Friday, June 16, 2017
Australia's not ready to trust China. Why are we?
Australians have been warned by two of their most senior security officials that their country is the target of Chinese espionage and influence-buying “on an unprecedented scale.”
“This has the potential to cause serious harm to the nation’s sovereignty, the integrity of our political system, our national security capabilities and other interests,” Duncan Lewis, the director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), said last month.
This view was echoed by the most senior official in the Defence Department — the equivalent of the deputy minister in Canada — Dennis Richardson. He said in a speech in Canberra that the Chinese Communist Party’s campaign of subversion in Australia has gone well beyond stealing classified technology. It extends into buying political influence, the control of Chinese language media and the ability to monitor and harass Chinese dissidents in Australia.
All the charges levelled against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) by the two officials and others in Australia can be made in Canada, too. Indeed, Canada has been an active CCP target for espionage and the embedding of agents of influence for considerably longer than Australia. Canada was marked out by the CCP even before it came to power in China in 1949, while Australia has only figured as a serious espionage target in the last 30 years.
Even so, Australia’s relationship with China is more fraught than Canada’s. China is Australia’s largest trade partner and the main customer for the country’s natural resource exports.
So it’s a measure of how seriously the Canberra government takes the CCP threat to its national sovereignty that it recently appointed David Irvine, the former director of its overseas spy agency — the Australian Secret Intelligence Service — as chairman of its foreign investment advisory committee.
In recent years, Australia has blocked many Chinese investments, mostly from state-controlled or state-linked companies, in sensitive infrastructure projects and technology companies.
It is highly unlikely, for example, that Canberra would have followed the example of the Justin Trudeau government in allowing the takeover of the British Columbia satellite communications company, Norsat, by the Chinese radio-systems manufacturer Hytera. The Chinese government is a Hytera shareholder.
Norsat’s customers include NATO, the United States Department of Defense, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, the Taiwanese Army and the Irish Department of Defence. That’s a list of instituions whose communications should not be controlled by a potential enemy like the CCP.
The Conservative government of Stephen Harper was more robust in blocking the sale to China of companies owning sensitive technology. The Liberals, in contrast, have always had a blithe attitude towards Beijing — perhaps because the CCP has put much effort into forging friendships with senior Liberals and associates for well over 50 years.
The warnings of CCP infiltration by the two Australian security officials coincide with a major series of exposes by Australia’s largest news organization, Fairfax Media, which owns such well-known newspapers as the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Melbourne, in partnership with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation television program ‘4 Corners’.
The series of stories has set out a welter information about CCP efforts to suborn Australian political parties with large donations, usually made through proxies, and politicians themselves, often through offers of lucrative post-retirement posts in Chinese companies or institutions.
Canada has tighter rules than Australia on foreign donations to political parties, but that is easily circumvented through the use of Canadian listed companies controlled at arms’ length by the CCP.
Following the money, the Australian media series also tracked how the CCP has acquired influence and access to technologies with military applications by arranging large donations to Australian universities and other research institutes.
One of the most compelling segments in the Fairfax-4 Corners series deals with efforts by Beijing’s diplomats and agents of influence to control Chinese immigrants and temporary residents, such as students.
The series charts incidents of Beijing’s diplomats threatening immigrant dissidents in Australia with reprisals against their families in China unless they curb their activism.
The CCP also has paid special attention to Australian universities and colleges as the country has attracted — as Canada has — a large number of Chinese students. The CCP, often through diplomats in its embassy and consulates, has recruited informants and cadres among Chinese student populations. These spies are there to smother any anti-Beijing activities by the Chinese students and to arrange counter-demonstrations against protests by groups like Falun Gong, Hong Kong democracy advocates, Taiwan independentists and the Free Tibet movement.
However, there’s a serious academic consequence from these spies-in-the-classrooms, according to Australian professors and tutors: Chinese students are now unwilling to express themselves or voice ideas that might get them into trouble with the CCP. The Fairfax-4 Corners series reports several professors saying Chinese students had come to them asking to be put in groups without any other Chinese students in them, so they could feel free to fully take part in their courses.
Canadian immigrants from China, and Chinese students here, are subject to exactly the same pressures as their Australian counterparts. A detailed report on the harassment of Chinese Canadians and members of groups opposed to Beijing by the CCP’s diplomats and other agents was presented recently to the Ottawa government.
It’s no accident that Beijing keeps twice as many “diplomats” in its embassy and four consulates in Canada than does the U.S., our immediate neighbour, closest ally and largest trading partner. As a result, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, according to a former director, James Judd, uses half its time and resources trying to monitor the extracarricular activities of these Chinese “diplomats.”