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September 29th 2016 print

Yan Xia

Beijing’s Running Dogs in Australia

As the editor of an independent Chinese-language media company in Australia, I know firsthand the pressure Beijing brings to bear on outfits that do not parrot the official line. For us it has meant intimidated advertisers and lost revenue. For many it amounts to a systematic brainwashing

china goosestepOur sales manager pulled me aside with a worried look and more bad news. “They are being harassed by the Ministry of State Security,” he said of the Beijing-based immigration agency that has been advertising in the Chinese-language media we produce here in Australia. My heart sank. Yet another long-term customer gone.

The immigration agent had been a loyal client, with us for three years, and enjoyed constant interest from readers eager to learn of his services. Now we had been informed that officials visited his Beijing office last month. His staff thought they were fraudsters and called the local police to throw them out. The police confirmed the visitors’ identities as agents of the Ministry of State Security, the agency in charge of counter-intelligence and political security. The immigration agent was forced to pull his advertisement from an “anti-China” newspaper. In other words, Vision China Times, where I am editor-in-chief.

Our lost client illustrates but one of the mounting pressures faced by independent Chinese media in Australia. Tensions have heightened over recent months, with Australia’s Chinese media under pressure to support President Xi Jinping and Beijing’s foreign policy. That pressure is part of China’s exercise in “soft power”.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of Chinese-language media in Australia. The first consists of those that rely on the Chinese government and Chinese commercial ties for revenue. These outlets tend to echo and take their cues from state-run mouthpieces. The second group consists of media directed by religious groups aiming to expose China’s political, educational and socio-economic situation while promoting human rights and religious freedom. The third is independent of any political and religious influence. its reporting is largely in line with the ideals of Western mainstream media and generally give an holistic view of Canberra’s policies and sentiments.

Our outfit belongs fits this last category. While independent media outlets are standard in the West, a one-party state cannot accept that media outlets “do not follow directives” and, by its reckoning, do damage to “national interests”. In China, national interests are synonyms for “the Party’s interests.”

In recent months it appears the Chinese government’s influence in Australia has become more open and, thus, more easily observed. For Chinese media platforms whose goal is to serve as the bridge between the Chinese community and the Australian mainstream, the challenge lies in reporting fairly and accurately on matters of conflict between the two countries. We choose to remain unyielding in our approach, reporting according to Western journalistic ideals. This has been tested during recent months, which have seen a deluge of articles examining issues that Beijing considers unpalatable. From the recent decision in The Hague rejecting Beijing’s claim to the South China Sea, the mooted sales of the Kidman properties and Ausgrid, and gala concerts honouring Mao, the varying coverage has highlighted the gulf between the approved narrative and the straightforward presentation of facts.

Do we kowtow to the Chinese government, like so many of our counterparts? Do we fall mute on matters that would otherwise prove detrimental to our commercial interests? How, most of all, do we keep our journalistic integrity intact while trying to reach the many of our readers whose pro-China political views remain staunch, despite their extended time overseas?

The tide is not in our favour. As Beijing’s soft power grows, increasing numbers of Australian politicians, Chinese community groups and Chinese media companies are becoming more reliant on commercial and political ties with China. Thus, news that touts pro-China views and agendas is becoming ever more pervasive among the local “mainstream” Chinese news sources.

For example, recently the Australian government’s disquiet at China’s behaviour has been drowned out by the tidal wave of local and international Chinese medias’ selective reporting. Thus did we see coverage of Chinese Melbournians protesting The Hague ruling, but little of Beijing’s dubious “right” to build man-made islands and then claim surrounding waters as its own. Likewise, coverage of Sam Dastyari’s bills being picked up by a company with Beijing ties has been muted. All this has resulted in confusion within the Chinese community, where many believe not only that Dastyari represents a respectable point view. This is taken to mean that there must be divisions in Canberra regarding the South China Sea dispute when such is not the case, as both the Coalition and Labor are of one mind on this matter.

