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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Hard power, soft targets

November 13, 2007

Tom Hyland
The Age, Australia

November 11, 2007

IN AUGUST last year, Victor Perton, then a Liberal member of State
Parliament, sent an email to all 128 state MPs. It also ended up with an
unintended recipient.

The email invited MPs to a briefing on a report, compiled by a former
Canadian MP, on allegations that the Chinese Government was "harvesting"
organs from executed prisoners.

Within hours, the Chinese Consul-General in Melbourne, Liang Shugen, had
a copy of Perton's email.

According to Perton, Liang then composed his own email to state MPs,
pressing them not to attend the briefing.

The consul-general's email "attacked me, saying I was misguided and
people should not go to the meeting", says Perton, who retired from
Parliament late last year. He says some MPs considered the Chinese
diplomat's action an "outrageous interference" in the Australian
political process and a breach of parliamentary privilege.

But Perton says there was something "more astonishing" about the whole
episode.

"What was fascinating to me," he says, "was that one of my parliamentary
colleagues would send my email straight to the consul-general, or the
Chinese ambassador, or both."

Perton draws two lessons from the incident. One is the willingness of
Chinese officials to stretch the boundaries of diplomatic behaviour to
pressure an Australian parliament on issues sensitive to Beijing.

The other is a willingness by Australians in key positions to shield the
Chinese Government from embarrassment over its well-documented record of
human rights abuses.

Evidence compiled by The Sunday Age reveals that, in its relations with
Australia, China uses its power to co-opt support and silence critics.
Sometimes, it involves intimidation and threats.

In international relations, there is soft power and there is hard power.
Exercising it is how governments get their way.

China's communist rulers are no different. They legitimately use soft
power to win foreign friends and gain international influence. The tools
of soft power are culture, education, public diplomacy, business links
and people-to-people contacts.

Then there's hard power — overt pressure or threats. In China's case,
its hard power carries more punch than most and, in relations with
Australia, it's backed by lots of money.

Trade with China is essential to Australia's economic boom. China is set
to overtake the US as our largest trading partner — our two-way trade
with it is worth $50 billion, a 21 per cent increase on 2005-06.

Overseas students are now a key source of revenue for our universities
and China is Australia's largest market for foreign enrolments. More
than 90,000 Chinese students are studying here.

Other human links are expanding, too. Close to 310,000 Chinese tourists
visit Australia every year. And the Chinese-Australian population is
growing, with 690,000 Australians claiming Chinese ancestry, and people
born in China forming the third-biggest migrant group.

Chinese authorities now have leverage they can exploit without overt
pressure, according to Fraser Brindley, a Greens member of the Melbourne
City Council.

Brindley says a widespread deference towards the Chinese Government was
highlighted late last month, when the council rejected a proposed civic
reception for the Global Human Rights Torch Relay because of its links
to the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China.

Brindley sees a simple motivation in the council's "pre-emptive
kowtowing" towards China.

"I don't think there's any need for direct pressure, because councils
and politicians are in such a frame of mind that they won't cause any
offence to China," he says. "There's a lot of money wrapped up in the
relationship with China, and 'fuzzy issues' like human rights are
anathema to them."

In some cases there is direct pressure, as last August's email exchange
to state MPs shows. And it wasn't an isolated case.

In 2003, the then Chinese consul-general in Melbourne, Junting Tian, was
accused of trying to intimidate MPs after he condemned a pro-Tibet
advertisement signed by state and federal politicians.

In a letter to the then upper house MP Elaine Carbines, he admonished
her for "mobilising" support for the advertisement, which he said was
"disrespectful" to Chinese President Hu Jintao on the eve of a visit to
Australia.

A current state Labor MP, who asked not to be identified, says the
intimidation continues.

This MP recounted how, at a dinner at the consul's Toorak house earlier
this year, MPs were "directed" by the consul not to have any contact
with Falun Gong and to ignore the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.

"I was very offended by those comments," the MP says. "A number of my
colleagues were similarly upset. It was put in terms of almost a
directive. I thought he was very heavy-handed in the way he went about
saying that.

"It was put to us on the basis that we would obey an instruction. The
view seems to be that China is so important to us economically that we
are prepared to ignore human rights issues."

The Chinese consulates in Queensland and NSW have issued similar
warnings in letters to state MPs ahead of the visit of the Global Human
Rights Torch Relay, which arrives in Melbourne this Friday.

The letter from the NSW consul is headlined in bold capitals "REMINDER",
and it tells MPs not to attend or support the relay.

