Recently, within the Chinese community in Australia, the hottest topic has been none other than Gladys Liu of the Australian Liberal Party. Liu, who was elected by a small margin to the House of Representatives during the recent federal election, has been accused of “misleading voters” during the election. To add to her woes, she is also suspected of involvement with the “United Front Works” and playing a role as an “overseas spokesperson” of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Needless to say, the first Chinese Australian female ever elected to the House has had a rocky start to her political career. Things turned from bad to worse on September 10 when Liu was put into a very awkward situation during her interview with Andrew Bolt on Sky News. Afterward, she was not only besieged by the mainstream media and the Chinese social media WeChat, but her political position also became precarious.
To those who were surprised by how much Liu previously “dabbled” in the CCP’s United Front networks, one saying rings true — “The soil determines the fruit.” I am confident that the Liberal Party elite have a full understanding of the “soil” that makes up the Chinese community. However, when it came to weighing up political power and national security, our politicians chose the former.
While confronting scathing criticism from Labor and worries from the Liberal center, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stood in full support of Liu, saying: “Gladys is a Chinese-born Australian. Does that make her in cahoots with the Chinese government? Of course not…It is a ridiculous suggestion and I think it is an insult to every single Chinese-Australian in this country.”
I believe in the near future, the Prime Minister will realize how ignorant and wilfully blind his comment was. What he was worried about was losing Liu’s marginal seat and preserving the LNP’s delicate one-seat majority in the House.
Currently, the control that the CCP exerts over many within the Chinese community greatly surpasses the imagination of the Australian public. If ASIO conducted detailed investigations, it would not be hard to find evidence showing that most Chinese Australian politicians cannot avoid being influenced by the CCP. The Chinese idiom of “untainted lotus that blooms in the mud” is just another beautiful myth.
The Australian mainstream media has only begun to realize and expose the CCP’s two major “secret weapons” of infiltration — the United Front and control of the public discourse. In actuality, these “secret weapons” came into effect as early as 2000, during which Chinese Consulate-General officials directly intervened and forced the Sydney Shanghai Association to switch their president to someone more in line with the CCP’s discourse. Since then, unsurprisingly, almost every president of mainland Chinese associations in Australia has become unbelievably “obedient.”
In 2005, former Chinese diplomat Yonglin Chen defected and raised an alarm to the Western world that infiltration has expanded to every field of society. However, the Australian government took no notice. This resulted in the unhindered success of the CCP’s United Front strategies. During the 2008 Olympic torch relay, Beijing increased its investment in United Front Works and almost every Australian Chinese media platform was bought out. As a result, all Chinese language channels where Australian Chinese voices could be heard were now under the control of the Chinese Consulate-General.
In September 2008, New South Wales held local government elections. That year, the number of Chinese candidates reached its peak and 14 Chinese councillors were successfully elected. Surprisingly, one of the first things these councillors did after reporting to duty was to pay a group visit to Yanrui Li, the then acting consul general at the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney. Over 10 Chinese councillors attended, including Ernest Wong, who was a Burwood councillor at the time. Some tend to find this unbelievable: “Are we electing Australian councillors or branch leaders of the Australian CCP?” Whether or not attendance at this meeting was self-willing or coerced, most of these councillors remained obedient to the orders of the Chinese Consulate-General. After all, their successful elections were the result of targeted efforts organized by the Chinese Consulate toward the Chinese community.
Due to the nature of Australia’s three levels of government, many of these elected Chinese councillors were able to act out the Chinese Consulate-General’s wishes at a local government level. For those who were seen as “anti-China” by the CCP, not only were they discriminated against, they were also unable to appear in any local government-funded events and the reason given publicly was that “the Chinese Consulate objects.” Although these Chinese politicians have always proclaimed that they “represent the collective voice and benefits of all those within the Chinese-Australian community,” as a matter of fact, they only represent the interests of the CCP.
In the meantime, Liu, who was born in Hong Kong, was highly active in the Melbourne Chinese community and whether she wanted it or not, she was seen as a cultivation target by the CCP for future Australian politics. From 2003 to 2015, she served an important role in one of the overseas branches of CCP’s United Front Work Department. In 2010, she successfully entered Victorian politics, where she worked as an advisor to a few Victorian premiers. It would not be wrong to say that much of the close connection between Victoria and the CCP can be credited to Liu.
