Concerns are growing about China’s soft diplomacy in the region, as well as its moves to buy influence through political donations to Australia’s major parties.
Its soft diplomacy came under fire earlier this year when Fairfax Media allowed its major papers to publish paid lift-outs spreading Beijing’s views.
The incident has prompted onlookers to ask — how much influence is Beijing exerting on Australia through the media and otherwise, and should it be countered?
John Fitzgerald, the director of the Asia-Pacific Program for Social Investment and Philanthropy at Swinburne University, told the ABC’s The World program that “it’s not that China is threatening Australia’s prosperity and well being, but that the relationship is not on an even keel”.
“Our relationship with China is critically important for Australia’s future, prosperity and well-being — there’s no doubt about that,” Mr Fitzgerald said.
“[But to get on an even keel will require] frankness in recognising where [our] differences lie [and] a clear statement of what Australia stands for — its principles and values — [and] that we’re not simply for sale.”
Mr Fitzgerald added that recent revelations of Australia receiving political donations from China, accompanied by a push from Australians to represent Beijing’s interests, has created a sense in the country that Australia is “selling out”.
“I don’t think that is the case, but there’s a general unease brewing.”
‘Chinese communities won’t be tuning into ABC’
Mr Fitzgerald highlighted the importance of Australia getting its critical business and trade relationship with China right.
“Unless we get that relationship right, we’re in trouble,” he said.
Mr Fitzgerald also noted the influence that Beijing’s media is having on Chinese communities living in Australia, highlighting that the incoming news is not always in Australia’s interest.
“They wouldn’t be tuning into ABC, they wouldn’t have a clue what’s happening on SBS,” Mr Fitzgerald said, referring to the ease by which Chinese media can be accessed from Australia.
To counter this influence, Mr Fitzgerald said that there must be a clear discussion of the rules of engagement and regulations.
“First you must say: the way you are conducting yourself is taking advantage of our hospitality,” he said.
“I think the way forward for Australia is, on the one hand, to explore [the regulations that apply to mainstream and community media].
“But more particularly, we should encourage more competition in the Chinese language media [in Australia], and there are ways to do that that we should start to think about.”