Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bob Carr and the possible Chinese spies

Last week Four Corners - the premier news program of the Australian Broadcasting Commission ran a story about the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in Australia.

Some of the story was obvious - for instance how Chinese students are coopted to drown out rallies by Falun Gong or other opponents of the CCP. A typical story involves a CCP figure visiting Australia, a bunch of human rights rallies and hundreds of Chinese students bussed to the rally with the intention of overwhelming regime opponents.

A Chinese student involved in organising these rallies was interviewed. She made it clear that the embassy helped. Moreover it was clear there was social pressure (or worse) on students to conform - and that non-conformity had a negative effect on the family back home.


But the more interesting part of the story was how these sudden billionaire Chinese businessman (including businessmen who hung out with spies) were giving large donations to Australian institutions and thus getting close to politicians. (Universities were recipients as well as political parties...)

And that some of these businessmen - liked hanging out with politicians (and sometimes paid their legal expenses). And then after having received a benefit the said politician expressed views on the South China Sea contrary to the Australian Government).

This largess crossed party lines. Both sides of politicians had ex-politicians on what were some very generous consulting gigs.

One of these businessmen gave money to the Australian Chinese Relations Institute - an organisation headed by Bob Carr - a former Premier of my home State (New South Wales) and a former Foreign Minister of Australia.

The implication was that Bob Carr (and his institute) was in some sense compromised.


I have always liked Bob Carr. He was the New South Wales Environment Minister when I was in my twenties - and I thought he was great. I still do.

So when invited to attend a talk sponsored by ACRI I jumped at the chance. Ignoring the usual advice that it is not a good idea to meet your heroes (especially if they are politicians) I rocked up full of excitement.

Here is the flyer...

When I got there I got a fabulously naïve talk about how various Chinese businessmen making huge waves in Australia were independent businessmen and not in any way arms of the Chinese government. (This includes people who were trying to buy ports near military bases in Northern Australia.)

The naiveté was amazing. Some of these newly minted billionaires career went roughly as follows:

a). Follow dad into the Peoples' Liberation Army (where he is a senior general)

b). Retire in your twenties

c). Start an import/export business. Make a quick 15 million.

d). Invest that in a huge land business. Turn that into a quick billion.

e). At the age of 35 turn up in another country and throw half that money round buying strategically important assets.

But these businessmen were in no way affiliated with the CCP.

Whatever: I left thinking I was born on a Monday - but not last Monday.

(But I was well satisfied with the drinks and canapés...)


Anyway Bob Carr is in The Australian (Murdoch's national newspaper in Australia) dissing the whole Four Corners story. You can read his defence. It didn't go very near how his own organisation might or might not be compromised.

Go on. Read it.

I think he would be better leaving things alone.

But as he hasn't I thought I might just put the document circulated that night up for all to read. Maybe the China experts here can tell me whether this is merely naïve (which would be my normal guess) or directly paid for by the CCP.

Here is the link.

As Bob Carr has chosen Murdoch's network to defend his benefactors maybe I should just end with the most famous News Corp slogan: I report, you decide.


Post script:

I should note that I am in no way opposed to Chinese billionaires (even if they are CCP linked) investing their loot in Australia. In fact I would encourage it - and can probably suggest some fine ways of investing it.

I just think a ninety minute seminar suggesting a string of Chinese billionaires don't have powerful ties to the CCP is - well quaint at best...


Eric said...

Ok I can't help myself (laughing.)

Paid for wilful naivety is the most probable explanation for the presentation and the document. It reads like a poorly argued puff piece with conflated arguments.

I love the following:

'But we should be able to extrapolate from the internal contradictions
within the two major Australian political parties, which have led to
several policy shifts and leadership coups over the past five years.
The Labor and Liberal parties still cannot overcome their paralyzing
internal divisions, despite the fact that each Party only has around
50,000 rank and file members (Bramston, 2015). With over 88 million
members in the CCP (Xinhua, 2016a) how could anyone realistically
expect the CCP to avoid much more serious factional in-fighting and
organisational chaos?'

and totally agree with the author - we simply need to apply CCP disciplinary actions against the 50,000 rank and file members of the Liberal and Labour parties. If that doesn't solve Bill and Mal's problems then nothing will!