The prevailing pro-China sentiment is rooted in Communist culture and ideology that have been relentlessly instilled over decades. State-run mouthpieces, such as XinHua News, perpetually propagate the notion to overseas Chinese that “without your country, you are nothing”. This gives rise to the conviction that, regardless of any foreign citizenship, expatriates cannot divorce themselves from the blood that runs in their veins. Hence, if China is not strong, expatriates are nothing in the eyes of their adopted countries and countrymen.

A significant proportion of Chinese-Australians personally experienced the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) where deeply rooted values were torn down and supplanted by a philosophy of fighting and struggle that continues top influence the thinking of younger Chinese. Many Chinese are also afflicted with the mentality of moral equivalence which argues that  “China is lacking in many respects, but the West isn’t any better.” This nationalistic sentiment is so firmly entrenched many Chinese are extremely averse to criticism of their country. Any media or journalist that is critical of the Chinese government is labeled as “anti-China”. This is in stark contrast with the West, where criticism of the government is natural and normal.

As a Chinese media outlet aiming to bridge the Australia-China cultural gap, we strive to encourage our readers to let go of the Communist culture and consider the values and ideals of the West, much of which is not vastly different from traditional Chinese values. We urge our readers to look at issues from different perspectives. For example, we wish our readers to consider if the Chinese government allow Australia to influence its education system, fund research, buy Chinese media and key infrastructure and fund political campaigns? Would it allow thousands to rally against its own foreign policies? What would happen to a Chinese official if he or she supported a foreign power on a policy that was contrary to China’s interests?

A recent report, commissioned by the largely pro-China Australian China Relations Institute, states that despite China’s influence over Chinese language media in Australia, expatriates are somewhat immune to localised propaganda, the logic being that educated migrants can seek out other sources when forming their views. I do not believe this applies to important issues, such as Australia-China relations. In my experience, most Chinese expatriates prefer to read news in their own language. If they want to obtain in-depth coverage of Australia-China relations, the main sources would be local Chinese newspapers, websites, WeChat and Weibo, most of which are now directly controlled or heavily influenced by Beijing. Even for Chinese migrants who have a good grasp of the English language and read Australian news publications, selective reading seems prevalent. For example, a relative who has lived in Australia for over 15 years and frequents various local and international English media outlets still sends me pro-China articles from Australian mainstream media. He also disparages those articles critical of China.

The Chinese government’s growing influence on local Chinese language media reinforces viewpoints that become even more entrenched over time, making it more difficult for Chinese readers to accept alternative perspectives. Recent disharmony within the Chinese community and dissatisfaction with the Australian government are manifestations of the extent of China’s influence on local Chinese media.

Despite our hardships at Vision China Times — the lost advertising revenue from that intimidated immigration agent being but one example — we consider it our duty to provide impartial news helping to bridge the cultural and political divide between the East and West. This duty cannot be shirked, but Beijing’s manipulation and meddling makes it no easy task.

Yan Xia is editor-in-chief of Vision China Times

 

Comments [16]

  1. Bill Martin says:

    The valid, informative nature of this article notwithstanding, there is an ironical aspect to it as well. It posits the scrupulous fairness and impartiality of the free western media and its practitioners. While there is no politburo directing the activities of western news organisations and their journalists, the control over them is exercised by different powers, less obvious and even more insidious than the “soft power” of the Chinese communist party. Think of Fairfax and the ABC, then of political correctness, multiculturalism, evil white males, the sanctity of indigenous culture, fear of islamophobia, etc. etc.

    • a propos says:

      Bill, I think the most important point the author makes, is not the internal “culture wars” , which Australian conservatives are losing to the progressively sanctimonious. The point the author makes is his alarm, albeit expressed in a cautious in a balanced way, about the increase of the influence of the totalitarian State (does not matter which one – all of them have similar tactics) on an internal policies of the established democracy, which Australia somehow remains. That is the point of profound concern – an infestation of our life with the bacillus of the totalitarianism.

