The Re­set

Re­sist­ing China’s cam­paign of in­flu­ence by John Gar­naut

The Monthly (Australia) - - CONTENTS - by John Gar­naut

As China ex­erts it­self around the world, ex­port­ing its sys­tems of po­lit­i­cal con­trol, Aus­tralia is at the fore­front of ef­forts to counter the darker di­men­sions of its in­flu­ence.

It’s no se­cret that Pro­fes­sor Fran­cis Fukuyama got it wrong in his clas­sic “End of His­tory” trea­tise, pub­lished in the dy­ing days of the Cold War. More in­ter­est­ing is why he got it wrong. His con­clu­sion that the Western model of demo­cratic lib­er­al­ism had tri­umphed – once and for all – came af­ter watch­ing Chi­nese stu­dents ex­pe­ri­ence life at Amer­i­can univer­si­ties. “There are cur­rently over 20,000 Chi­nese stu­dents study­ing in the U.S. and other Western coun­tries, al­most all of them the chil­dren of the Chi­nese elite,” he wrote. “It is hard to be­lieve that when they re­turn home to run the coun­try they will be con­tent for China to be the only coun­try in Asia un­af­fected by the larger de­moc­ra­tiz­ing trend.” Fukuyama penned his “The End of His­tory?” es­say, the ba­sis for the sub­se­quent best-sell­ing book, as the Chi­nese stu­dent democ­racy move­ment was com­ing to life in the north­ern hemi­sphere win­ter of 1988–89. In hind­sight, this im­por­tant strand of his ar­gu­ment was dead be­fore the 1989 sum­mer is­sue of The Na­tional In­ter­est magazine hit the news­stands. It was crushed be­neath the tanks on the eve of June 4 and buried on June 9, when Deng Xiaop­ing blamed the “tur­moil” on a fail­ure of “ide­o­log­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion”. The Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party (CCP) has been strength­en­ing and ex­pand­ing its ide­ol­ogy, pro­pa­ganda and se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus ever since. In 1989 the Party es­tab­lished a net­work of Chi­nese Stu­dents and Schol­ars As­so­ci­a­tions, as New Zealand scholar James Jiann Hua To has de­tailed in his ground­break­ing book Qiaowu. The fol­low­ing year, China’s State Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion con­vened meet­ings of ed­u­ca­tion coun­sel­lors in Chi­nese em­bassies to ex­pand their in­flu­ence over stu­dent or­gan­i­sa­tions and to iso­late and elim­i­nate “re­ac­tionary fac­tions”. In 1994 the Pro­pa­ganda Depart­ment kicked off a cam­paign to chan­nel the frus­tra­tions of China’s young peo­ple against the lib­eral West. And so it has con­tin­ued, layer upon layer, sec­tor by sec­tor, to pre­vent ex­actly the kind of regime sui­cide that Fukuyama had en­vis­aged. Fukuyama got it wrong – per­haps we all got it wrong – be­cause he un­der­es­ti­mated the ca­pa­bil­ity and the de­ter­mi­na­tion of the CCP’s lead­ing fam­i­lies to keep them­selves in power. The chil­dren of the party elite at Har­vard, Ox­ford and Sydney have not re­turned to lib­er­alise China, be­cause their par­ents have made sure of it. They made sure that China’s ever-ex­pand­ing in­ter­ac­tions with the out­side world could not lead to democrati­sa­tion in China. In­deed, un­der the un­com­pro­mis­ing lead­er­ship of Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, the re­verse is more likely to be true. Se­cu­rity mea­sures con­ceived as be­ing “de­fen­sive” in Beijing can quickly be­come in­va­sive and of­fen­sive when given ex­trater­ri­to­rial reach. The rolling rev­e­la­tions about Rus­sia’s ef­forts to help Don­ald Trump into the White House have served to il­lus­trate that for­eign in­ter­fer­ence is not an ab­stract prob­lem. Be­lat­edly, and quite sud­denly, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, pol­icy mak­ers and civil so­ci­ety ac­tors in a dozen na­tions around the world are scram­bling to come to terms with a form of China’s ex­trater­ri­to­rial in­flu­ence de­scribed var­i­ously as “sharp power”, “United Front work” and “in­flu­ence op­er­a­tions”. The United States, Malaysia, Tai­wan, Sin­ga­pore, Ger­many, France, the United King­dom, Pak­istan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Van­u­atu and the Solomon Is­lands are all ma­noeu­vring to rene­go­ti­ate the terms of their China en­gage­ment. A dozen oth­ers are en­ter­ing the de­bate. But none of th­ese coun­tries has sus­tained a vig­or­ous con­ver­sa­tion let alone reached a po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus. So far, only one coun­try has done both of th­ese things – the one coun­try that might seem least likely.

Aus­tralia’s China para­dox

No coun­try has ben­e­fited as clearly from its re­la­tion­ship with China as Aus­tralia. Our so­ci­ety has been en­riched by waves of Chi­nese mi­grants and so­journ­ers since the 1850s gold rush. To­day our com­mu­ni­ties are en­er­gised and en­hanced by 180,000 stu­dents, 1.2 mil­lion tourists an­nu­ally and another 1.2 mil­lion res­i­dents with Chi­nese an­ces­try, who have mostly thrived and been wel­comed in their new coun­try. It is hard to think of any two economies in the world that are more com­ple­men­tary. The Chi­nese tourists and stu­dents have off­set the wan­ing of China’s re­sour­cein­ten­sive con­struc­tion boom, which boosted Aus­tralia’s na­tional in­come by 13 per cent and helped it sail through the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis. Last year, Aus­tralia posted a bi­lat­eral trade sur­plus of al­most $50 bil­lion. And yet, de­spite China’s enor­mously pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tions, the Aus­tralian me­dia has be­come glob­ally renowned for ex­pos­ing the darker di­men­sions of the coun­try’s in­ter­na­tional reach. Re­ports have shown that the CCP is sys­tem­at­i­cally si­lenc­ing crit­ics in Aus­tralia and co-opt­ing Chi­ne­se­lan­guage me­dia here to present favourable views. The party is “as­tro­turf­ing” grass­roots po­lit­i­cal move­ments to give the im­pres­sion of Chi­nese com­mu­nity sup­port for Beijing’s poli­cies and lead­ers, while drown­ing out op­po­nents. CCP-linked or­gan­i­sa­tions are crowd­ing out in­de­pen­dent op­por­tu­ni­ties for eth­nic Chi­nese po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. They are chan­nelling busi­ness and other pro­fes­sional op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­tired politi­cians and other in­flu­en­tial Aus­tralians. In 2015 the Aus­tralian Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ASIO) re­port­edly warned the ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties that two of Aus­tralia’s most gen­er­ous donors had “strong con­nec­tions to the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party” and that their “do­na­tions might come with strings at­tached”. In De­cem­ber 2017, an un­sourced re­port in The Aus­tralian said ASIO had iden­ti­fied can­di­dates at state and lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions whom it be­lieved had close ties to Chi­nese in­tel­li­gence ser­vices “in what se­cu­rity of­fi­cials as­sess as a de­lib­er­ate strat­egy by Beijing to wield in­flu­ence through Aus­tralian pol­i­tics”. Most no­to­ri­ously, a La­bor Party se­na­tor, Sam Dast­yari, was forced to re­tire af­ter Fair­fax Me­dia re­vealed that he had re­cited Beijing’s South China Sea talk­ing points while stand­ing

