Paul Monk reviewing Clive Hamilton’s SILENT INVASION in The Weekend Australian, 17 March 2018
At a recent Lunar New Year dinner in Perth hosted by the Australia China Business Council, Twiggy Forrest, billionaire founder of Fortescue Metals Group which sells China a lot of iron ore, denounced what he called ‘‘immature commentary’’ about China. ‘‘This has to stop,’’ he declared, as it fuelled ‘‘distrust, paranoia and a loss of respect’’.
Adam Handley of MinterEllison, West Australian president of the ACBC, agreed. They spoke of China as being ‘‘an ally’’, one we need more than it needs us and one that has been ‘‘neglected in recent times, as Australia lost sight of its long-term national interests’’.
Just so we’re clear here: when they said the debate had to stop, they were not objecting to Hugh White calling for Australia to distance itself from the US and make large concessions to China. Nor were they calling for Bob Carr to pipe down in his unapologetic apologetics for Beijing. Nor were they calling on Paul Keating to quieten down.
It’s Clive Hamilton and his many sources they want to shut up. His book, Silent Invasion, is based on research by some of this country’s finest investigative journalists, serious academics and security intelligence analysts, collated by Hamilton’s brilliant young research assistant Alex Joske. It is the work of these people that they are stigmatising and deploring.
If, however, Forrest, Handley, Carr and others seriously believe that all this investigation and commentary is ‘‘immature’’ and ‘‘must stop’’, they will need to make their case a lot better than they have done so far. Indeed, they find themselves hoist by their own petard in calling for it to stop.
Either they are in the market for mature debate, or they aspire to do as the Chinese Communist Party routinely and ruthlessly does: suppress information and opinions at variance with its perceived interests and disdain open debate altogether. Do they seriously believe this would be in our country’s national interest, in either the short or the long term?
There has, of course, been an unending stream of opinion from a striking range of well-known public figures taking a line similar to that laid down at the Perth dinner. Carr’s Australia China Relations Institute is only one of many outlets for pro-CCP commentary in the name of our national interest. Keating’s characteristically blunt and insensitive remarks perhaps strike Forrest as ‘‘mature’’, but they are patently partisan.
In any case, both Forrest and Handley are confused. China is not an ‘‘ally’’ of Australia; it is a trading partner. We have many trading partners: the US, the EU, Britain, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia and others. Many of them have their differences with China and are engaged in trying to think through their security in the context of China’s rising power and its overweening ambitions.
Those ambitions have been made explicit by Xi Jinping, now the unrivalled autocrat in China’s one-party state: to replace the US as the world’s greatest economic and military power by the middle of this century.
Time was when the political character and ideology of that state would have caused political and business figures here to recoil and treat it with the greatest circumspection. Now the merest suggestion that we debate this is denounced by many of them as paranoia and something that must stop. Why? We all know the answer: fear and greed.
Do they believe we are or should be Xi’s ally in his strategic ambitions? This being a country in which one is at liberty to advance forthright opinions on almost any subject, they are perfectly free to express such an opinion. What they are not entitled to do is to insist that those who hold a different opinion shut their mouths, put down their pens and toe the line.
Hamilton’s book has been denounced as hysterical or misguided. One senior ALP figure described it to me as ‘‘deeply flawed’’, without specifying any flaws. Graham Richardson called for it and its author to be banished from public respectability. But this book is neither hysterical nor misguided. It is lucid and important. Allen & Unwin backed away from publishing it. To its credit, Hardie Grant has done so. It is to be congratulated for its political courage. The stunning thing is that it required courage.
Silent Invasion should by no means be banished, as the old ‘‘whatever it takes’’ warhorse Richo urges; nor is it ‘‘odd’’, as the think tank director suggested. It should be read as widely as possible and openly discussed. Writing in these pages, I have stated the same with regard to Hugh White’s Quarterly Essay, Without America, which takes a rather different line from that of Hamilton.
If Forrest believes that the central arguments of Silent Invasion are in error, let him and his allies make that case in a mature debate. But there is no case for suppressing this debate. It is one whose time is now.
What is in this book that so many pundits, big-end-of-town types and former political figures would like to see suppressed? It has 13 chapters and you should read every one of them, not excluding the endnotes, which are meticulous. It begins with a recollection of the disturbing manner in which the Chinese embassy secretly mobilised many thousands of Chinese residents in Australia and brought them to Canberra in 2008 to stifle calls for China to be sanctioned over its actions in Tibet and for the Beijing Olympic Games to be boycotted.
