Thursday, December 14, 2017

Terry Glavin: As Chinese money corrupts western politics, Trudeau's Liberals keep cashing in

Terry Glavin: As Chinese money corrupts western politics, Trudeau's Liberals keep cashing in

We don’t know how much Chinese money came into the country for the purposes of influencing the last election...” Linda Frum said. “How much is going to come in in 2019?”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at a business luncheon in September 2016 in Montreal.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

As Australia continues to reel from lurid revelations about the extent of Beijing’s influence-peddling, espionage and propaganda operations in that country, Conservative Senator Linda Frum says Ottawa should follow Canberra’s example by launching an inquiry into the extent of Beijing’s subterfuge in Canada, and by tightening laws to prevent Beijing from meddling in Canadian political processes.
“This is essential. It’s critical. It’s essential for Canadian political sovereignty that we examine this very, very closely,” Frum told me. “I think we need to look at it and I think we need to look at it urgently.”
It’s highly doubtful that we will, though. But first, a look at what’s been going on down under.  
Following investigations into Beijing’s covert operations by Fairfax Media and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched an inquiry in June that went on to uncover cash-for-access scandals, the covert strong-arming of overseas Chinese students and Australia’s ethnic Chinese communities, and unheeded intelligence-agency warnings about Beijing’s lavish donations to Australian political parties — including Turnbull’s own Liberal Party.
Let us be thankful that his weird infatuations have been unrequited
Earlier this week, the ABC revealed that Huang Xiangmo, a billionaire property developer with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party, donated $55,000 to the opposition Labour Party to have lunch with Labour leader Bill Shorten. At the time, Huang’s application for Australian citizenship had been blocked by Australian intelligence agencies. On Monday, a tightening ring of scandals — allowing dubious Chinese money-men to pay off his personal debts, defying his party’s opposition to China’s annexation of most of the South China Sea, and warning a suspected Beijing operative that his phone was bugged — forced the resignation of Labour MP Sam Dastyari.
Less than two years into a “free trade” agreement with China, Turnbull’s government is facing threats from Beijing that he should be made to “feel the pain” for introducing legislation this week that bans foreign political donations and cracks down on covert attempts to influence Australian politics and society. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been clamouring for a free trade deal with Beijing. Let us be thankful that, at least for now, his weird infatuations have been unrequited.  
New Zealand’s worsening predicament was highlighted in October with the disclosure that Chinese-born MP Jian Yang, a member of the select committee for foreign affairs, defence and trade in New Zealand’s ruling National Party, had failed to disclose that he had worked as senior linguistics instructor for Chinese military intelligence before emigrating to New Zealand.
For the purpose of elections, there should not be any foreign funds coming in
New Zealand’s intelligence agencies this week were sounding the alarm about a rapid upsurge in espionage and subversion in aid of China’s newly thuggish overseas exertions under strongman Xi Jinping, which are run out of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD). The October revelations about MP Jian Yang came in a Financial Times investigation that uncovered an internal UFWD report boasting about successes in the election of several politicians in Canada.
Senator Frum says Canada’s laws banning direct foreign donations to political parties are sufficiently robust, but third-party groups registered under the Canada Elections Act can still get away with using foreign money to influence voters, as long as the money is donated six months before an election. “It’s just so obvious that for the purpose of elections, there should not be any foreign funds coming in,” Frum said. “It should be prohibited.”
It should be obvious, but former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien led his first Team Canada emissaries to Beijing way back in 1994, so Beijing has had a head start of nearly a quarter of century in sloshing money and influence around Canada. What might seem obvious and sensible to most Canadians won’t necessarily look that way in Ottawa.
The modest bill would ban foreign entities from influencing Canadian voters
Last May, Frum introduced a modest private members bill, S-239, which would ban foreign entities from directly or indirectly inducing Canadian electors to vote for or against any political candidate or political party. The six-month loophole would be eliminated, and registered third parties would face fines and possible jail time for accepting foreign donations.
The bill is stuck in second reading stage and it won’t come up again until February. Last week, Senator Yuen Pao Woo, the Beijing-friendly former president of the Asia Pacific Foundation who Trudeau appointed to the Senate in October last year, spoke against Frum’s bill: “In our zeal to defend the right to make decisions ourselves, let’s not go down the road of parochialism that privileges nationality or place of residence over reason.”
Woo leads the Senate’s “Independent” group, but he has never voted against the Senate’s government representative — Peter Harder, the former president of the Canada-China Business Council who led Trudeau’s transition team following the 2015 federal election. And the government hasn’t shown any enthusiasm for Frum’s bill, either, so S-239 may well be doomed.
I think the Liberals are just trying to run the clock on legislation, Frum said
“I think the Liberals are just trying to run the clock on legislation that interferes with their winning formula, and their winning formula includes being the beneficiaries of foreign money that comes into the country via third parties that is then used to assist the Liberal Party in their political agenda. We don’t know how much Chinese money came into the country for the purposes of influencing the last election, but I don’t think the number is zero,” Frum said. “How much is going to come in in 2019?”
Then there’s all that money in between elections, besides, and it’s not as though sleazy cash-for-access gambits involving Chinese billionaires will get you into any serious trouble in Canada. Prime Minister Trudeau survived almost wholly unscathed after offering himself up at $1,500-a-plate dinners last year. The glamorous attendees included Benson Wong of the Chinese Business Chamber of Commerce, insurance tycoon and banker Shenglin Xian, and billionaire Zhang Bin, who donated $1 million to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the University of Montreal on top of his $1,500 fee. Such a nice man.
Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson found that the money-grubbing was “not very savoury,” but other than that, the Liberal Party kept its millions, and Trudeau promised that henceforth such galas would be open to the news media, advertised publicly, and duly reported upon. So we moved on. 
The bill may well be doomed
Meanwhile, the Senate Ethics Office is looking into whether any serious breach of propriety should be read into the free trips to China that three Conservative senators and their spouses took last April, courtesy of the usual pro-Beijing business groups and Xi’s propaganda-and-pressure UFWD agency. The junkets were among 36 such freebies taken by a variety of MPs and senators over the past few years. Leading the pack: John McCallum, now Canada’s ambassador to China. He racked up $73,000 worth.
There’s no suggestion here that any of this was illegal. And you can bet that every time a Chinese state-owned enterprise buys up another piece of some vital industry in Canada, they become “stakeholders,” and they slosh their money around politicians, during elections and between elections, and there’s nothing illegal about that, either. As for foreign money pouring into third parties, don’t count on Justin Trudeau’s government doing anything to stop it.
“The part that just slays me is that it’s perfectly legal. And the government knows it’s legal, and the government doesn’t care,” Frum said. “We are now two years into their mandate and they haven’t done anything to address this. They don’t even talk about it.”

