China’s influence in Australia: Maintaining the debate

'Australia’s debate on Chinese Communist Party influence is not motivated by racism, but it is valuable and necessary'

Open letter respondents

PHOTO: AAP/Lukas Coch

Government and governance, International relations, National security | Australia, East Asia

27 March 2018

On Monday, Policy Forum published as an open letter a submission made to Australia’s parliamentary review of new national security legislation. The open letter was signed by a group of scholars of China and the Chinese diaspora.

In response, there is now another open letter, by a second group going under the name Scholars of China, the Chinese diaspora, China-Australian relations, and Australia’s relations with Asia. This will also be submitted to the relevant parliamentary committee. Policy Forum publishes that second letter below:

We the undersigned are scholars of China, the Chinese diaspora, China-Australia relations and Australia’s relations with Asia. We are deeply concerned by a number of well-documented reports about the Chinese Communist Party’s interference in Australia. We strongly believe that an open debate on the activities of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in this country is essential to intellectual freedom, democratic rights and national security. This debate is valuable and necessary.

It is vital that the debate is driven by fact-based research and reporting rather than sensationalism or racism. It is also vital that this debate is not stifled by self-censorship. We firmly believe the current debate is not characterised by racism and that it is crucial for Australia to continue this debate. Indeed, Chinese Australians are among the main initiators and drivers of this debate.

We also believe in the need to encourage careful research into the CCP’s covert and sometimes coercive activities here in Australia and in other countries, where we note that concern is also rising. Identifying, recognising and winding back CCP interference as an unacceptable and counterproductive part of bilateral engagement is a step towards developing a healthy China-Australia relationship over the long term.

We believe that some of the CCP’s activities constitute unacceptable interference in Australian society and politics. We believe these have in a number of instances sought to restrict personal freedoms, impede democratic processes and affect national security, with the potential to harm Australia’s interests and sovereignty. We recognise the need to consider seriously the extraordinary warnings about foreign interference from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. These warnings were certainly not made lightly.

Accordingly, the Australian government and civil society must remain vigilant against such activities as:

  • Espionage and other unlawful operations by Chinese officials or their proxies on Australian soil
  • Attempts to interfere in political elections
  • Direct and indirect control of Chinese-language media in Australia
  • Intimidation of Chinese Australians (both Australian citizens and permanent residents) for their political views and activities in Australia
  • The use of political donations and agents of influence in attempts to change Australian government policies
  • The takeover and co-opting of Chinese community groups to censor sensitive political discussions and increase the Chinese government’s presence in the community
  • The establishment of Chinese government-backed organisations on university campuses used for monitoring Chinese students
  • Interference in academic freedom
  • The cultivation of prominent Australians in attempts to sway public and elite opinion
  • The covert organisation of political rallies by the Chinese government.

Where clear evidence of such activity exists, the Australian authorities should be willing and able to take appropriate steps to counter foreign interference and threats to sovereignty. We recognise the concern that existing legislative instruments are not sufficient for these purposes and acknowledge the need for laws suitable to today’s circumstances.

Like the many people and interests whose perspectives have been conveyed in recent submissions to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, we hold a range of views about whether the Bills as currently drafted are acceptable or whether they will need some significant amendment. We also recognise that the proposed laws are not targeted solely at China and nor should they be.

In recent years the CCP’s efforts at influence and interference in Australia have become increasingly bold, including an overt agenda to influence Chinese communities in Australia. The recently announced consolidation of Chinese state media outlets under the Propaganda Department and the expansion of the United Front Work Department’s mandate for overseas Chinese suggest that the CCP’s activities in Australia will continue and potentially intensify.

Any and all forms of racism, including against people of Chinese heritage, deserve condemnation. Racism was a deplorable part of Australia’s history and continues to find expression in modern Australia. We oppose it unreservedly.

