Chinese political operations in Australia: a popular pro-CCP reading

“You said what?!”: foreign donations to political parties are legal in Australia

Hua Daodao, a deputy editor in the Huanqiu Shibao‘s commentary department, has written a piece offering useful insights into how the Australian media’s latest exposés of CCP overseas political activities looks from within China.

Being a good patriot, Hua summarily brushes aside all the allegations (which incidentally i tend to think are more an indictment of Australian complacency than anything else) but the article seems to have struck a chord with many politically-engaged Chinese young people, being passed around quite widely on WeChat.

One highlight is the extensive comments from Lei Xiying, an energetic pro-CCP activist who says the Australian media have subjected him to “Cultural Revolution style persecution.”

Specifically, he complains about the labels “nationalist” and “ultranationalist” being used in previous Australian coverage of his public activities and works.

Given the prominence of various kinds of enemies of China in Lei’s work, i think it’s fair to call him a “nationalist.” But “ultranationalist” isn’t accurate, as there are many far more extreme, even outright militaristic, participants in Chinese national identity and foreign policy discourse.

In fact, last year in the wake of the unfavourable South China Sea arbitration result, when the government made clear that it did not want street protests or KFC boycotts, Lei worked to discredit this type of nationalist action as anti-China false-flag troublemaking.

What Lei really is, openly and proudly, is a pro-CCP ideological warrior, who views China as beset by foreign plots to infiltrate its government and manipulate public opinion — a near-perfect mirror image of what the CCP and its “agents” now stand accused of in Australia. This grim irony will presumably pass unnoticed by nationalists on all sides of the ideological war.

Hua Daodao’s article is presented in a similar style to many of Lei’s online pieces: full of GIF memes, splashes of coloured text, plenty of online slang, and even a “high-level smear” (高级黑). I’ve tried to replicate that vibe as best i can below.

 

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The things you see if you live long enough! A day when a Western country demands China ‘respect sovereignty’?

Hua Daodao

Huanqiu Shibao public WeChat, June 7, 2017

  • “China infiltrates Australian institutions and cultivates politicians”;
  • “Chinese government has network of spies in Australia, harming Australia’s national security”;
  • “Chinese government supports Chinese students to harass and intimidate other students…”

Say whaat?!

This is not just a rant thrown out there by some tiny media outlet, it’s a program broadcast on Monday by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

An investigatory program with mysterious logic!

The program supposedly took “5 months” to investigate and produce, and the ABC put out a short preview clip on social media several days earlier to promote and build it up. On June 4 they even put out spoilers in the media.

Yet, those who’ve watched the program feel cheated…….

Post-viewing sentiments are that the program is full of incautious speculation and conclusions with no evidence, leaving people “deeply disappointed” in this five-month “masterpiece.”

But Australian Prime Minister Turnbull said today (apparently in response to the program), with a stern face, “China should respect Australia’s sovereignty!”

OMG!

Is this Prime Ministerial big man really this gullible, and also this suspicious?

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A FANTASY FILM

So what did this film actually say?

Titled Power and Influence: how the Chinese Communist Party is infiltrating Australia, and running for 47 minutes, the program begins with a re-enactment [of an Australian intelligence raid on the home] of Sheri Yan (严雪瑞), a 60-year-old American Chinese woman jailed last year for bribery of former UN General Assembly President John Ashe. This had nothing to do with China, and yet speculation about a “possible Chinese-Australian spy” proliferated, merely because a secret Western [government] document on Chinese intelligence work was found in her home.

ABC claims the Australian intelligence agencies’ investigation confirmed that “Australia and the United Nations’ internal data are targets of China’s intelligence operations,” and further that “China is now infiltrating Australian agencies and cultivating political figures,” even though the Australian official investigation has not reached any conclusions.

“What can I say, you guys are frying this to death”

Regarding the Australian intelligence agencies’ accusations of Yan being a suspected “Chinese spy”, her husband Roger Uren said in an interview that this “complete fantasy”, and “reflects some people’s mental derangement.” He said that the claims may originate with the US FBI, “It’s the American prejudice that thinks all chinese people are spies.”

The program warned Australia’s mainstream political parties to be aware of donations from two Australian Chinese [businessmen Chau Chak Wing and Huang Xiangmo, who actually isn’t a citizen], “because they may be channels for CCP interference in Australian politics.”

Students have also become a “high-risk group” for the Australian media — The ABC report claims China is very active in many areas, from directing Chinese student organizations and menacing dissidents in Australia, to influencing Australian academic research, capturing community organizations and controlling Chinese-language media.

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NOT A LONE CASE

What the ABC says will probably appear odd to Chinese people, but in the Australian media it is fully representative. The highly influential Sydney Morning Herald began to embellish the “mass-scale activities” of “Chinese spies” in Australia in 2014.

