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'Invisible man' National MP Jian Yang - A reporter's two-year attempt to get him to front

As Todd Muller was brought in as National's new leader in May, list MP Jian Yang was bumped up on the party's list from 33 to 27.

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Since questions were raised about his links to the Chinese Communist Party, Dr Jian Yang has refused Whena Owen’s interview requests. Should he front? Source: Q+A

Despite the promotion, the MP of nine years is an elusive figure to most of the English-speaking media. 

Following his re-selection as a National list-only candidate for this year's election, he released a statement only in Chinese, which was published by Chinese-language media. His party didn't release an English-language statement either.

That's despite Dr Yang earning $179,000 a year, serving as the chairperson of the Governance and Administration Select Committee and being the Shadow Minister for Statistics. 

The elusiveness started in September 2017, when Newsroom and Financial Times broke the story of Dr Yang's connections to the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese spy agencies. 

Prior to that, Dr Yang appeared occasionally in English media. 

In 2017, Newsroom said Dr Yang didn't mention his previous work which saw him spend a decade at the People's Liberation Army Air Force Engineering College or the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute where he taught English to intelligence students. The institute is part of China's military intelligence apparatus. 

His omitting of these details continued in his Chinese-language statement regarding his re-selection for the 2020 General Election. 

In 2017, following the revelations, he said at a press conference he refuted "any allegations that question my loyalty to New Zealand". 

Dr Yang denied he was or is a spy. He said he resigned from the Chinese Communist Party when he came to New Zealand, which came after a move to Canberra in the 1990s. 

Following his move to New Zealand, he was picked for the party list by National Party president Peter Goodfellow after the encouragement of former Prime Minister Sir John Key.

TVNZ 1's Q+A reporter Whena Owen has been trying to get an interview with Dr Yang for more than two years. 

Q+A wanted to ask him about the New Zealand-China relationship, tensions in Hong Kong, and the ongoing questions over his suitability as an MP.

Owen contacted Dr Yang's PA in early 2018 when the programme was running a segment profiling MPs and showing their lighter, more human side. His PA said Dr Yang "would like to decline the request". 

When pressed, the PA said this would be indefinitely. 

In 2019, reporters wanted to ask Dr Yang about his arrangement of the itinerary for Simon Bridges' visit to Beijing, cutting out the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and fixing a meeting with a top-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party.

Q+A asked National's chief press secretary for an interview with Dr Yang. The answer was no.

More unsuccessful attempts followed, including a visit to his office and home this year, once other avenues were exhausted and written interview requests remained unanswered. 

As Covid-19 swept China, Owen wanted to ask Dr Yang about the thousands of international students in the country and the racism he and other Chinese people had experienced. 

But, early last week, Owen learned he'd be chairing a public select committee in Parliament. She approached him shortly afterwards.

Owen asked: "Can you tell me why you won't give me an interview because you have very good connections in China and China is important to New Zealand and you have the best connections."

Dr Yang said Gerry Brownlee would be the person to talk to about foreign policy.

Jamil Anderlini, Financial Times Asia editor who broke the story about Dr Yang three years ago, said he was "astonished" that someone who had spent 15 years working in Chinese military intelligence was in Parliament.

"New Zealand compatriots who are born in China do not want to have Yang Jian representing them because he is so close to the Chinese Communist Party and his history as a Chinese military intelligence officer," he said. 

"Those people need to be protected from the extension of Chinese power into New Zealand."

Dr Yang is regarded as a hard worker, according to economist and China specialist Rodney Jones.

"We don't know anything more about him than we knew three years ago. He's kind of the invisible man," he said.

Mr Jones encouraged Dr Yang to "just be open". 

"The New Zealand public, in a sense, has a right to know."

Watch the video for Whena Owen's full Q+A report.