The reasons behind Liu’s narrow election win were not what the Chinese media touted — her personal excellence and superiority. It was the consent of the CCP that got her over the line. Without silent consent from the CCP, any “untainted lotus from the mud” would not receive attention from the Chinese media or the support of various Chinese community groups. These channels can serve to add additional hype to create more influence for the candidate.
Talking about influence, one should never underestimate the power of WeChat, the most popular Chinese social media app today, and its ability to make an enclave of the Chinese diaspora. This phenomenon can no longer be ignored.
During recent times, WeChat has become an essential part in the lives of Chinese people around the globe. During the 2019 election, the wider Australian public became concerned about possible security risks and political interference as an increasing number of political leaders and candidates created WeChat platforms to communicate with Chinese-speaking voters. Professor Wanning Sun from the University of Technology Sydney wrote an academic policy brief, Is there a problem with WeChat? This policy brief stated that there has been “no firm evidence” to suggest WeChat has been used for PRC government espionage in Australia and called for greater engagement on WeChat to understand Chinese diaspora sentiments. I believe Professor Sun must have some unknown reason for being so willfully blind and willing to elevate WeChat to such a high profile.
Every Chinese Australian knows that WeChat platforms, which operate out of the reach of the Australian legal jurisdiction, wield unimaginable powers that can shape Chinese public opinion to align with the CCP and undermine Australia’s liberal values.
The Australian mainstream is currently only aware of CCP flagships, such as the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China; Australia China Economic, Trade and Cultural Association; and Ostar Media, but WeChat, as the true actor of influence, has slipped under the radar.
For example, ever since Tommy Jiang of Ostar Media has come under media scrutiny, he has taken a backseat in his Chinese community activities, leaving the day-to-day management of his Australia Dongbei Chinese Association to his trusted right-hand man, Shangze Cui, otherwise known as James Cui. Keeping a low profile, Cui is believed to run a cosmetic company and despite notorious rumors about him circulating on WeChat, the Chinese Consulate and Jiang still trust him. Cui and his team single-handedly created nearly 50 active WeChat groups with over 20,000 members. There are also hundreds of Chinese association leaders with similar active WeChat groups covering most of the Chinese community in Australia.
Normally speaking, WeChat is just a social media app for passing time. However, when there are orders to fulfill or certain powers to satisfy, WeChat will then unleash its “invincible” potential. WeChat can be used for collective discrimination, or sing infinite praises; WeChat can be flooded with trolls to drown out the true voices of the Chinese community, create fake news, or misconstrue real news into fake news. In the WeChat world, any speech that counteracts the “approved” narrative has no room for survival. And for those WeChat groups that dare to swim against the tide, they are forever engaged in “guerrilla warfare,” having to continuously regroup after being shut down.
WeChat, a tool fully controlled by a foreign agent, has now become a “media platform” thanks to its inadvertent promotion during the federal election. Moreover, it surpasses the boundary where the law takes effect.
Think about it; what kind of Chinese leader or politician will grow from such controversial soil?
Of course, there are exceptions. Two years ago, Christine Tuon, who is of Taiwanese background, was elected as a councillor of Willoughby Council in Sydney. In one of the interviews, Mayor Gail Giles-Gidney mentioned that while this Chinese councillor is fluent in Mandarin, she does not see herself as the “representative of the Chinese community,” but rather representing all her voters who come from different ethnic groups.
On the other hand, for Gladys Liu, it is not difficult to understand her predicament. If she did not engage with the CCP and gain their support, someone of her caliber would never have emerged from the “soil” that makes up the Chinese community. While being questioned by Andrew Bolt, Liu did not dare to give a satisfying answer to the audience because she is too afraid to speak the truth. She knows the rules of the game, and her weaknesses are in the hands of others. As the Chinese idiom goes, water can carry a ship as well as sink it, even if the water is muddy.
If one has a past that cannot withstand scrutiny, then why step on to the political stage? It is inevitable for a politician to be opportunistic, but it would be bordering foolishness to expect a bright future when you have sprouted from muddy waters. No matter how many tears and blood are spent, the tale would still be a tragedy.
Short term political popularity often comes by luck and will certainly fail at some point. Former New South Wales Senator Ernest Wong, now embroiled in an ICAC investigation, is a classic example. Although the Australian public and elite are awakening — albeit at a relatively slow pace — they will eventually become fully alert.
This is an opinion article by Yan Xia, the chief editor of Vision China Times, an independent Chinese language media company in Australia.