China ‘seeks to tilt our political landscape to its advantage’

March 22, 2018

The powerful US House Armed Services Committee in Washington has been told by Malcolm Turnbull’s former adviser, John Garnaut, how China has sought to brazenly manipulate Australian society to ‘tilt the political and strategic landscape to its advantage’.

This is something Australian Conservatives’ leader Cory Bernardi warned about last year.

The Australian newspaper reports, Mr Garnaut, who until recently was principal adviser on international affairs for Prime Minister and Cabinet, was invited by the committee to Washington to testify. The move was a sign of the growing awareness in Washington about Chinese interference in education, business, politics and media in both Australia and the US.

Mr Garnaut told the committee today that the issue of Chinese ‘interference’ had become an enormous counterintelligence and law enforcement challenge in Australia and the US.

“The Chinese Communist Party manipulates incentives inside our countries in order to shape the conversation, manage perceptions and tilt the political and strategic landscape to its advantage,” Mr Garnaut told the committee.

“The modus operandi is to offer privileged access, build personal rapport and reward those who deliver. We know this is happening in universities, in business communities, in ethnic Chinese communities, in media and entertainment, and in politics and government.

“But wherever covert, coercive, or corrupting elements are involved — when legitimate and transparent forms of influence cross the line into harmful ‘interference’ — then we need to respond.”

He said shutting down this interference was “primarily a counterintelligence and law enforcement challenge — an enormous one.”

Mr Garnaut a former China correspondent who also worked as a senior adviser to Mr Turnbull was speaking to the committee in his capacity as a consultant on strategic issues involving China.

 “Under the uncompromising leadership of President Xi Jinping, China’s activities have become too brazen and aggressive to continue to ignore,” Mr Garnaut said. “A re-evaluation is taking place in half a dozen established democracies around the world, including Australia and the United States. Many more are entering the conversation.”

He told the committee the challenge for Australia and other Western democracies was to “shore up the vulnerabilities of our open, multicultural, democratic systems in order to push back against authoritarian interference.”

In Australia, he said the Turnbull Government was developing a counter-interference strategy, including criminal provisions against political interference and espionage, that was “built upon the principles of sunlight, enforcement, deterrence and capability.”

“But this is only the very early stages of a difficult struggle to reinforce the integrity of our democratic processes,” Mr Garnaut said.

To read Cameron Stewart's complete article in The Australian, click here.

To watch Senator Bernardi's speech to the Senate about Chinese influence in Australian politics, click the box below:

Picture: Chinese President XI Jinping

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