China’s Influence In Australia
On the 24th of September, while in Chicago, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison argued that new rules were needed at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to account for China now being a developed economy. China is the world’s second largest economy and home to the most billionaires anywhere, yet is currently categorized as a “developing economy.” Under WTO rules, that status enables them to maintain higher tariffs and leverage trade barriers to boost domestic growth. What Prime Minister Morrison said was “as nations progress and develop then the obligations and how the rules apply to them, also shift.”
The very next day China lashed out.
China responded via its state controlled media and, in Australia, at the Australian Institute of International Affairs-organised event with Chinese academics brought to Australia by the Chinese embassy. It was at this event, held at China’s embassy in Canberra, where a high-level Chinese delegation accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of shouting “the U.S. view through his mouth.”
The Sydney Morning Herald ran the story “China claims Australia the ‘pioneer’ of a global anti-China campaign” which quotes Wang Yiwei, a Renmin University professor of international relations and a Communist Party member, saying “the timing and place where Morrison said it, maybe it is not Morrison’s view, it is President Trump’s view.” It is a mark of paranoia that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) feels there is a global anti-China campaign, and perhaps should ask themselves why that could be?
Threateningly, Wang later told Sky News Australia: “so be careful to not use the Cold War, not to make trouble with China … not good for you.”
Punish one, warn one hundred 惩前毖后
Will China make an example of Australia to deter other countries (including New Zealand and Pacific Island nations) from freely expressing themselves and standing up for their national interests? Should Australia expect to see an increase in foreign interference, information warfare and cyber-attacks – especially during the next Australian federal election?
China has already been caught infiltrating the Australian National University’s (ANU) IT network, and although not specifically named, using cyber means to attack the Australian parliament, the Liberal, Labor and National party headquarters. Additionally, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is currently examining whether a series of so called straw donors, were used to disguise the actual source of a $100,000 cash donation to the NSW Labor Party, allegedly made by Chinese billionaire and banned donor, Huang Xiangmo.
But how much further can China go?
Taiwan’s coming national elections will be looked at closely by Australia and the world for China’s interference activities as a harbinger of what to expect. The Financial Times’s China Correspondent Yuan Yang’s recent article Can Taiwan control China’s keyboard warriors?, discusses how, in addition to the usual Chinese propaganda, “there’s also disinformation — outright falsehoods or conspiracy theories — propagated via Chinese and foreign social media.”
Combining political donations, cyber-attacks, use of social media, with the fact that the vast majority of Australian-based Chinese language news outlets are susceptible to coercion from China — is it not just a matter of when, not if, China will meddle in the next federal election?
The author’s views are his own.