Chapter 1, Dyeing Australia Red, draws our attention to the strategic decision, taken in Beijing in 2003-04 under Hu Jintao, that Australia should be drawn away from the US and included within China’s sphere of influence economically, politically, culturally, in every way.
If you think that it would be just fine to be brought under the dominant influence of the CCP, you ought to be required, as a citizen of this liberal democratic and Anglophone society, to make your case. But make no mistake, this is the forest that the founder of Fortescue Metals doesn’t want to you to see.
The rest of the book shows you the trees that make up that forest.
Chapter 2 is about how the powers-that-be in China see themselves and the world. This is not a matter of open debate in China itself. It is a matter of intensive indoctrination and political dictation from the politburo down. Those who suggest otherwise are either sadly ignorant or under the sway of the Chinese regime and its agents of influence.
There is no point in mincing words here. If you believe Beijing is benignly disposed to us as a free country, you are a naif.
Chapter 3, Qiaowu and the Chinese Diaspora, is about Beijing’s systematic program, orchestrated through the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, the United Front Work Department and the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification, to exert sway over Chinese communities here and around the world, and infiltrate democratic political systems. Someone needs to tell Twiggy Forrest about it. But it would be better if he read the book for himself and gave the matter some serious, quiet thought before making further sweeping claims
Chapter 4, Dark Money, and Chapter 5, Beijing Bob, are among the parts of the book that have been upsetting some of the pro-Beijing people, especially in the Labor Party. Read them for yourselves. They are closely argued and sourced. Chapters 6 and 7, Trade, Invest, Control and Seduction and Coercion, cover topics that have upset the pro-Beijing people at various points. Read them. Don’t be a mushroom.
Then read Chapters 8 through 13: Spies Old and New; Malicious Insiders and Scientific Organisations; Engineering Souls at Australia’s Universities; Culture Wars; Friends of China; and The Price of Freedom. If you don’t read this book in its entirety, you are, whether you acknowledge this or not, withdrawing from the serious debate we have to have.
Alexander Downer declared with regard to expressions of concern by ASIO and other elements of the Australian intelligence system, ‘‘I don’t know what’s wrong with Australia. It’s not a John le Carre novel.’’ Someone needs to point out to our former conservative foreign minister and high commissioner to London that we are, indeed, not in the midst of a le Carre novel.
For one thing, what’s happening isn’t fiction. For another, it is far more serious than anything le Carre ever dreamed up. We face a challenge, in terms of foreign influence and infiltration, the likes of which we never faced even at the height of the Cold War, precisely because China is our largest trading partner.
If we are to address this subject with the maturity that Forrest and Handley call for, we need the debate to be open. We need leading journals, such as the new Australian Foreign Affairs, to foster it, not retreat into denunciations and huffery-puffery. Its second issue, just released, shows some promise of being able and willing to engage with such subjects at a mature level.
The contributions to this issue by Andrew Davies, David Kilcullen, Kim Beazley with L. Gordon Flake, and Michael Wesley are diverse and intellectually serious. The Back Page on the Munich Analogy is excellent. A minor contribution is a letter from John Fitzgerald on the tensions between the Chinese community in Australia and strategic subversion by the CCP. It is well worth reading as a coda to Hamilton’s book-length analysis of what we are facing.
For those unfamiliar with his work, Fitzgerald is a prize-winning historian of modern Chinese politics and history. His books include Awakening China: Politics, Culture and Class in the Nationalist Revolution (1996) and Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia (2007). He is a specialist in the history of the Chinese community here and former head of the Ford Foundation in China.
If you are a newcomer to Chinese political history and serious about wishing to understand how China’s revolution fell into the Leninist trap, you would do well to read Awakening China.
You might also look up and read Edmund Fung’s The Intellectual Foundations of Chinese Modernity: Cultural and Political Thought in the Republican Era (2010). Fung, an Australian citizen, is one of many Chinese Australians who have made major contributions to the understanding of modern and contemporary China in Australia.
More than a century ago, Liang Qichao, a leading political reformer in late imperial China, came to Australia to observe Federation. He wrote to his countrymen from Sydney that China should seek to adopt the new Australian model of political democracy and federal government. How about that? Get the word to Twiggy and Adam. Quick.
Paul Monk is former head of the China desk in the Defence Intelligence Organisation and the author of Thunder from the Silent Zone: Rethinking China and The West in a Nutshell: Foundations, Fragilities, Futures.
Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia
By Clive Hamilton
Hardie Grant, 356pp, $32.99