Just Because I have a Moderate View on China doesn’t Make me a Beijing Stooge

The ongoing media coverage and public commentary on the influence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Chinese Communist party’s (CCP) interference in Australia has put Chinese-Australians in the spotlight like never before.

The Australian and Chinese flags outside the Australian Parliament House in Canberra

Unfortunately the way in which the discussion has taken place has convinced many Australians to question the loyalty of Chinese-Australians to Australia. While it may not be the intention of those raising these issues, it is having an adverse effect on Chinese migrants, international students from the PRC and last but not least, Australians of Chinese heritage.

Like many of my Chinese-Australian peers, tensions between Australia and China put me in a precarious and uncomfortable position. When Australia-China relations go pear-shaped, Chinese-Australians have the most to lose because we would be forced into a position where we have to choose between our homeland and heritage.

The federal government’s proposed foreign interference legislation and subsequent media coverage on foreign political donations from business leaders with links to the PRC government and/or the Chinese Communist party has led many to question the role of Chinese-Australians in Australian politics and democracy.

Some Chinese-Australians are concerned the foreign donations scandal will label all future Chinese-Australians interested in participating in Australian politics as agents of influence for the CCP while others claim PRC influence within Australian political parties is stopping Chinese-Australians with anti-PRC views from entering Australian politics.

Commentary on community organisations such as Chinese Students and Scholars Association and the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China has added further question marks to the role of Chinese-Australian community organisations. And in response to media coverage in Australia, Chinese state media has issued a “red alert” advising students not to enrol in Australian higher education institutions while delegations from the PRC have cancelled visits to Australia.

I, like many Australians, am concerned about foreign influence and interference from foreign powers including the People’s Republic of China. But when the debate in Australia targets the PRC specifically, Chinese-Australians, international students and migrants from the PRC can be prone to demonisation and discrimination.

We have seen very few Chinese-Australians speak publicly on these issues. Rather than community leaders and representatives driving the discussion, the debate has been largely dominated by academics, journalists and thinktanks. The public discussion has evolved to a point where those with a more balanced, moderate or positive view of the PRC are labelled as “CCP sympathisers”, “Beijing trolls”, “CCP stooges” and “panda huggers”.

The fear and anxiety of being identified as “pro-PRC” has discouraged many Chinese-Australians from speaking out and participating in the discussion. For those with opposing views, fear of retaliation from the PRC has been a core factor in their reluctance to share their opinions openly.

Journalists, academics, politicians and commentators need to consider the cultural complexities and nuances surrounding Chinese-Australian communities. Accurate reporting and balanced portrayal of community sentiments are important in this debate because they have an effect on how mainstream Australian society views Chinese-Australians as a whole.

In my view, Clive Hamilton’s book Silent Invasion is heavily favoured by the way in which he highlights perspectives from certain pockets of Chinese-Australians who are concerned about the PRC meddling in their lives and their ability to exercise democratic rights, and then underrepresents others such as myself who want a healthier, more productive and open relationship with the PRC.

Those who have long held anti-PRC and anti-CCP positions such as the Australian Values Alliance, pro-Taiwan, Tibet, Uyghur independence, democracy advocates and Falun Gong form one section of Chinese-Australian views.

While I recognise these perspectives, there are also those who believe in building a more robust and closer bilateral relationship with the PRC. Having a moderate view of the PRC doesn’t make me and others stooges of the CCP or members of the “fifth column”.

While it is important to ensure the PRC does not unlawfully interfere in Australia’s institutions and domestic affairs, it is equally important to ensure the views of Chinese-Australians are not vilified.

Commentary from all sides has revolved around accusations towards each other rather than identifying solutions in moving forward. The debate should not be fixated on name-calling and accusations but conducted in an open discussion to identify solutions to respond to PRC influence and CCP interference and to ensure the diverse views of all Chinese-Australians are recognised.

Such open discussions will provide much needed awareness and education to the Australian public to avoid misperceptions and generalisations of Chinese-Australians. Due to its complexities and sensitivities, commentators and policymakers need to think through solutions systematically and not develop policies on the run.

Before we do that, all Chinese-Australian voices should be considered equally to ensure we can participate fully without judgement and are not disenfranchised as a result of PRC influence.

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