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article imageOp-Ed: Chinese ‘secret’ operations in Australia — Threats and coercion

By Paul Wallis     Jun 3, 2017 in World
Sydney - New revelations regarding Chinese government and intelligence operations in Australia are making headlines. The problem is they’re nothing the Chinese community didn’t know, and everything the Australian government should have known.
Chinese operations in Australia have long been common knowledge among the Chinese community. Australia’s belated recognition of these well-known issues is mildly absurd, to put it mildly.
The allegations and anecdotal evidence are:
• Threats against local Chinese media.
• Coercion and monitoring of Chinese students in Australia.
• Targeting of anti-communist activists of all shapes and sizes.
• “Influence building and control” operations on Australian campuses.
• Pro-communist political donations and related political operations.
• Threats against families in China.
• Reporting on anti-Chinese government media and individuals.
• Support of pro-Chinese policy groups.
• Tracking and monitoring families of activists.
• Active dissemination of propaganda.
• Sponsoring pro-Chinese demonstrations.
• Alleged subsidies for pro-Chinese media outlets.
These operations are allegedly run by the Ministry for State Security. Allegations of intimidation are common. It's not a good look for China in Australia.
Chinese have always stood up for their people  sooner or later. The Tank Man is one of a long line o...
Chinese have always stood up for their people, sooner or later. The Tank Man is one of a long line of Chinese patriots.
All I can say is that it's also very old news. If you showed this list to any Australian Chinese or expatriate Chinese I’ve ever met, the response would be “So what’s new?”, followed by “Doesn’t even say anything about what the Triads do over here?” They would be a lot less than impressed, and give you a verbal list of easily half an hour’s worth of other things and issues.
The problems and the non-problems
To my own knowledge, this has been going on since at least the time of Tiananmen Square and probably longer. The local and expat Chinese know the story very well.
The irony, and one of the major non-problems for China is that most ethnic Chinese in Australia are very proud of China’s economic success and emergence as a real world power. They’re over the moon about the new business opportunities and massively increased trade. They’re happy to do business with China any time. They’re not “disloyal to China”, in any possible sense of the word.
They do, however, strongly resent the assumption that they’re disloyal, let alone active operations conducted against them on that assumption. They distrust the political spin and very much overdone hype which goes with the Chinese operations. They certainly don’t trust the apparently very selective targeting of people and their families, either.
There is another good reason for their skepticism. The so-called “anti-Chinese” groups in the community are basically harmless to Chinese interests. They have no influence at all in China. The occasional pro-democracy chatter hardly constitutes any significant risk to Beijing. You’ll hear commentary, not conspiracy, and not much of real substance.
In contrast, the very heavy handed, and genuinely worrying, methods of the “influence and control” operations are anything but harmless. They see these operations as oppressive, and potentially dangerous, and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that they’re right to worry about it. Families in China can be at risk, and sometimes are. The exact nature of any risks to Chinese Australians are mainly speculative in most cases, but real enough in other cases, and taken very seriously.
Chinese police stand guard in front of a giant portrait of ex-leader Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square ...
Chinese police stand guard in front of a giant portrait of ex-leader Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Mao's Cultural Revolution lasted from 1966-1976.
Mark Ralston, AFP/File
Another issue is that these overblown responses don’t even work very well. To avoid Chinese government scrutiny, Chinese with “issues” in relation to Beijing simply drop off the radar in Australia. They become invisible. They also know who and where the Chinese government operatives are, at just about all times. The net result is that the Chinese operatives are working on a few visible targets, and missing everyone else.
China has basically offended the Chinese Australian community with this thoughtless, remarkably two dimensional, approach. Focusing on trivia and non-problems doesn’t do a lot for China’s image with its expatriates. Nor do Chinese people overlook the issues and risks of corruption, extortion, etc. which may go hand in hand with these supposed intelligence operations. People can be, and are, easy enough to frame with “information” about their alleged anti-Beijing activities. This is best described as “How To Ensure Minimal Credibility and Cooperation from the Chinese Community”, a working model of distrust, incarnate.
For its part, Australia’s belated revelations are somewhere between farcical and barely in the ball park regarding the realities of Chinese operations in Australia. Australian intelligence agencies, and the public are well aware of cyber issues, noisy rhetoric, and sudden, unconvincing rallies of pro-Chinese demonstrators on an issue-by-issue basis. That’s considered normal.
The current reaction by Australia, however, is a bit more overblown, based on innuendo, rather than hard facts. There’s even talk of “a threat to Australian sovereignty”. That’s not the case. These easy-to-find operations can be squashed pretty easily, even if a few abrasive issues with China would be the short term result.
If the cyber operations are extremely annoying, and the pro-Chinese flash mobs rather cosmetic, the risks to Chinese Australian citizens and Chinese students in Australia are much more serious. There is absolutely no evidence, even theoretical, of any real basis for this very overdone approach. There simply are no anti-China conspiracies. It’s absurd.
This is old style Chinese communism, watching every word as though someone in Sydney or Melbourne talking politics was a threat. Maybe someone’s sucking up to higher authorities in Beijing, or winning brownie points for promotion, or there’s money to be made for operatives, but it’s pretty ludicrous, at best. What actual value is there to China, to base what appears to be a big, expensive intelligence operation on virtual dust in the wind?
If Beijing wants to reconcile with the Australian Chinese community and reassure it that China has outgrown its old, pre-economic revolution ways, all that’s required is to do good business. The image of modern China isn’t some rerun of 1949 or the Cultural Revolution dogma. It’s of a country that does good business, and is creating prosperity. Spoiling that image is a major own goal.
There’s an old Chinese saying: “If you distrust a man, don’t hire him. If you hire him, don’t distrust him.” Apply that to Chinese around the world, and it’s pretty apt.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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