Beijing has cultivated relationships with overseas Chinese-language media via major global conferences headlined by Communist Party leaders in what experts say is part of its broader united front work. The revelations come after four Chinese nationals and journalists were denied re-entry into Australia following allegations they engaged in espionage or foreign interference.
Since 2013, 92 Chinese-language media outlets from Australia have taken part in the Global Chinese Language Media Forum.
The conference is backed by major Chinese Communist Party (CCP) organs, including the Information Office of the State Council, Beijing’s internet censorship arm; China News Service, the second-largest state-run media in the country; and the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office—which has been accused of influence activities.
The latter two fall under the control of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) who also headlined the event, boasting: “Thousands of Chinese-language media from overseas, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are a unique force of public opinion, playing an important and unique role in spreading the Chinese voice …”
Best known for spearheading overseas Chinese influence operations, the UFWD gained notoriety in Australia with its connection to controversial billionaire Huang Xiangmo and the downfall of former Labor Senator Sam Dastyari.
At the most recent event in Shijiazhuang in 2019, the forum featured high-ranking CCP leaders: Shen Yueyue, the vice-chairwoman of the National People’s Congress; Deputy Ministers of the UFWD Tan Tianxing and Xu Yousheng (Xu is also director of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office); Guo Weimin, deputy director of the Information Office of the State Council; and Wang Dongfeng, secretary of the Hebei Provincial Party Committee.
Attendees are encouraged to promote cooperation between the world and China and to “tell China’s story well.”
A sentiment recently echoed by ABC News Director Gaven Morris who said, “The story of China, its relationship with Australia and its role in our region and in the world is one of great importance for all Australians …” His comments followed the recent withdrawal of two Australian correspondents from China due to safety concerns.
Australia’s Delegation One of the Largest
In 2019, 427 delegates from 61 different countries attended including delegates from as far as the United Kingdom, Venezuela, Egypt, and Madagascar.
Australia sent the third-largest delegation (37 individuals) following the United States (63) and Canada (51).
The list of delegates reveals media proprietors and managers from Australian capital cities Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, and Perth.
The attendees represent a wide swathe of media including those with direct links to Beijing, some long-standing Chinese community titles, and three attendees from Australia’s public broadcasters: SBS and ABC.
Independent Chinese-language media such as The Epoch Times Chinese edition and Vision Times are not invited.
Concerns Over CCP Influence
The Hoover Institute in California (pdf) has called the conference nothing more than a platform for Beijing to influence overseas Chinese-language media to promote the Party line and cultivate self-censorship in overseas Chinese language news media outlets.
During the forum’s founding, Guo Zhaojin, former president of China News Service, said a key goal of the event was to persuade overseas media to use material sourced from China News Service, rather than from competing independent sources in Taiwan or western countries.
“Essays released during the conferences praised the censorship of views opposed by the Party and stressed the necessity of, in the words of one piece in 2015: ‘properly telling China’s story,’” the Hoover report stated.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge warned on Aug. 28 of foreign actors seeking to “grow division” in Australia and “sow distrust” in the government and institutions.
Tudge was particularly concerned about the reach of foreign actors in multicultural communities and warned that “malign information or propaganda” could be spreading through ethnic media, including outlets “controlled or funded” by state players. Community members with poor English-language skills were considered highly vulnerable.
Defending the Party Line
Dr. Jin Chin, chair of the Federation for a Democratic China, concurred saying many overseas Chinese-language media have been infiltrated or are under the influence of Beijing.
“Staff of the media are either driven by the economic power of the Chinese Communist Party or influenced by so-called ‘national pride,’” he told The Epoch Times.
“Some Chinese-language media funded by the Australian government appear to uphold Australian values, but in reality, they endorse Beijing,” he added.
For example, during the height of the Hong Kong pro-democracy rallies last year, a Sydney-based Chinese news website, and regular attendee of the Global Chinese Language Media Forum, published a statement on Aug. 21 condemning the “radical demonstrators” for escalating violence against police and stated that “Hong Kong belonged to the Chinese nation.”
Another news outlet in Melbourne this year defended Beijing’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in response to a series of Facebook posts made by Victorian state Member of Parliament Bernie Finn in March that criticised the Chinese regime.
The outlet went on to call his posts a “great insult” to the Chinese people and said Finn’s actions exposed his “paranoia, ignorance, and hatred towards China.”
Their actions stand in contrast to the experiences of independent Chinese-language media operators like Dr. Bin Lin, who received a letter in 2010 warning him not to mention the Tiananmen Square Massacre on his radio program again and threatening him with assassination.