Chris Chappell is the host of New York’s China Uncensored, an online show that entertains while reporting on China. Says Chappell of his show, “I like humour and really ultimately I think that it’s a better way to get information across. It is more entertaining to watch. It sort of makes a bitter pill easier to take.” As China increases its global influence, how should the West respond? Are Western countries kowtowing too much? What does modern China really want? As President Xi Jinping installs himself as perpetual leader, what should we expect? On a visit to Australia, Chris Chappell addressed The Sydney Institute on Monday 19 March 2018

CHINA’S GROWING INFLUENCE ON THE WEST – AND ITS POLITICS 

CHRIS CHAPPELL

Hi, welcome to The Sydney Institute, I’m your speaker Chris Chappell. For the last six years, I’ve hosted an American TV show called China Uncensored. We use humor to talk about what’s happening in China, and how that affects the world. In that time we’ve discussed enough China topics to fill 1,000 episodes. But since I only have half an hour tonight, I’ve decided to cut it down to just the terrifying highlights.

We’ve discussed enough China topics to fill 1,000 episodes. But since I only have half an hour tonight, I’ve decided to cut it down to just the terrifying highlights.

China’s influence in the West is growing. And the Chinese Communist Party, which rules China with an iron fist, is using Australia and New Zealand to test out tactics they plan to use around the world to influence politics, and undermine democratic societies. The New York Times says, “China has long treated Australia as a laboratory for soft power experiments.”

That’s right: China chose you to experiment on. Congratulations. And that’s why I’ve made the trip here from New York.

But what does all this mean? Well, tonight I’m going to give you a little insight into the Chinese Communist Party, and I’ll talk about how they wage what they call “unrestricted warfare” against Western countries, including Australia.

All countries want influence. But the Chinese Communist Party is different. Both in methods and goals. If we hope to understand this, we need to understand the nature of the Chinese Communist Party. Because it operates in a fundamentally different way from any other government in the world.

Historically, China was an incredibly powerful, influential country. Not just in Asia. Even as far away as Ancient Rome. Roman statesman Pliny the Elder, in his book Natural History, complained about the trade deficit Rome had with China because the Romans had an insatiable appetite for Chinese silk. So, for 2000 years the West has been complaining about the trade deficit with China – from Pliny the Elder to President Donald Trump.

It wasn’t just trade. People have always been inspired by Chinese culture. All you have to do is take a look at European attempts to imitate Chinese art in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Back then it was the West making cheap knockoffs of Chinese products. People would look at a vase and say, “Made in France, ugh.”

People have always been inspired by Chinese culture. All you have to do is take a look at European attempts to imitate Chinese art in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Of course in the modern era, China’s prestigious position in the world changed – after centuries of warfare, economic turmoil, and colonialism. And then, in 1949, the Communist Party “liberated” China. It liberated people from their land, their wealth, and in many cases their lives. Mao Zedong launched a systematic campaign to annihilate traditional Chinese culture and replace it with the culture of the Communist Party – a culture of struggle.

Under Mao Zedong, violent struggle became the cornerstone of Chinese society. Children against parents, wives against husbands, students against teachers and, of course, Communism against the free world.

Under Mao Zedong, violent struggle became the cornerstone of Chinese society. Children against parents, wives against husbands, students against teachers and, of course, Communism against the free world.

It’s been a long time since Mao. And, on the surface, it seems like China has changed. There are no more Red Guards. In Shanghai, you can pay for your Big Mac on your iPhone on the way to the next Avengers movie.

But, behind it all, the Communist Party is still there. And it controls the government, the courts and even businesses. And, unlike other bad parties, this one – you can’t leave. And if you try, things can get pretty unpleasant, pretty fast.

The Chinese Communist Party has not fundamentally changed. It’s still an authoritarian state that attempts to control every aspect of society – including the economy. It maintains its philosophy of struggle. And its war against the free world has never ended.

The Chinese Communist Party has not fundamentally changed. It’s still an authoritarian state that attempts to control every aspect of society – including the economy. It maintains its philosophy of struggle. And its war against the free world has never ended.

