Peter Hartcher, ‘The Chinese interests power struggle is about sovereignty,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 06.09.16
In the Hong Kong election on Sunday, the main clash was between people who prize local liberties and those who want Beijing to have more power.
This same divide was on stark display in Australia last week.
A pro-Beijing group planned a concert series in Sydney and Melbourne to celebrate the life of the former Chinese dictator Mao Zedong.
But the concerts were cancelled in the face of protests planned by a group of Chinese Australians who are opposed to the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to influence Australia.
Australia stands at a threshold moment: how much power are we prepared to allow the Chinese party-state?
This has nothing to do with racism. The rift in the Chinese community in Australia demonstrates that it has everything to do with sovereignty – who controls Australia’s destiny?
In reporting the clash over the Mao concerts, Fairfax Media’s Philip Wen wrote: “The schism is broadly between two camps: those who migrated in the 1980s and 1990s with the spectre of the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 fresh in their memories, and more recent emigres who have been enriched by China’s economic development and are emboldened by their country’s rise as a major international power.”
The spokesman for the anti-concert group, John Hu of the Embrace Australian Values Alliance, said: “As Australian-Chinese, we see this trend happening as Chinese-language media in Australia become largely influenced by Chinese government with all sorts of commercial linkages; pro-China groups emerge in Sydney and Melbourne; the incoming of Confucius Institutes in our universities which have spread to high school and primary schools in the name of teaching Chinese.
“We are not here to be against certain groups, we are here to protect our Australian values. We choose to live in this country so we need to protect our home.” Which values does he mean, specifically? Freedom, democracy, equality and tolerance, Hu says.
And the pro-Beijing group? “We are artists, we just want to put on a good display of song and dance,” said Christina Wang of International Cultural Exchange Association. She denied any links with the Chinese government.
China’s president, Xi Jinping, declared in 2013 that he wanted to create a “Community of Shared Destiny” in the Asia-Pacific. Australia is one of the countries to be included in that community. But while other countries are supposed to be enfolded in the “community”, which ones do you think Xi would like to be authors of the “shared destiny”?
The destiny, of course, is to be written in Beijing. Not in Bangkok or Brunei, and certainly not in Tokyo or Seoul or Singapore or Jakarta or Hanoi or Manila or Wellington. Or in Canberra.
Xi has called on patriotic “sons and daughters” of China everywhere to serve the motherland regardless of where they live in the world, or which country’s passport they carry.
This is called “United Front work” within the Chinese Communist party. The party actually has a United Front Work Department to conduct this policy.
Australia has been pretty naive in the way it sees China. But ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong and now in Australia can see the risk of Chinese Communist Party intervention very clearly.
“What’s brilliant about the Chinese government’s interest strategy is that it exploits the freedoms of Western democracies against Western democracies,” an expert on Chinese politics at Claremont McKenna College in California, Minxin Pei, told the New York Times recently.
It’s time for Australia’s mainstream to wake up, and Senator Sam Dastyari last week provided a clear illustration of the risk. “It is a priceless lesson in the vulnerability of Australian democracy to foreign influence in a contested Asia,” the head of the National Security College at ANU, Rory Medcalf, wrote of Dastyari.
He, like Labor and the Greens, is calling for a ban on foreign donations to Australian political parties: “It is hard to believe six-figure donations from corporates linked to the Chinese Communist Party are gestures of admiration for our electoral system.”
Chairman Mao famously launched a hygiene drive in 1958 called the “Four Pests Campaign”. Citizens were urged to eradicate rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows.
Australia needs to wage a campaign of vigilance against foreign manipulation of its democracy. In terms that Mao would have understood, perhaps a “Four Pests Campaign” of our own is required to defend against agents of foreign influence.
Rats. We need to be alert to politicians compromised by China’s embrace. Dastyari is a case study. There will be more to come.
Flies. Perhaps unwitting paid-mouthpieces for the interests of the Chinese regime. Bob Carr is the head of the pro-China outfit called the Australian Chinese Relations Institute, set up with a $1.8 million donation from a businessman with links to the Communist Party.
Labor does not have a monopoly – the former Liberal foreign affairs minister, Alexander Downer, was appointed a director of the controversial Chinese telecoms firm Huawei. He was a staunch advocate, even after the Australian government banned the Communist Party-linked Huawei from the NBN as a national security risk.
Mosquitoes. Business people so captivated by their financial interests that they demand Australia assume the kowtow position. For instance, Kerry Stokes wanted Australia to set tax policy and defence policy according to China’s interests. The presence of US troops in Australia made him “‘physically repulsed”. He said: “Blogs in China went crazy.” Yes. So what?
James Packer offered this coaching: “We, as a country, have to try harder to let China know how grateful we are for their business.”
Sparrows. Front organisations, apparently innocuous friendship societies or NGOs, set up specifically to spread Beijing’s influence. The Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China is a central one – “the common link between major Chinese donors to politicians and parties in Australia” as The Australian’s Beijing correspondent, Rowan Callick, summarises.
There are others. On university campuses, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association is devoted to “enhancing patriotism” – and they don’t mean Australian patriotism – by shutting down anyone sceptical of the Chinese Communist Party and its policies.
Pests. Who needs them?