The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has pressured a Sydney council to ban an Australian-owned independent Chinese-language media company from sponsoring an event because it is critical of the Chinese regime, a joint investigation by Four Corners, The Age, and The Sydney Morning Herald has found.
Documents obtained by the publications revealed that Sydney’s Georges River Council received at least eight warnings over the past 14 months from Chinese officials after they learned of its sponsorship deals with Vision China Times.
The media organization has been subject to waves of harassment for publishing content in the Chinese language that is critical of the CCP.
China-based advertisers were forced to pull their adverts from Vision China Times after receiving threats from Chinese officials and intelligence agents, the investigation found.
‘No embarrassing situations’: How China pressured a local Sydney council https://t.co/o6uALifb4e
— ABC News (@abcnews) April 6, 2019
Maree Ma, manager of Vision China Times, said the newspaper was attacked because its content does not conform to the communist policies of the CCP.
“The Chinese consulate don’t [sic] like any media outlets that they cannot have some sort of control over,” she said.
The newspaper was banned from sponsoring an event hosted by the Georges River Council to celebrate Chinese New Year in 2018, after a consul official wrote to the council on Jan. 17 last year describing it as a “politically anti-China media.”
“We have attached great importance to our cooperation with the Georges River City Council and hope there will be no change to the policy of the Georges River Council on supporting the development of Australia-China relationship,” the consul official said, according to records obtained under freedom of information (FOI) legislation.
The publication’s support of the event was banned by the council the following day.
Vision China Times sponsors a wide number of local events in the southern areas of Sydney and prides itself in “minimizing the cultural/communication gap between the Chinese and Australian community,” the publication details on its website.
Vision China Times is proud of our 8th yr of sponsorship for the 150th year for Granny Smith Festival. Grt to see the coming together of diverse fabric of local communities. & it was good to catch up with @CityofRyde Mayor @jeromelaxale & we happened to be in matching shirts! 😂 pic.twitter.com/cgFsJu4nAY
— Maree Ma (@maree_jun) October 20, 2018
Georges River City Council is home to one of the largest populations of Chinese-Australians in the country.
“Council respects and values the relationship with the Consul General and also the development of the Australia-China relationship,” a Georges River Council administrative officer said in an email to the Chinese consulate to confirm the ban.
In the months leading up to the 2019 Chinese New Year, the consulate issued fresh warnings once again, according to the FOI files.
“This morning, I had a call from [a Chinese consulate employee] to remind us that he would like to keep a friendly relationship between China and New South Wales,” a memo from the Georges River Council on Dec. 4 read. “He wanted to make sure that there were no embarrassing situations this year and re-iterate their position involving anti-China groups.”
Just over a month later on Jan. 7, another memo said that the consulate had called again. “The Chinese consulate phoned … to remind Council of the delicate issues around this anti-China group,” the FOI documents revealed.
Ma had approached the council in November to voice her concerns following the sponsoring ban incident, demanding to know if the council had succumbed to pressure from the CCP and if so, for what reason.
“We are clear about the pressures we face as an independent Chinese media. We are also clear of the possible pressures this council can come under from foreign agents,” Ma said to council members at the public meeting.
“However, council events are to serve the local community. These are not international exchanges. We believe the council should be making decisions in the interests of the local community, not foreign governments,” she added.
🎧 Soundtrack now available on Sydney’s Roundtable on Australia-China relations & impact on the Chinese community. Panelists @Rory_Medcalf @JakobsonLinda @j_laurenceson@MLVarrall@Ageinvestigates
Benjamin Chow, John Hugh and Chongyi Feng with @KelseyMunrohttps://t.co/CUF4NZxZwS https://t.co/eGv4pUNGjN
— Maree Ma (@maree_jun) September 24, 2018
After Georges River Council gave Vision China Times the go-ahead to sponsor the Chinese New Year celebrations this year, they received yet another warning from the Chinese consulate, records revealed.
“I received a call from … the Office of the Chinese Consul General. The Chinese Consul General was disappointed that Georges River Council would include anti-Chinese political groups in the Lunar New Year event. … As a consequence, the CCG [Chinese Consul General] will not attend the Lunar New Year event.
“[The Chinese consulate employee] expressed his desire to meet with Council … to discuss,” a council officer wrote on Feb. 1.
Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, Dr. Geremie Barme, an Australian sinologist, warned that the CCP is increasingly seeking to exert its political influence over those Chinese both at home and overseas.
— 4corners (@4corners) April 8, 2019
“Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes” 我們當下的恐懼與期待
Geremie Barmé’s translation of law professor Xu Zhangrun’s 許章潤 outspoken essay against China’s slid further towards illiberalism is a must read for anyone interested in contemporary Chinese politics and society. https://t.co/7P1mZmB5UP
— Adam Ni 倪凌超 (@adam_ni) August 8, 2018
“The Chinese Communist Party … believes that the only way to maintain stability … is not only through police and political action, but also by having people, if they don’t agree with you, at least be silent,” Barme said.