However, we strongly believe that the growing public discussion on unacceptable CCP activities in Australia and many other countries around the world is not motivated by racism. The debate here has originated from genuine concern for Australia’s national interest including this nation’s fundamental value of tolerance for and protection of minority rights. For some of us, the debate has been motivated by the need to protect the interests of migrants from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and of those in Uyghur and Tibetan communities in Australia, all of which have been targets of the CCP’s interference.

There is a critical need to clearly distinguish between Chinese people and the CCP and avoid conflating the two in public discussions. We recognise that people of ethnic-Chinese heritage in Australia may have a range of national origins, and that it is inappropriate for the CCP to claim that they should have primary allegiance and emotional connection to a ‘China’ as defined by the CCP.

Alarmist and racist sentiments will exist at the fringes of any debate that touches on ethnic-minority communities, but they do not define the valuable discussion underway about CCP interference in Australia. The solution is not self-censorship but rather the normalisation of this debate as a part of the regular discourse about Australia’s national interests. This is essential to avoid any risk of it being distorted by sensationalism or hijacked by extreme agendas.

Accusations of racism must be taken seriously, and great efforts must be made to avoid and end racism. We are mindful also that racism is precisely the accusation that is encouraged and levelled by the CCP itself as it tries to silence the current discussion. Through these accusations and its efforts to infiltrate Chinese communities, the CCP seeks to position itself as the protector of overseas Chinese and drive a wedge between Chinese communities and the rest of Australia.

Should the CCP’s operations of interference be allowed to continue in Australia, they will fuel divisiveness between Chinese communities and other Australians, weaken the Australian government’s ability to communicate with Chinese communities and harm the democratic rights of Chinese Australians.

We appreciate and welcome the deep and dynamic connections between China and Australia in society, culture and trade. We believe that people of Chinese origin in Australia, whether citizens of this country or not, expect and deserve the same freedoms as others in our democratic system: to express opinions on any question, and to support or criticise any policy. Whether a scholar at an Australian university, or a student from the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong or Taiwan, all should be able to express their point of view free of fear or censorship, whether from forces foreign or domestic.

We have in Australia’s mature multicultural society the capacity to conduct this important debate with rigour, balance, honesty and transparency, and without unnecessarily escalating either community tensions or diplomatic differences. We call on all involved in this debate to work towards these ends.

 

Signatories to the response

Nathan Attrill, PhD candidate, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Børge Bakken, Visiting Fellow, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

Mark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, the University of Western Australia

Nick Bisley, Head of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

Kevin Carrico, Lecturer, Chinese Studies, Macquarie University

Anita Chan, Co-editor of The China Journal, Political and Social Change Department, Australian National University.

Chen Jie, Associate Professor, Political Science and International Relations, the University of Western Australia

Chin Jin, Greater China researcher, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney

Malcolm Cook, Senior Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Non-resident Fellow at Lowy Institute

Feng, Chongyi, Associate Professor in China Studies, University of Technology Sydney

Antonia Finnane, Professor, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne

John Fitzgerald, Emeritus Professor, Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University of Technology

Gerry Groot, Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies, University of Adelaide

Gu Ming, PhD in Political Science/China Studies and post-doc Research Assistant, University of Technology Sydney

Ian Hall, Professor of International Relations, Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University

Terence Halliday, Honorary Professor, School of Regulation and Global Governance, Australian National University

Ben Hillman, Associate Professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Bruce Jacobs, Emeritus Professor of Asian Languages and Studies, Monash University

Alex Joske, China researcher and Australian National University student

Mei-fen Kuo, Research Fellow (DECRA) in History, University of Queensland

James Leibold, Associate Professor of Politics and Asian Studies, La Trobe University

Lin Bin, Political Scientist, PhD University of New South Wales

Paul Macgregor, Historian/heritage consultant on Chinese Australian history, The Uncovered Past Institute

Anne McLaren, Professor, Chinese Studies, FAHA, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne

Dominic Meagher, Independent China analyst and economist

Rory Medcalf, Professor and Head, National Security College, Australian National University

Paul Monk, former head of the China Desk at DIO, PhD in International Relations from the ANU, author of Thunder from the Silent Zone; Rethinking China (2005)

