WANING trust between Australia and China may have serious consequences if we don’t find a way to engage on the issue, an expert panel has warned.
A group of Chinese-Australian experts hosted by the Lowy Institute Tuesday night examined the impact of Australia’s foreign influence debate, after Malcolm Turnbull announced Canberra would introduce legislation to combat foreign intervention in Australian politics.
Maree Ma, the General Manager of Vision Times, the largest independent Chinese-language media organisation in Australia, said the Chinese Communist Party has already proven it’s prepared to take action against Australia over the issue.
“Instead of the Chinese government saying Australia’s allegations are wrong, that they’re able to prove they have not done this, they’re instead telling Chinese people it’s actually dangerous in Australia,” Ms Ma said.
“These are the sorts of threats and consequences Australia will face. China is prepared to unleash an economic backlash. These are measures (the Chinese government) is ostensibly prepared to take.”
‘A LOT OF EVIDENCE OF CHINESE INFLUENCE IN AUSTRALIA’
Strategic and Defence Studies Centre research Adam Ni warned that China was definitely seeking to influence countries in the Asia-Pacific, including ours.
“China is growing very powerful internationally, and one of the things it’s trying to do is influence countries in our region, including Australia,” he said. “There’s a lot of evidence of Chinese influence and interference activities here.
“We need to draw a line and say certain activities that harm democratic rights, our institutions and social harmony will not be accepted.
“We need to be extremely about the activities of such a party state — in Australia and more broadly in our region.”
Mr Ni warned that if we don’t speak out and confront this, the Chinese Communist Party could have a long-term “cumulative” impact on our policies going forward.
“(The CCP’s) influence is not just in certain policy changes … but in the evolution of how we engage with China.
“Do we speak out when the Chinese Communist Party does something wrong on the international change, like violate international law? Do we speak out when domestically it commits human rights violations? Do we stand up for these values which are in our interests — and if not, why not?
“My concern is that yes, we can say the CCP has not changed Australian policies, but over time it will have a cumulative effect that will negatively impact our ability to make independent policy … in effect, changing who we are as a people.”
‘THE RIGHT WAY TO ADDRESS THE ISSUE’
Sme experts have questioned whether taking a hard line, no-nonsense approach is only going to have greater consequences down the line.
Chairman of Vantage Asia Holdings Jason Li said politicians and the public alike need to work with China — not bear down on it — if they want to avoid severing ties with our largest trading partner.
“They need to be dealt with in a way that doesn’t arouse distrust and suspicion, or play to populism,” he said. “When you do that, you disenfranchise and discourage Chinese Australians from getting involved in the debate.
He said there were “so few Chinese voices” in the foreign influence debate, saying this was the “great danger” in the way the debate is unfolding.
“We need to approach this from the perspective of trust … because if you approach it the other way, you’re actually doing it the authoritarian way.
“If you disagree with somebody, if you’re emotionally intelligent you pick the right way to say it, rather than just blowing everything up,” he said.
Tensions have risen sharply between Australia and China in recent months.
Last month, it was reported China had been deferring a range of visits in order to take a political stand against Australia.
The state-run Global Times newspaper has described Australia’s behaviour in recent years as “baffling” and “repugnant”, accusing us of being an “anti-China pioneer in the last two years” and warning that Canberra “cannot afford worsening ties with China”.
Geoff Raby, our envoy to Beijing from 2007 to 2011, believes the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has “politicised itself” and critics of its actions are dismissed as pro-China “panda huggers”.
“With China’s rise, the global order has changed and Canberra is having great difficulty coming to grips with this,” Mr Raby wrote in a post on the Pearls and Irritations blog yesterday.
He said the deterioration of our relationship is “damaging Australia’s interests”, noting that people who promote a close relationship with China and “a more constructive and balanced approach to how to respond to China’s rise and the changed international order” were attacked.
They were called “apologists for China, fellow travellers, mercenaries and panda huggers — the last is the most damning”.
“It is intended to stifle legitimate policy discussion and development. The mess that Australia’s China policy is now in attests to this.”
Last month, Mr Turnbull restated that Canberra would not back down from the foreign donation laws.
“We are taking every step that we can, with our foreign interference legislation, to ensure that Australians, and Australians only, are the ones who influence Australian political processes.”
By Gavin Fernando