along­side a Chi­nese ci­ti­zen donor – and then coun­selled the donor to place his phone aside to avoid sur­veil­lance of their con­ver­sa­tion. CCP in­ter­fer­ence re­port­edly grew so bla­tant that party of­fi­cials used their ar­bi­trary power over Aus­tralian pris­on­ers in China and their ca­pac­ity to in­flu­ence elec­tions in Aus­tralia as sources of diplo­matic lever­age. Ac­cord­ing to The Aus­tralian, China’s se­cu­rity chief, Meng Jianzhu, warned the La­bor lead­er­ship about the elec­toral con­se­quences of fail­ing to en­dorse a bi­lat­eral ex­tra­di­tion treaty: “Mr Meng said it would be a shame if Chi­nese gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives had to tell the Chi­nese com­mu­nity in Aus­tralia that La­bor did not sup­port the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Aus­tralia and China.” In the back­ground, the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment had been work­ing through the im­pli­ca­tions of a clas­si­fied cross-agency re­port into for­eign in­ter­fer­ence that it had com­mis­sioned be­fore the me­dia mael­strom, back in Au­gust 2016. “It’s fair to say that our sys­tem as a whole had not grasped the nature and the mag­ni­tude of the threat,” said the prime min­is­ter in De­cem­ber 2017. “The out­comes have gal­vanised us to take ac­tion.” All of this col­lided with an un­ex­pected by-elec­tion in the North Sydney seat of Ben­ne­long – the elec­torate that has the high­est pro­por­tion of eth­nic Chi­nese vot­ers in the coun­try – just as Mal­colm Turn­bull was in­tro­duc­ing long-promised counter-in­ter­fer­ence leg­is­la­tion at the end of last year. The me­dia re­ports, se­cu­rity agency warn­ings, pol­icy re­sponses, and po­lit­i­cal at­tacks and counter-at­tacks gen­er­ated heat but also shed light on a hid­den world of in­duce­ments, threats and plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity that Western Si­nol­o­gists, diplo­mats and na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials had not fo­cused on be­fore. They also gen­er­ated a back­lash among sec­tions of the busi­ness, aca­demic, le­gal and eth­nic Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties, who said that fears of CCP in­ter­fer­ence were ex­ag­ger­ated, the tenor of pub­lic dis­cus­sion could fan racism and so­cial di­vi­sion, and the pro­posed ex­pan­sions of in­tel­li­gence and en­force­ment pow­ers were dan­ger­ous and un­war­ranted. China ex­perts, in­clud­ing for­mer se­nior of­fi­cials, lined up on both sides, with du­elling pe­ti­tions. Busi­ness lead­ers blamed the gov­ern­ment for junk­ing the China re­la­tion­ship as they braced for re­tal­i­a­tion. A for­mer am­bas­sador to China, Ge­off Raby, even called for the for­eign min­is­ter, Julie Bishop, to re­sign. Th­ese are the in­gre­di­ents that have turned Aus­tralia’s ef­forts to re­set the terms of its China en­gage­ment into a global spec­ta­cle. “Aus­tralia calls it­self a civ­i­lized coun­try, but its be­hav­iour is con­fus­ing,” said an ed­i­to­rial in the Global Times, the no­to­ri­ous Chi­nese state-run tabloid. “While it is eco­nom­i­cally de­pen­dent on China, it shows lit­tle grat­i­tude.” What is dis­tinc­tive and ob­jec­tion­able about China’s ef­forts to gain in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence? What are its meth­ods and ob­jec­tives? And how can Aus­tralia re­tain its char­ac­ter as an open, mul­ti­cul­tural democ­racy while push­ing back against a ris­ing au­thor­i­tar­ian su­per­power that is the source of so many of its mi­grants and one in ev­ery three of its ex­port dol­lars? The world will soon find out. In June this year, af­ter six months of vig­or­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions and of­ten-ac­ri­mo­nious de­bate, the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment’s amended counter-in­ter­fer­ence laws gained La­bor Party back­ing and passed through the par­lia­ment. The China re­set had be­gun.

Col­lid­ing with re­al­ity, one story at a time

I re­turned to Beijing in 2007 think­ing I knew some­thing about the place, hav­ing lived for a stint in the Aus­tralian em­bassy as a child. My main task as a Fair­fax cor­re­spon­dent was to ex­plain the Chi­nese re­sources boom and where it might be head­ing. I thought the Western me­dia was too fix­ated on China’s hu­man rights prob­lems and un­der­played the eco­nomic progress be­ing made. And it was true that pol­i­tics didn’t colour ev­ery­thing in China. The labour mar­ket was tight­en­ing, wages were ris­ing, and cit­i­zens were ex­ploit­ing a de­gree of eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment out­side the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem they had not known be­fore. But my be­lief in the pri­macy of eco­nom­ics over pol­i­tics was grad­u­ally knocked out of me, one story at a time. I had se­ri­ously un­der­es­ti­mated the ex­tent to which the CCP had in­oc­u­lated it­self against the val­ues and in­sti­tu­tions of the Euro­pean En­light­en­ment that un­der­pinned the de­vel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism in the West. The tools of co­er­cion, co-op­tion and de­cep­tion that had proven so ef­fec­tive in rev­o­lu­tion were still hard­wired into the gov­ern­ing sys­tem. If I was go­ing to know any­thing about China’s eco­nomic im­pact on Aus­tralia, I needed to un­der­stand the po­lit­i­cal ma­chine. I turned to the Aus­tralian Chi­nese com­mu­nity to be­gin my ed­u­ca­tion. In 2008, a tal­ented Chi­nese-Aus­tralian writer, Henry Yang (Yang Hengjun), warned that the Party was mo­bil­is­ing thou­sands of red-flag-wav­ing stu­dents to march on Par­lia­ment House in Can­berra to “de­fend the sa­cred Olympic torch” en route to Beijing. It turned out that a thou­sand of those flags had been sponsored by a Chi­nese-Aus­tralian bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man who ran