That’s not me saying that. That is top Chinese military leaders openly saying that.

That’s not me saying that. That is top Chinese military leaders openly saying that.

In 1999, two colonels from the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, coined the term “unrestricted warfare”. In fact, they wrote a book called Unrestricted Warfare. It describes how a country like China could rival the West. They said, “The first rule of unrestricted warfare is that there are no rules, with nothing forbidden.”

Like after hours at a bar in Kings Cross.

Unrestricted warfare is a war without a single shot fired. The PLA book says that “the struggle for victory will take place on a battlefield beyond the battlefield.”

But the goal is the same as any war. The Chinese Communist Party wants to become the world’s primary superpower and primary influence on other nations. I hope you like Chinese food.

But, seriously, for a regime that’s secretive about everything – from pollution levels, to state executions, to even basic economic data – they’ve been surprisingly transparent about their goal to become a superpower. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has openly spoken about it.

Again, all countries want influence but remember, the Chinese Communist Party is not a normal government. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation – ASIO – recently revealed they consider the Chinese Communist Party an extreme threat, and the level of espionage and foreign interference in Australia is worse now than at the height of the Cold War.

Which, if you have forgotten, was not a pleasant time.

The Chinese Communist Party’s unrestricted warfare has several components. Today I’m going to focus on how unrestricted warfare uses propaganda and censorship, economic interests, and political and academic infiltration.

Propaganda

Let’s start with propaganda. As you may know, the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in a global propaganda campaign. One goal is to promote a positive view of China and it’s happy-go-lucky authoritarian regime. If that doesn’t work, then their goal is censorship – to marginalise and suppress critical voices. Like mine. And maybe yours

.As you may know, the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in a global propaganda campaign. One goal is to promote a positive view of China and it’s happy-go-lucky authoritarian regime.

The Chinese regime spends $10 billion a year on overseas propaganda. That includes things like all-expenses paid, red carpet trips to China for Australian politicians and journalists. I’m going to guess those tours don’t include labor camps.

Their propaganda budget also goes to paying Western media companies, like the New York Times and Fairfax, to put articles from Chinese state-run media in their own newspapers and on their websites. Which apparently is legal.

The Party also buys up Chinese-language media in Australia and around the world. They want to make sure they report correctly on the Party’s benevolent rule.

But propaganda doesn’t end with the media. A key part of the Communist Party’s influence operations is the United Front Work Department. Remember that name, because we’ll be coming back to it. The United Front is a top level branch of the Communist Party. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has called it the Communist Party’s magic weapon. He’s a big Lord of the Rings fan.

How magical is this weapon? Here’s one example. There’s a group linked to the United Front called the China-United States Exchange Foundation. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars last year lobbying Congress about US-China relations.

There’s a group linked to the United Front called the China-United States Exchange Foundation. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars last year lobbying Congress about US-China relations.

According to Foreign Policy magazine, the group also cooperates on projects with influential US think tanks, like the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

These think tanks can have a big impact on US policy making. And a group linked to the Chinese Communist Party is working with them to shape how the West views the Chinese Communist Party.

Censorship

But if the all-expenses paid trips, state-run articles, and pro-Communist Party policy papers don’t work, then there’s the other side of the propaganda coin – censorship. And in the West, the Chinese Communist Party relies on applying just enough pressure to encourage self-censorship.

The Chinese Communist Party has a list of topics they don’t want discussed. Among the most sensitive are Tibet, Taiwan independence, and the Falun Gong spiritual group. So, what happens if you touch China in these sensitive zones?

The Chinese Communist Party has a list of topics they don’t want discussed. Among the most sensitive are Tibet, Taiwan independence, and the Falun Gong spiritual group. So, what happens if you touch China in these sensitive zones?

Overseas Chinese journalists have had their families back in China threatened. Scholars have been denied research visas. Western journalists have been kicked out of China. It doesn’t always happen. But it happens just enough to make people hesitate to cover these topics.

I’m sure many of you have heard of the book Silent Invasion, by Professor Clive Hamilton. It discusses in detail the ways the Chinese Communist Party has been infiltrating Australia. But Hamilton’s original publisher, Allen & Unwin, scrapped the book.