Victor Perton says many MPs don't need to be pressured or intimidated.
He says some from both sides of politics are members of Chinese
"friendship" groups and are seduced by "lavish" official hospitality on
sponsored trips to China.

George Seitz, a state Labor MP, is co-chair of the Friends of China in
Parliament group. He denies MPs are pressured, and defends the work of
MPs who seek to widen links between Victoria and China.

"We speak our minds as we see things, and I'm a bit taken aback by
(Perton's) comments," Seitz says.

Asked if his membership of the friendship group prevented him from
commenting on human rights abuses, Seitz said he would speak out "if
there's proof".

When The Sunday Age put to him that China's record of abuses was well
documented by respected human rights groups, including Amnesty
International, Seitz said this information "hasn't been brought to my
attention, not with any proof".

Asked if he believed there were such abuses, he said: "No, I don't
believe it, not until someone provides evidence to me."

Seitz, who says he is a member of Amnesty International, said none of
the state MPs who had visited China in Chinese-sponsored delegations had
seen any evidence of abuses.

He said he was aware of "anecdotal" press reports of a security
crackdown in China ahead of next year's Olympic Games. He said he had
discussed with the friendship group's co-chairman, Liberal MP Ken Smith,
the need for a "briefing" from the Chinese embassy on arrangements for
the Games.

Seitz said he had never been to China, but Smith is a regular visitor on
sponsored delegations.

ACADEMIC sources have told The Sunday Age that Chinese students in
Melbourne are sometimes pressed by consular officials to monitor the
political behaviour of their fellow students.

A former student who was given such instructions declined to be
interviewed by The Sunday Age, even anonymously.

"I'm still a Chinese citizen and my parents still live in China," the
former student said. "It's very hard. If you speak out it requires a lot
of courage. It's not so simple. The most important part of my life, my
parents, are in China. If I become an Australian citizen, things will be
different. But for now it's better for me not to say anything."

Dr John Fitzgerald, foundation professor of Asian studies at La Trobe
University, is one of Australia's leading China experts. He's about to
take up a post as head of the Ford Foundation's office in Beijing and
declined to be interviewed by The Sunday Age.

But in 2005, in evidence to a Senate committee examining Australia's
relations with China, he declared that Chinese official surveillance of
Chinese-Australians was "extremely widespread".

"I can not go into greater detail simply for fear of placing at risk
friends and acquaintances who are fellow Australians," Fitzgerald said.

China, he said, was not unique in using intimidation in business and
trade issues to get its way. But what was unique was its surveillance of
the Chinese community, whose family members back in China could be
threatened.

Australian citizens of Chinese background "do not feel adequately
protected by or recognised as equal citizens under Australian law when
it comes to protection from surveillance by a foreign power, even though
they are full and equal Australian citizens", Fitzgerald said.

This infringement of Australian sovereignty was "taking place on a very
wide scale".

In an article published at the time of his Senate evidence, he
questioned whether China's security network in Australia had spun out of
control.

He believed the Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin, who defected in 2005 and
alleged China had 1000 informants in Australia, may have underestimated
the actual number.

Targets of surveillance included democracy activists, academics, and
Falun Gong practitioners. Surveillance was often carried out by
tourists, but was cloaked in "plausible deniability', with threats
issued through intermediaries, not directly from Chinese officials.

This meant Chinese officials could never be charged with exercising
undue influence, while Australian authorities lacked any formal way of
stopping it.

If the Chinese surveillance network in Australia has spun out of
control, it's largely in response to the activities of Falun Gong, which
the Communist Party sees as a threat to its power.

Ying Zhang seems an unlikely threat. She's 30, an accountant from
Melbourne's eastern suburbs. But she says her involvement in Falun Gong
and its newspaper, The Epoch Times, has attracted the attention of
China's security agencies and threats to her parents, who still live in
China.

Zhang arrived in Australia from Tianjin, Melbourne's sister city, in
2002. She has been a Falun Gong practitioner since 1996. She says the
group's philosophy and meditation exercises have helped her to be "more
calm and peaceful, more truthful, compassionate and tolerant".

She hasn't been back to China, but her brother, who is not in Falun
Gong, made his first trip back in 2006 to visit their elderly parents.

"As soon as he came home three persons from the State Security Bureau
came. They told him: 'Your sister is very active in Australia. Tell us
what she is doing and we will look after your parents so they have no
trouble with the police'."

