15 February 2022
Taking the low road: China's influence in Australian states and territories
In November 2020 a Chinese official passed a list of 14 grievances to Australian journalists, highlighting what Beijing regarded as missteps in the Australian government’s relations with China. A striking feature of the list is that many concern Australian Government attempts to limit Chinese engagement with the states and territories, or state-based institutions such as universities.
Why did state and territory relations with China concern Canberra? This study explores the changing nature of China’s engagement with Australian states and territories, local governments, city councils, universities, research organisations and non-government organisations, all nested in Australian civil society. What emerges is the astonishing breadth and depth of China’s engagement, much of it the welcome outcome of Australia’s economic and people-to-people engagement with China over many decades. But it’s equally apparent that China has made covert attempts to influence some politicians and overt attempts to engage states, territories and key institutions in ways that challenge federal government prerogatives and have brought the two levels of government into sharp public dispute.
Here we provide a detailed analysis of how China has worked to build its political influence and build dependence through trade and economic ties with each Australian state and territory. In addition, unique cross-cutting chapters review the impact of Chinese engagement with Australian universities and show how Beijing’s ‘United front’ organisation is designed to build influence. We assess the impact on Australian businesses and the constitutional challenges presented by Chinese engagement with the states and territories.
The study methods and analytical approaches adopted in this book will be a model for similar research in many parts of the world. Understanding the nature of Chinese engagement with subnational jurisdictions is an important way for national governments to shape their security policies and to resist covert and, indeed, unwanted overt interference.
This book provides original insights into the scale of the challenge and distils practical policy recommendations for governments at all levels to consider and adopt.