China’s ‘sharp power’ quietly reshaping opinion and policy abroad


Australia’s Prime Minister today attacked Opposition Leader Bill Shorten for visiting a Chinese billionaire’s home to ask for donations, according to reports. Foreign interference in Australian politics has become a “serious problem”, a top official said Monday, with tougher laws on espionage and overseas donations to be introduced to parliament, AFP adds:

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered an inquiry in June after media revelations that the nation’s spy agency had warned the country’s political elite two years ago about taking donations from two billionaires with links to the Chinese Communist Party.

When the Australian government set out to write a new foreign policy paper, it faced hotly contested questions shaping the country’s future: Will China replace the United States as the dominant power in Asia? If so, how quickly? The New York Times reports:

The government’s answers came in a so-called white paper released last month by the administration of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. For sure, China is challenging the United States in Asia, though in the end, it argues, America will prevail and Australia can count on its security guarantor of the past 70 years. But a prominent defense strategist, Hugh White, has disputed that view, arguing in a provocative new essay that China has arrived, the United States is fading and Australia must find a way to survive on its own.

“We all underestimated China’s power and resolve and overestimated America’s,” wrote Mr. White, who worked on sensitive intelligence and military matters with the United States as a senior official at the Australian Defense Department. “Not only is America failing to remain the dominant power, it is failing to retain any substantial strategic role at all.”

The debate highlights Australians’ concerns over the fraying of the liberal international order, said Michael Fullilove, executive director at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.

China will not export its political system, President Xi Jinping told a forum for foreign political groups on Friday, as the ruling Communist Party seeks to boost its global image and take a more assertive international role, Reuters reports:

China has expanded the reach of its foreign policy and military under Xi, whose “diplomatic thought” has been credited domestically with transcending 300 years of Western international relations theory and serving as a marker of China’s growing soft power. But concern abroad about China using its influence to sway foreign business, academic, and political institutions have grown in tandem.

“We will not import other countries’ models, and will not export the China model,” Xi said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has given his personal endorsement to an international conference run by an Australian political donor caught up in allegations of foreign influence in Australian politics, according to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Xi outlined China’s plan to take a greater role in global governance in a speech to conference delegates who travelled to Beijing. Chau Chak Wing, who ran the conference, is one of two Chinese businessmen named by ASIO in briefings to the Labor and Liberal party organisations in 2015 about political donations.

China’s Ministry of States Security monitors the Australian activities of Tibetan and Chinese dissidents, while some Chinese students are pressured to report on fellow Chinese students, notes Charles Wallace, a former Australian intelligence officer.

Beijing’s interference in Australian domestic affairs and behaviour weakening the norms of restraint in international affairs are driving Australia’s increasingly public concerns about China, analyst Nic Beasley writes for the Interpreter. This change has been visible in major set-piece speeches and in the foreign and defence policy white papers, he adds:

Malcolm Turnbull’s remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June carefully but deliberately linked China with coercion, corruption and intimidation. Defence Minister Payne plainly stated at the Seoul Security Dialogue in September that China was not playing by the international rules. China’s assertive behaviour in the South China Sea, its complete disregard for the June 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration finding.

Australian Labor MP Michael Danby [left – a leading figure in the World Movement for Democracy] has described the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China, as a “as a business front” for the Chinese Communist Party.

The Chinese Communist Party is quietly reshaping public opinion and policy in the U.S. too, if a Beijing-linked billionaire’s funding of policy research at some of Washington’s most influential institutions is any guide, Foreign Policy’s Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian writes:

[Tung Chee-hwa’s China-U.S. Exchange Foundation] conducts academic and professional exchanges, bringing U.S. journalists, scholars, and political and military leaders to mainland China. It also has cooperated on projects with numerous U.S. institutions, including the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Atlantic Council, the Center for American Progress, the East-West Institute, the Carter Center, and the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.

China has increasingly proven capable of using its growing influence in ways that can undermine U.S. and European interests, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.

“The United States and Europe need a serious strategic conversation about the consequences of present trends and to plan specific actions that the allies can take to ensure that China’s rise does not undermine the shared interests that the United States and Europe have in certain global rules and norms,” say analysts Helena Legarda and Michael Fuchs.

Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence


  • Juan Pablo Cardenal, researcher at the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America;
  • Sarah Cook, senior research analyst for East Asia at Freedom House;
  • Shanthi Kalathil, director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies;
  • Jacek Kucharczyk, president of the Institute of Public Affairs;
  • Grigorij Meseznikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs;
  • Alina Polyakova, fellow at the Brookings Institution;
  • Christopher Walker, vice president of studies and analysis at National Endowment for Democracy; Jessica Ludwig, research and conferences officer at NED;
  • Carl Gershman, president of NED.

December 6, 2017RSVP: 202-378-9675,;

11 a.m. – Discussion

Venue: NED, 1025 F Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, D.C.

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