[Breaking] Australian universities accused of sharing military technology with China

Australian universities accused of sharing military technology with China

The Defence Department has been accused of turning a blind eye to universities illegally sharing military technology with China.

Key points:

  • Hundreds of research projects linking Australian scientists with senior Chinese military figures
  • Defence Department relies on self-assessment from universities to police interactions with overseas academics
  • Collaborations mean Australian technology could be used against it on the battlefield
Former senior defence official Peter Jennings has told AM there was a "likelihood" universities were breaking strict export controls on technology that could be used for military purposes.
"The department should now be looking to audit the performance of universities because we are talking about the mass migration over to Chinese interests and that's not in Australia's commercial, or indeed national, security interests," he said.
There are strict rules banning the sharing of research that could be used for military purposes by Australia's potential foes, including China.
Australian universities conduct world-leading research in areas such as artificial intelligence, super computing and driverless car technology that could be adapted for military purposes.
The Defence Department said it relied on self-assessment from universities to police their academics' interactions with overseas academics.
"It is ultimately the responsibility of each institution to ensure they comply with the law," the Department told the ABC in response to questions about links between Australian and Chinese researchers.
Charles Sturt University professor Clive Hamilton has uncovered hundreds of research projects linking Australian scientists with senior Chinese military figures.
At the centre of a web of questionable collaborations with Australian universities sit Yang Xuejun, a Lieutenant-General in China's People's Liberation Army who heads the country's top defence research academy.
Professor Hamilton said much of those collaborations could mean Australian technology could be used against it on the battlefield.
"There is no doubt some of the technology they are working on is being applied to improve the battle readiness of the PLA," Professor Hamilton said.
Laws governing the export of defence technology were tightened in 2012 to include university research following the signing of a weapons treaty between Australia and the US.
Professor Hamilton said questions about Australian universities collaborating with Chinese military researchers could damage relations with Australia's biggest strategic ally.
"I know that our research is being carefully read in Washington and hard questions are being asked of the Australian Government," he said.

Sri Lanka formally hands over Hambantota port on 99-year lease to China

Sri Lanka formally hands over Hambantota port on 99-year lease to China

Image result for Sri Lanka formally hands over Hambantota port on 99-year lease to China

The Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka seen in this October 2012 file photo. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has allayed Indian security concerns over the strategic location of the port and the increased Chinese presence in the island nation.   | Beijing to hold 70 p.c. stake in the strategic port; Opposition and trade unions dub the $1.1 billion deal as “a sellout.”
Sri Lanka on Saturday formally handed over the strategic southern port of Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease, in a deal dubbed by the opposition and trade unions as “a sell-out.”
The government’s grant of large tax concessions to Chinese firms have also been questioned by the Opposition.
Two Chinese firms — Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG) and Hambantota International Port Services (HIPS) — managed by the China Merchants Port Holdings Company (CMPort) and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority will own the port and the investment zone around it, officials said.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during a visit to China in April had agreed to swap equity in Chinese infrastructure projects launched by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in his home district.
Sri Lanka owed China $8 billion, then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake had said last year.