      • Jody says:

        Ask Sam Dastayari for his comments!! He can be easily bought.

      • Warty says:

        I don’t think Bill misses the point you make, but his own point is equally valid. The control of our media, as a manifestation of Gramsci’s ‘long march’, is indeed more insidious. The seemingly more totalitarian control mainland China attempts to exert Mr Yan Xia’s paper appears to be driven by enormous insecurity, every bit as much as the grab for islands in the South China seas. On the other hand such insecurity is not to be sneezed at, as memories of the Cold War will confirm. Having an adversary with nuclear weapons is a rather intimidating form of insecurity.

  2. en passant says:

    The race is on: will the Chinese totalitarian empire enslave us, or will the jihadi guys & gals get there first?

    Fortunately, Mal the Magnificent is striding the world stage sorting it all out, even if he is totally blind to the insidious gangrene infecting Oz and its freedoms. That can happen when all you can see is your own reflection.

    Xa, you have done your country a great service, a much greater service than the apologist Turncoat, Robert, Dastyari or Wong combined, but expect no gratitude or help.

  3. Paul says:

    Thank you for having the courage to write this article. I had no idea.

    • Andrew Griffiths says:

      Correct Paul,this article has got me thinking,I have come across very pro Beijing opinion in some of my dealings of a minor nature with Chinese migrants.My local newsagent launched into a pro Chinese propaganda serve about US Marines serving in Darwin,my initial thought was where does she get this stuff? Now i can guess where it comes from.

  4. acarroll says:

    Thanks for writing this informative piece.

    While I sympathise with the author’s plight and their sincere efforts to provide nuanced and balance reporting, the issue of home-nation influence is quite frankly frustratingly predictable and has analogies in the Indian and Middle Eastern communities in Australia, i.e. a consequence of multicultural policy.

    The situation with Chinese living in Australia is significant however as I believe the claim that “without your country, you’re nothing” as a social phenomenon has legitimacy. Perhaps it’s not so much that you’re nothing, but you are *more* when your home nation is powerful. A strong, wealthy and confident China (a winning China) will provoke hubris in a significant portion of the Chinese population, whether in China or abroad, and this will have an impact on interactions with non-Chinese members of society.

    After 200+ years the majority of Australians still identify with and take lead from the European homelands, so why should any other group be any different? We and immigrant communities can try to integrate but it is a constant struggle against the biological yearnings for group solidarity and identity that’re provided by being around your own nation and the subsequent competition for limited resources between groups that ensues. Australia facilitates and exacerbates this expression by allowing ethnic enclaves to form. The only way — that looks somewhat like working — to avoid this is the Singapore model.

    Lee Kuan Yew said, “had the mix in Singapore been different, had it been 75% Indians, 15% Malays and the rest Chinese, it would not have worked”. Thus Singapore strives to keep its ethnic balance intact (majority Chinese), and engineers society to avoid conflict by allocating families to state housing residences (the majority of housing) in such a way that the ethnic mix matches the national demographic split. This is a totalitarian policy, but to achieve “equality” governments necessarily need to exercise totalitarian controls to bash down those groups and individuals who’re leaving the pack behind or separating from the pack.

    The policies that Singapore enforces if applied to keep Australia’s ethnic balance would of course be considered extremely racist by the Left and denounced by the UN, opportunistic foreign governments and quisling Western European and US governments.

    I think Australians and Europeans everywhere need to take “without your country, you’re nothing” to heart.

    We need to arrest and reverse the tsunami of immigration that is leading to totalitarianism and will inevitably wash away our identity, sovereignty and the futures of our children.

  5. Doubting Thomas says:

    Australian people with family still in China will always be vulnerable to pressure from China, just as people with family still in the former Warsaw Pact were vulnerable. I suspect that those vulnerable people would ever be likely to refer to the Chinese influence as “soft power”.

  6. Doubting Thomas says:

    AL1 ever=never.

