Scholars and a former Chinese diplomat warned during a panel discussion that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has established an extensive network of influencers across many areas of Australian society, including in Australian Chinese communities, the business community, government, media, and education.
During the discussion on a new book titled “The Hidden Agenda of China’s Silent Invasion”—held in Sydney, Australia, on 26 March 2018—the expert panel said that if no action is taken, the CCP will become more and more despotic, and increasingly overbearing in Australian society.
Dr. Kevin Carrico, who teaches contemporary Chinese society and modern Chinese history at Macquarie University, expressed his concerns about the extent of CCP influence in Australia. “I have found that in terms of media options, in terms of activities, I do think there is considerably more influence from Beijing-backed state narratives in Sydney than in most cities I’ve visited in the United States.
“I think that’s a problematic situation.
”What the Chinese Communist Party is doing is essentially denying the diversity of opinions that exist within the Australian Chinese community.
“This is an approach that is taken within China through the silencing of voices that are critical of or oppositional to the government,” Carrico said.
Associate Professor Feng Chongyi from the University of Technology of Sydney further pointed out that the “Chinese Communist Party is successful in implementing the so-called ‘United Front strategy.’”
“I can see an extended network has been established in all aspects of life in Australia, in business, in government, in media, in education, and anywhere you can see.
“They’re engaged in a very extensive network,” Feng said.
Former China diplomat Chen Yonglin agreed with Feng’s observations. “The CCP’s infiltration is massive. Most of the current Australian Chinese community organisations are run by the pro-CCP [Chinese].
“They are either infiltrated or controlled by the CCP. They are affiliated with Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China (ACPPRC).” ACPPRC is a Sydney-based organisation with ties to the United Front Work Department—a key apparatus for the CCP’s propaganda warfare.
The use of the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSA) in Australian universities to influence Australian society was also mentioned in the discussion. Carrico said he found it “very, very disturbing that something that’s discussed in the classroom in the United States or in Australia is transmitted back to China and used in a threatening way to talk to people’s families.”
“As a result of monitoring … there are situations in which Chinese students in Australia can feel uncomfortable sharing their viewpoints if they have a viewpoint that diverges from the Chinese party state.”
Of course, Carrico emphasised that this does not mean everyone who is involved in CSSAs is a spy, but he wanted to acknowledge that “there are situations in which CSSAs are used to monitor and report on the students.”
Many years ago, Feng himself was a CSSA leader. He described how the CSSA received financial support in the form of an “operational budget” from the Chinese embassy or consulates. They were tasked to monitor and report on Chinese students who study in Australian universities.
“We had to report the political, the ideological affairs of the Chinese students to the embassy, to the consulate, and work very closely with them. As a leader of the association, it is your duty to watch the students in the class and to report it to the consulate. That is the basic operation I experienced at the CSSA,” Feng said.
“All these CSSAs actually belong to the Chinese regime,” Chen confirmed.
During his time as an officer of the Chinese consulate in Sydney, Chen witnessed how the CSSAs were overseen by the consulate or embassy’s Office of Education. “Their main task is to manage these students.”
“Each year, 120,000 Chinese students study in Australia. A lot of them may have to return to China,” Chen said. “There is always a risk for the regime that if this large number of students return to China, [they could] bring back the thoughts of human rights, or democracy, or freedom of speech. So it’s a really important job of the Chinese overseas mission.
“Therefore, for the Chinese government’s overseas missions, it is very important that they must install the CSSA in each Australian university, as well as in each state, so the regime can easily watch and control the Chinese students,” Chen said.
Methods of silencing CCP critics from within both the Australian government and Chinese communities were also discussed. Carrico said that the Chinese Communist Party always accuses their critics of racism in order to silence them.
Feng added, “when you make criticism to again the regime to protect ordinary Chinese in China or the residents of Chinese heritage [in Australian], that’s nothing to do with racism.
“This is an outrageous accusation. This kind of accusation is based on the party strategy again to conflate the Chinese state with the Chinese nation and Chinese people. Then, whenever you criticize the regime, they label you as racist to attack the Chinese. This is a very strategic and sometimes effective trick to stop the debate on what should we do about this communist regime,” Feng said.
When asked by the audience about what all Australians can do to stand up to the CCP’s influence overseas, Carrico suggested that people in civil society can “live and speak in truth about the realities of China and Asia as a whole today.”
The panel said people in Australia can discuss the issue and make sure others are aware of it. This can help make the so-called “silent invasion” not so silent.
Feng also pointed out that the CCP’s infiltration is not only an issue in Australia—it is global. “Many times, the western governments turn a blind eye to that fact … they deliberately ignore it because of commercial and economic interests.”
“Actually, China relies on Australian resources,” Chen said, adding that CCP officials try their best to convince Australian politicians otherwise during their all-expenses-paid visits to China. “That’s why they work so hard. It seems Australian politicians are easy to be lobbied.”
According to Feng, the conflict between the two value systems of communism and the free world cannot be ignored. But he remains hopeful that if it is resisted globally, things can change.