I had se­ri­ously un­der­es­ti­mated the ex­tent to which the CCP had in­oc­u­lated it­self against the val­ues and in­sti­tu­tions of the Euro­pean En­light­en­ment.

a Beijing-friendly news­pa­per in Sydney – and who had also be­come a lead­ing donor to Aus­tralia’s ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Pro­fes­sor Feng Chongyi, a renowned ex­pert on CCP pol­i­tics and Chi­nese civil so­ci­ety at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Sydney, pointed out the links be­tween such busi­ness­men and a po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence sys­tem called the United Front. Oth­ers ex­plained the in­tri­ca­cies of the Party’s over-de­vel­oped in­tel­li­gence sys­tem and how its net­works of in­for­mants, co-op­ta­tion and in­tim­i­da­tion reached into Aus­tralia’s busi­ness and Chi­nese-di­as­pora com­mu­ni­ties. The or­gan­i­sa­tional link­ages were usu­ally opaque. Gov­ern­ment ties to any par­tic­u­lar ac­tion were al­ways plau­si­bly de­ni­able. But it looked like the Party was sys­tem­at­i­cally lever­ag­ing China’s eco­nomic links with the out­side world to ex­port its sys­tems of po­lit­i­cal con­trol. From 2009, a se­ries of suc­cess­ful Chi­nese-Aus­tralian en­trepreneurs were tar­geted by the Chi­nese se­cu­rity sys­tem in ways that other Aus­tralians were not. Min­ing ex­ec­u­tive Stern Hu was ar­rested in the midst of a strug­gle over Aus­tralia’s for­eign in­vest­ment pol­icy and the pric­ing sys­tem for iron ore. I came to be­lieve that Stern Hu prob­a­bly did com­mit fi­nan­cial crimes, from what could be gleaned about pro­ceed­ings in a politi­cised and closed-door court. But the same could not be said for the e-tourism mag­nate Matthew Ng, univer­sity pro­pri­etor Char­lotte Chou or car­diac sur­geon Du Zuy­ing, who had built a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar bio­med­i­cal em­pire. They were each jailed on fan­ci­ful charges, stripped of their as­sets, and mis­treated un­til break­ing point dur­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tions. Henry Yang told me that if for­eign gov­ern­ments could not fight to pro­tect their own cit­i­zens, by pres­sur­ing Chi­nese of­fi­cials to up­hold their own laws, then what hope could Chi­nese cit­i­zens have? Then he was him­self de­tained. Re­lent­lessly, and through a thou­sand dif­fer­ent chan­nels, the Party was work­ing to col­lapse the cat­e­gories of “Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party”, “China” and “the Chi­nese peo­ple” into a sin­gle organic whole – un­til the point where the Party could be dropped from po­lite con­ver­sa­tion al­to­gether. From there, the Party’s crit­ics could be read­ily car­i­ca­tured as “anti-China”, “racist” or even “Sino­pho­bic”. And it was only a short log­i­cal step to claim all eth­nic Chi­nese peo­ple as “sons and daugh­ters of the moth­er­land”, even if that meant un­der­min­ing the rights that or­di­nar­ily came with Aus­tralian cit­i­zen­ship. It seemed Beijing had con­vinced Can­berra that it was in Aus­tralia’s in­ter­ests to look the other way, In 2013 – as the new ruler, Xi Jin­ping, was tight­en­ing his grip over the mil­i­tary – I at­tended the Bo’ao Fo­rum at Hainan Is­land, where a new high-level Aus­tralia–China busi­ness fo­rum had come into be­ing. The Aus­tralian del­e­ga­tion was headed by iron-ore mag­nate Andrew For­rest and fa­cil­i­tated by Ge­off Raby, who had es­tab­lished a suc­cess­ful con­sul­tancy in Beijing. The fo­rum in­cluded a who’s who of Aus­tralian cor­po­rate life, in­clud­ing the

heads of Qan­tas, the Busi­ness Coun­cil and four of the big five banks. But the back­story was more in­ter­est­ing. The fo­rum had been shaped at a meet­ing with a group of Aus­tralians hosted by Deng Xiaop­ing’s daugh­ter Deng Rong and the then vice pre­mier Wang Qis­han at Zhong­nan­hai, the CCP lead­er­ship com­pound in Beijing. This much was clear from a photograph pub­li­cised on the web­site of an ob­scure or­gan­i­sa­tion called the China As­so­ci­a­tion for In­ter­na­tional Friendly Con­tact. In the far cor­ner of this photograph, how­ever, was a plain-dressed man whom sev­eral of the Aus­tralian del­e­gates could not re­call meet­ing. His name was Xing Yun­ming and his po­si­tion was listed as the as­so­ci­a­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor. What the as­so­ci­a­tion did not dis­close, and what no of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment doc­u­ment dis­closed, was that Xing Yun­ming was also a two-star lieu­tenant gen­eral in charge of an enor­mous but lit­tle-known mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence agency known as the Li­ai­son Depart­ment of the Gen­eral Po­lit­i­cal Depart­ment of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army. The PLA Li­ai­son Depart­ment is the only in­tel­li­gence agency in the CCP sys­tem – and pos­si­bly the world – that is cus­tom-de­signed to per­form in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence op­er­a­tions. The as­so­ci­a­tion that was host­ing the Aus­tralian busi­ness del­e­gates was the Li­ai­son Depart­ment’s pri­mary Western-fac­ing front or­gan­i­sa­tion. Ear­lier, this front or­gan­i­sa­tion had achieved suc­cess in host­ing top-level re­tired US gen­er­als and gain­ing their agree­ment to lobby Pen­tagon of­fi­cials and pen opin­ion ar­ti­cles in sup­port of spe­cific PLA ob­jec­tives. None of the Aus­tralian del­e­gates I spoke to said they knew any­thing about the mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence back­ground of their hosts. The chal­lenge of chart­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tional labyrinth that sits be­hind the PLA’s Li­ai­son Depart­ment – and the Party’s pa­tron­age net­works more gen­er­ally – led me di­rectly to cir­cles of “princelings” who saw them­selves as the Party’s true cus­to­di­ans. Their com­pet­ing claims for power and in­flu­ence were an­chored in the heroic con­tri­bu­tions that their fa­thers had made to Mao’s rev­o­lu­tion. It took months, and some­times years, but grad­u­ally they shared their his­to­ries and as­pi­ra­tions and in­tro­duced me to one another. Once again I turned to the com­mu­nity of Chi­nese Aus­tralians for knowl­edge and guid­ance.

