Strange claims: Clive Hamilton’s Silent Invasion – China’s influence in Australia

Clive Hamilton, well known for his books on global warming, has tackled a different topic in Silent Invasion: China’s influence in Australia (Hardie Grant Publishing, 2018). He claims that China’s Communist Party has gained so much influence in Australia that it’s ‘taking over’.

The book is worth reading for one reason at least: the light that it sheds on the beliefs, goals and methods of John Hu’s ‘Australian Values Alliance’ (AVA), a group of outspoken anti-communists who work among people of Chinese heritage.

Hamilton makes no secret of his association with John Hu. Indeed, he gives Hu special praise on the acknowledgements page. It’s apparent from the text of the book that the author has not only used the Australian Values Alliance as a source – he has also come to identify very strongly with their views.

But do groups like the AVA represent current mainstream opinion within Australia’s Chinese community? Hamilton recognises that they don’t:

The creeping and almost complete takeover of Chinese organisations in Australia by people loyal to Beijing has caused alarm… Those who migrated to escape persecution or simply to live freely are feeling outnumbered.

I don’t doubt Hamilton’s sources told him they’re ‘feeling outnumbered’. It presumably means they are in a minority within their own ethnic community.

But what of the people who they feel outnumbered by? Are the people doing the outnumbering generally ‘loyal to Beijing’ in a completely uncritical way? Is there a middle ground – people who value multi-party democracy, but are less vehemently anti-Beijing than Hamilton’s outnumbered friends?

The phrase ‘almost complete takeover’ is also worth noting. A dramatic claim, but can it be sustained?

According to Hamilton, the changing character of Chinese organisations in Australia has been brought about via the conspiratorial manoeuvres of the Communist Party of China, operating through China’s embassy, consulates, and various front groups.

His book does however point to another factor, namely a shift in attitudes among recent arrivers from China, including students. He laments that recent arrivers don’t share the anti-Beijing views of earlier waves of migrants, because they think the Communist Party rescued China from its ‘century of humiliation’.

As Hamilton and his sources see it, this younger cohort of Chinese in Australia have been ‘brainwashed’ – just one of the extremely negative and emotive terms repeatedly used in this book.

By means of Hamilton’s book, the ‘outnumbered ones’ within Australia’s Chinese community are now appealing for support from non-Chinese Australians and from the Federal government, especially its security arm. And senior politicians are listening and agreeing.

Last month, Liberal members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security demonstrated their support for Hamilton and his associates by proposing to incorporate The Silent Invasion into the parliamentary record. This would have given the book some of the benefits of parliamentary privilege, such as protection from defamation proceedings. According to the ABC, it would have been the first time any book received that special legal status. ALP members of the joint committee had the sense to oppose the proposal.

A book with such high-level Liberal Party patronage cannot be ignored, even if some of its claims and demands seem strange. And some of its claims and demands seem very strange indeed. Hamilton writes:

Are we so soft as to defend everyone’s right to free speech when their objective is to take away our free speech?

In other words, we need to stop admirers of Xi Jinping from taking away our free-speech rights by taking away theirs? Is Hamilton really saying this?

The book expresses much alarm about instances where pro-Beijing people in Australia have allegedly tried to silence others. Hamilton mentions a scuffle between pro-Beijing and anti-Beijing demonstrators he saw in Canberra in 2008, and a Chinese student at the ANU making a scene in a campus pharmacy about a stack of Falun Gong newspapers in 2015.

He also writes of an anti-Beijing author who attended a meeting of the Chinese Writers Association in Melbourne in 2014. She was given ten minutes speaking time when she expected more, and she didn’t get a chance to take questions. Hamilton says this happened because the Melbourne Chinese Writers Association had been taken over.

On the other hand, Hamilton sympathises with anti-Beijing people even when they make blatant, organised attempts to silence those they see as pro-Beijing. Under the heading ‘Chinese-Australians resist’, he writes about the 2016 campaign to stop Sydney and Melbourne people from holding concerts in honour of Chairman Mao on the anniversary of his death. The campaigners got the result they wanted. The concerts were cancelled because, as Hamilton writes, ‘planned protests foreshadowed trouble.’

Hamilton doesn’t mention the role played by the AVA in the protest planning that foreshadowed trouble. But the AVA website (accessed March 2, 2018) boasts about the job it did. The website uses the term ‘red poison’ to describe the concerts that its actions stopped from happening.