Zhang says her brother returned to Tianjin again this year and again
security officers called. It was obvious, she says, that they knew about
her activities. This year her job has meant she has had less time for
public Falun Gong activity.

"The same police came and they said to my brother: 'Your sister is not
so active this year."' This indicates, she says, that someone in
Melbourne is informing Chinese officials of her activities.

Her parents have never been arrested, but police periodically come to
their home for "so-called visits".

Zhang is an Australian citizen. She insists she can be identified for
this article.

"To deal with the devil, the best way is to expose them," she says. "The
best thing is, not to keep it in the darkness."

Asked about the city council's refusal to have anything to do with Falun
Gong, she says: "To (Lord Mayor) John So, I say every person faces a
choice between trade and self interest, and human rights and human
conscience."

Interviewed by The Sunday Age, So denied the council was under pressure
not to offend the Chinese Government, and insisted the council's refusal
to hold a reception for the Human Rights Torch Relay was consistent with
its policy of non-interference in the "domestic politics of foreign
countries".

"My belief is this torch relay is about foreign domestic politics," he
said. While Falun Gong was welcome in Melbourne, the council had a
responsibility to bring all of the city's diverse communities together.

"I believe local government should be only local; I don't believe it
should be getting involved in foreign domestic politics."

As for claims of surveillance of Falun Gong, So said: "That is something
that I'm not aware of."

Documents obtained under freedom of information by The Age's city
reporter Clay Lucas, however, reveal the council has been under pressure
from China on Falun Gong. The documents include 17 letters sent in an
apparent orchestrated campaign by people purporting to be Chinese
tourists who had recently visited Melbourne.

The similarly worded letters complained of harassment by Falun Gong
practitioners while in Melbourne, and of "rude and impolite" Falun Gong
propaganda.

They urged the council to take action to stop the practitioners. Some of
the letters were accompanied by photos of Falun Gong members, taken in
the Fitzroy Gardens.

The Sunday Age tried without success over three days last week to get an
official Chinese Government comment on the allegations raised in this
article.

There was no response to a message left with the spokesman for the
consulate in Melbourne. An official there said the spokesman was not
available and directed queries to the Chinese embassy in Canberra.

Repeated calls to the embassy spokesman went unanswered.

In November 2005, the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Committee reported on its inquiry into Australia's relationship with China.

In recommendation 18, the committee called on the Australian Government
to place on the public record a statement "making clear that all people
resident in Australia are entitled to the protection of its laws and to
exercise their fundamental freedoms without interference from any
individual, organisation or government".

In its response, the Government said its 2004 national action plan on
human rights, and its obligations under international law, meant there
was no question that all people in Australia were entitled to that
protection and were entitled to exercise their freedoms without
interference.

The Government response did not mention the word "China".

The ties that bind

PEOPLE?In the the 2006 census, 669,890 Australian residents (3.4 per
cent of the resident population) identified themselves as having Chinese
ancestry.

?People born in China now form the third-biggest migrant group, after
Britain and New Zealand.

?Chinese visitors to Australia rose by 8 per cent in 2006 to 308,500,
making China our fifth-largest source of international visitors.

TRADE?China overtook the US as our second-largest trading partner in
late 2006, and is set to become our largest trading partner this year.

?Two-way merchandise trade with China reached $49.9billion in 2006-07, a
21 per cent increase on 2005-06.

?Our top six merchandise exports to China in 2006-07 were iron ore ($8.4
billion), wool ($1.7 billion), lead, zinc and manganese ores ($959
million), copper ores ($915 million) and coal ($507 million).

?In turn, our imports from China were worth $27.1 billion in 2006-07,
led by clothing ($3.4 billion), computers ($2.8 billion),
telecommunications equipment ($1.9 billion), toys, games and sporting
goods ($1.4 billion) and furniture ($1.2 billion).

EDUCATION?Australia's international education market is worth $10 billion.

?Chinese student enrolments in Australia grew by 10 per cent in 2006 to
90,287.

?China is Australia's largest market for international enrolments,
providing 24 per cent of all enrolments.

The five poisons

In 2005, diplomat Chen Yonglin defected from the Chinese Consulate in
Sydney.

He alleged that his work involved monitoring dissidents in Australia,
and that 1000 spies worked for the Chinese government in Australia.

He was required to monitor the activities of "five poisonous groups":

Democracy advocates
Tibetan Buddhist followers of the Dalai Lama (below)
Supporters of Taiwanese sovereignty
Supporters of independence for Muslim Xinjiang
The Falun Gong religious movement
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