‘To be major port in Indian Ocean’

“With this agreement we have started to pay back the loans. Hambantota will be converted to a major port in the Indian Ocean,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said while addressing the handing over ceremony held in parliament.
“There will be an economic zone and industrialisation in the area which will lead to economic development and promote tourism,” the Prime Minister said.
The Sri Lankan government had signed a $1.1 billion deal in July to sell a 70 per cent stake in the Hambantota port to China.
Sri Lanka received $300 million as the initial payment under the 99-year lease agreement.
The port, overlooking the Indian Ocean, is expected to play a key role in China’s Belt and Road initiative, which will link ports and roads between China and Europe.

'Will not be used as a military base'

In order to allay India’s security concerns over the Chinese navy’s presence in Sri Lanka, Mr. Wickremesinghe had earlier ruled out the possibility of the strategic port being used as a “military base” by any foreign country.

South China Sea: Australia is worried about China's activities — here's why


South China Sea: Australia is worried about China's activities — here's why

Updated 1 Dec 2017, 1:07am
The South China Sea is more than 6,000 kilometres away from Canberra but Beijing's activities in this contested body of water are causing deep anxiety within Australia's defence and diplomatic circles.
At its heart, this is a dispute over competing territorial claims but the South China Sea has become a symbol of China's inexorable rise and a shift in the global axis of power.
Here's why Australia is concerned and how it's responding to the issue.

Who's involved in this dispute?

China is the main aggressor.
The country claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, including a bunch of small land formations, directly challenging the territorial claims of its neighbours — the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia.
These countries are all keen to exploit the vast fisheries and significant oil reserves that lie beneath.

So what's the dispute about?

China's motivations are both economic and strategic.
It claims "indisputable sovereignty" over an ambiguous Nine dash-line — basically a U-shaped area which takes in most of the South China Sea — and since 2012, it's been using its considerable naval might to assert control over this area.
At the same time, China has seized small land formations and installed military bases on artificial islands it's created by dredging 13 square kilometres of land from the ocean floor.
It means Beijing can now deploy combat aircraft and missile launchers to the islands at any time.
There is serious concern that China's trying to assert control over the area, and project its power throughout the Indo-Pacific region, which is why the United States has got involved.

Why is Australia worried?

There are two reasons cited by the Government — "freedom of navigation" and "rules-based global order".
The South China Sea is one of the world's most important shipping lanes, between $3 trillion and $5 trillion worth of trade passes through the contested waters each year (estimates vary) — including more than half of Australia's coal, iron ore and LNG exports.
So Australia has a big interest in keeping that trade route open.
The other concern is that China is threatening the "rules based global order," which basically relies on all countries following international laws and resolving territorial disputes peacefully.

So, how has Australia responded?

Australia is in a tricky position — the United States is our strongest military ally, while China is our biggest trading partner. And both relationships are crucial.
While the risk of war between the US and China is considered to be low, it is the source of considerable tension.
Ultimately Australia does not want to see the South China Sea militarised and international trade routes compromised.
Publicly, Australia has taken a taken a relatively neutral position — refusing to take sides but calling for a "peaceful solution" to the disputes.
Australia has also been using diplomatic channels and forums to put pressure on China to end its military build-up.
On the defence front, RAAF planes regularly conduct surveillance flights and the Australian Navy sails through the contested waters all in the name of freedom of navigation.
But don't get these confused with the more provocative Freedom of Navigation Operations (or "FONOPs") the US has been carrying out.

What are the US and the Philippines doing?

Since 2015, the United States has conducted FONOPs to challenge China's "excessive" claim.
These operations, which infuriate China, involve US naval ships sailing within 12 nautical miles of China's artificial islands — sending a message that the US does not recognise them as Chinese territory.
It's not about "containing" China, according to the US, but maintaining this "rules based global order".
But China does not see it that way. It has told the US to stay out of the dispute, and warned the FONOPs "severely harm China's sovereignty and security".
At the recent ASEAN forum, President Donald Trump took a typically unconventional approach, offering to "mediate" between China and the other parties. So far no-one's taken him up on this offer.
The other big player was the Philippines, which up until recently was on the US side of the dispute.
Last year, it took China to the UN's Permanent Court of Arbitration, which ruled that Beijing had no historic rights over the South China Sea.
But China ignored this ruling, declaring it "neither accepts nor recognises it," and the Philippines has since elected a new president who seems much less interested in pursuing this issue.
In fact, Rodrigo Duterte has only deepened his country's ties with China, signing multi-billion dollar economic partnerships, and at the ASEAN summit all but confirmed his complete capitulation.
"The other hotheads would like us to confront China and the rest of the world for so many issues," he said.
"The South China Sea is better left untouched. Nobody can afford to go to war."
That is true, but also a sign that old alliances are shifting, further complicating this already complex situation.
For now at least, China's slowed down its military build-up in the South China Sea but all eyes are on these contested waters, waiting for its next move.