The AVA and its associates waged a similar campaign in early 2017 against the stage drama The Red Detachment of Women. Red Detachment is a 1960s ballet about the peasant women on the island of Hainan who fought as guerrillas in the Chinese Civil War. President Richard Nixon watched a performance of the ballet when he visited China in 1972.

Here again, Hamilton’s sympathies are with the would-be censors. He complains that the ballet ‘glorifies the Red Army.’ Looking at its title, who would have suspected?

The campaign against Red Detachment was unsuccessful – the performances went ahead. Was that outcome a setback for Australian values, or a victory? Perhaps it depends on which Australian values you have in mind.

Clive Hamilton’s promotion of political censorship might seem less strange if Australia were experiencing an actual armed invasion, or an imminent threat of one. And Hamilton has clearly become convinced that we’re experiencing the equivalent of an invasion right now. But are we?

Can it be true that Australia’s Chinese community (about five percent of Australia’s population) has experienced an ‘almost complete takeover’ of its civic organisations?

Hamilton’s narrative about Chinese community politics fails to look at one of the community’s historically most political groups – the Australasian section of the Kuomintang, or the KMT, also known as the Chinese Nationalist Party of Australasia. The phrase ‘elephant in the room’ comes to mind here.

The Sydney headquarters of the KMT can be seen today by anyone who takes a walk along Ultimo Road, Haymarket. It is a four-storey building that flies the blue-and-white flag of the Kuomintang from its rooftop, flanked by the flags of Australia and Taiwan, and it displays the KMT name in very large traditional Chinese characters on its frontage.

The Kuomintang was founded by Sun Yat-sen, and afterwards led by Chiang Kai-shek. Under Chiang, it fought against the Communist Party of China in the Civil War, which became a frozen conflict after Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan. If China’s Communist Party had taken over Sydney’s Chinatown, would the KMT flag still fly there?

Information about how the Australasian KMT has operated over the years can be found in the book Unlocking the history of the Australasian Kuo Min Tang – 1911 to 2013, by Mei-fen Kuo and Judith Brett.

Mei-fen Kuo’s historical research was supported by the Australasian KMT itself. It’s instructive to compare what she says about the way the KMT operated in Australia in the past, especially during the Cold War, with what Clive Hamilton says about CPC activity in Australia now.

She mentions, for instance, that the KMT maintained close links with Chiang Kai-shek’s embassy and consulates until Australia withdrew recognition from the Taiwan regime in 1972. It should be remembered that Taiwan was a one-party state then, as the People’s Republic of China still is today.

She also mentions that the KMT propagated its message via what might be called ‘front groups’, such as the Australia Free China Associations and the Overseas Chinese Anti-communist Association. It quietly lobbied senior Australian politicians about, for instance, immigration and foreign policy.

Did it ‘influence’ Australia? Probably yes. But that is not the same thing as an ‘invasion’.

Mei-fen Kuo’s book situates the history of the Australasian KMT in the context of political history in China, Taiwan and Australia. She expresses her own position clearly, though never stridently. As an admirer of Sun Yat-sen, she thinks that the multiparty system that Taiwan eventually developed is a realisation of Sun’s ideals, and she hopes that China will someday take a similar path.

That is hardly a ‘pro-Beijing’ statement. Yet its tone is very different from that of Hamilton and his friends in the AVA.


Image: CPC propaganda poster / globalvoices

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Colin Robinson grew up in Western Australia during the Vietnam War period, and now lives in Sydney. He has a lifelong interest in relations between different countries and cultures, as well as in protest movements and social change. He studied Social and Political Theory and Chinese Studies at Murdoch University, WA.

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  1. The issues Hamilton raises are serious ones. They relate to housing affordability, for example, which is a big issue in our capital cities. And only this week we heard that Chinese students represent some forty per cent of foreign students at Sydney University. Can we expect that all these students understand academic freedom and independent thinking that is the cornerstone of university tradition here? Meantime we read that there are cameras recording the movement of pedestrians in China, recording minor unpaid debts and ‘punishing’ those who do not obey rules. China is a highly -regulated society; ours has traditions of liberty, freedom and tolerance of many views. Australian standards must seem very strange to many Chinese, who cannot abide ‘wrong’ views e.g. on the Dalai Lama or Taiwan or the so-called “South China Sea’ that China is militarising as we speak. Finally, there is the issue of ports like Darwin and Newcastle falling under Chinese control. In sum, there are a number of large issues Hamilton raises which need public attention.
    Only last year we saw how Sam Dastaryi came to grief when told how he should react to the takeover of islands in the South China Sea. Yet that was apparently the tip of the iceberg. Many other politicians have accepted Chinese money and sing China’s praises.

