This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Authorities in Australia have brought the country’s first prosecution against a person for colluding with a foreign government to interfere in its political life.
Former Liberal Party candidate Di Sanh Duong has been arrested and released on bail after being charged under the country’s foreign interference laws, Australian media reported.
Duong, 65, is reported to have sat on the board of the Australian branch of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification (CCPPR), an organization with links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s United Front outreach and influence program.
The official website of the CCP’s United Front Work Department carries news and announcements about the activities of CCPPR branches around the world.
Duong, who is also known by his Chinese name, Yang Yisheng, has been charged with “preparing an act of foreign interference within Australia.”
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the charge comes after a year-long investigation by the counter-espionage agency ASIO and the Australian Federal Police, and carries a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment.
Feng Chongyi, an associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), said the anti-interference laws already appear to have dampened pro-CCP fervor in Australia.
“Since then, the Chinese-language media have been very restrained, and even large-scale parades sponsored by the Chinese government, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival parade and the Lunar New Year parade have been called off during the past couple of years,” he said.
“There has been a fundamental change in the atmosphere, and in the fundamental ecology of Chinatowns, and even across the entire Chinese community here,” he said.
Last month, Liberal Party candidate Peter Zhuang, reportedly placed advertisements in Chinese newspapers asking for support on the basis of his Chinese ethnicity, ahead of a state election, prompting activists from the same party to speak out against his candidacy in the Brisbane seat of Stretton.
Zhuang, who moved to Australia in 2005, has previously called on Beijing to exert its influence from the South China Sea as far as northern Asia and Australia, reports said at the time.
Huang Fujing of the Values Alliance, which campaigns against Chinese influence, said Zhuang could be Beijing’s man.
“It is likely that this person surnamed Zhuang was sent here by the CCP, as part of its long-term strategy for the United Front overseas,” Huang said. “There are a lot of [people like that] who have turned up in Australia.”
“Australia has been among the areas hardest hit by CCP infiltration, but it has also been the first Western country to wake up to this,” he said.
But not all governments appear to be distancing themselves from Beijing.
The Victoria state government last year signed a framework agreement with China to join CCP general secretary Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road infrastructure program, sparking concerns of ongoing Chinese influence in the state, according to Chinese Australian Wu Lebao.
“That agreement means CCP infiltration into the Chinese community, with the aim of silencing any criticism of the CCP’s human rights record, or its Taiwan policy,” Wu told RFA in a recent interview.
“Neither the Australian federal government nor the state governments should be entering into this kind of relationship with the Chinese government,” he said.
Canberra last year said it would crack down on suspected Chinese Communist Party influencers in the country following the introduction of new laws targeting activities by lobbyists and agents of foreign governments in June 2018.
Citizenship application rejected
In February 2019, the authorities rejected the citizenship application of a prominent Chinese billionaire and revoked his permanent residency there over concerns about his ties to Beijing.
Huang Xiangmo had made donations of nearly U.S. $1.9 million to political parties in Australia over the five years prior to lodging his application.
Australian author and professor of public ethics Clive Hamilton argued in his book Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia, that the country’s elites, and parts of the country’s large Chinese-Australian diaspora, had been mobilized by Beijing to gain access to politicians, limit academic freedom, intimidate critics, gather information for Chinese intelligence agencies, and organize protests against Australian government policy.
Hamilton’s book was initially turned down by three publishers citing fears of reprisals from Beijing before finally being published in February 2018.
According to Reuters, the Chinese Communist Party was behind a massive cyber attack on the Australian national parliament ahead of May’s general election.
The agency cited the country’s cyber intelligence agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), as saying that Beijing was responsible for the attack on the parliament and the three largest political parties, and that it had originated with the Ministry of State Security in Beijing. The findings were initially kept secret to avoid damaging trade ties.