I contacted one of the Chinese students targeted as a “Chinese government agent of public opinion manipulation.”

The student’s name is Lei Xiying, and he is currently a PhD student at ANU, while also being on the committee of the All China Youth Federation, a winner of the May Fourth Youth Award, and the maker of such online video productions as Me and My Country’s Engine and You Want to Turn China Into This? Over My Dead Body, which won strong plaudits from netizens. This also attracted the attention of some ill-intentioned Australians. 

“The real manipulators of public opinion are the Australian media. Besides slapping labels on people, they take things out of context, and use fuzzy concepts to do public opinion guidance from an extremely clear standpoint.”

Lei Xiying angrily recounted his experience in Australia:

“In 2014 I started the #MeAndTheFlag selfie initiative on Sina Weibo, which won support from students and ethnic Chinese all over the world. That actually was a spontaneous heartfelt patriotic action from masses of overseas students, and I believe many overseas students and scholars understand this feeling. But then the Australian media slapped on the ‘nationalist’ label without explanation.

“By 2016 when i started the #BewareColorRevolution initiative, Australian media as respresented by the SMH immediately tagged me with the ‘ultranationalist’ label, and through extremely subjective and malicious editing, ignoring the large volume of objective facts I recounted in an interview with them, did all they could to seize on a few words to create the ‘ultranationalist’ image they wanted.

“For example, they wheeled out the ‘ultranationalist’ and ‘propaganda tool’ labels at the beginning of the article, and only then introduced some of the content of the interview. Even as they quoted me in some parts, they made sure to take me out of context — I talked about my revulsion towards colour revolutions coming from my concerns about the current situation in the Middle East, but this was deliberately deleted. In its place, some stuff about ‘the Chinese government uses nationalism to brainwash the masses,’ and ‘youth chauvinism’ that the journalist and editors had wracked their brains to come up with. Later, when a Chinese journalist asked to interview the [Australian] journalist, they chose not to reply.

“These techniques of manipulation of words spoken is very common in Australian media reporting. Besides the above, when Chinese leaders have visited Australia, I have organized student actions to welcome the leader and resist anti-China noise [i.e. protests by the CCP’s opponents]. When the Australian media interviewed me, the article only used two sentences of what I said, and crucially, they deliberately took an important point and placed it right before the opposition’s quote, so unless readers were attentive, many would get the wrong impression that what I said was actually said by the opposition. This type of deliberate muddying of the context and manufacturing ambiguity in order to dilute the voice of pro-China forces is very common. [NOTE: the image below, provided by Lei himself as evidence of this plot, actually shows just the opposite.]

“This type of Cultural Revolution-style suppression put great pressure on my individual life. From August last year onwards this type of directed public opinion made me not dare to return to Australia and continue my studies, and just write my thesis back at home.

“As overseas students we love China and also like Australia, but this doesn’t mean we have to like Australian politics and politicians. We despise the political kidnapping and political persecution that media like SMH practice via manipulation of public opinion. As a media outlet only daring to biasedly show one side’s voice, this is lamentable, and makes a mockery of the ‘diversity’, ‘internationalism’ and ‘tolerance’ that Australia thinks it can be proud of.”

NOTE: to a native English speaker at least, the report doesn’t suggest that Lei’s line was spoken by a Falun Gong source at all. And if the reporter had been deliberately trying to “dilute the voice of pro-China forces,” as he claims, why would they quote him first, before his dissident opponents?

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AUSTRALIAN MEDIA HIGH-LEVEL SMEAR

Where do the Australian media’s associative powers to invent this so-called “Chinese spy network” come from?

Ms. Dao understands the following to be the background: the leaders of public opinion this time are two organizations, one is ABC TV, the other is the SMH. The latter has recently been embroiled in uncertainty over its possible acquisition, with capital selloffs and many journalists and editors worried about their jobs. The ABC is also facing restructuring with the government unhappy with them, and major controversy in political circles over funding cuts.

So it’s like that then!

A friend in Australia said: “The security threat facing Australia at present is clearly terrorism, the government has endlessly reiterated the importance with which it views relations with China, and people are friendly towards China. Last year Sydney University ran an opinion poll that showed friendly attitudes towards China were even higher than towards the US. These two media outlets’ embellishment of the China threat doesn’t represent the Australian public’s views, and ignores Australia’s interests. It doesn’t really hurt China that much, but it is playing games with Australia’s future.”

“It’s not cos you’re poor”

However, Ms. Dao thinks a high-level smear is a high-level smear, at the end of the day that’s Australia’s problem. Australia is not an isolated case, the whole of Western society harbours a deep psychological sense of loss and anxiety.

