China’s United Front Makes Landfall in Oz

Australia is supposed to be on its guard against infiltration by Beijing of its political system through the power of money, immigration or use of the huge mainland student body in the country to spread its propaganda and silence local Chinese antipathetic to Beijing and its calls for “patriotism” and ethnic solidarity.

However, the roots of the mainland’s United Front tactics go much deeper than an often-naïve Australian public cares to imagine. In the recent national election, the seat of Chisholm, a suburban area of Melbourne was won by a Chinese candidate for the conservative Liberal Party, Gladys Liu.

An immigrant from Hong Kong, Liu defeated another Chinese immigrant, the Labor Party’s Yang, an immigrant from Taiwan. The large number of recent mainland migrants in the district is believed to have played a significant role in Liu’s narrow win in a traditionally marginal seat where ethnic Chinese are about 20 percent of the population.

What was not known at the time was that Liu, who has been an Australian citizen since 1992, was also involved, until about two years ago, with the World Trade United Foundation, one of various United Front organizations backed by China’s Communist party. Liu has also been reported as involved in two other such organizations.

These links were not revealed before the election and Liu now claims to have forgotten about them. She has not however forgotten the pressure to bend to Beijing. She has repeatedly declined to describe as illegal China’s actions in the South China Sea, defying the 2016 decision of the Court of Arbitration in the Hague condemning China’s moves to take over almost the entire sea. In June she also expressed ignorance of the Hong Kong Extradition Bill, the issue behind three months of turmoil in the territory where she was born and educated.

With a narrow majority in parliament, Australia’s Liberal Party prime minister Scott Morrison rushed to Liu’s defense, suggesting that criticism of her because of her past links was anti-Chinese racism. For a party which itself has flirted with alliances with right wing extremists, this was a curious allegation as well as flying in the face of Australia’s policy of support for the Court of Arbitration ruling.

Liu’s own flirtation with racism is clear enough. She is on the record suggesting that other immigrants were “not as good as Chinese.” a remark as offensive to other migrants as the notorious 1947 claim by then Immigration Minister Arthur Calwell that “Two Wongs don’t make White.” Liu’s opponent Yang suggested that her remarks were similar to those of Australia’s notorious anti-immigrant campaigner, Pauline Hanson.

Liu also campaigned against Australia accepting more refugees. Family reunion, much favoured by Chinese, was more important. Such ethnic consciousness fits well with United Front tactics aimed at persuading all people of Chinese descent not only to maintain solidarity but to promote the interests of the PRC. As a member of the Liberal Party before being elected, she also pushed to liberalize curbs on foreign investment in agriculture and agricultural land in front of the Foreign Investment Review Board, which could have benefited Chinese ambitions at enhancing Beijing’s food security.

The United Front describes itself as a “global non-profit organization. Critics say the organization is Beijing’s wedge in enhancing its reputation and power by wielding influence on overseas Chinese. At its highest level, it is backed by Chairman Xi Jinping.

"The goal of China's United Front in the last decade is to serve China's rise, mobilize the outside world as much as possible, to serve China's interests and policies, especially the Belts and Roads Initiatives," Wu Qiang, a political analyst who has spent years monitoring China's United Front activities, told media in Australia.

This is, if it should not need saying, is a highly dangerous policy which sooner or later, will lead to backlashes in all countries with significant Chinese minorities but where national interests are opposed to those of a PRC anxious to extend its power in east Asia and beyond.