National MP Jian Yang taught English to Chinese spies but was not a spy himself (Video)
National Party list MP Jian Yang has admitted he previously taught English to students in China so they could monitor communications and collect information.
But he says allegations he was trained by Chinese spies, or was once a spy himself, are a "smear campaign by nameless people" out to damage him and his party before the election.
A story by Newsroom.co.nz on Wednesday claimed Dr Yang studied at an elite Chinese spy school before moving to New Zealand, and had attracted the interest of our Security Intelligence Service (SIS) as a result.
Newsroom said Yang's work and political CVs neglected to mention the decade he spent in the People's Liberation Army-Air Force Engineering College, or the Luoyang language institute run by the Third Department, which conducts spying activities for China.
READ MORE: National MP trained by Chinese spies
To have taught at the Air Force Engineering College, Yang would have almost certainly been an officer in Chinese military intelligence and a member of the Communist Party, Newsroom reported.
But on Wednesday, the National Party released a copy of Yang's CV from 2012, which mentioned his time at the Air Force Engineering College and Luoyang PLA University of Foreign Languages.
Yang said on Wednesday that he was not a spy and had never been a spy. But he did have a background as a civilian, or non-ranking, officer in the Chinese military.
"I was a civilian officer, paid by the military but I had no rank. I was a lecturer."
Yang said he was admitted to the Air Force Engineering College, now the Air Force Engineering University, in 1978 as an English major. He stayed on after graduation as a lecturer.
While there, Yang taught English and American studies. In his capacity as a lecturer, he taught students how to intercept and decipher communications.
"You need language to understand people. That's why I was teaching English language."
Yang said his students were simply monitoring communications, rather than carrying out "the physical act of spying".
"If you define those cadets or students as spies, then yes, I was teaching spies."
But Yang said he did not consider those students to be spies, personally. "They were collecting information."
He confirmed he was also a member of the Communist Party, but had not been a member since leaving China.
He had been upfront with the National Party about his background from the beginning, he said.
On his visa application for New Zealand, he make his links to the Chinese universities very clear.
"I've been transparent, because as a member of parliament I've never tried to hide anything. This is the bottom line," Yang said.
"Whenever people asked my about this background. I did not deny it."
When asked why his military background was not mentioned on the National Party website, Yang said: "What I have is, basically, overseas experience. Things can be more complicated if people don't understand the background."
It was common for Chinese people living in New Zealand to have some form of military background, he said.
"I can understand [how] people can be concerned because they don't understand the Chinese system. But once they understand the system they should be assured this is nothing, really, to be concerned about."
Yang said he had never been interviewed by the SIS and was not aware of having ever been investigated by them.
He challenged "those who are propagating these defamatory statements" to front up and prove them.
"This is a smear campaign by nameless people who are out to damage me and the National Party ten days from an election, just because I am Chinese."
He also confirmed he would seek advice on whether to take legal action for defamation.
Prime Minister Bill English said he had been aware of Yang's background and his military training for a long while, and his loyalty to New Zealand had never been questioned.
Yang's membership of the Chinese Communist Party did not worry him, he said. "We have to remember this is a New Zealander we are talking about."
But NZ First leader Winston Peters said Kiwis should be very concerned about Yang's links to Chinese intelligence.
"The National Party either spectacularly failed to check out this candidate, or were totally naïve about what his background meant."
Yang attended university in Canberra before migrating to New Zealand to teach international relations in the politics department at the University of Auckland.
He was picked by National Party president Peter Goodfellow to become an MP on its list in 2011, and has been a key fundraiser for the party among the Chinese community in Auckland.