His­tory is a mir­ror

The three se­nior princelings who sat in the seven-man Polit­buro Stand­ing Com­mit­tee from 2012 were the sons of men who did not earn their seats at the rev­o­lu­tion­ary head ta­ble by feats of mil­i­tary prow­ess on the bat­tle­field. Rather, Xi Zhongxun (fa­ther of Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping), Huang Jing (fa­ther of Yu Zheng­sheng) and Yao Yilin (fa­ther-in-law of Wang Qis­han) were masters of United Front work and earned their stripes by mas­sag­ing and ma­nip­u­lat­ing the lan­guage, per­cep­tions and ac­tions of the Party’s ad­ver­saries. Xi Zhongxun, for ex­am­ple, fo­mented a mutiny be­hind en­emy lines in the early 1930s. He kept this line of “en­emy work” re­spon­si­bil­ity right up un­til the 1980s, when he at­tended the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the PLA in­tel­li­gence front that later hosted the Aus­tralian busi­ness­men at the Bo’ao Fo­rum. The chil­dren in­her­ited not only their party sta­tus but also their work spe­cial­i­sa­tion. United Front work is a method­ol­ogy and strate­gic frame­work for ex­ploit­ing the in­ter­nal di­vi­sions of ad­ver­saries. The strat­egy in­volves form­ing tac­ti­cal al­liances with sec­ondary ad­ver­saries in or­der to iso­late, “strug­gle against” and crush a des­ig­nated pri­mary en­emy. His­tor­i­cally, the Party’s lead­ing agents were trained in the Soviet Union, and its in­sti­tu­tional and ide­o­log­i­cal struc­tures were grafted di­rectly from the Com­intern. Those struc­tures were in­fused with a dis­tinctly clas­si­cal Chi­nese tra­di­tion of state­craft and they evolved to meet dif­fer­ent chal­lenges. The most im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tional dif­fer­ence be­tween the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party and its Soviet an­ces­tor was the CCP’s mas­sive ex­pan­sion of its “united front” sys­tem dur­ing the pro­tracted anti-Ja­panese and civil wars of the 1930s and 1940s. What be­gan as a Lenin­ist tac­tic was bu­reau­cra­tised in China as a cen­tral United Front Work Depart­ment and an out­ward-fac­ing ana­logue, the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Con­fer­ence. The point is that United Front work was in­stru­men­tal in win­ning the rev­o­lu­tion and re­mains in­stru­men­tal in de­fend­ing and ex­tend­ing the in­ter­ests of the Party to­day. The CCP’s con­tem­po­rary lead­ers see them­selves as masters of per­sua­sion, just like their rev­o­lu­tion­ary fore­fa­thers. Xi and Yu have both de­scribed United Front work as one of the Party’s “magic weapons” – on par with the mil­i­tary – just as Mao did dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion­ary pe­riod. For them, the ex­ploits of their an­ces­tral past pro­vide a “mir­ror” for the fu­ture. The Party’s con­tem­po­rary in­sti­tu­tions, ide­ol­ogy and method­olo­gies con­tinue to re­flect its ori­gins as an un­der­ground or­gan­i­sa­tion. The es­sen­tial facts are en­graved in the CCP’s Or­gan­i­sa­tion Chart. None of the Party’s core ex­ter­nally fac­ing de­part­ments are ser­vicede­liv­ery port­fo­lios like health, or ed­u­ca­tion, or fi­nance. Nor are they re­spon­si­ble for or­di­nary diplo­macy. Rather, the Pro­pa­ganda Depart­ment, the United Front Work Depart­ment and the In­ter­na­tional Li­ai­son Depart­ment – and also im­por­tant de­part­ments of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army – all en­gage in United Front work (typ­i­cally known as “po­lit­i­cal war­fare” in the mil­i­tary and “peo­ple-to-peo­ple diplo­macy” in the In­ter­na­tional Li­ai­son Depart­ment). They rou­tinely de­ploy a range of non-con­ven­tional tools – in­clud­ing covert op­er­a­tions aided by in­tel­li­gence agen­cies such as the Min­istry of State Se­cu­rity – to in­flu­ence the per­cep­tions and in­ter­nal de­ci­sion-mak­ing of for­eign ac­tors. All of the Party’s 86 mil­lion mem­bers are ex­pected to take on United Front re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in their deal­ings with non-party mem­bers. In short, in­flu­ence work is the Party’s stockin-trade. I con­tin­ued prob­ing th­ese sys­tems of in­flu­ence af­ter re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia in 2013, as Xi was re­veal­ing his un­com­pro­mis­ing in­cli­na­tions. I watched as Beijing’s

“If it fails, there will be no se­cu­rity for the demo­cratic gov­ern­ments of the world.”

ag­gres­sive United Front work trig­gered back­lashes in both Hong Kong and Tai­wan. But it was also ex­tend­ing into Aus­tralia’s Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties, univer­sity cam­puses, busi­nesses, po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions and me­dia houses. In late 2015 I left jour­nal­ism to work as an ad­viser to Prime Min­is­ter Turn­bull, be­fore be­ing hired by the Depart­ment of the Prime Min­is­ter and Cab­i­net to work on a project the fol­low­ing year.