One scholar points out that we need to be mentally prepared for the process of China’s emergence into the world, for when we do, encountering wariness and doubt, encountering a rebound or even worsening of nationalist sentiments, is a matter of probability.

“We need have a bit more of a balanced mind. We think of ourselves as very well-intentioned, but that doesn’t mean others will naturally open their arms and welcome us. China’s influence is constantly growing, our business people are increasingly present abroad and this will create all kinds of effects that we can’t avoid. This is an issue that a great power must consider on the road to its rise. Our attitude should be a bit calmer and we should stand a bit taller, there’s no need to get worried over every little gain and loss.”

Makes sense!

“I read a lot of books, I wouldn’t fool you”

However, since my self-knowledge and consciousness are inadequate, I still want to express my contempt for those Australian media.

 

 


A lazy Sunday afternoon at the Beijing anti-Japan protests

The first thing that struck me about the anti-Japanese protests in Beijing on Sunday was how helpful the authorities were, to me and everyone else who went.

Being the goose that i am, i went to the wrong embassy — the old one on Ritan St that’s awaiting demolition. I wasn’t alone, however, for a handful of locals had also made the same mistake. The policemen on duty very obligingly told us where to go, and the options for getting there, and even let us listen in on their radio for the latest update, which was that about 350 people were over there protesting.

I combined for a taxi with a couple from Hebei whose purpose turned out to be similar to mine: they were just going down there to have a look.

When the taxi could take us no further, the police were only too happy to help once again. Verbatim conversation:

Hebei fellow: Where should we go?

Policeman: Are you here to work, or to protest?

Hebei lady: Umm…protest.

Policeman (pointing across the road): That way and turn right.

The protest zone bore all the hallmarks of a well-organized event venue, starting with the roadblocks and the hundreds of evenly-spaced “volunteers” lining the path leading towards the embassy. I asked several of the latter how they came to be here and where they got their red armbands, but the closest i got to answer was, “Uhhh…” (looking around at her friends), “this is not good to say.”

“Volunteers” along the path to the anti-Japan protests in Beijing, September 16, 2012

Later on, i asked another young woman, who told me she was from a neighbourhood committee. A friend who i met up with suggested that they were probably also drawn from the ranks of grassroots-level government workers.

Outside the embassy it became apparent that the whole purpose of the roadblocks to was create a long racetrack with hairpin bends at both ends, around which the groups of protesters could march in safety and captivity, under the watchful eyes of the armed police.

Around and around they went, in four or five groups whose numbers anywhere from 50 up to about 200. They carried their banners, chanted their slogans, and occasionally threw volleys of plastic water bottles over the motionless rows of People’s Armed Police as they passed by the embassy. The result:

At one point i said something about the “PLA brothers” across the street, which a fellow onlooker quickly corrected: “The PLA is for attacking the Japanese, the PAP is for attacking the Chinese.” Indeed, the armed police would have been feeling a bit nervous after what happened yesterday (more photos from Netease):

But in the three hours or so that i stood there, i didn’t hear anything remotely controversial yelled — for example, the chant of “打倒汉奸”, or “down with Chinese traitors” that is heard around 1:41 in this video from Saturday’s protests.

The most remarkable thing about the slogans was the frequency with which the protesters came past yelling at the crowds of onlookers (leaders//followers): “Chinese people!//Join in!” Sometimes this bolstered their numbers by one or two, but on most occasions those around me (directly opposite the embassy) stood staring as passively as the laowai in their midst.

It was getting late in the day by the time i got there, so some of the spectators had probably marched around the track a few times, but genuinely angry people really did seem to be a fairly small minority. In contrast, despite the marchers’ direct appeals, the great majority of those present were just there to observe the spectacle of a protest in the heart of the Chinese capital.

Nonetheless, lest i fall into the trap of Beijingcentrism after but a single weekend here, the following is a selection of photos of the havoc wreaked around the country by the mass protests of, according to Xinhua, up to 10,000 in more than 50 other cities.

Eric Fish is right to point out the opportunity that the Diaoyu affair has presented to the ruling party in terms of diverting the Chinese people’s attention away from its Eighteenth Congress, but whether it proves to be a “godsend” is not certain. As Adam Minter and Evan Osnos have both recently observed, since the Chinese party-state has no way of satisfying the demands it has unleashed, this could spell trouble.

Police car smashed in Suzhou

Protester throws teargas canister in Shenzhen

Fire in Xi’an

Police car in Chengdu (from Shanghaiist)

The Communist Party has successfully neutralized these types of nationalist mobilization in the past through a combination of suppression of activism and positive media coverage of Japan. The question is how they will manage this in the internet era.