BulletinMarch 26, 2019

The Bulletin. Will PM Ardern raise Uyghur camps on China visit?

A demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy in Jakarta, on December 21, 2018. The protesters demanded that China stop detaining thousands of minority Uighur Muslims in camps and political indoctrination centers in its Xinjiang region. (Getty Images)
A demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy in Jakarta, on December 21, 2018. The protesters demanded that China stop detaining thousands of minority Uighur Muslims in camps and political indoctrination centers in its Xinjiang region. (Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: PM’s visit to China finally confirmed, privacy commissioner heaps criticism on Facebook, and police minister indicates support for gun register.

PM Jacinda Ardern will be visiting China after all, she announced to reporters yesterday afternoon. The NZ Herald reported her saying the visit, to formally open the new embassy, has been in the planning for some weeks. But the intended length of it has been scaled back in the wake of the Christchurch attacks – the PM says under the circumstances, a longer visit would not have been appropriate. The PM will be meeting both President Xi Jinping, and Premier Li Keqiang.

In some ways, it’s another small step in a long story about the relationship between the two countries. There have been tensions reported all year about China putting the screws on New Zealand in subtle (and less subtle) ways – including the previous postponement of a high profile tourism promotion event. The trip was originally intended to include a significant business engagement component, but that too has now been scaled back because of the shorter nature of the trip.

One aspect of the timing though adds an entirely new development to the relationship. PM Jacinda Ardern is currently being lauded in much of the world – particularly the Muslim world – for leading an inclusive and conciliatory response to the Christchurch terror attacks. But right now, China is holding up to a million Uyghur people – who are Muslim – in internment camps. According to many reports, conditions are utterly totalitarian within the camps, to the point where some describe what is happening to the minority group as “cultural genocide.” It is an issue that has caused serious ructions in Muslim majority countries, such as Turkey and Indonesia.

It’s not an issue outside of New Zealand’s remit either. As this Radio NZ podcast reported last year, Uyghur New Zealanders exist, and they are deeply concerned about their families back in Xinjiang. China admits that re-education camps exist, but denies that they are concentration camps, saying they are necessary for combatting terrorism and extremism. They also deny that the families of New Zealanders are being held in them.

At her post-cabinet press conference, the PM said she had raised human rights topics with China before, but was non-committal about whether they’d be raised this time – just saying that those were things to be worked through and generally some human rights issues were raised in meetings. As the Australian Financial Review reported before the dates were nailed down, the attacks are being reported on in a curious way by Chinese state run media. “Some observers are questioning whether the ruling Communist Party is using the massacre as a propaganda tool to deflect from international condemnation over the mass detention of Uighur Muslims in the country’s west.”

But anyway, the embassy will get opened up. And as always when relations with China are considered, there’s one key detail that should never be overlooked – they’re New Zealand’s biggest trading partner. It is almost certain that if the topic of the Uyghur detention camps is raised, it will be raised in such a way that will do nothing to jeopardise that trade.

The privacy commissioner has heaped criticism on Facebook for their platform allowing the Christchurch attacks to be streamed to a wider audience. Speaking to Newstalk ZB, John Edwards said the social media company had undermined their own credibility, and reassurances that they take criticism along these lines seriously. 

The Spinoff broke the story of the attack being live streamed on Facebook, and subsequently our editor Toby Manhire has argued that their response has been nowhere near good enough. This morning, Duncan Greive has analysed just why Facebook Live won’t be going anywhere, despite repeated evidence that it just isn’t safe as a platform.

Police minister Stuart Nash has indicated to Q+A that he’s in favour of a gun register. That would be a significant change from the current situation, whereby the gun owner is registered and licensed, but no information is held about how many guns each owner holds. He has also indicated that there could be changes to the ‘fit and proper person’ test, so that in future people will have to prove they are, rather than the police having to prove they’re not. Finally in the wide ranging interview, he denied that police would now be armed routinely.

On these points, significantly tighter gun control has been backed by Tim Ashton, the police officer who shot David Gray to end the Aramoana massacre. He told The Spinoff he’s firmly in favour of a gun register, as currently police have no idea what sort of guns are in which hands.

The inquiry into the Christchurch terrorist attack will now be a Royal Commission, reports Radio NZ. That comes after it was suggested by the National Party yesterday. In terms of the questions that will need to be asked, this was written a few days ago but holds true – the main questions will be whether the attack could have been prevented, whether the security services have the right tools to monitor extremist communication online, and whether they were looking in the right direction. The Royal Commission will focus entirely on the events leading up to the attacks, rather than the aftermath.

