As people in the Australian intelligence community (and many citizens) are starting to wonder: What exactly is the price of a nation’s sovereignty? It’s a question all citizens of the free world should be asking.
The unrest in Hong Kong has been getting a lot of attention recently – and for good reason – but it’s just one example of China’s inflexible and anti-democratic approach to world affairs. It seems like it would be a relatively no-brainer for Carrie Lam’s government to offer some – any – kind of concession to end months and months of protests in Hong Kong (not to mention the effect the protests had on recent elections, where Lam’s party lost big) and all the violence and police controversies they entail, but – no doubt under Beijing’s guidance – she refuses to give an inch. Not only is this stance somewhat irrational, but it aptly represents the CCP’s attitude towards just about every issue on Earth – “My way or the highway” – no matter what the vast majority of people think. And as folks from all quarters of the globe are slowly waking up to realize, China’s “way” is not a very pleasant one, given that its main objectives are to maximize and consolidate its power and wealth by any means necessary. Notice, I didn’t say by any legitimate means necessary, and certainly not by any ethical means necessary (although that could probably be said about most world powers).
There is an abiding principle here that most people not exposed to these kinds of autocratic regimes may fail to grasp (and it could be applied to any dictatorial-type government, including in places like Cuba, Venezuela, etc.), which is that what these governments say versus what they do are two vastly different (and sometimes diametrically opposed) things. Granted, democratic governments also spin facts and figures to their advantage, but the difference here is that China (or North Korea, or whatever) spews forth outright lies on the world stage – and by that I mean statements that have nary a grain of truth – to create the image (and it’s never anything more than that) that they operate in rational, accountable, rule-of-law sort of manner. However, because no one in their own land is able to call them out for their mistruths (without ending up in jail, that is), if foreign observers aren’t careful and take their words at face-value (as they’re no doubt accustomed to with more freely elected governments), they’ll be taken for a ride, hook, line and sinker, without necessarily realizing they’ve been duped (check out Sean Penn’s attitude towards Hugo Chavez, for example).
The only problem these propaganda-machine governments encounter (thankfully), is the fact that actions do actually speak louder than words. So no matter what they say, and how well they deceive the sometimes-gullible public, they can never avoid the bald-faced truth of what they’ve been doing. The challenge, therefore, for those on the outside of these nearly impenetrable block-box regimes, is to penetrate the subterfuge of what’s they’re saying (lying about) to arrive at the reality of what’s happening. And a good illustration of this phenomenon is China’s recent underhanded activities in Australia.
One case involves an Australian businessman, Nick Zhao, who told intelligence agents there he’d been recruited to win a seat in parliament as a Chinese agent, claiming his election campaign would be financed by another local businessman with ties to the CCP. The end of this twisted tale? Mr. Zhao was found dead inside a hotel room, something the local authorities are still investigating.
Another case is that of Australian asylum seeker Wang Liqiang, who said he’d previously acted as an undercover Chinese operative, assisting a businessman in Hong Kong to run clandestine spying and disinformation operations in Hong Kong and Taiwan aimed at undermining democracy in those places. Wang also dished on details of the now-infamous kidnapping of anti-Chinese book publishers in Hong Kong, spying on pro-democracy university students in that city, and stealing US military technology. (Wang came to Australia for asylum because his wife and child currently live there).
There’s also the peculiar case of Gladys Liu, a newly elected member of Australia’s Parliament, who gave mixed signals about her allegiance when questioned on such topics as China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea and the Hong Kong protests, almost as if she were worried about offending Beijing (and this an elected member of Australia’s government!).
What more, pro-democracy protests at Australian universities by Hong Kong students have been routinely interrupted – sometimes with violence – by mainland Chinese students, while multiple protestors say they’ve been followed or had their picture taken by people possibly associated with Australia’s Chinese consulate. In fact, even an Australian journalist, John Garnaut, who once wrote a classified report on Chinese interference in the country, has reported being trailed by potential Chinese agents – including when he was out and about with his family.
Of course, as is commonplace with these sorts of regimes – as noted above – their primary ‘strategy’ when being accused of blatantly illegal activities is to strenuously deny that they even occurred, essentially pulling the wool over the eyes of the entire world. Which exactly is why China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman in Australia has labeled the above accusations “hysteria,” and said “stories like ‘Chinese espionage’ or ‘China’s infiltration in Australia,’ with however bizarre plots and eye-catching details, are nothing but lies.” And if that’s not a case of the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is! Or perhaps they’ve simply taken a page out of Hilter’s playbook, as he once famously stated that the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it as they can’t imagine anyone having “the impudence to distort the truth so infamously" ….
One former Australian intelligence official has labeled China’s espionage efforts in the country “insidious,” and I couldn’t come up with a better word to describe them myself. I mean, these cases are reminiscent of something straight out of 1984 – an autocratic government openly (and sloppily) spying on dissenters of its agenda, while at the same time trying to plant agents at the highest level of government!? How can this situation possibly be tolerated by the Australian authorities?
The reason, sadly, is that they (or at least, some high-profile companies associated with the Aussie government) have been getting filthy rich through trade with China, making them less willing to crack down on the often disturbing behavior of China’s state-sponsored actors. But as people in the Australian intelligence community (and many citizens) are starting to wonder: What exactly is the price of a nation’s sovereignty? It’s a question all citizens of the free world should be asking.
Author / Javier Smith