Au­thor­i­tar­ian on­slaught

The CCP’s in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence sys­tem is a com­plex, sub­tle and deeply in­sti­tu­tion­alised set of in­duce­ments and threats de­signed to shape the way out­siders talk, think and be­have. The modus operandi is to of­fer priv­i­leged ac­cess, build per­sonal rap­port and re­ward those who de­liver. It seeks com­mon in­ter­ests and cul­ti­vates re­la­tion­ships of de­pen­dency with cho­sen part­ners. The Party uses overt pro­pa­ganda and diplo­macy, quasi-covert fronts and prox­ies, and covert op­er­a­tions to frame de­bates, man­age per­cep­tions, and tilt the po­lit­i­cal and strate­gic land­scape to its ad­van­tage. Be­yond the foun­da­tional as­sump­tion of a sin­gle, civil­i­sa­tional “China”, the spe­cific de­mands of United Front work are framed by per­mu­ta­tions of three nar­ra­tives: China is in­her­ently peace­ful and benef­i­cent, the growth of Chi­nese power is in­ex­orable, and China is venge­ful and dan­ger­ous if pro­voked. Th­ese nar­ra­tives are in­ter­nally con­tra­dic­tory but con­sis­tent over time. The first two are de­liv­ered openly by lead­ers, diplo­mats and state pro­pa­ganda. The third is usu­ally de­liv­ered via back chan­nels with plau­si­bly de­ni­able con­nec­tions to the state: PLA “hawks”, spe­cial­ist mil­i­tary hard­ware web­sites, aca­demic fo­rums, per­sonal meet­ings with top lead­ers, ed­i­to­ri­als in the Global Times. To­gether, this mes­sag­ing orches­tra is de­signed to con­di­tion au­di­ences into be­liev­ing that the re­wards are great, re­sis­tance is fu­tile, and out­right op­po­si­tion may be sui­ci­dal. The meta-nar­ra­tive of Beijing’s ever-grow­ing power is the drum­beat that ac­com­pa­nies China’s poli­cies of ter­ri­to­rial co­er­cion across its south­ern and east­ern seas. It is the sub­text that per­suades for­eign gov­ern­ments to re­main silent as Beijing aban­dons re­straint in the restive bor­der­lands of Ti­bet and Xin­jiang. It is also the in­cen­tive for eco­nomic ben­e­fi­cia­ries to avoid see­ing, or to ra­tio­nalise, or to even ac­tively sup­port the Party’s ef­forts to de­grade the val­ues and in­sti­tu­tions of civil so­ci­ety. There are two coun­tries on China’s pe­riph­ery that present the clear­est case stud­ies. They both have ma­jor­ity eth­nic Chi­nese pop­u­la­tions. They both have enor­mous trade and in­vest­ment in­te­gra­tion with China. And they have both been deal­ing with th­ese chal­lenges for their en­tire ex­is­tence but are only now be­gin­ning to feel the force of Beijing’s power. The first is Tai­wan, the vi­brant self-gov­ern­ing democ­racy that ex­ists with only par­tial in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion, and has been the fo­cal point of China’s ex­ter­nal in­flu­ence sys­tem since 1949. The Chi­nese bu­reau­cracy has a min­istry-level Tai­wan Af­fairs Of­fice that is re­spon­si­ble for in­te­grat­ing an enor­mous ar­ray of United Front mea­sures across dif­fer­ent party plat­forms and down to lo­cal gov­ern­ment level. Th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties were greatly in­ten­si­fied un­der a pro-uni­fi­ca­tion Kuom­intang pres­i­dent, Ma Ying-jeou. But then, in March 2014, the seem­ingly in­ex­orable mo­men­tum to­wards in­te­gra­tion on Beijing’s terms was de­railed by a net­work of com­mit­ted stu­dents. They oc­cu­pied Tai­wan’s Leg­isla­tive Yuan for 24 days and filled it with sun­flow­ers, sym­bol­i­cally bring­ing sun­light to the opaque world of cross-strait af­fairs. The stu­dents drew 500,000 peo­ple onto the streets in sol­i­dar­ity. The Kuom­intang gov­ern­ment was thrown out in a land­slide, prompt­ing Beijing to tilt the bal­ance from co-op­tion to co­er­cion. The num­ber of Chi­nese tourists plunged as much as 42 per cent fol­low­ing the 2016 elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Tsai Ing-wen, as Beijing worked its care­fully struc­tured group tourism con­trols. The vast United Front or­gan­i­sa­tional in­fra­struc­ture has been mo­bilised to demon­strate China’s lever­age, en­cour­age a sense of so­cial and po­lit­i­cal chaos in Tai­wan, and project a sense of in­evitabil­ity about Tai­wan’s “ab­sorp­tion” into the main­land. Ev­ery time the US makes an over­ture of sup­port – a new piece of leg­is­la­tion or a high-level visit – Beijing re­sponds by tight­en­ing the screws. And Beijing has re­sumed pluck­ing off Tai­wan’s re­main­ing al­lies one by one. In May I at­tended a closed-door fo­rum hosted by the Tai­wan Foun­da­tion for Democ­racy that was pub­licly opened by the deputy for­eign min­is­ter, François Chih-Chung Wu. He set aside diplo­matic plat­i­tudes to is­sue this plea for in­ter­na­tional help: “In Tai­wan, and in coun­tries else­where, China moves from soft power to sharp power, and then to hard power. And it is be­com­ing more brazen ev­ery day … In other coun­tries, this process may be­gin with a Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute, schol­ar­ships, grants, but the next thing you know you must self-cen­sor dis­cus­sions China con­sid­ers sen­si­tive … In the face of this au­thor­i­tar­ian on­slaught of China’s mis­in­for­ma­tion, cy­ber hack­ing, bribery, eco­nomic co­er­cion, theft of tech­nol­ogy, and in­tru­sion in in­ter­nal pol­i­tics – Tai­wan is cru­cial. If it can hold on,

other democ­ra­cies will be able to hold on. But if it fails, there will be no se­cu­rity for the demo­cratic gov­ern­ments of the world.”

