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.

 

 


Are China’s hawks actually the PLA elite after all? [Revised]

Yawei Liu

Dr Yawei Liu, of the Carter Center

[Updated 17 Dec: As with most things on here, this was bashed out hastily in the not-so-early hours of a morning, so i’ve taken the liberty of revising and adding some bits as i read through it two weeks later. In particular i felt the need to add in the various things i agree with from Liu and Ren’s excellent article, in addition to the criticisms i made.]

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In an upcoming Journal of Contemporary China article addressing the always fascinating question of PLA officers’ belligerent media statements, Yawei Liu and Justine Zheng Ren advance exactly the opposite case to the one made here earlier this year. They argue that military commentators’ media statements represent the “consensus” voice of the PLA, fighting to influence the CCP’s foreign policy. 

Dr Liu, who directs the Carter Center’s China Program, happens to be the brother of General Liu Yazhou, most recently of Silent Contest fame. General Liu himself even features in the article, but references to his thinking are indirect (“General Liu seems to share the conviction that…”), presumably meaning that the two brothers have not talked over these work-related issues. Still, if anyone is in a position to knock the teeth out of my “propaganda, not policy” argument, Dr Liu should be the man.

To briefly recap, my argument was that, based on the backgrounds and affiliations of the main “hawks”, the belligerent military voices in the Chinese media are largely those of nominated propaganda/publicity experts (the two terms conflated as 宣传), whose job is to mould a positive image of the PLA among the domestic population and augment the military’s capabilities by shaping international audiences’ perceptions.[1]

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A “strategic communication” with India, via Luo Yuan?

Luo Yuan meets the press, July 4, 2013 - photo by Ananth Krishnan

Luo Yuan meets the press, July 4, 2013 – photo by Ananth Krishnan

To those people who subscribe to this blog via email, thankyou and i’m sorry — you guys always miss out on various additions and clarifications (e.g. headings, signpost & summary sentences) to the shoddy initial versions i post. If you’re interested in the topics but find my chaotic writing confusing, i’d always recommend waiting a few hours and then viewing via the web, rather than email.

If it wasn’t clear, the point of yesterday’s typically unwieldy post was actually quite simple: Luo Yuan, and the other “hawks”, are probably in the game of military political work, rather than policy competition.

With impeccable timing, Luo Yuan has provided a lovely example to illustrate this. [UPDATE JULY 8: Not really an example at all, it turns out.]

On Thursday, only hours before AK Antony arrived in Beijing for the first visit by an Indian Defense Minister for seven years, Luo held a press briefing and told India to be “very cautious in what it does and what it says.” [UPDATE: The briefing was not about India, and Luo only commented on India when asked by a journalist to do so. I have been told Luo made no attempt to raise the topic of India. Thus, the working hypothesis this piece was written under — that this was a carefully timed piece of strategic communication aimed at India — is invalid. It was almost certainly just a coincidence that Luo commented on India just before the Defense Minister’s visit. However, this doesn’t diminish the likelihood that Luo Yuan is in the business of political communication, only that this particular action was targeted at India.]

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