If there’s one country that is subverted the most through democratic ways and processes, it is Australia. Using free speech and through power, Australian system was undermined. This is not even an understatement.
When Federal Government of Australia said “no” to Belt & Road Initiative, China was hurt and considered it an insult. So, China made its moves to teach Australia a lesson. It made an infrastructure funding offer to Premier of a Province of Australia that one can’t refuse. All it needs to do is, override Australian Federal Government policy and join BRI. And it happened. In 2018, premier Daniel Andrews signed Memorandum of Understanding with China. Premier was even boasting about it. As per TheGuardian.com news report, Premier said, “In four years we have more than tripled Victoria’s share of Chinese investment in Australia and nearly doubled our exports to China. We said we’d reboot our relationship with China and we’re getting it done.”
Mind you, in Australia, Premier is like a Chief Minister of India. Final authority on Foreign policy is Federal Government, like our Union Government. So, this invited problems, for the Premier. Coalition partners raised concerns. While nobody is against investments that would come into the Province, Premier was asked just one question. That is, “Why is only Victoria overriding Federal Government’s Foreign Policy?” PM Scott Morrison had warned Premier Daniel Andrews, “Victoria was stepping into federal government policy territory.” There is no closure to this issue, just yet.
It all started few years before Premier Andrews with former Premier John Brumby of Labor Party in Victoria. On 27th July 2007, quite dramatically, the then Premier Steve Bracks announced his retirement from politics, citing family reasons. Quite dramatic. Few hours later, Deputy Premier John Thwaites also announced his resignation. Three days later, he was elected unopposed as leader.
Thus, Premier John Brumby. Three years later, he resigned from Parliament. Fast forward by 3 years. What is interesting is that the former Premier took up an assignment at a University. While Premier Andrews took care of the party. Making groundwork for his Premiership few years later. Post-resignation former Premier Brumby took up some very interesting assignments. Apart from openly advocating and professing a pro-China stand, he also took up key assignments in Universities that got huge amounts of Chinese funding. Especially, Monash University & University of Melbourne. University of Melbourne received donations under Australia – China Science Research Fund (ACSRF). The same ACSRF was announced by no less than Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in 2017 during his visit. Former Premier Brumby later became President of Australia – China Business Council (ACBC). And, icing on the cake, became a Director of Huawei. Until recently, Brumby was batting for Huawei 5G in Victoria. Until PM Scott Morrison unleashed his federal powers after US Secretary of State Pompeo warned about using Huawei in any networks of Australia which would invite all the communications channels with US to close. After futile efforts, Brumby resigned from Huawei in February 2019.
News reports of May & June suggest that Victoria has also been accused of undermining Federal Government’s response to Wuhan virus pandemic. As recent as 1st August 2020, there are reports that Premier Daniel Andrews is busy fighting controversy over irregularities in hotel quarantine during the pandemic. Some recent media reports in The Age suggest that the Government of Victoria under Premier Andrews might face unintended consequences due to this. That would be one more step towards cleaning Chinese influence in Victoria.
The 99-year lease of the most strategic port of Darwin in Norther Territory turned controversial. The aftermath of the bid was messy. While it is now known that the Shandong Landbridge Group’s subsidiary in Australia Landbridge Group’s bid value is A$506Mn, not much is known about the competitors – European & American bidders. China ultimately won the bid. So, how did China pull this off? A loophole based on spirit of democracy. Per Senate Committee of 2016, Federal Investment Review Board (FIRB) for review. But, it was never formally investigated. Because, law doesn’t require formal review when a State or Territory is involved with a private company. This was a simple rule in the spirit of trust exploited by China. Thanks to PM Scott Morrison, Australia changed this exemption in 2016. In the recently concluded AUSMIN talks last week, it has been decided that there’d be a US funded military fuel storage facility in Darwin Harbor, as Darwin port is leased to Chinese company. It’s up to Chinese if they want to still stay there for next nine decades.
Subversion of free speech
All the above, this all happened through completely democratic process. Then comes the curious case of Chinese students. Just like in the US, Chinese students when in Australian Universities, are used as diplomatic weapon by local Chinese diplomats. Here they have a different role. Like, pushing CCP’s narrative on political matters like Taiwan, Uyghurs & others. For example, in 2017, an Indian Professor of Sydney University, had to apologise for showing map of India. Why? Because Chinese students disputed that some of the regions are of China’s. So much so, that on 70th Independence Day Chinese students in Sydney drove luxury cars across popular places in the city.