Big fish, lit­tle fish – and shrimp

More sur­pris­ing is the care­ful but un­mis­tak­able push­back from Sin­ga­pore, the tiny is­land state that was con­ceived when Beijing-backed in­sur­gents were caus­ing havoc across South-East Asia. The first sig­nal of in­tent was a press re­lease from Sin­ga­pore’s Min­istry of Home Af­fairs in Au­gust 2017, an­nounc­ing that a Chi­nese-born US ci­ti­zen, Pro­fes­sor Huang Jing, would be ex­pelled from the coun­try for al­legedly be­ing an “agent of in­flu­ence for a for­eign coun­try”. Like many in the field, I had known Pro­fes­sor Huang Jing rea­son­ably well. He had also fea­tured heav­ily in Aus­tralia’s China con­ver­sa­tion. In 2015 he’d given a keynote speech at an Aus­tralian univer­sity about Pres­i­dent Xi’s for­eign pol­icy am­bi­tions. At the time he was ex­pelled from Sin­ga­pore, he fea­tured on the cover of an Aus­tralian magazine. Ear­lier, when I was a jour­nal­ist in Beijing, he had of­fered me in­sights into the opaque world of elite Chi­nese pol­i­tics. The Sin­ga­porean gov­ern­ment’s me­dia state­ment didn’t men­tion China by name. But it high­lighted how Huang’s po­si­tion at the pres­ti­gious Lee Kuan Yew School of Pub­lic Pol­icy gave him a plat­form for shap­ing pub­lic opin­ion and a door­way into Sin­ga­pore’s for­eign pol­icy–mak­ing es­tab­lish­ment: “He gave sup­pos­edly ‘priv­i­leged in­for­ma­tion’ to a se­nior mem­ber of the Lee Kuan Yew School, in or­der that it be con­veyed to the Sin­ga­pore Gov­ern­ment. The in­for­ma­tion was duly con­veyed … The clear in­ten­tion was to use the in­for­ma­tion to cause the Sin­ga­pore Gov­ern­ment to change its for­eign pol­icy.” The state­ment noted that the Sin­ga­porean gov­ern­ment de­clined to act on this “priv­i­leged in­for­ma­tion”, then con­tin­ued: “Huang used his se­nior po­si­tion in the Lee Kuan Yew School to de­lib­er­ately and covertly ad­vance the agenda of a for­eign coun­try at Sin­ga­pore’s ex­pense. He did this in col­lab­o­ra­tion with for­eign in­tel­li­gence agents. This amounts to sub­ver­sion and for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in Sin­ga­pore’s do­mes­tic pol­i­tics.” What is strik­ing about this of­fi­cial state­ment is that it makes de­tailed al­le­ga­tions re­lat­ing to a form of es­pi­onage that sits a long way from the tra­di­tional Western coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence agenda. The in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers who were al­legedly be­hind this op­er­a­tion were not steal­ing se­crets. And nor were they aim­ing to di­rectly con­trol any pol­icy lever. Rather, they were al­legedly plant­ing or nurturing a se­ries of words and ideas in or­der to tilt the strate­gic de­ci­sion-mak­ing land­scape in a par­tic­u­lar di­rec­tion. They didn’t want to force Sin­ga­porean pol­icy mak­ers to make de­ci­sions in their favour. Rather, they wanted to con­di­tion pol­icy mak­ers to make such de­ci­sions of their own vo­li­tion. What specif­i­cally does the Sin­ga­porean gov­ern­ment say the for­eign power wants to achieve? We can only guess. Sin­ga­pore’s grand states­man, Lee Kuan Yew, had pro­moted ac­tivist for­eign poli­cies and in­ter­nal re­silience poli­cies to sur­vive as a “shrimp” in a hos­tile strate­gic sea. How­ever, one month be­fore Pro­fes­sor Huang Jing was ex­pelled, his boss at the univer­sity, Kishore Mah­bubani, had ar­gued that post–Lee Kuan Yew Sin­ga­pore should be­have more like a “small state”, in the con­text of pres­sure from China over a se­ries of is­sues in­clud­ing the South China Sea. “We should change our be­hav­iour sig­nif­i­cantly,” Mah­bubani said. He was roundly crit­i­cised by Sin­ga­porean of­fi­cials and for­mer of­fi­cials be­fore step­ping down from his po­si­tion as dean. Mah­bubani’s tough­est critic was Sin­ga­pore’s for­mer top diplo­mat, Bi­la­hari Kausikan. The re­tired for­eign af­fairs sec­re­tary is old enough to recog­nise the re­turn of some fa­mil­iar pat­terns. In June, at a Sin­ga­pore fo­rum on Chi­nese “pub­lic diplo­macy”, I watched as Kausikan joined a few more of the dots: “China does not just want you to com­ply with its wishes. Far more fun­da­men­tally, it wants you to think in such a way that you will of your own vo­li­tion do what it wants with­out be­ing told. It’s a form of psy­cho­log­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion.” Kausikan’s speech was reprinted in only lightly edited form in the Sin­ga­porean gov­ern­ment–friendly Straits Times. He point­edly ref­er­enced the case of Huang Jing, and he pro­ceeded to iden­tify a se­ries of gen­eral mes­sages and coun­try-spe­cific mes­sages that China was de­ploy­ing to “stam­pede your mind” into a “sense of fa­tal­is­tic in­evitabil­ity” about the false bi­nary choices forced upon coun­tries. Most of th­ese mes­sages will be fa­mil­iar to Aus­tralian read­ers: “Amer­ica is the past, China is the fu­ture, so get on the right track”, “Amer­ica is in­con­sis­tent but China is a geo­graphic fact”, “Be­ing close to Amer­ica makes it dif­fi­cult to have a close eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship with China”, “Sin­ga­pore has no claims in the South China Sea, so why is the Sin­ga­pore Gov­ern­ment tak­ing sides against China?”, “Re­la­tions were much bet­ter un­der Lee Kuan Yew be­cause he un­der­stood China in a way that the present Sin­ga­pore lead­er­ship does not un­der­stand China”, and “Sin­ga­pore is a small coun­try and it should not take sides against China”.

Break­ing out of the bi­nary trap

It was not by ac­ci­dent that Prime Min­is­ter Turn­bull chose the Shangri-La Di­a­logue in Sin­ga­pore in June 2017 to de­liver a speech that sought to re­frame the Aus­tralian strate­gic de­bate. And nor was he only be­ing po­lite to his host when he opened by de­fer­ring to Lee Kuan Yew. Sin­ga­pore’s early his­tory and Lee’s pithy metaphors of­fered a vo­cab­u­lary for the shades of real-world “grey” that ex­ist be­tween the bi­nary ex­tremes. The prime min­is­ter told the gath­er­ing: “In 1966, when Sin­ga­pore was but a year old and Bri­tain was be­gin­ning to con­sider its with­drawal of its mil­i­tary forces ‘east of Suez’, [Lee Kuan Yew] spoke about the strate­gic en­vi­ron­ment and cited the old Chi­nese say­ing ‘Big fish eat small fish and small fish eat shrimps’.

