Thousands of agents of the Chinese state have integrated themselves into Australian public life — from the high spheres of politics, academia and business all the way down to suburban churches and local writers’ groups — according to a controversial book to be published on Monday.
The book, Silent Invasion: How China Is Turning Australia into a Puppet State, is written by Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University.
In it, he alleges that a systematic Chinese government campaign of espionage and influence peddling is leading to “the erosion of Australian sovereignty”.
That erosion is caused, in part, by a recent wave of Chinese migration to Australia including “billionaires with shady histories and tight links to the [Chinese Communist] party, media owners creating Beijing mouthpieces, “patriotic” students brainwashed from birth, and professionals marshalled into pro-Beijing associations set up by the Chinese embassy,” Professor Hamilton writes.
ABC News has been given a pre-publication copy of the book, which is being published in the middle of widening public debate over China’s influence in Australia and concerns Beijing has thousands of unofficial “spies” in the country.
Those concerns were given some credence by the Government late last year, when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced he planned to enact new foreign interference laws to counter such espionage.
Mr Turnbull used strong language at the time, paraphrasing a famous Chinese communist slogan to say Australia would “stand up” to foreign governments meddling in Australian affairs.
The book will cause particular angst among Australia’s political class.
It lists more than 40 former and sitting Australian politicians who Professor Hamilton says are doing the work of China’s totalitarian Government, if sometimes unwittingly. Many are household names.
“[Former prime ministers Bob] Hawke and [Paul] Keating, when their political careers ended they went on to become reliable friends of China, shuttling between the two countries, mixing with the top cadres and tycoons,” Professor Hamilton writes.
“While Hawke’s China links proved lucrative, Keating was more interested in influence.”
An entire chapter, titled Beijing Bob, is dedicated to former Labor foreign minister and NSW premier Bob Carr.
The chapter accuses Mr Carr of “pushing an aggressive pro-China stance in Labor caucuses”.
Professor Hamilton chronicles Mr Carr’s 2015 appointment as the founding director of the Australia-China Research Institute (ACRI) at the University of Technology, Sydney.
ACRI was created with a $1.8m donation from billionaire property developer Huang Xiangmo, who has donated millions to Australian politicians and has been described in the book as being one of Beijing’s most powerful agents of influence in Australia.
“Huang sits at the centre of a web of influence that extends throughout politics, business and the media,” Professor Hamilton writes.
Mr Huang has been the subject of public speculation ever since the ABC News revealed his millions of dollars in political donations, and his questionable connections to senior federal politicians, in a series of stories in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
“Let’s call the Australia-China Research Institute for what it is,” Professor Hamilton writes.
“A Beijing-backed propaganda outfit disguised as a legitimate research institute, whose ultimate objective is to advance the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party’s] influence in Australian policy and political circles, an organisation hosted by a university whose commitment to academic freedom and proper practice is clouded by money hunger, and directed by an ex-politician suffering from relevance deprivation syndrome who cannot see what a valuable asset he has become for Beijing.”
Mr Huang denies his donations and influence within Australian society are connected to the Chinese Government, describing the allegations as innuendo and racism.
Mr Carr, who declined to comment for this article, has previously said ACRI took a “positive and optimistic view” of the Australia-China relationship and was “independent” and “non-partisan”. He rejected any suggestion he was working with or for the CCP or its proxies.
The book also details a list of Chinese-Australian academics whom Professor Hamilton says are allowing the transfer of potentially national security-significant research — in sensitive areas such as space, artificial intelligence and computer engineering — from Australian universities to the Chinese military.
Silent Invasion appears to have also divided Australian Parliament, with Labor and Liberal members of a classified parliamentary committee at odds over whether they should provide legal cover for the book.
Plans were hatched recently by members of Parliament’s intelligence oversight body, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), to publish a digital copy of the book.
The release would have been the first time the Australian parliament published a book in its entirety — therefore granting it a limited form of parliamentary privilege — in an effort to protect the information it contains from legal attack.
While Liberal members of the committee broadly supported publication of the book, the majority of Labor committee members did not, arguing it was not appropriate for the Australian Parliament to give the book its imprimatur.
Silent Invasion was provided to the committee in a submission as part of an inquiry into Mr Turnbull’s foreign interference laws.
The book’s release by the committee would have been seen as an inflammatory act by Beijing, already smarting from Mr Turnbull’s announcement.
In another section of the book, Professor Hamilton describes a curious relationship between Chinese Christian churches in Australia and the atheist Chinese Communist Party, which has a history of supressing Christianity at home.
He refers to classified Chinese Government reports which instruct Chinese officials to infiltrate overseas churches that have Chinese congregations. “They instruct cadres to monitor, infiltrate and ‘sinify’ overseas Chinese churches by actively promoting the CCP’s concepts of Chineseness and ‘spiritual love’.”
In 2014, he notes, the website of the Canberra Chinese Methodist Church included a statement which linked the rise of the CCP to God’s will: “The awe-inspiring righteousness of Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, and the rise of a great nation that is modern China are part of God’s plan, predestination and blessing.”
Many Chinese church pastors believe their congregations have been penetrated by Chinese Government cadres, Professor Hamilton writes.
“One pastor told me: ‘There are lots of communists in our church community.’ He guessed that around a quarter or a third are or have been communists. Some join the church for the companionship, some for the social contacts; others are the [Chinese Government’s] assets.”
The manuscript also alleges that people connected to the Chinese Government have infiltrated Australia’s writing scene. It states that a group called the Australian-Chinese Writer’s Association was recently taken over by “pro-Beijing forces”.
Professor Hamilton describes how well-known Australian writing forums such as the Melbourne Writers Festival and Writers Victoria have unwittingly hosted local Chinese writing groups operating under Beijing’s control and “whose aim is to spread into Australian society the CCP worldview, one that is extremely intolerant of artistic license and dissenting views.”
A ‘landmark win’ for China
Silent Invasion is so controversial it almost didn’t make it to publication. It was due to be released late last year by Allen & Unwin, but the publisher baulked over concerns it would be targeted by Beijing and its proxies in Australia. Melbourne University Press also turned down the book.
That led Professor Hamilton — the author of half-a-dozen books about climate change, politics and economics — to hit out at what he described as an attempt by the CCP to muzzle public debate in Australia.
“[This is a] landmark win for the Chinese Communist Party’s campaign to suppress critical voices,” Professor Hamilton wrote to Allen & Unwin chief executive Robert Gorman at the time.
The book was recently acquired by Hardie Grant, run by Sandy Grant, who in the 1980s published the controversial memoir of former British intelligence officer Peter Wright. The publication occurred against the wishes of the British government, which was trying to censor the book.
Mr Grant told the ABC he was aware publishing Silent Invasion may invite the attention of the Chinese Government, but he hoped it would not be serious. “This is a debate being held at the ABC, the New York Times, the London Times; we are just one voice in that, we are hardly a serious thorn in the Chinese Government’s side,” he said.
Professor Hamilton may also have reason to be concerned about the impact of authoring the book. This week New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered intelligence officers to investigate break-ins at the home and office of prominent NZ China academic Anne-Marie Brady.
Professor Brady has spent her career researching China’s global influence and her 2017 paper, Magic Weapons, caused global waves when it revealed how deeply China had penetrated NZ’s Government.