The militant economic power of China
For some years China has been Australia’s largest trading partner. Australia has been a major beneficiary of China’s economic growth. While some have hoped that China’s economic progress would move it away from its Communistic ideals, it is plain that Communism is not just an economic ideology, but a whole-state ideology. China is a one-party state led by a President for life with grand geopolitical ambitions. President Xi Jinping proclaims that it is his dream to make China the world’s greatest power by a long term peaceful rise resulting in economic domination.
This means that Taiwan is firmly in China’s sights.
The so-called “China Dream” is a strategy which includes both economic growth and military might. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), expansion of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) and Navy and China’s expansion into the South China Sea are tangible signs of its actions.
The BRI is the agenda designed to link China with Eurasia, Africa and Oceania with a network of modern ports and transportation hubs that are Chinese built, owned and/or operated. This also requires intrusion into nations in relation to investments and economic arrangements.
The Digital Silk Road provides matching communication technology.
Australia and Oceania have not been immune from China’s expansion of “soft power” into the region, with sites around Australia, and Chinese intrusion into East Timor, PNG, etc.
China’s ability to militarily or economically impact Australia is a growing threat. China has been aggressive with its propaganda. It has used its military and economic power in an abrasive and coercive way.
Australia must therefore build internal resilience. Australia’s military forces must become a deterrent, and there must be a strengthening of political will to stand up to China. This means that it is imperative that the people and the government support deploying its assets and engaging its forces with China.
Australia has always exhibited national resilience, and this needs to continue, with growing self-reliance. While Australia may not be able to sustain self-sufficiency it certainly can do a lot to utalise its own resources and also maintain trade connections with other parts of the world.
The biggest threat to Australia in facing China is actually China’s fifth column of woke, cancel-culture, progressive leftists which permeate the national consciousness and culture. Only a few short years ago, the LGBT movement, Aboriginals, the disabled, Greens, muslims and other such views were viewed one way, but now these hold the dominant position in relation to media, educational, institutional and cultural controllers moving Australia from its former right-wing religious conscience-based culture to a progressive, inclusive, identity-based culture.
China and Australia dealt with COVID-19 very different ways. China utalised aggressive and targeted quarantining while Australia in a federal-state partnership forced the shut down both economy and society for many long months. Even though there were minimal deaths from COVID-19 in comparison to the yearly influenza outbreaks, the entire nation was hocked and brought to its knees.
Given these unsettling truths, Australia has always had a resilience and sizable proportion of its population which does not so quickly or unquestionably accept new ideas. As analysts rightly show, Australia has become internally divided between the traditionalist mindset and progressive thinking.
The cohesion of Australia’s societal dominant culture with integrated immigrants is undermined by a social justice movement emanating from universities that focuses on gender and racism. This has produced a drift towards identity politics, and a victim culture that is inherently socially divisive. If women, racial minorities and other minorities are inherently victims, then everyone else is inherently an oppressor. Identity politics leads people to see one another not as fellow citizens but as enemies. It creates and perpetuates division among citizens and a loss of faith in the nation and its institutions.
Australia’s successful homogeneous society contains many fault lines of potential divisiveness which could be exploited to destabilise society, particularly by fifth columnists and foreign actors (e.g. China) exploiting social media. In some ways, though, China is more ego-centric, and while it has to some degree funded and participated in intrusive activities, it still operates in a way to seek to bring Australians into appreciation of China rather than merely attempting to deconstruct Australian society.
Chinese investment in Australia by private companies or State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) has been in agriculture, mining, ports, power utilities, telecommunications infrastructure and real estate. This ownership can appear benign but can all ultimately be influenced by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). China has also deployed soft power, including industrial espionage, clandestine cyber activity, intellectual property theft, political contributions, tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade.
China has co-opted former politicians, and Chinese businessmen have made generous donations to universities and political parties. Indeed, it works to increase its influence in Australian politics. While its reach into the Australian Labor Party in Victoria is obvious, its reach into the Liberal Party in Victoria is less known. Some politically motivated reporting has sought to link Chinese donors or influencers with certain MPs, but Chinese agents are far more active than what has been previously known. For example, little known current and former Victorian state Liberal MPs have had a variety of interactions with Chinese agents.
The case of Bruce Atkinson’s direct involvement in Chinese activities is the most reported matter of concern, but often other Chinese agents are at work behind the scenes. These include a group of businessmen centred on Kelvin Ho who allegedly have made significant donations around the Liberal Party. Investigations have begun to further identify red flags in the Burwood electorate. Another member in the Frankston electorate named James Ngan has also been named, after having attempted meetings with several former federal MPs and state MPs.
Beijing sympathisers in Australia work at influencing the federal and state governments to support, or at least not oppose Beijing’s policy. They seek to reinforce the view that China’s continued rise is inevitable and that Australians should act accordingly. Beijing has directly employed Chinese students studying in Australia to undertake “agent” activities, and has sought to communicate through Chinese media into parts of Melbourne.
At the end, Australia does not stand alone. Australia has its ANZUS Alliance with the USA and its alliance with the five eyes nations as well as many friends around the world. Further, an anti-China coalition known as the “Quadrilateral Dialogue” involving Japan, India, the USA, Australia and now France is also active, and are working on bringing Indonesia and South Korea on side. Even Vietnam, once a Chinese client state, is now coming to the point of completely rejecting China.
Australia needs to work to resist Chinese coercion and aggression. It needs to deter any future PLA threats to Australia’s sovereignty and interests. A strong ADF needs to be considered in the context of Australia’s friends and allies.