The Chinese Communist Party has been subtly spreading its influence in Australia with wholesome events like a bushfire fundraiser and youth singing nights.
The escalating diplomatic dispute between Australia and its biggest trading partner China has highlighted how Beijing has been manipulating public opinion internationally.
Before the first cases of the Wuhan-spawned COVID-19 were confirmed, a group called the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China or ACPPRC, presented a $100,000 cheque to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.
The Chinese Communist Party cleverly spreads its influence in Australia with wholesome events like a bushfire fundraiser and youth singing nights. Pictured is an Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China event with NSW Liberal Minister for Skills Geoff Lee
Former Liberal immigration minister Philip Ruddock, who is now the mayor of Hornsby in Sydney’s north, was photographed at a bushfire fundraising event in December 2019, organised by the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China
Former Liberal immigration minister Philip Ruddock, who is now the mayor of Hornsby in Sydney’s north, was photographed at that event with his local volunteer firefighting brigade in December 2019.
The ACPPRC is opposed to Taiwanese independence and advocates China’s dominion over the South China Sea.
The group uses Australian events such charity fundraisers and youth nights to peddle influence.
The ACPPRC was also previously led by controversial Chinese property billionaire Huang Xiangmo, whose ties with former Labor senator Sam Dastyari contributed to the swift end of the ALP representative’s political career.
The group is one of many controlled by the United Front, an intelligence arm of the Chinese Communist Party that manages community relations with ethnic Chinese people in and outside of China.
Alex Joske, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the group, also known as the United Front Work Department, was effective at influencing politicians and business leaders.
‘United Front Work usually isn’t focused on mass messaging, although it does seek to influence public opinion,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
Alex Joske, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the group, also known as the United Front Work Department, was effective at influencing politicians and business leaders
‘Its priority is to influence and co-opt representatives of different groups, such as politicians and community leaders.
‘I’d say that United Front Work has been highly effective in influencing how China and Chinese communities are represented, and using that to influence politicians and business leaders in particular.’
A backbench federal Liberal MP Gladys Liu last year confirmed she was affiliated with United Front groups, as honorary president of the United Chinese Commerce Association of Australia and the Australian Jiangmen General Commercial Association.
The member for Chisholm in Melbourne’s south-east, who was born in Hong Kong, also had an honorary role with the Guangdong Overseas Exchange Association in 2011.
A backbench federal Liberal MP Gladys Liu last year confirmed she was affiliated with United Front groups, as honorary president of the United Chinese Commerce Association of Australia and the Australian Jiangmen General Commercial Association. She is pictured sitting between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in September 2019
Ethnic Chinese Australians aren’t the only ones targeted by Chinese interests, with former Labor prime minister Paul Keating and former foreign minister Bob Carr among those publicly arguing China’s case.
In November, Mr Keating accused Australian security agencies of being anti-China.
‘My concern is that what passes for the foreign policy of Australia lacks any sense of strategic purpose,’ he said in a speech to The Australian newspapers Strategic Forum event in Sydney.
‘The whispered word of ‘communism’ of old is now being replaced by the word ‘China’.
In the lead-up to Australia’s May federal election, Mr Keating had told the ABC Australia’s spy chiefs with the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation were ‘nutters’.
The Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China or ACPPRC was previously led by Chinese property billionaire Huang Xiangmo. He is pictured with former Liberal foreign minister Julie Bishop
Mr Keating was also an international advisory board member of the state-owned China Development Bank, with his image even featuring on the Communist Party linked group’s website.
A spokeswoman for the former prime minister told Daily Mail Australia he resigned from this council in April 2019.
Without mentioning Mr Keating, Mr Joske and Charles Sturt University Professor Clive Hamilton told a parliamentary committee on foreign interference in 2018 how the People’s Republic of China had ensured ‘a former prime minister is invited onto the board of an important institution in the PRC’.
‘There is no influence on a specific political or government process as such, although the former prime minister intervenes in important policy debates arguing the case of the foreign government,’ they said.
Former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr is among those publicly arguing China’s case when it comes to diplomacy. He is pictured with Chinese businesswoman Jean Dong (left) and his wife Helena
Former foreign minister Bob Carr, a former New South Wales Young Labor right-faction ally of Mr Keating’s during the 1960s, took exception to Professor Hamilton and Mr Joske’s submission two years ago.
As a director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, the former NSW premier compared Professor Hamilton to 1950s American Republican senator Joseph McCarthy, who pursued public servants for alleged communist links.
‘Australia’s new McCarthyism declares guilt by association,’ Mr Carr said.
The group Mr Carr used to lead, ACRI, was initially funded by Mr Huang, with a $1.8million donation over three years announced in 2013.
Mr Carr declined to address questions about the United Front when contacted by Daily Mail Australia.
Until April 2019, former Labor prime minister Paul Keating (pictured) was an international advisory board member of the state-owned China Development Bank, with his image even featuring on the Communist Party linked group’s website
But a UTS spokesman said ACRI was an ‘independent, non-partisan research institute’.
‘Its staff regularly express critical opinions on China, with respect to, for example, but not limited to, its lack of democracy and freedom of expression and tightening social restrictions, its assertiveness in the South China Sea, the pace of its economic reform, the treatment of its minority Uighur population in Xinjiang, and government interference in Australia,’ he said.
‘The analysis and conclusions of the Institute’s output are formulated independently by its authors and UTS:ACRI does not take an institutional position on any issue.’
The Labor Party’s NSW branch has a troubled connection with the ACPPRC.
Sam Dastyari’s career as a New South Wales Labor senator ended in January 2018 after he contradicted the ALP’s South China Sea position at a media conference for Chinese-language publications. He is pictured in August 2019 outside a NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into Labor Party donations
In 2016, its former leader Huang Xiangmo promised the ALP a $400,000 donation if it changed its policy on the disputed South China Sea.
Sam Dastyari’s career as a New South Wales Labor senator ended in January 2018 after he contradicted the ALP’s South China Sea position at a media conference for Chinese-language publications.
He was also secretly recorded at Mr Huang’s Mosman mansion on Sydney’s North Shore advising him his phone might be bugged.
Mr Huang, the head of the Yuhu property group, was last year effectively banned from re-entering Australia, had his citizenship bid blocked and his permanent residency rescinded.
His activities can at least be traced back to an enhanced role played by the United Front since Xi Jinping took over as the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012 and appears to have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The role of the United Front has been elevated under Chinese President Xi Jinping. He is pictured at China’s National People’s Congress on May 28, 2020
As a new President of China in 2014, President Xi declared: ‘As long as the overseas Chinese are united, they can play an irreplaceable role in realising the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation as they are patriotic and rich in capital, talent, resources and business connections.’
The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, reported on President Xi’s clarion call for ‘a greater contribution from Chinese nationals overseas to realise national rejuvenation’.
Whether it’s influencing public opinion or co-opting the global Chinese diaspora, the United Front uses the shrewd political tactics of Russian Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin.
Communist China’s founding leader Mao Zedong saw the United Front as a ‘magic weapon’ to keep the support of the marginalised to prevent an uprising.
In the foreign policy stakes, nations like Australia that heavily rely on China for trade are the ones set to be marginalised if tensions don’t ease soon.