In May 2020, Mr Drew Pavlou was suspended from University of Queensland for two years following a disciplinary hearing that examined allegations of misconduct linked to his oncampus activism. What activism? He supported Hong Kong protests and criticized Chinese Communist Party. It only ended up scrutinizing more UQ’s record. From funding of top executives of the University to leaking controversial course materials online. UQ ended up doing more damage to itself, than it tried to prevent for Beijing. As per News.com.au reports, the involvement of Confucius Institute – CCP’s propaganda arm – in funding & designing courses is significant. While it helped Beijing narrative to be peddled through University of Queensland, it didn’t last. Australian High Commissioner to UK George Brandis replied to British MP Andrew Rosindell on this matter expressing that events in UQ “greatly saddens” as it is also his alumnus. Of course, there were online outrage too. To this day.
To think of using students & Universities as a pawn to further your political agenda is something no civilized country would do. But, CCP should think twice before doing such things. Do remember, even in democratic countries, we can treat such acts by ‘students’ as waging war against sovereign nations. If say, a significant number of them are taken in for questioning and subversive acts, how long would it take before it creates uproar in Weibo? Would the single kid parents be able to take the hit? Would the friends of those who are being taken in be affected and would turn against CCP for not helping? This is surely going to backfire in near future.
There have been some elements in Australian media as well which pally around with Communist Party. Take for example the media coverage went full on anti-PM Scott Morrison when the bushfires were happening, look at the coverage. Thanks to tycoons like Andrew Forrest who tried to pull a fast one for CCP, at the cost of embarrassing Australian Health Minister by helping Chinese Counsel General gatecrash a press conference that the Minister was supposed to address. A Chinese diplomat gate-crashing. When Federal Government said that Google & Facebook must pay media houses for sharing their content on their platforms, they are right. This is only language that tech companies understand and stop giving free leverage to Confucius thoughts in democratic societies.
Strategic response by Australia
Strategically, the Chinese communist party threat has brought Australia closer to its other neighbours. Taking all the security objectives into account, PM Scott Morrison started working on “2016 Australian Defense Whitepaper” & more importantly also made it a point to back it up with funds. Four years & a Pandemic later, “Australia Defence Strategic Update 2020” was released recently. With a huge hike from the earlier announced budget boost of A$270Bn for investments over next 10 years. Apart from weapons, what interests is the transformation outlined for Australian Army – to a more US Marines kind of role for the future.
Australian Defence Minister recently announced, “I am open to exploring the trilateral cooperation with India, Indonesia & other countries in our region.” This is significant and adds more teeth to Indo-Pacific alliance. It is worth noting two points here. A) Indonesia said recently that it wants to buy Austria’s entire Typhoon fighter fleet. B) Times of India reported last week that India might be interested to sell Brahmos to Indonesia. Meanwhile, Philippines & Vietnam are already in talks with India for the same. In due course, Australia would indeed be part of QUAD participating in Military Exercises. To take it further Solomon Yue, Vice Chairman & CEO at Republicans Overseas, RNC, in his interview to Epoch Times answering a question about threat of China in Australia said that, India & Japan might be invited to join the Five Eyes (FVEY) alliance. To make it Seven Eyes. He didn’t give a timeline for this though. Not sure if India is interested in this either.
Australia has additional responsibility of taking care of Pacific Islands & prevent them from falling into debt trap of China. It is here, that India can help diplomatically, via Fiji. India can play a crucial role here in alliance with Australia. Meanwhile, US is contemplating about opening training facilities at Guam for Air Forces of India, Australia & Japan. If it happens it’ll send an important message to Australia’s partners in South East Asia & Pacific regions. It is to keep a close eye on dynamic scenarios emerging in South Pacific Islands too. It is in the above context that PM Scott Morrison spoke specifically about capabilities in areas such as long-range strike weapons, cyber capabilities and area-denial systems to maintain regional peace & stability. PM Scott Morrison is a blessing for Australia and is a great ally for India against China and beyond in the region.