WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A New Zealand lawmaker who was born in China said Wednesday he taught Chinese spies while working at that nation's elite military colleges but had never engaged in any intelligence activities himself and was loyal to his new nation.
Jian Yang told reporters he'd never tried to hide his background but hadn't always highlighted it either because New Zealanders might feel sensitive about his ties to the Chinese military.
"Once you understand the system and the universities, then I'm not a spy, just a teacher," he said.
Yang said he'd taught university students English language and American studies. He said some of his students were trained to collect, monitor and interpret information.
"If you define those cadets, or students, as spies, yes, then I was teaching spies," he said.
Yang also said he was a member of the Communist Party while living in China but was no longer a member.
Yang was responding to a report in the Financial Times newspaper that he'd spent a decade training and teaching at elite Chinese military colleges and had been investigated by New Zealand's Security Intelligence Service.
The intelligence agency said it doesn't comment on specific cases or individuals and Yang said he was not aware of any investigation of him.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang poured scorn on the FT article but said China wouldn't comment on other countries' domestic matters.
"We firmly oppose the false reports issued by certain media that make up stories on hearsay evidence or out of thin air," Geng said.
He said questions about Yang should be addressed to the New Zealand authorities and that China "upholds the principle of not interfering in others' internal affairs."
Yang said he was proud to call himself a New Zealander and contribute to his new country. He said he'd been upfront and transparent about his education and employment and was the victim of a smear campaign 10 days before a general election.
Yang has been a lawmaker with New Zealand's ruling National Party since 2011. His current portfolio covers ethnic communities, and he previously sat on the select committee for foreign affairs, defense and trade.
Yang said he had been a student and teacher at the Air Force Engineering College and at the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute. The Financial Times said the latter institution specializes in training military intelligence officers and deep cover agents.
"I can understand that people can be concerned because they do not understand the Chinese system," Yang said. "But once they understand the system, they should be assured that this is nothing, really, you should be concerned about."
China is one of New Zealand's top trading partners. It has become a key export market for New Zealand's milk and agricultural products and also contributes to New Zealand's growing tourism industry.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report from Beijing.