Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Who’s afraid of the CCP...the book, Silent Invasion: The Influence of China in Australia

Who’s afraid of the CCP?

Illustration: Sturt Krygsman
Illustration: Sturt Krygsman
  • The Australian
My book Silent Invasion: The Influence of China in Australia has been met with an impassioned reception. In a long review, University of Sydney academic David Brophy denounced it as a “McCarthyist manifesto” and a “paranoid tome” that adds to “our all-too-rich library of Asian invasion fantasies”.
Additionally, an open letter claiming that the debate over Chinese Communist Party influence is racist and repeating the incorrect and offensive claim that commentators like me propose “punitive measures to restrict the rights of those identified as ‘pro-Beijing” was signed by 50 self-described scholars of China and the Chinese diaspora.
I wonder whether the signatories who lent their names to this letter feel as comfortable with it now that the Global Times, the CCP’s nationalistic tabloid, has warmly welcomed their intervention as proof that the debate over CCP influence in Australia should be ended as it is only “fanning the flames” of racial animosity.
They have divided themselves sharply from the rest of the community of China scholars, some of whom composed a rival letter rejecting their substantive claims. Some of those who put their names to the first open letter have expertise in neither Australian politics nor the United Front work of the Chinese Communist Party.
So if not expertise in the CCP’s influence operations in Australia, what do these scholars have in common?
One seems to be a blindness to the well-known facts. They write that they “see no evidence … that China is exporting its political system to Australia”.
Except no one has said that the CCP is exporting its Leninist party governing system to Australia. If they are disputing the claim that the CCP is extending the operations of its system to this country, then what did they see when Sam Dastyari was exposed for his links to Huang Xiangmo, president of the peak United Front body in Australia and named by the authorities as a man with “the closest links” to the Chinese state?
Another commonality among these critics appears to be a belief that public debate over CCP influence in this country is being “racialised”.
This is reminiscent of the tactic practised by the CCP for years of accusing critics of the party of being “anti-Chinese”.
Naive Westerners who allow the CCP to own “Chineseness” collaborate, however unwittingly, in the party’s racialising of criticism of it. The Communist Party’s attempts to own Chineseness — and so all people of Chinese descent — has been taken to new heights under President Xi Jinping.
Another predilection shared by many of the signatories is a kneejerk anti-Americanism.
The open letter argues that a media panic is singling out individuals and organisations “thought to be linked to the Chinese state” in a way that “isolates them from a context of comparable activities” by other nations (meaning the US).
It’s a non sequitur, but you see what they mean. When evidence arises of China’s interference in nations such as Australia, it’s now common for some on the left to respond: “What about America?”
Yes, the US has a history of meddling in Australia (and much worse in other countries), but how does this fact negate the facts about China’s interference? “What about America?” is not an argument but a form of denial.
A further commonality among many of the open letter’s signatories is that many of them have been missing in action in the China interference debate.
Other China scholars and well-informed journalists have been uncovering disturbing evidence of the erosion of academic freedom in our universities.
Were these scholars looking the other way as China stepped up its interference operations in this country? If so, haven’t they failed in their social obligation to use their expertise to inform the Australian public?
Now that the federal government is responding, they are complaining about how the new laws threaten their academic freedom. As far as I know (and I have been watching closely), not one of these champions of academic freedom spoke out when Australian publishers, intimidated by a foreign power, refused to publish my book, perhaps the biggest scandal over academic freedom of recent years, and in exactly their area of expertise. Where were they?
In their letter they express outrage at any suggestion that they have been “intimidated or bought off by pro-PRC interests”.
Other China scholars have admitted to me that they censor their own work because they need to obtain visas to do their research in China.
For Brophy, if there is CCP influence in Australian universities then it should be blamed on our government for not funding them sufficiently. Presumably if he is mugged at night because the bus is late and he has to walk home, then it is not the mugger’s fault but the bus company’s.
The moral relativism prevalent in the arts faculties of the country’s universities is a boon to Xi’s determination to resist Western pressure to respect human rights.
Mainstream Australia, Brophy writes, “is defined by a set of myths about distinctive Australian ‘values’”. The mainstream is always perplexed to hear postmodern intellectuals tell them that free speech, representative government, the rule of law and the separation of powers are myths.
Western academics overeager to prove their respect for different cultures are all too common in the China debate, but I don’t believe too many of those who signed the first open letter would agree with a subversion of Australia’s democratic values.
That said, I have been disheartened at just how weak the commitment to liberal values is among sections of elite opinion in this country.
For me this goes to the heart of the matter. How committed are we to defending the foundational values and institutions that have made Australia the free and democratic nation it is today?
Clive Hamilton is the author of Silent Invasion: China’s Infuence in Australia. This is an edited version of a piece that first appeared on Policy Forum, the academic blog of the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University

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