Censoring a book about Chinese censorship was not the best idea. Hamilton’s book was eventually released earlier this month by another publisher, Hardie Grant, showing that self-censorship has its limits.

Economic interests

Besides propaganda, the Communist Party’s unrestricted warfare is also carried out through exploiting Western economic interests. The United Front also plays a role here. In January, Clive Hamilton and researcher Alex Joske wrote about the United Front Work Department’s influence in Australia.

They said, “Many leading figures in the Australian business community now serve as megaphones for Beijing’s messaging to the Australian government and the wider public.” They also advise that the business community also fears “the risks of retaliation when statements are made that Beijing does not like”. Statements like “Taiwan is a country”. Or, “Pandas are fat”.

They also advise that the business community also fears “the risks of retaliation when statements are made that Beijing does not like”. Statements like “Taiwan is a country”. Or, “Pandas are fat”.

Corporate espionage

One of the biggest problems for companies entering China is corporate espionage. For years, Western companies have been eager to get into the Chinese market. What they don’t realise is that the Communist Party has a strategy: Why innovate, when you can just steal other people’s ideas?

This is not something the Party tries to hide. Intellectual property theft is literally written into their national economic plan. In 2007, they released a document called the National Technology Transfer Promotion Plan. They might as well call it, “How to Steal and Not Get Caught”.

Here’s how it works. Chinese military hackers steal a company’s intellectual property – and give it to a Technology Transfer Center. They reverse engineer the technology, and give it Chinese businesses. Then those businesses make cheaper knockoffs of those Western products.

Here’s how it works. Chinese military hackers steal a company’s intellectual property – and give it to a Technology Transfer Center. They reverse engineer the technology, and give it Chinese businesses. Then those businesses make cheaper knockoffs of those Western products.

That’s what happened to the Australian company Codan. One of their major products is metal detectors. ASIO discovered that a Codan employee’s laptop was hacked during a business trip in China. Blueprints for the company’s metal detectors were stolen, and cheap Chinese knockoffs flooded the market – still carrying the Codan logo.

But the Codan CEO said the Australian government was unwilling to help since, at the time, a free trade agreement with China was on the line. The company had to cut its prices in half. In one year, their net profits fell from $45 million to $9 million.

Apparently the free trade agreement is: China takes your stuff, for free. But don’t worry. Last year, Australia and China reached a deal: no more cyber intellectual property theft. And while they were shaking hands on it, China stole Australia’s watch.

How much do companies lose? Trillions. According to information security company BLACKOPS Partners, “U.S. companies and the U.S. economy lose approximately $5 trillion each year, or over 30 percent of the U.S. GDP,” to Chinese intellectual property theft.

Infrastructure investments

In addition to corporate espionage, the Party uses infrastructure investments. Like the One Belt, One Road Initiative. On the surface, it’s about building massive infrastructure projects around the world with the goal of facilitating global trade. Last year, Chinese leader Xi Jinping pledged to spend $124 billion on the plan.

On the surface, it’s about building massive infrastructure projects around the world with the goal of facilitating global trade. Last year, Chinese leader Xi Jinping pledged to spend $124 billion on the plan.

In the West, the Communist Party uses One Belt, One Road for both economic gain and political leverage. Take the case of Greece. Chinese state investment in Greek infrastructure has skyrocketed over the past several years – power grids, major ports, telecommunications. Actually, in similar areas as Australia.

Two years ago, after a controversial court ruling on the South China Sea, Greece –  coincidentally – sided with the Chinese Communist Party. They were one of only two EU countries to do so. Well, two countries plus Sam Dastyari. We’ll get to him in a moment.

Last June, in another move that had nothing to do with the Chinese Communist Party’s investments, Greece stopped the EU from condemning human rights abuses in China. The Party’s investments in Greece and other European countries have worried the EU – enough that they now want to screen Chinese investments that threaten national security. Things like, investing in power grids, major ports, and telecommunications.

Last June, in another move that had nothing to do with the Chinese Communist Party’s investments, Greece stopped the EU from condemning human rights abuses in China.

