China is spreading fake news about Australia to its citizens and the world – and there’s not much we can do about it.
That’s the latest warning from the nation’s top foreign affairs bureaucrat about the Chinese Communist Party.
Department of Foreign Affairs secretary Frances Adamson told a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday that Australia’s image was being tarnished by reports in Chinese state-owned media.
“The Chinese are increasingly, I think, trying to project not only in their own country but potentially elsewhere images of Australia which are not … who we are,” Ms Adamson said.
“Images that project us as being ideological … intolerant, divided, that discriminates.
“The reality is it is damaging for us in China.”
A lifelong diplomat, Ms Adamson said China was becoming the “challenge of our age” and warned that the influence of Australian embassies there was “diminishing”.
Ms Adamson said Australians valued the freedom and nature of our democracy – one where you can have robust debates in public or private and then “get on with it”.
But she warned that the cameras in Beijing did understand the nuance.
“(China) will capture what you say, what is said in parts of our society, they’ll play it back to their own population (of) 1.4 billion people, mostly pretty attentive to what’s coming out through state media and they’ll form an opinion of us which is frankly very different from Australia,” she said.
“What we can do about that is a very difficult question because I would never suggest as an official that we should censor ourselves or that we should not say in public things that need to be said.”
Instead she called on Australians to be conscious of the way we portray ourselves.
“To be very frank, I think Beijing is looking for division,” Ms Adamson said.
“When we are able to project a sense of bipartisanship and of unity about what is most in our values, it’s a powerful message.”