Australia’s Senate on Thursday approved a package of new laws aimed at “preventing espionage and foreign interference”. Given that the laws came out at a time when some Australian political forces are hyping “interference” and “penetration” by China, and suspecting that the Chinese government is controlling Chinese businesspeople and students in Australia, Australian and other Western media all link the new laws to China.
Australia is therefore considered the first Western country moving to prevent Chinese “penetration” through legislation. Australia and China have no historical or territorial disputes, and have maintained close economic ties. China is Australia’s biggest trade partner. Canberra’s legislation has given a negative example to Western countries on how to deal with China.
During deliberations, senior Australian officials accused China of “interfering” in Australia’s domestic affairs. Even though the Australian government shifted its tone by stressing the importance of its relations with China and said the legislation is not aimed at any specific country, it had added to the public belief that the legislation is being used to contain China’s influence.
Ethnic Chinese in Australia are concerned that the new laws would consolidate Australia’s discriminative precautions against them, as the new laws give prosecutors much latitude. It is safe to say that Australian society tacitly believes the new laws are aimed at China. The boundaries of the legal terms are ambiguous, leaving room for arbitrary interpretations.
Chinese descendants in countries around the world have organisations to maintain traditional culture and contribute to China’s reunification. Will these organisations be considered the Chinese government’s proxies? Will Chinese businesses operating in foreign countries have to avoid meeting with Chinese officials and Australian politicians? Suffice it to say that Chinese companies, especially state-owned enterprises, will encounter greater non-market barriers when investing in Australia.
The new laws will also affect cultural exchanges, as Australia’s bias against academic and business exchanges has been legalised, and those who support consolidating exchanges with China will come under greater scrutiny.
Australia has benefitted greatly from its relations with China, but has since begun to censor almost all the factors that have contributed to the benefits, and has interpreted its relations with China in the most negative way.
Such actions by Australia are beyond the Chinese public’s imagination of a country they once respected, and will bitterly disappoint them. Now that the laws have been approved, Australia should reduce their negative impact on the Chinese diaspora and on relations with China.