- Frances Mao
- BBC reporter, from Sydney
4 hours ago
Earlier this year, Andrew Chen*, a junior adviser to the Australian government, visited the country’s Ministry of Defense to attend a meeting.
He and his colleagues walked into the Ministry of National Defense building and took out their government documents. A security guard stopped Mr. Chen and pulled him aside.
“They asked to take a photo of me, like a portrait, just in the hall,” he said.
“Just ask me to be alone. The white colleague with me didn’t ask for that,” said Mr. Chen, a Chinese-Australian.
When taking pictures, Mr. Chen felt “embarrassed”, but he did not want to cause confusion. Later, he asked his colleagues if they had the same experience-no one had experienced it.
“So I’m the only one. This is obviously the security guards performing some kind of security procedures. They didn’t give any explanation.”
In response to the BBC’s inquiry, the Australian Department of Defense pointed out that this practice “has nothing to do with background or race.” But Mr. Chen suspects that this is not the case in his case.
As Australia’s attitude towards China has become tough, he, like many Chinese Australians, feels that he is facing more and more scrutiny and doubt because of his descent.
In Australia, 1.2 million people have Chinese ancestry, which is about 5% of the population.
In October of this year, three local Chinese (all Australian citizens) attended a Senate hearing on the problems faced by local new immigrants. But 20 minutes later, everyone was suddenly asked to “condemn” the Chinese Communist Party. They objected, but the government senator Eric Abetz repeatedly asked, “Why?”
All three clearly stated that they did not support the CCP, but pointed out that no similar requests were made to other witnesses during the investigation.
“It doesn’t feel like an open investigation, it’s more like an open political persecution,” one of them, Yun Jiang (transliteration), a university researcher, later wrote on Twitter.
Another named Osmond Chiu (Osmond Chiu) compared himself to someone who was forced to “prove loyalty” during McCarthy’s trial in the 1950s. It was a notorious piece of history when the U.S. government purged it to counter the threat of communism.
“I never thought that I would have such an experience,” Mr. Zhao, a political researcher, wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald.
He told the BBC: “He (Abez) wants to bully us. He doesn’t want to hear the evidence, he just wants to gain something politically.
Abetts rejected requests from political opponents for an apology. He issued a statement entitled “It is everyone’s responsibility to resolutely oppose an ugly dictatorship.”
Why is there doubt?
The Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) first warned in 2017 that China‘s alleged attempts to interfere in internal affairs have increased. In the same year, a senator resigned because of his association with a Chinese political donor.
In 2018, Australia passed laws designed to curb foreign interference. A few months later, Australia became the first Western country to ban the Chinese company Huawei from building its 5G network, citing security risks. Australia has also suffered a series of cyber attacks against the Federal Parliament, political parties, universities and scientific institutions, usually suspected to be related to China.
The arrests of Australian citizens in Beijing and the actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang have caused the dissatisfaction of the Australian public to heat up. In Hong Kong, Beijing has enacted the stringent and highly controversial “Hong Kong Area National Security Law.” In Xinjiang, at least one million people are accused of being held in concentration camps, which China calls “re-education” centers. At the end of November, a Chinese diplomat released an untrue picture of Australian soldiers killing Afghan children, bringing the hostility between China and Australia to a new level.
Also in November, a famous Chinese-Australian museum director became the first person to be prosecuted under the Australian Foreign Intervention Act.
But experts say that dangerous behaviors involving national security are complex and should not only focus on Chinese Australians. Michael Shoebridge, a security expert from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), said: “Australia’s sovereignty and independent decision-making face greater risks, not from the Chinese Australian community, but from participating in or influencing politics. , Business and research people.” This is where Beijing concentrates on silenced critics and cultivated supporters. ”
But Ms. Jiang and others worry that Australia, especially the Australian media, often mistakenly confuse ordinary Chinese communities with the so-called evil forces in China.
She stated in the Senate investigation: “The focus should be on action…not feeling guilty for being connected.”
Few places can feel this kind of “connected guilt” more than the Australian public service. People in the public service sector work for national interests and often involve sensitive issues.
Many Chinese-Australian officials say they feel increasingly suspicious.
“The security concerns (for China) are reasonable,” said a senior Chinese policy adviser referring to cases such as cyber attacks.
“But it has spread into a conversation about Chinese diasporas, who should be Australians, who should be evaluated and analyzed (for further scrutiny). This is a very, very bad conversation.”
Younger or lower-status civil servants said they felt pressured to prove their patriotism or were cautious in providing policy advice to avoid unfair scrutiny.
“If I were a white Australian, I would be more comfortable if I came out and said something different,” Mr. Chen told the BBC.
“But if you have a Chinese background, people will only think you have made concessions. Our current cultural atmosphere is like this.”
Several civil servants who declined to be named due to fear of retaliation revealed to the BBC that they had also been asked by colleagues about their past experiences, which might be considered factors. These experiences include studying Chinese at a Confucius Institute run by the Chinese government, participating in Chinese youth groups in universities, and previous trips to China.
They also questioned that more and more government security reviews of Chinese-Australians have been postponed and that the review procedures have not been consistently implemented.
“A former colleague of mine joined the public service department three years ago and has not passed the review so far,” said the senior policy adviser. This process usually takes up to 6 months.
They believe that this kind of delay hinders their career development and even hinders working for the Australian government. Two employees told the BBC that they were forced to abandon their work because they could not obtain higher authority to complete the work.
The local Ministry of Defense did not respond to specific questions about Chinese Australians, but a spokesperson said that passing the security review depends on several factors, including “the ability to verify the background of the subject.”
He added: “If the applicant has lived overseas, the evidence he provided may need to be verified by an overseas institution.”
Huybridge said that if civil servants have visited “places where it is difficult to obtain reliable information,” such as China, Russia, and North Korea, the process usually takes longer.
He also said that the government is extremely cautious about Australians who have family, friends or other relationships in China, believing that they are more vulnerable to coercion, saying that “China‘s state agencies do have a record of exploiting and manipulating the people by such means.”
But not hiring people who have lived in China will also create certain risks. An official told the BBC: “Suppose you work on the Chinese policy team. Ideally, you would want to have some people with Chinese backgrounds. But if all people who understand the domestic situation cannot pass the security review, all that is left is People without actual expertise.”
“A test of Australian values”
Chinese-Australian community leader Jason Yat-Sen Li does not underestimate the risk of people being targeted and attracted by China. But he said that much depends on the extent to which Chinese Australians feel that they are part of Australian society; or, conversely, whether they feel that they do not belong to Australian society.
He said that this conflict is “a test of our values and confidence in the organization.”
The Australian Security Intelligence Organization has long warned against isolating the Chinese community, pointing out that the Chinese community is the most useful group for collecting Chinese intelligence.
Commentators said that the Australian government’s silence on Senator Abbott’s remarks did not help.
Huybridge said: “We need to ensure that the language used by lawmakers can enhance the cohesion of our community and will not benefit the Chinese government fishermen by advancing our goals.”
Mr. Li said that the fundamental problem is trust. Do Australians trust their Chinese friends, colleagues and neighbors? Do Chinese Australians believe in their society and believe that they will be equal and rule of law like everyone else?
“Because if we can’t trust 5% of the population here, we will violate the values of freedom and democracy. This will cause more damage to democracy than any foreign government,” Mr. Li said.
(*Andrew Chen is a pseudonym)