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.

 

 


China’s public response to the Mischief Reef FONOP

“Unreasonable”: CCTV’s 10pm Evening News (晚间新闻) bulletin introduces the US FONOP near Mischief Reef, Thursday May 25, 2017.

Chinese media coverage of the recent US naval patrol near its outposts in the disputed Spratly Islands suggests, to me at least, Beijing’s increasing confidence in its handling of public opinion on this sensitive issue. 

In turn, the content of some of Beijing’s publicity offers insight into China’s intentions for the handling of the matter going forward. Specifically, the government’s response suggests a firm determination to avoid escalating tensions. It could even foreshadow an increasingly tolerant attitude towards US assertions of freedom of navigation into the future.

The basis for this speculation is outlined below, but as always i’d encourage readers with other explanations to get in touch or leave a comment.

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China’s Information Management in the Sino-Vietnamese Confrontation: Caution and Sophistication in the Internet Era

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Jamestown China Brief piece published last week:

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China’s Information Management in the Sino-Vietnamese Confrontation: Caution and Sophistication in the Internet Era

China Brief, Volume 14 Issue 11 (June 4, 2014)

After the worst anti-China violence for 15 years took place in Vietnam this month, it took China’s propaganda authorities nearly two days to work out how the story should be handled publicly. However, this was not a simple information blackout. The 48-hour gap between the start of the riots and their eventual presentation to the country’s mass audiences exemplified some of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) sophisticated techniques for managing information during fast-breaking foreign affairs incidents in the Internet era. Far from seizing on incidents at sea to demonstrate China’s strength to a domestic audience, the official line played down China’s assertive actions in the South China Sea and emphasized Vietnamese efforts to stop the riots, effectively de-coupling the violence from the issue that sparked them. This indicated that, rather than trying to appease popular nationalism, China’s leaders were in fact reluctant to appear aggressive in front of their own people.[1]

By framing the issue in this way, China’s media authorities cultivated a measured “rational patriotism” in support of the country’s territorial claims. In contrast to the 2012 Sino-Japanese confrontation over the Diaoyu Islands, when Beijing appears to have encouraged nationalist outrage to increase its leverage in the dispute,[2] during the recent incident the Party-state was determined to limit popular participation in the issue, thus maximizing its ability to control the escalation of the situation, a cornerstone of the high-level policy of “unifying” the defense of its maritime claims with the maintenance of regional stability (Shijie Zhishi [World Affairs], 2011).

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“War is good, it reshuffles the cards”: Qiu Zhenhai’s taxi ride

China Anti-Japan Protests - Beijing

Instability threat: Anti-Japan protesters in Beijing, September 2012

The introduction to Phoenix TV host and international affairs commentator Qiu Zhenhai’s book, excerpted in Southern Weekend a couple of weeks back, reprises an important issue for everyone studying nationalism in China: to what extent should we really understand the phenomena that get labelled “Chinese nationalism” in those terms?

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“Public opinion warfare to smear military commentators”: my plot to contain China exposed

China.com - Are PLA hawks just propaganda?

China.com special topic: Are the PLA’s hawkish statements just propaganda?

In my first foray into mainland China’s propaganda system since winning a “second-class prize” in a television language competition heavily rigged in my favour, the previous post (written for the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief) was picked up by mainland online media on Tuesday, and run under headlines including:

I apologize in advance for the infelicitousness of this post, but i am a student and this is a blog, so can’t take these things too seriously 😉

My personal favourite headline was:

America: Dai Xu more provocative than Luo Yuan, gets some kind of authorization!‘ (China.com). 

Since i now speak for “America” (or is it that i am America?), it is high time i actually went there.

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First Luo Yuan, now Liu Yuan: from one “public opinion incident” to another

Liu Yuan

Liu Yuan giving his March 14 interview

...not to be confused with Luo Yuan

Luo Yuan

Over the past few weeks i’ve counted five instances of PLA General Liu Yuan publicly warning against military conflict with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands. If this puzzled the SCMP’s seasoned reporters, who described Liu as “hawkish” in a story quoting him saying, “The friendship between people in China and Japan is everlasting,” it was positively shocking for many of the Chinese internet’s e-nationalists. [1]

Actual serving General Liu Yuan is not to be confused with retired academic “Major-General” Luo Yuan (i’ll continue to put his rank in quotes to distinguish them), who was dumped from the CPPCC this month for being “too outspoken”.

That rationale was a bit ironic given he too has been oddly conciliatory on the Diaoyu issue of late. Not only did “Major-General” Luo categorically refute a Japanese media report that he had called for Tokyo to be bombed, he also seemed to deny he had ever suggested establishing a military presence on Diaoyu. And in one of his earliest Weibos, Luo raised a historical episode that seemed to imply that the US could secretly be trying to fool China into giving it a rationale for military intervention over Diaoyu:

In 1990, as Iraq massed military forces on the Kuwait border, the US ambassador told Saddam, “We do not take a position.” On July 31, US Assistant Secretary of State affirmed that “there is no duty compelling us to use our military”. As a result Iraq invaded Kuwait, under the belief that the US would not intervene, whereupon the US gained a great number of rationales for sending troops. From this we can see, the US wields not only high technology, but also strategic deception.

1990年,伊拉克在科威特边境集结军队时,美大使向萨达姆表示,“不持立场”,7月31日美助理国务卿在众院听证会上肯定“没有义务促使我们使用我们的军队”,结果,伊拉克在确信美不会介入的情况下,入侵科威特,于是,美获得了大量出兵的理由。由此可见,海湾战争,美国不仅玩的是高技术,还玩战略误导

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“The headline speaks to the Chinese people’s heart!”: Zhong Sheng on Diaoyu patrols, gets a Phoenix twist

‘China needs to stand its ground like this’ by “Zhong Sheng”, Renmin Ribao, October 8, 2012, p.3. Phoenix and Sina changed the headline to ‘People’s Daily: if the territory cannot even be protected, what significance does China’s rapid development have?’, misrepresenting the article as an attack on the policy status quo.

Monday’s “Zhong Sheng” article in the Renmin Ribao set out to tell the world that the People’s Republic’s fisheries and surveillance ships are going to continue their patrols around the Diaoyu Islands.

The basic point was simple (official English translation):

Not only will the ship fleet of the Chinese Fishery Administration continue to stand its ground, but the Chinese Marine Surveillance ships will also stand their ground.

Beginning October 1, Chinese government boats have entered the 12nm territorial zone twice (on October 2 and 3) and patrolled in the 12nm “contiguous zone” every day since then. Zhong Sheng offered an explanation of sorts for the timing:

China needs to stand its ground in this manner. Otherwise, China’s territorial sovereignty and legitimate right and interest could never be truly maintained, and Chinese people wouldn’t be able to celebrate the festive season securely and happily.

So the patrols recorded each day from October 1 to 7 were probably aimed in part at giving China’s holidaying families a sense that their government taking the requisite action to protect the homeland during National Day Golden Week. The Japanese media were of course crucial to the effectiveness of this.(†)

“Zhong Sheng” repeatedly claimed that the patrols were regularized and would not go away, but in so doing, effectively admitted that China had changed the status quo on the waters out there: “Japan is not accustomed to this . . . Japan must learn to adapt to these regular actions of China.” In fact, the writer(s) even went one step further in this direction, nominating the specific date for one significant change in PRC policy:

The Chinese Fishery Administration has normalized the fishery-protection patrol in the waters near the Diaoyu Islands and its subsidiary islands since as early as 2010.

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