“Lee Kuan Yew dis­cussed how the shrimp, as he mod­estly de­scribed his new na­tion, would sur­vive. It could make it­self un­palat­able to the larger fish – by be­ing self-re­liant and strong. And it could make friends with other larger fish – strong al­liances and col­lec­tive se­cu­rity … “As he told this fo­rum in 2009, he de­voted his life to cre­at­ing the ‘po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic space’ that was nec­es­sary to pre­serve ‘the free­dom to be our­selves’. “For the shrimp, the lit­tle fish and even the mid­dleto-large-sized fish of all di­men­sions rep­re­sented here to­day, we face more than a Manichean choice be­tween life and death, war and peace. “The more salient ques­tion – even when the risk of war re­mains re­mote – is what kind of peace can we main­tain?” The Aus­tralian prime min­is­ter warned against coun­tries seek­ing to win the re­gional strate­gic race through “cor­rup­tion, in­ter­fer­ence or co­er­cion”. He made three ref­er­ences to both for­eign “in­ter­fer­ence” and “co­er­cion”. Th­ese “grey zone” themes and con­cepts in­formed the For­eign Pol­icy White Pa­per of Novem­ber 2017. They also in­formed the counter-in­ter­fer­ence strat­egy and leg­isla­tive frame­work that the prime min­is­ter pre­sented to par­lia­ment on De­cem­ber 7, the last night of the par­lia­men­tary year. The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives was vir­tu­ally de­serted fol­low­ing the suc­cess­ful pas­sage of same-sex mar­riage leg­is­la­tion only min­utes be­fore. A clus­ter of Coali­tion MPs had re­turned to fill the cam­era frame be­fore rush­ing to catch their planes. The young SAS vet­eran Andrew Hastie was there, look­ing at­ten­tive. And on the other side of the cham­ber a sole La­bor MP, An­thony Byrne, was sit­ting up­right in the front row. They were re­spec­tively the chair and the deputy chair of the Par­lia­men­tary Joint Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity. In the wings, over on the far side, I could make out the prime min­is­ter’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Justin Bassi, sur­vey­ing pro­ceed­ings and check­ing his phone. The press gallery was al­most per­fectly de­serted. And so were the pub­lic gallery benches along­side me – with the ex­cep­tion of writer Clive Hamil­ton, who had shifted his focus from cli­mate change to CCP in­ter­fer­ence. Turn­bull told the empty cham­ber that the gov­ern­ment’s counter–for­eign in­ter­fer­ence strat­egy would be built around a new leg­isla­tive frame­work con­sist­ing of four bills. The first in­tro­duced a rad­i­cal new trans­parency scheme that would force for­mer politi­cians, of­fi­cials and oth­ers to reg­is­ter any ties to for­eign states be­fore en­gag­ing with the Aus­tralian po­lit­i­cal land­scape. This “sun­light” scheme sought to ap­ply “ba­sic prin­ci­ples of dis­clo­sure to al­low the pub­lic and pol­i­cy­mak­ers to as­sess any un­der­ly­ing agenda”. The sec­ond bill in­tro­duced tough but grad­u­ated new crim­i­nal pro­vi­sions for the kinds of in­ter­fer­ence ac­tiv­i­ties be­ing un­cov­ered by the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the United States. “We will crim­i­nalise covert, de­cep­tive and threat­en­ing ac­tions by per­sons act­ing on be­half of, or in col­lab­o­ra­tion with, a for­eign prin­ci­pal aim­ing to in­flu­ence Aus­tralia’s po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses or prej­u­dice our na­tional se­cu­rity,” said the prime min­is­ter. This bill also con­tained tough new es­pi­onage, se­crecy and sab­o­tage pro­vi­sions. The third bill en­abled a gi­ant new in­tel­li­gence, en­force­ment and pol­icy hub that would be named the Depart­ment of Home Af­fairs. “There is no na­tion­alse­cu­rity threat out­side wartime that de­mands an in­te­grated all-of-gov­ern­ment ca­pa­bil­ity like this one,” said Turn­bull. One fi­nal bill – in­tro­duced separately in the Se­nate – pro­posed an end to all for­eign po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions. And while the laws were drafted against a global back­drop of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence op­er­a­tions they were clearly de­signed with the sub­tlety of Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party trade­craft in mind. “Our re­la­tion­ship with China is far too im­por­tant to put at risk by fail­ing to clearly set the terms of healthy and sus­tain­able en­gage­ment,” said Turn­bull.

A global awak­en­ing

Since leav­ing gov­ern­ment in June 2017 I’ve been in­vited to share ideas and ob­ser­va­tions with schol­ars and of­fi­cials in Europe, North Amer­ica, Asia and Ocea­nia. This pe­riod has co­in­cided with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping tight­en­ing his grip on power and rein­vig­o­rat­ing the party’s old rev­o­lu­tion­ary ma­chin­ery. To say there is huge and grow­ing in­ter­est in Aus­tralia’s ex­pe­ri­ence would be an un­der­state­ment. “The Aus­tralian ex­posé re­ports have in­spired the Cana­dian me­dia to ac­tively re­port on China’s ex­pand­ing in­flu­ence op­er­a­tions in Canada,” says Charles Bur­ton, pro­fes­sor at Brock Univer­sity and for­mer Cana­dian diplo­mat to China. “There are in­creas­ing de­mands from Canada’s se­cu­rity agen­cies and pres­sure from pub­lic opin­ion for Canada to ini­ti­ate leg­is­la­tion mod­elled on Aus­tralia’s.” When Justin Trudeau be­came Canada’s prime min­is­ter in 2015, he re­ceived a gov­ern­ment tran­si­tion doc­u­ment which told him that the “sig­nif­i­cant and chal­leng­ing pol­icy con­tra­dic­tions posed by a ris­ing China” should be man­aged by “in­form­ing pub­lic opin­ion about the crit­i­cal im­por­tance of China to Canada’s fu­ture pros­per­ity” and “ad­dress­ing neg­a­tive opin­ions hin­der­ing Canada’s in­ter­ests”. But work­ing to pos­i­tively guide pub­lic opin­ion has not led to pref­er­en­tial treat­ment. In De­cem­ber, Trudeau trav­elled to China to ini­ti­ate free trade talks and walked away empty handed. And play­ing down China’s con­tra­dic­tions has not made them go away. In May, Trudeau re­jected a Chi­nese takeover bid for Canada’s largest pub­licly traded con­struc­tion and in­fra­struc­ture com­pany, fol­low­ing a pub­lic back­lash. In the same month, Canada de­nied visas to 200 Chi­nese del­e­gates, in­clud­ing more than 20 of­fi­cials, who

