Congress takes Australia’s lead on countering China’s influence operations


Senior Australian government ministers accused China on Tuesday of exerting undue pressure on Qantas Airways Ltd to change its website to refer to Taiwan as a Chinese territory. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull cites “disturbing reports about Chinese influence” as justification for new legislation to curb foreign influence, Reuters reports.

The US congress is taking the lead in cracking down on Chinese political interference by introducing a historic bill today that also cements a closer partnership with Australia on the issue. The bill calls for a major report  recommending ways to counter the growth of China’s “sharp power” that is “intended to penetrate or corrupt democratic countries,” the Australian adds:

The proposed US legislation would implement greater transparency and regulation of Chinese-funded enterprises across the US, including academia, and the formulation of a long-term strategy to counter Chinese interference in US politics and society. The bill, which has been seen by The Australian, says the US will also “enhance co-operation with Australia”, which has “faced acute pressure from the Chinese government and Communist Party’s political influence operations”.

“Australia knows all too well the malign consequences of ­Beijing’s political influence operations,” said US congressman Christopher Smith, who will introduce the bill – “Countering the Chinese Government and Communist Party’s Political Influence Operations Act” -into the House of Representatives today.

“The US and Australia, along with other democratic allies, need to stand together against the most coercive and corrupting elements of such operations and against Beijing’s turn toward a hard authoritarianism domestically — as they are most certainly linked,” said Smith, co-chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

Countries around Asia and their partners are increasingly concerned about China’s growing influence, and members of the Five Eyes partnership – the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – are concerned about Beijing’s growing influence in New Zealand, according to a report from Canada’s Security Intelligence Service:

The report, which is based on presentations at an academic conference but does not represent the security service’s formal views, says New Zealand faces “a concerted foreign interference campaign” from China, which wants to “access strategic information and resources” and build support for its objectives “by co-opting political and economic elites” in New Zealand.

Beijing is also expanding its ideological imprint in Europe, a Tiananmen anniversary forum organized by the Wei Jingsheng Foundation heard yesterday. By targeting European media, China polishes its image and spreads its ideology and ideas more easily, in particular through the sponsoring of advertisements,” said UNPO Advocacy Officer Ms Lucia Parrucci.

But tensions in U.S.-Europe relations could curtail efforts to frame the global contest with China as a battle pitting Western liberal values against authoritarianism, argues Thomas P. Cavanna, a visiting assistant professor of strategic studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Beijing’s nascent Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) illustrates the transformative geopolitical implications of China’s rise and could threaten the very foundations of Washington’s post-WWII hegemony, he writes for the Diplomat:

  • First, its naval dimension works in synergy with overland projects that span regions of critical geostrategic value, taking advantage of China’s central position along the Eurasian rimland….to push the U.S. toward the periphery of the Eurasian rimland, thereby marginalizing its geostrategic influence.
  • Second, Beijing seeks to offset the United States’ military primacy. …. For all of its military initiatives, Beijing’s key priority is to make strategic gains by leveraging its superior geoeconomic assets: vast and fast-growing market, full state control over the economy, and massive financial reserves.
  • Third, to advance its interests, China exploits the cracks in U.S. post-Cold War hegemony. ……


“Sharp Power: The Growing Challenge to Democracy”

Speakers: Christopher Walker, vice president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy; Peter Mattis, research fellow in China studies, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation; Nile Gardiner, director of the Heritage Center for Freedom; and Helle Dale, senior fellow for public diplomacy at Heritage.

11 a.m.: June 6, 2018

Venue: Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Lehrman Auditorium, Washington, D.C.


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