Adam Ni, China researcher, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

Benjamin Reilly, Professor and Dean, Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs, Murdoch University

Kaz Ross, Lecturer in Asian Studies, University of Tasmania

Fred Smith, Lecturer, Department of Security Studies and Criminology at Macquarie University

Jonathan Unger, Professor, Political and Social Change Department, Australian National University

Sue Wiles, China scholar, editor and translator

Wai Ling Yeung, retired academic, former Head of Chinese Studies, Curtin University of Technology

Zhong Jinjiang, PhD candidate in Chinese Economics, Cambridge University, President of Chinese Alliance for Democracy

Signatories: (after 28 March 2018)

Moshe Y Bernstein, Adjunct Research Fellow, Asian Studies, Graduate Research School, Curtin University of Technology

Stjepan Bosnjak, Researcher on China-Australia relations, Victoria University

Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, retired professor of political science, City University of Hong Kong and convenor of the Alliance for True Democracy

Andrew Forrest, former policy adviser (China) in the International Division of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, PhD Deakin University

Jia Guan, Lecturer in Security Studies, Deakin University

Michael Heazle, Adjunct Associate Professor, Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University

Ann Kent, former Australian Research Council Research Fellow, ANU College of Law, Australian National University

John Minford, Emeritus Professor of Chinese, Australian National University

Terry Narramore, Lecturer in International Relations, University of Tasmania

Sally Sargeson, Associate Professor, Department of Political and Social Change, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

David Schak, Adjunct Associate Professor, Griffith University

Martin Williams, PhD, University of Technology Sydney

The authors invite scholars of China, the Chinese diaspora, China-Australia relations and Australia’s relations with Asia who would like to endorse this letter to contact jointletter2018@gmail.com

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14 Responses

  1. Godfree Roberts says:

    “We also believe in the need to encourage careful research into the CCP’s covert and sometimes coercive activities here in Australia and in other countries “.

    The authors assume that these activities are really occurring, yet present no evidence whatever–or even a motive.

    The original allegations were part of America’s pushback against China’s rise.

    The authors of this silly letter clearly favor precisely the same kind of interference in Australian affairs by the United States (the most vicious and criminal enterprise on earth).

  2. Elaine says:

    Support! and Support the book “Silent Invasion“ ! Thank you so much Dr.Hamilton

  3. Tony Ohlsson says:

    I am having difficulty getting my scholarly book on the Chinese in Australia 1783-1854 published because it would not sell enough copies to break even and would require a substantial subsidy to protect any publisher against loss. The book of 160 000 words has not been sent out for independent peer review because nobody qualified would be willing to read the MS and write a report without being paid. I am living in retirement on a limited income.

    I have published four articles on the origins of the White Australia policy in academic journals which can be downloaded from the NSW State Library if you hold a reader’s ticket. Just bring up the new catalogue and punch in my name in the author box.

    This letter has much to say about ‘racism’ which is an imprecise term with many ambiguous meanings in different cultures and languages. I would like to suggest that the signatories to this letter read my article ‘Myra Willard and the ghost of white Australia’ (JRAHS, vol 100. pt 1, June 2014), surveying the complex historiography of Australian race relations. Simply stating that ‘great efforts must be made to avoid and end racism’ does not begin to cut the mustard.

    The letter welcomes the ‘the deep and dynamic connections between China and Australia in society, culture and trade’ (and history?). To understand our present problems with China you need to know something of the history of relations between the two countries and their peoples back to the early 19th century. Almost nothing reliable has been written on the subject.

    The last chapter of my book, ‘The Chinese demonised’, explains how the Australian colonists developed their ideas and prejudices on the Chinese before the gold rushes. I have concluded that Australian perceptions of China and the Chinese in 2018 are not much different in their essentials than they were in 1854. You cannot begin to understand our present difficulties with the PRC without some knowledge of the historical background, and I can explain why this is to anyone is interested.

