Fri, Feb 02, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Lawmakers told Beijing exerts influence across Australian society

Academics’ submission to a parliamentary committee detailed how Chinese Communist Party front groups influence business, politics and education

By Michael McGowan  /  The Guardian

The Chinese government uses a sophisticated network of supposedly non-political organizations to suppress criticism, cultivate relationships and exert influence over Australia’s business, academic and political worlds.

Lawmakers investigating foreign interference have been handed evidence with unprecedented detail of the complex network of soft power used by extensions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in boardrooms and on university campuses across Australia.

The submission, by prominent Charles Sturt University author and professor of ethics Clive Hamilton and Australian National University researcher Alex Joske, said China uses the CCP’s United Front Work Department to exert its influence on Australian society.

The United Front’s purpose, Hamilton said, is to “mobilize sympathetic or potentially sympathetic Chinese community groups to serve the interests of the CCP” while marginalizing those opposed to the party.

Its influence extends across Chinese associations on university campuses and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

The Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSA) was “the core of Beijing’s presence on university campuses” and an “integral component” of United Front activity in Australia, with the primary purpose of “monitoring the thoughts and behaviors of the 130,000 Chinese students on campuses across Australia,” Hamilton said in his submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security

There are at least 37 associations active on Australian campuses “covering nearly all Australian universities, including all Group of Eight universities, as well as the CSIRO,” Hamilton said.

“CSSAs play a central role in the Chinese government’s efforts to monitor, control and intervene in the lives of Chinese students in Australia and to limit academic freedom on universities,” the submission said.

While some of the associations “attempt to downplay or hide the fact that they are guided by the Chinese government,” others are more explicit.

The University of Newcastle’s Web site said that the campus association is “supervised by the Chinese general consulate Sydney.”

Hamilton said the associations are tasked with ensuring that Chinese students “remain patriotic and supportive” of CCP rule, but are also used to mobilize Chinese students to oppose campus activities that might embarrass Beijing.

“As the Chinese government’s ears and eyes on university campuses, CSSAs are likely behind many of the incidents of students and lecturers being reported to Chinese authorities for comments that run contrary to the party line,” the submission stated.

Hamilton cited a recent example where the Chinese consulate-general entered a dispute with the University of Newcastle after a lecturer showed a table that listed Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries.

The submission also said that the influence of pro-Beijing organizations in Australian business has been “supercharged” by the rapid growth in trade and investment flows between China and Australia.

“Many leading figures in the Australian business community now serve as megaphones for Beijing’s messaging to the Australian government and the wider public, not least in warnings about ‘damaging the relationship’ and the risks of retaliation when statements are made that Beijing does not like,” the submission states.

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