Using infrastructure investments and corporate espionage, the Chinese Communist Party’s unrestricted warfare turns the West’s economic interests against itself.

Political influence

Gaining political influence is another important tactic in China’s Unrestricted Warfare. As I’ve heard repeatedly since coming here, Australia has the best politicians money can buy.

ASIO has warned that “foreign interference…on an unprecedented scale…has the potential to cause serious harm to [Australia’s] sovereignty.” Since 2015, ASIO has warned Australian politicians to be wary of taking money from Chinese donors with questionable links to the Chinese Communist Party.

ASIO has warned that “foreign interference…on an unprecedented scale…has the potential to cause serious harm to [Australia’s] sovereignty.” Since 2015, ASIO has warned Australian politicians to be wary of taking money from Chinese donors with questionable links to the Chinese Communist Party.

Thanks to some brilliant journalism from Fairfax Media, Four Corners, and others, we know the Chinese Communist Party has been very successfully buying influence in Australia. I also learned there are no laws against foreign campaign contributions here. Seriously? Who thought that was a good idea? I mean, besides the politicians.

Here’s an example. Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo is linked to the United Front. The Fairfax and Four Corners report found that over four years, he donated $2.7 million to Australia’s three biggest political parties. And he’s had some pretty unusual dealings with specific politicians.

Like the Labor Party’s Eric Roozendaal. He resigned in 2013, but took an executive job at a property development company owned by Huang. What happened to Roozendaal’s vacant council seat? Why, just three weeks later, it was nabbed up by a friend of Huang.

Of course, Huang Xiangmo’s most well known associate is Sam Dastyari – known by some as  “Shanghai Sam”. Huang gave Dastyari thousands in campaign contributions. Dastyari also got almost a million dollars for the Labor Party from Huang.

Now we can’t say for sure what Dastyari’s motives were but, after that, Dastyari did some rather questionable things. Like pressuring the Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek to not meet with a pro-democracy activist that Beijing doesn’t like. And in a 2016 press conference to Chinese media, Dastyari contradicted his own party’s stance on the South China Sea ruling, siding with the Chinese Communist Party instead. And when Dastyari found out Huang was being spied on by Australian security agencies, he personally went to Huang’s mansion and warned him his phone was being tapped. Now that’s real friendship.

In a 2016 press conference to Chinese media, Dastyari contradicted his own party’s stance on the South China Sea ruling, siding with the Chinese Communist Party instead.

There are many other examples I could give but I think you get the point.

Universities

The book Unrestricted Warfare says, “social spaces such as the military, politics, economics, culture, and the psyche are also battlefields.” And the Communist Party effectively uses the social spaces of Western universities. ASIO has warned the Australian government that it needs to be “very conscious” of foreign interference in Australian universities.

Much of this interference comes again from the United Front, which calls “overseas students…a focus of United Front work”. One example is the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, or CSSA. Most universities with large numbers of Chinese students have CSSAs. They’re typically linked to the Chinese Embassy. Their job is to make sure Chinese students toe the Party line and to intimidate students who don’t.

Chinese students have found things they said in class in Australia were reported back to the Chinese police by other Chinese students. Which is why all of their term papers were titled, “Don’t free Tibet”.

The former head of the United Front, Liu Yandong, created the Confucius Institute. For free, they’ll set up classrooms to teach Chinese language and culture in universities. Since 2004, 500 Confucius Institutes have been set up in 140 countries. There are 14 Confucius Institutes here in Australia.

The former head of the United Front, Liu Yandong, created the Confucius Institute. For free, they’ll set up classrooms to teach Chinese language and culture in universities. Since 2004, 500 Confucius Institutes have been set up in 140 countries. There are 14 Confucius Institutes here in Australia.

The Communist Party’s former Propaganda Chief called the Confucius Institute, “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up”. So, what exactly do they teach? Well, let’s just say a little less Tiananmen Square Massacre, and a little more, China’s rapid economic development!

More and more universities have been waking up to the nature of the Confucius Institute. Some universities have kicked them out. And, currently, the FBI is investigating them.

