On June 28, Australian parliament passed national security legislation that bans foreign powers from meddling in the island nation’s government, media, and higher education.
The new laws are expected to mainly counter the influence of the Chinese government. The bill was introduced in December 2017 following multiple scandals involving donations and agreements between Chinese officials, or businessmen, and local Australian politicians.
Attorney General Christian Porter told reporters:
“This sends a strong message to those who would seek to undermine our way of life that Australia is acutely aware of activities against our national security and will continue to take the steps necessary to thwart their activities,”
The Australian government and people have long been concerned about how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is trying to use its economic strength to sway Australia’s public institutions.
China is Australia’s biggest trading partner. Chinese companies, many of them state-run, control considerable portions of Australian industry.
Previously, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had urged Australia to “stand up” to Beijing’s actions, which are believed to be part of the CCP’s international political strategy.
During the Cold War, communist countries, like the Soviet Union and China, used their resources to influence politicians and society in non-communist countries. Known as “overt espionage,” this infiltration was intended to subvert and weaken the target country.
In recent years, as China became the world’s second-biggest economy, the CCP has been able to pursue overt espionage to even greater success.
Apart from influencing Australian politicians to support economic policies friendly to China, and weakening the alliance between Australia and the United States, overt espionage is also feared to be robbing Australians of their freedom. In late 2017, scholar Clive Hamilton, author of a book entitled Silent Invasion — China’s influence in Australia, reported that his work had faced censorship from major publishers.
Chinese government organizations operating in Australia have exerted even greater pressure on the local ethnic Chinese community, which includes over 1 million Australian citizens and residents, such as university students. Many Chinese-Australians are afraid to voice their opposition to the Chinese government.
Clive Hamilton wrote in his book:
“The creeping and almost complete takeover of Chinese organizations in Australia by people loyal to Beijing has caused alarm. Those who migrated to escape persecution or simply to live freely are feeling outnumbered.”