Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Beware of soft power that serves hardline interests

Beware of soft power that serves hardline interests

Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Chinese President Xi Jinping.
  • The Australian
  • 12:00AM July 2
  • 293
Security experts are baffled by Australians’ complacency about the rise of China. Clive Hamilton’s book on Chinese influence in Australia, Silent Invasion, spiked strong interest before falling off the news cycle. Liberal MP Andrew Hastie’s parliamentary speech on Chinese political interference made news before he faced condescension from colleagues keen to prove their loyalty to the party. Defence experts warning about the threat China’s rise poses to Australia have been dismissed as hawks stuck in a Cold War time warp.
The Australian media is waking up to the threat of China, but the people are fast asleep. A Pew Research Centre poll last year found 64 per cent of Australians hold favourable views of China. Seventy per cent view China’s economic rise as positive for our nation. Australia is the only liberal democracy ranked in the top 10 countries viewing China most favourably.
The threat posed by China is more subtle than the dramatic land invasions of bygone eras. The problem is not that hawks are stuck in a Cold War mentality about China, but that we are stuck in an old war mentality. The rising superpower does not use direct means to colonise foreign territories or influence foreign powers. It is a thoroughly modern nation using indirect methods to derive advantages from weaker states. The euphemistic term for the strategy is soft power. But the Communist Party of China’s ambitions are clearly hardline.
In his address to the 19th Communist Party congress last year, Xi Jinping outlined his ambition to make China the most powerful nation in the world. The Chinese constitution was amended subsequently to remove the limit of two five-year terms for presidents and vice-presidents. The move drew comparisons with the reigns of emperors, but Xi already enjoyed a concentration of political, civil and military power made possible by the one-party state system.
It is the nature of the one-party state and its effect on the rules-based international order that causes greatest concern among defence and security analysts. The separation of economics and politics is necessary for free trade to operate in a global system. But there is no separation of trade and politics when businesses operate under a one-party state and profits go towards the expansion of party influence.
A man walks past a mural showing Chinese soldiers and military hardware at an exhibition highlighting China's achievements under five years of leadership of Xi Jinping.A man walks past a mural showing Chinese soldiers and military hardware at an exhibition highlighting China's achievements under five years of leadership of Xi Jinping.
In Silent Invasion, Hamilton explores China’s use of “dark money” to influence the election of foreign politicians, set the conditions of free-trade agreements, and manipulate public opinion through dedicated media and university centres in foreign countries.
Hastie went on the offensive against Chinese political influence in May. Under parliamentary privilege, he alleged a political donor who had extensive contacts with the CPC was involved in the bribery of a UN official. Allegedly, ASIO had warned Australian politicians about the donor’s links to the CPC and a soft-power front organisation.
There is no doubt China uses indirect means to assert its power. So does Australia. All powerful nations are engaged in the art of global influence. But China appears to be using ever more covert tactics to acquire ever more critical assets in foreign states, including our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific. It gives generously to vulnerable nations while claiming altruistic motives.
The standard script goes something like this: China respects all nations’ sovereignty. Unlike the West, China has never colonised another nation. Unlike Western aid, China’s foreign aid and loans come with no strings attached. China will not interfere in the domestic affairs (read human rights violations) of recipient nations. All China seeks is a mutually beneficial business relationship.
A major concern about China’s system of foreign aid and loans is the apparently strategic acquisition of key defence and security assets under the guise of development projects. Airports, roads, pipelines and ports are acquired, some in proximity to critical defence assets. Another concern is the debt burden borne by vulnerable states has become unmanageable. Last year the Australian Strategic Policy Institute outlined problems with China’s aid in the Pacific.
The picture on China’s asset acquisitions is murkier. Claims about anti-competitive practices have emerged in Africa and Sri Lanka. Of course, there are counter-claims also.
In The Weekend Australian, ASPI executive director Peter Jennings detailed the risky business of trading with China. The political context matters. There was once hope that China’s political system would become more open as it embraced a greater degree of economic liberalism, but this has not happened.
The problem of trying to maintain the liberal international order is exacerbated by CPC control over Chinese enterprises. Privatisation seems like a good idea until you’ve sold your key assets to a communist party intent on global superpower status.
Jennings has urged politicians to block a bid for Australia’s biggest gas pipeline. According to reports by The Australian’s Primrose Riordan, the $13 billion bid from the APA Group would deliver almost 60 per cent control to Hong Kong company CK Infrastructure. Jennings contends Hong Kong is increasingly under Beijing’s control, and that the acquisition would compromise national security interests.
Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is bidding for Australia’s 5G network. The company has acquired some interesting assets during its development, including the British government’s former chief information officer John Suffolk.
There is great value in Australia’s trade relationship with China and significant risk in overstating threats. However, mounting evidence of China’s corruption of the rules-based international order must be considered in any sale of Australian assets.
Australia is strengthening ties with allied states at a critical moment in the history of the free world. We are renewing confidence in British shipbuilding expertise through a multi-billion-dollar deal to design Australian warships. Donald Trump affirmed the enduring friendship between our nations by exempting Australia from critical tariffs in his America-first trade policy. And the government passed legislation last week to protect Australian democracy from foreign interference. But in each case, there’s an elephant in the room wearing a red dragon suit and waving the Chinese flag.





George2 HOURS AGO
Honestly as someone who was first living in China in 1986 and witnessing the rapid change that has occurred since then - how anyone can think that China wants to invade Australia is baffling to me. It was only a decade or so ago that Australians thought Indonesians would invade our country, more chance of that happening probably than China. 
Conspiracy theories abound... 
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1EmilyLIKEREPLY
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Daniel2 HOURS AGO
And since The Australian has a "Chinese" Version. Top right for those that didn't notice. Their intel are monitoring every comment we place here.
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4GarryAnneTonyRobertLIKEREPLY
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Anne1 HOUR AGO
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Jeremy1 HOUR AGO

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Marie2 HOURS AGO
I don’t know where those figures come from - I have been concerned about China for decades - I would be hard pressed to find anyone who thought positively about China unless they were benefiting or actually Chinese !!! Who did they interview Chinese migrants !!! We have let too many in now though - there is enough for China to want to reunite these Chinese with the mainland - one China one family !!
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7SteveSandyGarryAnneLIKEREPLY
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Trump Grabs Me1 HOUR AGO
@Marie  My NZ brother in law travels to China in a business capacity regularly. It stuns him, the arrogance of the younger Chinese.
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3SandyLyleGarryLIKEREPLY
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Brett S2 HOURS AGO
We need more politicians like Andrew Hastie and Michael Danby who are willing to call out the Chinese dangers. Too many are either fully compromised or too cowed to speak out againt the creeping menace.
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8SteveJohnLeslieLyleLIKEREPLY
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Gordon3 HOURS AGO
Has anyone else been getting phone calls from a Chinese speaking person. I've had 5 or so in the past month. I'd like to know where they originate, and why they are made.?
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5SandyAnneTonyTrump Grabs MeLIKEREPLY
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Daniel2 HOURS AGO
@Gordon Its a money scam. They claim to be from the Chinese embassy in Australia. Not sure how they bribe or blackmail people but apparently some have been done from a few thousand to a few million.
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2AnneTonyLIKEREPLY
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Tom2 HOURS AGO
@Gordon it’s a scam aimed at the local Chinese population, originating from organised crime gangs in China.
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2GarryAnneLIKEREPLY