In Australia, the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in universities has also become a national security issue. The Australian Research Council, using taxpayer money, has given millions of dollars in grants to Chinese professors working in Australia. The problem is, in some cases, those professors are doing research with the Chinese military, on advanced military technology that could one day be used against the West.

The problem is, in some cases, those professors are doing research with the Chinese military, on advanced military technology that could one day be used against the West.

ARC has also given grants to universities for projects that involved China’s leading military aircraft manufacturer, and the telecommunications company Huawei, which also has ties to the Chinese military. And I thought allowing foreign campaign contributions was a bad idea.

Is this a problem? Not according to UNSW’s pro vice chancellor Laurie Pearcey. He also happens to be the head of the school’s Confucius Institute. He wrote a recent editorial called “Let’s not isolate ourselves from the benefits of China”. In it, he confidently states that “Beijing respects the quality and independence of [Australian] institutions”.

Yes, Beijing respectfully undermines Australian institutions.

Conclusion

The Chinese Communist Party’s unrestricted warfare has had a major impact on the West. The Party uses propaganda to promote a glittering ideal of its rule, and censorship to silence opposition to it. It steals intellectual property from Western companies while using investment to get Western countries on its side. The Party buys political influence wherever it can, however it can. It uses CSSAs and Confucius Institutes to stifle academic freedom at Western universities while taking advantage of research done there.

Thus far, the West has been unprepared to counter the Chinese Communist Party’s unrestricted warfare. So, what can be done? Okay…there are a few things we could do.

First, we need to understand the nature of the Chinese Communist Party. It’s an authoritarian system that uses “struggle” to preserve and strengthen its own rule. This will not change, no matter who’s in charge, no matter what reforms are promised, no matter how open the economy appears to be.

For those of us living in liberal democracies, it can be hard to understand the lengths the Communist Party will go to. We’re not used to dealing with a government like this. As historian Frank Dikotter said in Silent Invasion, it’s like a Boy Scout dealing with Don Corleone. So I recommend we all re-watch The Godfather. Not that it will help us with the Party. It’s just a good movie.

For those of us living in liberal democracies, it can be hard to understand the lengths the Communist Party will go to. We’re not used to dealing with a government like this.

Second, we need to expose the actions of the Chinese Communist Party. One of the biggest reasons the Party has been able to carry out this unrestricted warfare is that people have remained silent, through intimidation or self-interest.

That’s one reason why what’s happening in Australia now is so vitally important. As I said earlier, Australia is one of the proving grounds for the Communist Party’s tactics. But now, those tactics are being exposed. And people are openly talking about how to respond.

The Communist Party is going to fight back. After the Fairfax/Four Corners investigation, the Chinese Embassy called it “filled with Cold War mentality” and “typical anti-China hysteria and paranoia.” The Party and those it has influenced will continue to cry racism and cold war mentality to every legitimate concern.

The Party and those it has influenced will continue to cry racism and cold war mentality to every legitimate concern.

That’s why we need to be very clear that these are the Chinese Communist Party’s infiltration operations. It’s not about racism against ordinary Chinese Australians. They’re the ones who are the first targets of the Party. The Party wants us to believe that they represent all Chinese people. If you’re against the Party, you’re against the Chinese people.

But don’t fall for it when people play the racism card. We need to clearly distinguish between the Party and Chinese people. This way, we both avoid racist undertones and demolish a key part of the Communist Party’s propaganda.

Third, we need to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party. Like most bullies, they tend to back down when confronted. The foreign interference laws being debated in parliament are a good start. Australia could also lessen their economic reliance on the Chinese Communist Party by strengthening ties with other countries. Australia, the US, India, and Japan are in talks now to establish an alternative to China’s One Belt One Road Initiative.

Australia is not alone. The US, the EU and other Western countries are also beginning to wake up to the Chinese Communist Party’s unrestricted warfare. Yes, Australia is on the front lines. But if these tactics can be defeated here, it will send a message to the Communist Party: the West is not for sale.

Australia is not alone. The US, the EU and other Western countries are also beginning to wake up to the Chinese Communist Party’s unrestricted warfare.