    The comments from China about ;mutual respect’ seem odd when we read recent attacks from China on Aussie swimmers who – they complain -come from countries which took the refuse from British prisons.
    Any thinking person would do well to read the book for themselves and not listen to the barrage of complaints about it. It sounds like an orchestrated campaign to shut the book down. It isn’t working- the book is going into a second printing. Read it for yourself and make your own judgements. There might be some exaggeration. from Hamilton. But probably there’s truth on both sides.

  2. @ Peter West I can’t speak for others, but personally I have no wish to stop anyone reading Clive Hamilton’s book. Just be aware that it expresses views of a particular network within Australia’s Chinese community, and there are other views which you can read about and hear, including Mei-fen Kuo and the Australasian KMT, which I’ve mentioned in the last section of my review. Another view worth reading is Tim Soutphommasane, Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner, who recently about Hamilton’s book. Soutphommasane mentioned in his comment that he himself is among the 1.2 million people in Australia who have Chinese ancestry. As he says: “It’s important that more voices of Chinese-Australians are heard. Those who know anything about the Chinese-Australian population will know it is diverse.”

  3. I ws disappointed that Tim was yet another to be super ready to warn us all against racism, though he does it in a clever and subtle way.
    There are many suggestions that the Chinese themselves can be racist, e.g. accusing Australians of being descended from convicts- even though I thought this was something to be proud of, myself! As everyone knows, nobody but the Chinese can buy Chinese land, but if we raise our voices about Chinese buying up our farmland, water rights and ports the cries of ‘racist’ appear at once. It is of course fashionable to accuse Australians of racism, though when you look at individual cases it can more complex than first thought (e.g. our article on the so-called “Cronulla Riots”)
    Academics and security people have raised many of these university issues- especially as Chinese appear to be such a large proportion of foreign students- in regard to protecting academic freedom in our universities. Without it our universities become more organs for the transmission of accepted dogma, which seems to be the case in China and many other countries. The Four Corners program raised many serious issues re student groups, organised demonstrations against Tibet and so on, which Hamilton largely supports.
    I don’t think any of the critics I’ve read have had a hard look at Chinese Government penetration of the Labor Right in NSW or of any other political party. The parade of Labor figures singing sweet songs about the wonderful Chinese and their achievement bewilders me. Are none of them concerned about the military buildup in the Spratly Islands, buying the port of Darwin, penetration of the government of Sri Lanka, etc?
    So again: I’m waiting to see if the academic establishment, or any government sources, is willing to acknowledge the serious issues. All very well for the Chinese Government’s media to flush the book down the toilet. Confront the issues, and assess how accurate the accusations are, please!

  4. Colin Robinson’s “review” is absurd. It dismisses a 100,000 word book packed with information, with 1,200 endnotes containing hundreds of sources, a piece of research that included interviews with dozens of people (many named in the acknowledgements) as effectively the opinion of John Hu, one of those I spoke to from the Chinese-Australian community.
    His article is so ridiculous in its claims that all I can do is urge readers to pick up my book to see that Robinson cannot be taken seriously.

  5. I have just started to read the book, but have long found much of the discourse around China suspect. It is as though Australian commentators think it bizarre that China engages in soft power and strategic diplomacy – something that every other nation also does.

    • @jacinda Yes, commentators like Clive Hamilton seem to find China’s use of soft power more worrying than use of military violence by western nations.

  6. Soft or hard? Penetration of our sovereignty is still the point. If Clive Hamilton’s book just gets the issue of the Chinese Government’s penetration of our economy (and persuasion of our politicians to its point of view) onto the public agenda – we have made some important progress.
    The argument among various public figures is interesting, but I’d like to see a thorough public consideration of how far the Chinese Government is directing students to do its bidding. Let alone what its long-term strategy is, in buying up ports, securing large farms with critical water rights, and “persuading” politicians to do what it wants. And indeed, militarising the Spratly Islands. The new US Ambassador to Australia says it’s all a very carefully calculated strategy.
    I tried to raise these issues in a couple of articles on – and here:

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