Via the ABC:
A local Sydney council bowed to pressure from the Chinese Government and banned an Australian-owned media company from sponsoring an event because it was critical of the Communist Party.
A joint investigation by Four Corners, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald obtained documents showing how Chinese consular officials issued at least eight warnings over 12 months to the Georges River Council over its dealings with Vision China Times, a Chinese-language media organisation.
The newspaper has been repeatedly harassed because it publishes information in Mandarin that is critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
Vision China Times advertisers based in China were threatened by Chinese officials, including intelligence agents, and forced to pull their advertising.
The clear case of Chinese interference in Australia comes after the joint Four Corners and The Age/SMH investigation also exposed ties between Communist Party-linked businessmen and senior Australian politicians.
Vision China Times manager Maree Ma says her paper has come under attack because it does not toe the Communist Party line.
“The Chinese consulate don’t like any media outlets that they cannot have some sort of control over,” she said.
The newspaper had been listed as a sponsor for the 2018 Chinese New Year celebrations hosted by the Georges River Council. The council area, in Sydney’s south, is home to one of Australia’s largest populations of Chinese-Australians.
But on January 17 last year, a consul official wrote to the council warning “we have noticed a politically anti-China media named Vision China Times has been listed as an event supporter”.
“We have attached great importance to our cooperation with the Georges River City Council and hope there will be no change to the policy of the Georges River Council on supporting the development of Australia-China relationship,” the consul official said.
That same day, Vision China Times had its sponsorship banned by the council.
A council administrative officer emailed the Chinese consulate to confirm the move.
“Council respects and values the relationship with the Consul General and also the development of the Australia-China relationship,” the email stated.
Fresh warnings from Chinese consulate
This year the consulate issued fresh warnings to the council in the lead-up to the Chinese New Year event.
According to council files obtained under freedom of information legislation, the warnings included a December 4, 2018 memo:
“This morning I had a call from [a Chinese consulate employee] to remind us that he would like to keep a friendly relationship between China and New South Wales,” the memo said.
“He wanted to make sure that there were no embarrassing situations this year and re-iterate their position involving anti-China groups.”
The next month, on January 7, 2019 another memo stated:
“The Chinese consulate phoned… to remind Council of the delicate issues around this anti-China group…”
Vision China Times manager Ms Ma had earlier confronted councillors at a public meeting, demanding to know if and why some had buckled to threats from the CCP.
“We are clear about the pressures we face as an independent Chinese media. We are also clear of the possible pressures this council can come under from foreign agents,” she told the council.
“However, council events are to serve the local community.
“These are not international exchanges. We believe council should be making decisions in the interests of the local community, not foreign governments.”
Late last year Georges River Council decided to allow Vision China Times to sponsor this year’s Lunar New Year event, prompting another call from the Chinese consulate.
According to the notes, a council officer wrote on February 1 this year:
“I received a call from … the Office of the Chinese Consul General,” they wrote.
“The Chinese Consul General was disappointed that Georges River Council would include anti-Chinese political groups in the Lunar New Year event… As a consequence, the CCG [Chinese Consul General] will not attend the Lunar New Year event. [The Chinese consulate employee] expressed his desire to meet with Council… to discuss.”
Australian sinologist Dr Geremie Barme warns that China’s Communist Party is increasingly seeking to control what Chinese nationals see at home and abroad.
“The Chinese Communist Party … believes that the only way to maintain stability … is not only through police and political action, but also by having people, if they don’t agree with you at least be silent,” Dr Barme said.
More from the ABC:
Two Australian residents have revealed they were interrogated by Chinese officials seeking information about a secret investigation into China’s influence in Australia that was launched by then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The Chinese government intelligence agents were especially keen to press the pair for information about John Garnaut, who was appointed by Mr Turnbull to head up the top-secret investigation with ASIO in 2016.
The investigation was looking into Beijing’s interference in Australia.
One of the men, a former Chinese government official-turned blogger, Yang Hengjun, has been detained in China since January and has so far been denied access to a lawyer.
A joint investigation by Four Corners, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald can reveal details of the interrogations both men faced over the classified report.
Writer and academic Feng Chongyi has revealed Chinese intelligence officials detained him for several days in China in 2017 and interrogated him about his dealings with Mr Garnaut.
He says they wanted to know “in every detail” what Mr Turnbull’s adviser was doing.
“They knew a lot about him. During the interrogation, they did not hide that they were angry with him,” he said.
Dr Feng says in his final interrogation session, Chinese security officials threatened him with criminal charges in China if he disclosed the details of his interrogation — including their interest in Mr Garnaut.
Mr Garnaut says the interrogation — conducted in the midst of his investigation for the Federal Government — “seems to add an extra layer of contempt” by Beijing for Australian sovereignty.
The joint investigation can reveal that in 2018, Mr Yang — who is also an Australian citizen — was allegedly intercepted and questioned by Chinese officials in Sydney when he was on his way to meet Mr Garnaut.
Mr Garnaut says the officials were intensely interested in his activities on behalf of the ASIO investigation.
“[They questioned Mr Yang] about me, what was the nature of our relationship, what was I doing, what was I working on,” Mr Garnaut said.
On January 19, Mr Yang was detained by Chinese intelligence officials when he flew from the US to Guanghzou. He has been accused of endangering state security and is being held at a “residential detention” facility.
Yang’s wife risks safety to speak out
Mr Garnaut has urged the Federal Government to do more to secure the release of Mr Yang.
“I’d like to, at the very least, see some really strong statements about what this is, and why the importance of Yang to the Australian community, the Australian society,” he said.
Mr Yang’s wife Xiaoliang Yuan has been banned from leaving China and has risked her own safety to speak out from Shanghai and urge the Federal Government to help free her husband.
“I think at least the Australian Government officials should care for its citizens’ wellbeing when they are overseas, should show their concern. But I now feel like, to be honest, I have been very disappointed,” she said.
“It gets harder as time passes. You just can’t see him. I would have felt better if the lawyers could see him and verify that he is alright. There is absolutely nothing we can do at the moment.
“I just want him to come home safely.”
‘Unprecedented level’ of foreign interference
Liberal MP Andrew Hastie says all Australians should fight for Mr Yang’s release.
“Mr Yang is an Australian citizen. He enjoys the rights and responsibilities of Australian citizenship. And so his detention, in a sense, is a detention of us all. We’re all Australian citizens. How could we guarantee that we wouldn’t be detained if we went to China?” he said.
In the most strident comments yet about Beijing from the Federal Government, Mr Hastie has issued a warning about China’s influence in Australia.
“We’ve had multiple briefings at the top secret level from ASIO and other agencies that foreign interference is being conducted in Australia at an unprecedented level,” he said.
Mr Hastie chaired the parliamentary committee on intelligence and security that pushed through new counter-interference reforms last year.
“There are several authoritarian states who are involved in foreign influence across the globe. But in Australia the Chinese Communist Party is probably the most active,” he said.
“China is seeking to influence our elites, particularly our political and business elites, in order to achieve their strategic objectives.”
The investigation between Four Corners and The Age/SMH has already revealed some of the Beijing-backed political activity taking place in Australia and how China has sought to silence critics here.
Attorney-General Christian Porter says providing consular assistance to Mr Yang has “proved somewhat difficult” but Australian officials are doing all they can to assist the detained Australian.
- halve immigration;
- actively promote trade diversity away from China;
- boost ANZUS;
- push back hard in the South Pacific, and
- inject new rules into tertiary sector supporting free speech, cultural balance and national interest technology transfer.
He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.