What Does Beijing Want From Australia?

China’s appetite for resources, most notably iron ore and coal, has made it Australia’s biggest trading partner. (Image: Wikipedia Commons)
China’s appetite for resources, most notably iron ore and coal, has made it Australia’s biggest trading partner. (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

Splitting the Australian-U.S. alliance and guaranteeing access to resources are Beijing’s main goals in Australia, says a former Chinese diplomat, following media reports of Beijing’s covert campaign of influence in the land down under.

“China’s short-term goal is to drive a wedge between Australia and the United States so that Australia doesn’t stand with the U.S. if there’s a war across the Taiwan Strait,” Chen Yonglin told The Strategist.

“Its long-term goal is to ensure Australia continues to supply high-grade minerals for its economic growth,” said Chen, who earned global headlines when he defected from the Chinese consulate in Sydney in 2005.

Chen said China’s leadership takes a long-term view in its approach with resource-rich Australia.

“Australia is the nearest major Western democracy and is considered the weak link in the Western camp. China is increasingly belligerent, and Australia is fat meat with weak strength,” he said.

Chen said he believed that Beijing had already achieved its most basic goal — making Australian politicians think they are dependent on China.

Strategic focus

In the interview, Chen said that Beijing began to focus on Australia strategically in 2001 after three ships from the Royal Australian Navy sailed through the Taiwan Strait.

“That shocked Chinese leaders. Intelligence indicated that Australia was moving its focus away from China and Asia, and that it planned to join a North American Free Trade Zone,” Chen said.

“Chinese leaders decided in 2002 to let Australia become the sole supplier of LNG for Guangdong Province instead of contracting BHP in Indonesia, even though it offered a much cheaper price,” he said, implying that this deal told the Chinese leadership economic influence could be used to weaken Australia’s alliance with America.

“Then, China began to heat up relations with Australia through reciprocal official visits intended to build personal relationships and influence with Australian leaders,” Chen said, who went on to list a number of high profile Chinese leaders who would visit Australia.

Chen was highly critical of a decision to grant a Chinese company a 99-year lease of the strategically important Port of Darwin in Australia’s north last year. Ye Cheng, the owner of the Chinese company,  is reported to have close links with the Chinese Communist Party.

“It was a stupid decision by Australia,” he said, adding that the acquisition of the lease was evidence that Beijing’s polices were working.

Systematic infiltration

For China’s overall goals to succeed, Chen said Beijing’s strategic plan comprises a systematic infiltration of Australia through soft power methods, many of which the Australian media recently exposed.

Among the examples of Beijing’s interference in Australia uncovered this month were how two billionaires from China with links to the Chinese Communist Party have been co-opting and giving millions in donations to the country’s major political parties. Other reports revealed how Beijing controls Chinese student associations and community groups in Australia.

Further reports showed how China’s communist government seeks to influence academic inquiry in Australia. Add to that long list, there were also reports on how Beijing threatens Australian-based Chinese dissidents and nearly controls all of the Chinese language media in Australia. Then of course, there is the issue of espionage activity.

Chen gave estimates of Chinese espionage currently in Australia.

“For China, every citizen is an intelligence collection asset. There’s a huge Chinese secret service network of 300-500 professional agents in Australia reporting to the PLA’s General Staff Headquarters, the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security, and the embassy,” Chen said.

“Then there are 500-700 external ‘informers’ in Chinese community and student organisations, and language, academic, and charity organisations,” he added.

Watch this episode from China Uncensored for more on the issue:

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