Or perhaps the lovely profile in Myth One - 'All Chinese corporations are controlled by the Chinese government' using Guo Guangchang as an example. I would guess for all his billions having to spend a few weeks at the CCP's pleasure and subsequently changing business strategy is just a small price to pay and nothing at all to do with control by the CCP.

Myth Two is also lovely - I can just picture the friendly, helpful, uncomplaining CCP member pitching in and sorting out company problems for the CEO no worries.....

'This means that the only way the CCP can attract members in private
firms is by providing useful services to employees and the CEO, such
as resolving employee disputes, weeding out corruption, arranging
corporate culture or management training sessions and organizing
educational or social events. The CCP also constantly reminds its
members to behave as outstanding employees and to take on the
most challenging tasks without complaint so that the CEO will see
the benefits of continuing to support the CCP’s activities within the

Having said that, there are signs the author might be taking the piss or is chafing at the chain - 'They must attend regular tedious Party meetings', 'evidence of massive internal Party disorder, policy divisions and corruption', 'military is wracked by internal turmoil and corruption.' Or the 'laughably straightforward' reason for purchasing Darwin port - every billionaire needs their own port of course!

Irony or hidden jokes aside - the last paragraph in the About ACRI says it all really.

And sorry, I can't be a great fan of our Bob, as under him we got Eddie.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, the ol' colonization by money trick. I think the American Indians fell for that once. A few blankets and beads, and BAM!

How long before Australia is declared a wayward province of China?
My advice? Just accept your fate quietly. The bosom of mother China is warm and comfy! :-)

Ian said...

"I thought he was great. I still do." He is just like every other politician chasing the dollar and in it for himself. Talk about naive! :)

Anonymous said...

I agree: welcome to Chinese investments if they make sense for our country and they do not conflict with our strategic interests....

Problem is that when politicians are so blatantly "sponsored" by the "investor" it seems to me that naive is the Australian public who hadn't figured out this yet....and we needed ABC TV/Fairfax to re-cap the whole story on a TV special docu..
John, the public is naive...politicians are simply corrupt..

The majority of these facts were all well known before the report. Thanks God we still have an independent ABC (for how long...?).

It still amazes me how slow we are in Australia to figure this out....and people are always happily going back to vote for the same good old faces...

A said...

I felt the same disappointment about Stephen Cohen, author of one of the better books about Gorbachev's administration, and who somehow morphed into a pro-Putin propagandist. What is most striking about these examples is the blatancy. One might think that an expert would be co-opted to manufacture plausibility. Instead, they act as little more than pass-throughs of state positions. The ham-handedness of it makes me wonder whether closed societies have figured out some essential vulnerability of open societies.

HS said...

Great reporting John. And while the Murdoch tag line is appropriate for this blog, I can't remember the last time it was appropriate at News (or lack thereof) Corp.

Peter Bradley said...

Yep, and just wait until the Chinese "find" another old map which extends the nine-dash line down to Northern Australia ....... don't laugh, those Chinese junks did head down this way in the old days and some of 'em must have had maps.

GrueBleen said...

Oh dear: "I have always liked Bob Carr. He was the New South Wales Environment Minister when I was in my twenties - and I thought he was great. I still do."

Your judgement of financials may be very good (it certainly seems to be within human limits of capability anyway), but your judgement of people is even worse than John Quiggin's. Bob Carr as "great" ? At what (other than his obsession with American Civil War history) ?

Anonymous said...

A - are you sure you're not confusing "not an anti-Putin propagandist" and "a pro-Putin propagandist"? I must say from a UK perspective that Purin is far less of a threat to me and mine than my own Government/Germany/EU.

On what's happening in Oz, it's never a good idea for a nation to have too many wealthy, high-IQ people whose interests do not broadly coincide with the interests of the majority population. Wealth and high IQ can bring influence way beyond population size.

Oz is a big, sparsely-populated place with vast resources, China is a big, heavily-populated place with vast appetite for said resources. By the time they're buying up TV channels and newspapers things might be a bit late.

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