Chinese meddling vastly greater threat than Russian interference, author says
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 1, 2018
Chinese meddling in the Pacific that includes efforts to influence Americans is a vastly greater threat than Russian interference, says the author of a new book on communist infiltration in Australia.
“Silent Invasion: How China Is Turning Australia into a Puppet State,” by Clive Hamilton, a well-known ethics professor at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, was released on Monday. It alleges a campaign of espionage and influence by China that is attempting to undermine the U.S.-Australian alliance.
“Compared to the Russian operations the Chinese are much more serious,” Hamilton said in a phone interview Monday, referring to Russia’s efforts to influence U.S. presidential elections. “China has a vastly greater capacity to interfere and influence U.S. politics and society. It’s already happening, and there is a growing awareness that China is a real problem in the long term.”
Two major publishers passed on “Silent Invasion” citing fear of lawsuits spurred by the Chinese government, according to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.
News reports have revealed some huge successes for Chinese spies in the United States in recent years.
Documents released in 2015 by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed that Chinese hackers penetrated Lockheed Martin in 2007 and stole 50 terabytes of data — the equivalent of five Libraries of Congress.
The spies got their hands on information about the B-2 stealth bomber, the F-22 Raptor stealth jet, nuclear submarines and schematics for America’s newest and most expensive stealth fighter, the F-35 Lighting II.
An Australian contractor working on the F-35 and the P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane that keeps tabs on Chinese maritime activity in the Far East was also hacked by the Chinese, Hamilton said.
“As soon as Australia agreed to buy the F-35 we became a target of military hackers in China,” he said. “Bizarrely, Australian universities are engaged in research collaborations with the Aviation Industry Corporation of China, the main supplier of military aircraft to [China’s air force] … it’s a sign of just how naïve we are.”
Some experts speculate that the new Chinese military aircraft Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31 Falcon Hawk, which looks a lot like the F-35, are based on the U.S. designs.
In 2015, the Office of Personnel Management warned federal workers that the Chinese government had stolen sensitive information — including fingerprints, medical records and computer passwords — belonging to 22.1 million U.S. government employees and contractors and their friends and families.
China’s economy, which is 10 times as big as Russia’s, gives it the capacity to exert enormous influence, Hamilton said.
“China is a rising hegemonic power with the capacity to challenge the U.S., whereas Russia is behind economically,” he said.
In Australia, Chinese operatives have infiltrated Australian politics, business, academia and the media, Hamilton said.
“They promote the view that China is Australia’s destiny,” he said. “That we are economically dependent on them and we must not do anything to upset Beijing because trade and investment come before anything else.”
Beijing organizes complimentary press tours to China for Australian journalists in which “they’re wined and dined and worked up” and “write glowing accounts of the new China” when they return, Hamilton said. The tours are organized by the All-China Journalists Association, an official operation under the wing of the Communist Party.
Australia’s ABC television network reported last year that Chinese state-run media paid to insert content in major Australian newspapers and that Chinese television broadcasters cooperated with Australian television channels to produce children’s shows and current affairs.
A substantial number of military scientists from the People’s Liberation Army are working in Australia and collaborating with Australian scientists on research projects, some of which have military applications, Hamilton said.
“Australian scientists are doing research that is helping to improve the fighting capability of the People’s Liberation Army,” he said.
Wealthy Chinese businessmen are major donors to Australia’s main political parties, and many politicians are in debt to the Chinese, Hamilton said.
Australian corporations have reaped massive profits selling minerals to China in recent years. China’s trade with Australia reached $145 billion last year, according Chinese data quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Corporations have become the chief apologists for China in Australia, Hamilton said.
“They say human rights don’t matter and we need to change our national strategy and accept Chinese government interference in our politics,” he said.
The outspoken academic’s views aren’t shared by everyone in Australia.
Hamilton was branded a “foolish attention seeker” on Friday by political columnist Graham Richardson of The Australian newspaper.
Billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, whose iron ore mining company Fortescue is a major exporter to China, complained about Hamilton’s “immature commentary” during an Australia-China Business Council dinner in Perth on Thursday, The Australian reported.
Forrest characterized China as an ally and said the debate over its role in Australia is fueling “distrust, paranoia and a loss of respect.”
Australia and China have a long history of working together economically and even militarily during the first and second world wars, he said, according to the newspaper.
Pro-China lobbying hasn’t deterred the Australian government from pushing back against foreign interference.
In December, it introduced legislation that would register people acting on behalf of a foreign power and increase penalties for treason, espionage and spying.
It’s likely that Australia’s government will want to work closely with the U.S. military in the Pacific to push back against, for example, Chinese operations in the South China Sea, Hamilton said.
That could mean Australian warships involved in the sort of freedom-of-navigation operations that the U.S. Navy has conducted near disputed islands where China is building military facilities, he said.
The U.S. and Australia have already signaled an increase to the Marine Corps presence in Australia’s northern port of Darwin, although details about this year’s rotation have yet to be released.
However, China shouldn’t have much difficulty keeping tabs on the rotation when it begins. In 2015, the Australian government granted a Chinese company with links to the People’s Liberation Army a 99-year lease on port facilities in Darwin.