  4. Dennis Argall says:

    Your letter is elegant and idealistic. But when you come to this conclusion:

    “We have in Australia’s mature multicultural society the capacity to conduct this important debate with rigour, balance, honesty and transparency, and without unnecessarily escalating either community tensions or diplomatic differences…”

    …it’s a bit naive. I really wish we still had that kind of society but you surely have noticed its erosion since the 1990s. And surely you have noticed the way China is discussed in tabloid media.

    I was in the 1980s ambassador in Beijing. A time of great idealism in relations with China, a time when some leading Chinese leaders looked to Australia as an example of an open society, and borrowed models of practical administration from us.

    That had widespread support in the community. Now there is here an antagonistic view of China, a fearful view of China. Fostered by government. At the policy centre, we offer no example to China other than narrow self-interest and misplaced arrogance.

    We have always prided ourselves in having forward defence postures, an entitlement to project power through Indonesia and north, an enthusiasm for wars in central Asia and the middle east, a readiness to breech international human rights in the treatment of refugees. Fortunately no other country in our region has been so assertive or militaristically focused since WW2, or we would have gone out of our minds long ago. If you say “what about what China is doing now?” I will draw your attention to 75 years of unrelieved containment policies and invite you to look at the United States’ Order of Battle in the Pacific.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structure_of_the_United_States_Armed_Forces#Order_of_battle_3

    In my early years in the foreign service, in the 1960s, there was a great risk that we would become the apartheid-south-africa of Asia. We got out of that but we are back at risk of that again.

    I quote again your idealistic statement quoted above. You cannot take it as an assumption. You have to fight to restore this:

    “We have in Australia’s mature multicultural society the capacity to conduct this important debate with rigour, balance, honesty and transparency, and without unnecessarily escalating either community tensions or diplomatic differences.”

    Come away from your cosy elite circumstances. Out here there is indeed a weight of racism in hostility to China now. In all levels of society and in both cities and regional areas.

    • Maree Ma says:

      Hi Mr Argall, in relation to your comment, I would like to throw in my 2 cents in the form of some simple personal experience. I came to Australia as a young child with my parents in the early 90s. At the time there was a truly limited understanding of China/Chinese people within Australian society (also due to the comparatively less number of Chinese migrants at the time). At school, I was picked on for my accent and called chin-chong chinaman by other kids, amongst other things. During those days, if your English is not fluent, some Aussies will just look down on you (my parents would have been on the receiving end quite often).

      Fast forward 30 or so years, Chinese is now the most popular language taught as a second language at schools. Our education ministers are encouraging Chinese to be taught at all schools. Chinese/Lunar new year is now widely celebrated around Australia. Many places you go to there are Chinese signs and even at my children’s school, newsletters are handed out in both English and Chinese. New Chinese migrants to Australia (especially older migrants from family reunions visas) can get by without learning much English at all due to many facilities/services which are now all available in Chinese. I recognise that many of this is driven by economics and trade with China, but there is also an underlying genuine interest in China, it’s culture and people through continued awareness and education from the various Australian governments over the years. I can also breathe easy knowing my children will never have to endure some of the things my parents and I went through 30 years ago.

      If you feel there is a general air of racism towards China, then it would probably be due to negative feelings towards the CCP generated by media reports over recent 1-2 years. Whilst I strongly believe the mainstream should not conflate CCP with China/Chinese people (which the CCP purposely does all the time), this does not take away the fact there are valid concerns uncovered by these media reports, which should be taken seriously by policy makers. We cannot simply shy away from such an important debate due to risks of increasing negative feelings towards China. If there is truly an increase in racism due to this (not just negativity), then academics, elites and policy makers of this country must adjust the means/language used to ensure CCP and China/Chinese people are not conflated. Australia needs to find a balance in the on-going discussions, however, influence/interference (of which there are many documented and well substantiated cases) on Australian soil should not be tolerated.