were head­ing to Van­cou­ver for the Ninth Con­fer­ence of the World Guang­dong Com­mu­nity Fed­er­a­tion. The event was or­gan­ised by the Over­seas Chi­nese Af­fairs Of­fice, which was re­cently sub­sumed within the United Front Work Depart­ment. Across the bor­der, Randy Schriver, the re­spected US Pen­tagon of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for Asia, told Fair­fax’s Peter Hartcher that Aus­tralia has “wo­ken up” the world. Schriver’s boss, Jim Mat­tis, el­e­vated China’s “in­flu­ence op­er­a­tions” to the same tier of con­cern as China’s “mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion” and “preda­tory eco­nom­ics” in his re­cent Na­tional De­fense Strat­egy sum­mary. Sim­i­larly, up on the Hill, an in­flu­en­tial group of sen­a­tors, in­clud­ing Demo­crat El­iz­a­beth War­ren, has writ­ten to key US agency heads to ex­press their “deep con­cern about grow­ing Chi­nese in­flu­ence op­er­a­tions around the world” and to re­quest a “uni­fied” counter strat­egy. Leg­is­la­tion has been ini­ti­ated in both the Se­nate and the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, re­flect­ing th­ese con­cerns. Hu­man rights ad­vo­cates are also alarmed. “Beijing now de­ploys in­ter­na­tion­ally tac­tics well honed at home: to qui­etly gut the hu­man rights mech­a­nisms of the UN, to im­pose re­stric­tions on free speech in class­rooms around the world, to un­der­mine labour stan­dards from Africa to Europe,” says So­phie Richard­son, the China direc­tor for Hu­man Rights Watch. There is grow­ing sup­port for coun­ter­ing CCP in­ter­fer­ence across the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. But it will strug­gle to gain sup­port from the top. Don­ald Trump cam­paigned on a crude coun­terChina plat­form. He is will­ing to tip the US and China into a trade war. But his deeply com­pro­mised ties to Rus­sia (and pos­si­bly oth­ers) make it dif­fi­cult for his ad­vis­ers to broach the sub­ject of for­eign in­ter­fer­ence at all.

Re­set­ting the terms with China

At first, my ex­po­sure to United Front work was all about in­duce­ments, with an oc­ca­sional warn­ing to keep me on my toes. I was of­fered red en­velopes, neatly packed with US$100 bills. And sounded out for a lu­cra­tive “con­sul­tancy” ar­range­ment with a Hong Kong bank. In one en­counter, I was of­fered air tick­ets, ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tion, a five-star fam­ily hol­i­day, a job, and a gift bag con­tain­ing bot­tles of Bordeaux wine val­ued at up to US$2000 each. Th­ese were all rec­i­proc­ity traps, to be avoided at all costs. Grad­u­ally, over time, the ra­tio of car­rots to sticks was in­verted. I soon learned that the United Front sys­tem re­served its more vig­or­ous ef­forts for mem­bers of the Chi­nese-Aus­tralian com­mu­nity. Pro­fes­sor Feng Chongyi has been in­ter­ro­gated by Chi­nese of­fi­cials who have re­counted things he’s said and men­tioned peo­ple he’s met on Aus­tralian univer­sity cam­puses. Most re­cently, in May last year, Feng was de­tained in a Guangzhou ho­tel and in­ter­ro­gated about our friend­ship. He has con­trib­uted greatly to this coun­try, over many years, and the coun­try has not al­ways val­ued his con­tri­bu­tion and pro­tected his ba­sic civil rights. This is what Aus­tralia’s China re­set is all about. It’s about sus­tain­ing the enor­mous ben­e­fits of en­gage­ment while man­ag­ing the risks. Aus­tralia will suc­ceed in push­ing back against au­thor­i­tar­ian in­ter­fer­ence to the ex­tent that we work with the strengths and shore up the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of our open, mul­ti­cul­tural, demo­cratic sys­tems. This can only be achieved within a frame­work of prin­ci­ples that can se­cure a broad and durable con­sen­sus, within coun­tries and be­tween them. A durable frame­work needs to be coun­try-ag­nos­tic in so far as it is de­signed to ap­ply to any coun­try’s mis­be­haviour, whether it be China, Rus­sia or the United States. It needs to recog­nise di­as­pora com­mu­ni­ties as be­ing an es­sen­tial part of the so­lu­tion. And it will re­quire a clear con­cep­tual sep­a­ra­tion be­tween “black” covert op­er­a­tions and “white” ac­tiv­i­ties that play out in the open do­main, while recog­nis­ing that there is a large grey area of am­bi­gu­ity and plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity that sits in be­tween. This means wel­com­ing or­di­nary diplo­macy, trans­par­ent pub­lic diplo­macy, and eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity that does not come with strings at­tached. And it means sup­port­ing parts of civil so­ci­ety that come un­der out­side pres­sure, on the un­der­stand­ing that sun­light is the best dis­in­fec­tant. But wher­ever covert, co­er­cive or cor­rupt­ing el­e­ments are in­volved – when le­git­i­mate and trans­par­ent forms of in­flu­ence cross the line into harm­ful “in­ter­fer­ence” – then we need to force­fully re­spond. “Cau­tion or pru­dence does not mean adopt­ing a struthious at­ti­tude to­wards harsh re­al­i­ties,” says Sin­ga­pore’s Bi­la­hari Kausikan. “The os­trich sticks its head in the sand and thinks it­self safe.”

I was of­fered air tick­ets, ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tion, a five-star fam­ily hol­i­day, a job, and a gift bag con­tain­ing bot­tles of Bordeaux wine.

Xi Jin­ping at Par­lia­ment House, 2014. © Ste­fan Pos­tles / Getty Im­ages

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