The Tenancy Tribunal has come down against a landlord withholding a bond for unfair cleaning costs, reports Stuff. The actual dollar amounts in question are relatively small – less than $200 – but it does raise the question of how often these sorts of claims are made, and how often tenants are simply paying up rather than going to the Tribunal – or in fairness, vice versa from landlords. The tenant in the case of this story said he was “fortunate to be in a position to argue his case.”

Vector has been ordered to pay a $3.5 million fine, for breaches of network quality standards, reports the NZ Herald. The fine was handed down on account of too many power outages taking place, and was set at a high level in part to act as a deterrent to both Vector and other power distributors. Vector has accepted the judgement, saying it had worked constructively with the Commerce Commission, and acknowledged the inconveniences that outages can cause. In a statement, they also noted that the judge’s comments indicated that “these breaches were not cynical or designed to extract maximum profit.”  (Disclosure: The Bulletin is presented in partnership with Vector)

A significant world news story that has largely gone under the radar here is Cyclone Idai. It has devastated Mozambique and other parts of Southern Africa, and CNN reports the death toll has now topped 750 – an is expected to rise further. The port city of Beria was hit especially hard, and cholera cases have been reported amid the stagnant water.

A correction: Eric Watson is most definitely not NZ’s richest man, as I said in yesterday’s Bulletin. I appreciate the generosity of readers who assumed that it must have been a typo, but no, it was actually just an early morning brain-melt on my part. Clearly I need to read the NBR more to keep up with who’s where on the Rich List.

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Hōhepa Waenga, an educator at Auckland Zoo (photo: supplied).

Right now on The Spinoff: Fair warning, there’s a lot. 

Firstly, we’ve released a documentary about the wāhine of Hikurangi Cannabis, the cooperative looking to revitalise the town of Ruatōria. That video is produced for The Spinoff by Wrestler and funded by NZ on Air, with the feature article by Don Rowe. They’re both very good pieces.

Elle Hunt has put together an excellent piece of media commentary, focused on Islamophobia. She’s worked as a journalist in all of NZ, Australia and Britain, and says while it’s not non-existent here, the climate of Islamophobia in both of those other countries is far more alarming. The article strongly backs up the points with sources and citations, and some of the examples from those other countries are just sickening.

Sam Brooks has been going to Auckland Arts Festival events, and wrote about how they can keep the world out, or be a constant and vulgar reminder of that world all the way through. It’s a really good reflection piece about the place of art in the wake of a national tragedy.

Finally, we’re doing a article and podcast series in partnership with the Auckland Zoo which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. This piece, by John Daniell and Noelle McCarthy, looks at how the zoo helps children come to understand climate change. This piece looks at the role of mātauranga Māori in conservation in New Zealand. And this piece, by me, is about Auckland Zoo’s contention that the animals in their care live better lives than they would in the wild – particularly in the context of extreme and widespread habitat destruction.

There has been a lot of debate about how much journalists should bother parsing the so-called manifesto of the accused Christchurch terrorist. I’m personally quite sympathetic towards the absolutist position – that there is absolutely nothing to be gained from reading it or looking further into his life – and that everything we need to know about his motivations can be found in who he chose to target. But I think this piece from the NZ Herald’s Kirsty Johnston is a really responsible and useful contribution to that debate, because there’s a lot of information in the story that could help with understanding how similar atrocities might be prevented in the future. Here’s an excerpt:

The accused gunman’s manifesto, and his Facebook feed, refer to previous mass killers, such as the Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Breivik, and from historical fascists such as Oswald Mosley. Having barely finished school he shunned university to work as a personal trainer. He sourced material online. “You will not find the truth anywhere else,” he wrote.

Devon Polaschek, joint director of the NZ Institute of Security and Crime Science, told media after analysing the manifesto: “The problem is that he is self-educated, and he is self-selecting the information that he is consuming. Reinforcing what he already thinks in a circular process.”

The accused gunman appears to have held dear a kind of Nordic, Aryan ideal. His posts are full of blonde-haired women and children, and strong-looking men, often on horseback. At first – like much of the manifesto and the message boards it’s aimed it – the imagery seems a joke. But Ben Elley, who is completing a PhD on the alt-right and online radicalisation, says some people truly believe in it.

“They idolise that Nordic stuff, it’s a cult of history, like ancestor worship. In the same way some people treat 1950s America as an ideal, they like vikings, and Ancient Rome, societies that were powerful and imperialistic,” says Elley.

This is one of the weirdest sports stories I’ve ever read. A man in Papatoetoe has been passing himself off as a champion pro boxer, but every single one of his fights appears to have either been fixed or faked. The investigation has been put together by Stuff, who loved the story so much they decided to turn it into a five part series. I’m sure I’ll be reading the next four parts today.

From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you liked what you read, and know other people who would find it useful, pass on this signup form to them.

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