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  7. Karl Reed says:

    The question of foreign government and business capacity to influence Australia’s economy is not new. I came up against this while an industry spokesperson for the Australian Computer Society between 1974 and 1993 and beyond.
    I also have experience with obtaining funding from trans-nationals, and, support from OS uni’s and agencies.

    The problem has components..
    1. the failure of Government to direct changes to industry type (with the two exceptions of gambling and higher ed as foreign exchange earner).
    We could have had the world’s leading softyware industry had Button and Hawke and Cook listened.

    2. low taxation as % of GDP which causes politicians to seek non-taxation raising solutions to economic growth. Hence the emphasis on Foreign Full fee students for funding higher education, and, immigration as a vehicle of economic growth.

    3. inability to take a national pride in our own products

    4. blind commitments to free trade when tariffs woyld be a good solution to a number of problems.

    In the case of China, a loyal diaspora coupled with the above makes us vulnerable, and, we must blame ourselves.

  8. Chen Yonglin says:

    With due respect. When you talk about “a weight of racism in hostility to China”, you are an apologist to the evil Communist Party of China which had persecuted my father to death in 1972. The pro-democracy Chinese Australians strongly oppose such a cynic behavior. In 1971, the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 is the start of a messy diplomacy with Communist China. From 1971 to early 1990s, the US led Western democracies had confidence to use China against the former USSR and believed their influence on red China would turn China into a democracy while Deng Xiaoping’s China Adopted a “biding our time and hiding our capacity” strategy.

    In 1993, China successfully broke the Western sanctions imposed due to the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. Then joined the WTO and seized the opportunity window of 20 to 30 years. China decided to change Australia by offering the Guandong LNG contract in 2003. In 2004, China developed an “all around diplomacy” on Australia, s strategy of full silent invasion to secure Australia as a “stable resources supply base” of China.

    Port Darwin’s lease, Sam Dystyari case, taking over of massive land and infrastructures and high technologies by China proved the Australian system is not operating well. China controlled the Chinese community organizations and have exploited them for its own agenda. Australian Chinese media are controlled by China. Confucius classrooms are taking away young souls of Australian future. A real patriotist should care about this nation instead of apologizing to the evil Communist Regime.

    If you care about racism against Chinese Australians, pls help defend the freedom and interests of pro-democracy Chinese. Those who are pro-CCP should be sent back to China which they love more.

    Australia doesn’t need more China apologists, but need national interest and universal values defenders.

  9. Paul says:

    I endorse Elaine’s comment re Clive Hamilton’s “Silent Invasion”. It is essential reading for everyone and it is also essential that people of Chinese background engage in this debate.

  10. fay l. dumagat says:

    The on-going academic debate in Australia and the concern of countries being immediately threatened of China and her growing economic and military impact on her immediate neighbors are welcome initiatives in providing intelligent and objective response to this new geopolitical phenomenon. In the 1950s-70s, Chinese illegal migration into the Philippines was a big political issues and the allocation of “quotas” of Chinese legal migration to legislators was a source of under-the-table income to politicians to be spent on elections. Moreover, Chinese residents in the Philippines were known to collect and amass Philippine silver coins and send them to China. Now, many offsprings of these Chinese migrants have been successful in business and politics and control many branches of the Philippine government. Obviously, the loyalty of these so-called Chinese-Filipino becomes an issue in view of the Chinese threats of occupying Philippine territory and perhaps eventually leading to the Philippines becoming a “province of China” as President Duterte jokingly said in one of his speeches. These Chinese-Filipinos could be the legendary “Trojan horse” towards Chinese annexation of the Philippines by China. This should be a serious national concern among Pilipinos who want their country an independent state. Those who want the Philippines to be a “province of China” should migrate to China and leave the Philippines a free and independent country.

  11. Racism claims could stifle debate about Chinese interference, academics warn – Business Site says:

    […] now a second group of China experts have written their own open letter, accusing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of “unacceptable interference” in […]

  12. […] this is a legitimate concern, especially given Australia’s chequered history of race relations. The second group, of which Feng Chongyi is a member, agrees with this concern, but also believes “that some of the […]

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