Taiwan has for decades singlehandedly borne the brunt of a revanchist, ultra-nationalist China — until now.
Ever since Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had the temerity to call for a transparent, international investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing has been turning the screws on Canberra. This has included unleashing aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomats to intimidate Australian policymakers, enacting punitive tariffs on its exports, and threatening an embargo on Chinese tourists and students to the nation.
A tense situation became more serious on June 19 after Morrison revealed that a “sophisticated state-based actor” — read: China — had launched a large-scale cyberattack against Australia, targeting all levels of government, political organizations, essential service providers and critical infrastructure.
It is not the first time that Australia has been targeted by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Unit 61398 cyberwarfare group. In September last year, Reuters said Australian intelligence had found that China was responsible for a hacking attack on the Australian parliament and three of its largest political parties prior to the general election in May that year.
However, the range and depth of the latest attack have unnerved Canberra. Beijing has shown that it is willing to launch an offensive cyberattack as a means to coerce a foreign nation on a scale that many Western intelligence analysts had hitherto assumed would only be employed during a wartime scenario.
In response, Canberra on Tuesday announced that it would spend A$1.35 billion (US$935 million) over the next decade in cyberweapons and defenses, as well as recruit at least 500 additional cyberspies. It is the largest investment that the Australian government has ever made in such capabilities.
In addition to the cyberthreat, Beijing has also been using old-fashioned espionage to influence Australia’s domestic politics. The latest case to rock the nation occurred on Friday last week when New South Wales state opposition lawmaker Shaoquett Moselmane’s home and office were raided by Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO). The media has said the ASIO believes that Moselmane’s office might have been infiltrated by Chinese government agents — but there is reason to be suspicious.
The Australian Labour Party politician has been spouting Beijing’s propaganda for many years. In a 2018 speech, Moselmane said: “The only way for China to reach its potential is for China to force a change to the rules and create the new world order.”
Moselmane has also praised Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) for his “tough, unswerving leadership” during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in a Feb. 5 opinion piece for East China Normal University, he wrote that the “obsolete scum of white Australia” were responsible for anti-China sentiment in the country.
Even more damning, Moselmane, who has made nine privately funded trips to China, last year appointed Chinese national John Zhang (張智森) as a staffer and speechwriter. Zhang is known to have completed a Chinese Communist Party propaganda training course in Beijing and is believed to be a “united front” agent.
In a sign that Canberra believes China poses an unprecedented threat, Morrison on Wednesday announced that Australia would over the next 10 years increase its defense budget by 40 percent.
Speaking to the media, Morrison said: “We have not seen the conflation of global economic and strategic uncertainty now being experienced here in Australia, in our region, since the existential threat we faced when the global and regional order collapsed in the 1930s and 1940s.”
Australia has finally woken up and realized the grim reality that, through no choice of its own, it is now at war with China. Welcome to the club.
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