IN THE JOURNAL | GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES
Australia`s `Russia` problem? It`s China
January-March 2018
By: Rory Medcalf

Also disturbing are attempts to silence critical Chinese-Australian voices. Take the troubling case of Chongyi Feng, a highly regarded associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney, who was detained by Chinese authorities in March 2017 while on a visit funded by the Australian Research Council. Feng has explicitly identified his 10-day detention and interrogation as being an effort to “shut me down and set an example to dissenting views and critical voices among the Chinese diaspora and beyond.” This could be read as a crude signal of intimidation, telling Chinese-Australians not to criticize the Chinese Communist Party’s interference in Australian domestic affairs.

Professor Feng is an important voice – he demonstrates that it is not just Australia’s security agencies who are concerned about the Chinese Communist Party’s interference. Indeed, much of the worry about such influence is within Australia’s diverse Chinese communities. If, as a nation, Australia chooses to ignore such concerns, it will be effectively treating such dissenting voices among its Chinese-Australian population as second-class Australians, whose freedom of thought and freedom of expression do not warrant protection. That is why it is to the credit of the Australian government that it made representations regarding Feng’s case. It is fair to assume that his release was in large part a function of the public outcry over his detention, as well as Australian government pressure. The professor certainly believes so.

In the media space there is also cause for concern. Several leading Australian media outlets have signed distribution deals with the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda department. The Australian public can now enjoy censored and propagandist Chinese publications such as China Daily simply by looking at the attractive liftouts inserted into their copy of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age or The Australian Financial Review.

To be fair, this is not especially effective propaganda. It may even be a waste of Chinese government money, given that these same newspapers continue to publish objective and critical investigations into Chinese influence-buying. But it is disturbing to think that, in time, the business model of Australia’s venerable quality press will be propped up by such funds and that sooner or later the directness and incisiveness of their China reporting may become muted. After all, the sudden withdrawal of such funding could become an act of leverage and coercion.

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