A group of Australia-based academics who study China say that well-documented reports show that actions by China’s Communist Party (CCP) amount to “unacceptable interference” in Australia’s society and politics.
The Australian government wants to impose laws that criminalize foreign political interference after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said late last year that foreign powers were making “unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process.”
Turnbull cited “disturbing reports about Chinese influence” after prominent Australian Labor Party lawmaker Sam Dastyari was swept up in allegations that he was acting on behalf of CCP-aligned interests in the country.
“Sam Dastyari is a very clear case of somebody who has literally taken money from people closely associated with the Chinese government and, in return for that, has delivered essentially Chinese policy statements,” Turnbull said after Dastyari publicly backed the CCP’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea.
Dastyari had accepted donations from Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo—the head of the Sydney-based Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China, which has ties to the United Front Work Department, a key apparatus for the CCP’s propaganda warfare. Dastyari resigned from parliament in December.
CCP critics have accused some universities in Australia of self-censorship through the curtailing of their independent China research because the universities receive funding from donors said to have ties to the CCP.
— Clive Hamilton (@CliveCHamilton) March 31, 2018
The critics are well aware of the CCP’s public statements about their plans of “unrestricted warfare” overseas.
“No one should be under any illusions about the objective of the Communist Party leadership—its long-term, systematic infiltration of social organisations, media, and government,” said Anson Chan in 2016. Chan was Hong Kong’s top civil servant from 1993 to 2001, the period during which the then-British territory was handed over for its first period under CCP rule.
“Australia is a very open society so it wouldn’t occur to most people the designs of the one-party state. And it wouldn’t have occurred to the people of Hong Kong until we experienced it first hand,” Chan said.
But some academics have doubted these concerns from CCP critics because they say they have yet to see “evidence,” for example, that “China is intent on exporting its political system to Australia, or that its actions aim at compromising our sovereignty.”
In a March 19 submission to the parliamentary review of the proposed foreign interference laws, one group of academics said that their main concern was about a racial backlash against Chinese in Australia. “The media narrative in Australia singles out the activities of individuals and organisations thought to be linked to the Chinese state,” the submission read.
Largely dismissing reports that the CCP is intentionally infiltrating Australia—labelling such concerns as some sort of “conspiracy”—they said that such discussions about China would “encourage suspicion and stigmatisation of Chinese Australians in general,” although they did acknowledge that if the Chinese Communist Party were indeed seeking to infringe the “rights to freedom of expression” of those in Australia that “appropriate steps may be required.”
In response to these academics, the group of academics critical of the CCP acknowledged the concern among their colleagues about a racist backlash against Chinese living in Australia. In a March 28 submission to the parliamentary review, they agreed that “it is vital that the debate is driven by fact-based research and reporting rather than sensationalism or racism.”
But they added “it is also vital that this debate is not stifled by self-censorship,” referring to a number of well-documented reports of the CCP influence in Australia’s educational institutions, media, and Chinese community networks, many of which are echoed by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
“There is a critical need to clearly distinguish between Chinese people and the CCP and avoid conflating the two in public discussions,” the submission read.
“We firmly believe the current debate is not characterised by racism and that it is crucial for Australia to continue this debate.
“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,” it said.
In an attempt to divert the attention now focused on its subversive activities overseas, CCP state media and its 50 cent army have long pushed the propagandized view that any criticism of the CCP must be rooted in “racism” against the Chinese people.
“It just shows you how desperate they are,” Turnbull said after CCP state media again waved its ‘racism’ card, labelling Australia’s sovereign right to discuss reforms to its foreign interference laws as ‘China phobia.’
Reuters contributed to this report.