  7. Ian MacDougall says:

    There is a brilliant old Chinese proverb: ‘Let the waters recede and the stones will emerge.’ I take it thus: ‘Let the muddy waters of confusion and ignorance recede, and the stones of truth will emerge.’
    Political parties and individual politicians propagandise from an inherently biased perspective, and are constantly ‘muddying the waters’. Thus Senator Sam Dastyari’s recent anticlarifying attempt involved him making pro-China comment on the disputed territories in the South China Sea.
    The article published during the election campaign quoted Senator Dastyari as saying: “The South China Sea is China’s own affair, Australia should remain neutral and respect China on this matter.”
    It is alleged that in return, Dastyari graciously allowed the Chinese government affiliated Yuhu group to slip him a financial consideration (ie “support for settlement of outstanding legal matter”.)
    Dastyari has clearly been embarrassed by the emergence of these stones, and had previously been very content with their remaining hidden.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-06/sam-dastyari-apologises-for-chinese-bill-deal/7819464

    • padraic says:

      I certainly don’t identify with or take lead from the European home lands, as per acarroll’s suggestion. My European antecedents came out 161 years ago, many as young children who grew up here. They never went back and we have no knowledge of any relatives over there. Succeeding generations grew up in a total Australian milieu and contributed to the fashioning of our identity, with those of different European ancestral ethnicities and religion intermarrying and ‘getting on’ with each other. I was one of the first to go to Europe and check it out in the 60′s and felt no affinity for any of them, apart from a shared language when in UK. I grew up in a country town where Irish priests and post-war English migrants were considered foreigners but descendants of Chinese miners who had come out in the goldrush were considered fellow Australians. I am tempted to agree with acarroll that the way to go in contemporary Australia with its massive mix of migrants is to follow the Singapore model. I have seen how it works, and it certainly prevents the ethnic ghettoes we have in Australia, and it differs little from our current qualified visa system for some migrants which insists they live in country towns and not in the big cities initially. That used to be the case for freshly qualified school teachers but there were no whinging, sanctimonious lefties in those days and common sense appeared to rule.

      • acarroll says:

        Padraic,

        Yet you speak English and follow a European culture, rather than e.g. Chinese, Indian or any other culture. Look at our politics (both left and right), media, fashion, business, science, music, education trends: they’re all direct imports or derivatives from Europe or European derived culture (USA). Our legal system still inherits from Britain and still refers to decisions made by courts in the UK.

        So when you claim that you don’t identify with or take the lead from European home lands, you’re looking at only very superficial differences. Australia is very much a European society, until it is no longer, and at that point it will be because European derived people will be a minority here, and/or the European homelands will no longer be majority European, and no longer influence our culture in the same significant way.

        • padraic says:

          Hi acarroll. I think we are on the same page. I was talking more about national identity and your emphasis is on culture. We can have the same basic culture (and I accept that)but have different identities. The Americans have our culture but they are proud of their distinct identity – that what makes them Americans. Well, we Australian native-borns have the same feeling. I have moved in and worked in various countries in the Anglo-Sphere and Commonwealth countries like India or some ex-British colonies in Africa where the English language and our judicial and political institutions are embedded in their contemporary governance model so that they have adopted elements of our culture but their identity is often defined by the retention of other elements of their traditional culture. I can accept that when some migrants who come to Australia don’t want to eat our type of food or get married our style etc, but it’s a bit rich when they don’t make an effort to speak English or abide by our laws enshrined in our democratic system. Those parts of our identity and some others are not for sale.

          • acarroll says:

            Yes I think we’re on the same page as well. And I agree that those parts of our identity should not be for sale (and indeed any healthy society would not have allowed the slide we see to happen), but unfortunately they are and they’re being sold off in a fire sale by the treacherous lot who’re “leading” us. Why that is the case, well, that’s almost beside the point now.

            We need to focus on what’s in the interest of Western people and culture, in each country and collectively, and frankly start taking a leaf out of “Rule Book for Radicals” to counter the nation-wrecking Left.