By Will Koulouris (June 6, 2017)
A common narrative that is constructed by the Australian media every so often, is that of the supposed Chinese menace of “soft power” and infiltration into the nation, highlighted by a recent investigation to air Monday on a government-owned broadcaster.
The investigation spearheaded by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Fairfax Media, and metered out through multiple stories, relied upon a sensationalised purview rife with click-bait geared headlines such as “Australian sovereignty under threat from influence of China’s Communist Party”, and hinged upon the testimony of Australian spy chiefs and known Chinese dissidents to make its case.
The stories, all well-worn re-hashings of narratives past, cited the so-called growing influence of China within the Australian political, and educational landscape, and directly targeted one of Australia’s greatest international partners without prejudice.
Putting aside the the timing of the supposed expose, which coincided with the Australian arrival of the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with the joint chiefs and other U.S. officials for talks with their Australian counterparts; the stories followed the comments made last month by the then outgoing federal defence secretary, Dennis Richardson.
Richardson claimed in a speech given at the National Press Club that there was a concerted effort by China to be active in “intelligence activities” against Australia, which was quickly picked up by numerous outlets all seeking to drive a wedge between the great cultural partnerships that have been cultivated between citizens of China and Australia.
The relationship between China and Australia is one that is predicated on building a solid foundation of trust, and seeking out mutually beneficial outcomes for both sides moving forward in this, the Asian century.
With every visit of Chinese leadership to Australia, the message from China has been clear – there is no set of circumstances that could arise that would see China ever wish, or seek, to interfere in the sovereignty of Australia.
At every possible step, with every possible action, it has been demonstrated to be a cornerstone of the successful friendship between both China and Australia, that both sides are able to benefit from the exchange of trade, culture and ideas, without fear of any form of insidious maneuverings from either side.
And yet, one of the stories released late Sunday attempts to undermine that trust by referring to a matter that occurred in 2015, with a raid by Australian intelligence services on a house in Canberra that was reported as being concerned with Chinese spying, and yet, led to no charges, no arrests, but is apparently indicative of a global intelligence ring according to the reporters at the ABC.
This style of fear-mongering serves no interest, does no favours, and trivialises the efforts that have been made to foster an ever-growing friendship between China and Australia, and only leads to the development of xenophobic attitudes towards the Chinese amongst the general populace.
The attacks directed at China by some parts of the Australian media, are indeed reflective of similar attacks currently levelled at the Russian government in the United States, and are consistent with a “cold war” mindset that tarnishes the great strides that have been made by both Chinese and Australian officials to develop a win-win relationship across all aspects of their partnership.
Perhaps more concerning are the claims leveled at the university system in Australia, which according to the media reports sees China engaged in a “influence-and-control operation” within the learning establishments.
However, the examples that are used are of a university student, and a university lecturer who both design to undermine the sovereignty of China, through engaging in practices intended to stoke dissent; practices that would be likewise discouraged, and have been discouraged by every other government in the developed world.
The hypocrisy and one-sided arguments put forward, without barely an alternate opinion lest that of former Australian ambassador to China, Geoff Raby, who was afforded a mere line here and there, are indicative of a clear agenda to disparage the Chinese government by media groups clearly hoping to stoke the fires of intolerance and garner attention, without thought of the damaging consequences to the bilateral relationship between China and Australia.
A relationship that has seen both nations rise to the forefront of success within the Asia-Pacific region, and looking ahead to further cooperation both in terms of the active trading partnerships like ChAFTA, as well as ones earmarked for future delivery, such as RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership).
Alas, these relationships require not only trust, not only mutually beneficial outcomes, but an understanding that the future success of China and Australia in terms of their relationship has to be underpinned by a positive cultural exchange, and not aggrandizing attacks that seek to push an adversarial relationship between the two nations.
A relationship the media reports attend, is also driven by a number of donations to the political parties in Australia by wealthy Chinese billionaires with “links” to China. Yet, the inescapable reality of the political complex in Australia is that foreign money always makes its way into the hands of the ever willing political groups.
To single out those of Chinese origin, and even more so, a man who openly sought Australian citizenship, as indicative of some link to the political leadership in China is inherently erroneous.
One needs only to look at the vast amounts of foreign money that pours into the country, directly sliding inside the coffers of a variety of other political groups, to see the nature of the hypocrisy that is being propagated by an ever willing media driving a clear narrative of fear; and seeking to break down the positive cultural and economic partnership between China and Australia.
This combative attitude engaged by the media in Australia, using divisive tactics and wholly serving to attempt to eviscerate the integrity and standing of one of Australia’s most important cultural groups is, without question, wrong.
What the relationship between China and Australia needs is trust, not doubt. Partnership, not division. The opportunities for both sides to succeed in chorus now, and into the future, are endless. The unnecessary attacks serve no purpose, and do both countries a great disservice.