Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 31 July 2020

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Trump to Ban Chinese-Owned TikTok From Operating in U.S.

Updated on 
  • President says he will issue decision on video app Saturday
  • Microsoft had been considering bid for ByteDance-owned TikTok
Donald Trump boards Air Force One in Tampa, Florida, July 31.
Donald Trump boards Air Force One in Tampa, Florida, July 31. Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
President Donald Trump said he would ban Chinese-owned TikTok from the U.S. following concerns about data collection by the popular music-video app, escalating the administration’s clash with China.
“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” the president told reporters Friday night. Asked when it would happen, he said: “Soon, immediately. I mean essentially immediately.” He added: “I will sign the document tomorrow.”
Trump said he had the authority to ban the app, owned by ByteDance Ltd., one of China’s biggest tech companies, a move he could make by executive order or under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
“I will sign the document tomorrow,” he said just before Air Force One landed in Washington from a visit to Florida.
Trump’s move could upend a potential bid from Microsoft Corp., which was exploring an acquisition, according to a people familiar with the matter.
Trump shot down that idea Friday.
He said it’s “not the deal that you have been hearing about, that they are going to buy and sell, and this and that. And Microsoft and another one. We’re not an M&A company.”
Microsoft declined to comment.
A ban against TikTok would be the latest move by the administration to curb China’s power in global technology. TikTok has become one of the world’s most popular apps. It has been downloaded more than 2 billion times globally and more than 165 million times in the U.S.
TikTok declined to comment.
The administration’s move came as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which reviews acquisitions of American businesses by overseas investors, was investigating the company. ByteDance in 2017 bought and merged it with TikTok. was founded in Shanghai but had a substantial following in the U.S. at the time.
Trump said in early July that he was considering a ban as a way to retaliate against China over its handling of the coronavirus. But the app has also sparked concerns about the massive amount of data collected about Americans.
The company says American user data is stored in servers in the U.S. and Singapore, not China. But TikTok’s terms of service stipulate that the company may share information with its parent, subsidiary or other affiliates. Previous versions of TikTok’s privacy policy warned users it could exchange information with its Chinese businesses, law enforcement agencies and public authorities, if legally required to do so.
The administration had been considering requiring the sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations. The administration was prepared to announce a sale order on Friday, according to three people familiar with the matter. Another person said later that the decision was put on hold, pending further review by Trump.
White House adviser Peter Navarro said earlier in July that a sale of TikTok to an American buyer wouldn’t address the U.S. concerns.
“If TikTok separates as an American company, that doesn’t help us,” Navarro said. “Because it’s going to be worse -- we’re going to have to give China billions of dollars for the privilege of having TikTok operate on U.S. soil.”
A Microsoft takeover would have given the software maker a popular consumer app that has won over young people with a steady diet of dance videos, lip-syncing clips and viral memes. The company has dabbled in social-media investments in the past, but hasn’t developed a popular service of its own in the lucrative sector.
TikTok has repeatedly rejected accusations that it feeds user data to China or is beholden to Beijing, even though ByteDance is based there. TikTok now has a U.S.-based chief executive officer and ByteDance has considered making other organizational changes to satisfy U.S. authorities.
“Hundreds of millions of people come to TikTok for entertainment and connection, including our community of creators and artists who are building livelihoods from the platform,” a TikTok spokeswoman said earlier Friday. “We’re motivated by their passion and creativity, and committed to protecting their privacy and safety as we continue working to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform.”

India Adds 35,000 Troops on China Border as Tensions Simmer

Updated on 
  • Comes as high-level talks fail to resolve months-long standoff
  • Additional soldiers to further stretch India’s military budget
Indian soldiers guard a highway near the border with China, in Gagangir, in June.
Indian soldiers guard a highway near the border with China, in Gagangir, in June. Photographer: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP via Getty Images
India is positioning an additional 35,000 troops along its disputed Himalayan border with China as the possibility of an early resolution to the deadly tensions between the two neighbors fades.
The move would change the status quo along the contested 3,488 kilometer (2,162 mile) Line of Actual Control and stretch the nation’s already tight military budget, senior Indian officials said, asking not to be identified citing rules on speaking to the media.
Twenty Indian soldiers and unknown number of Chinese troops were killed in an ugly skirmish on June 15 and since then, both sides have rushed thousands of soldiers, artillery guns and tanks to the region. With India-China border agreements not holding, the situation required additional troops, the officials said.
“The nature of the Line of Control, at least in Ladakh, has changed forever,” the director of Delhi-based think-tank The United Service Institution of India and retired major general, B K Sharma said. “Additional troops rushed by either side will not move back, unless there is a rapprochement at the highest political level.”
For now, the skirmishes have stopped. And after several rounds of high level military talks, Beijing said troops were disengaging in most locations.
“Currently the two sides are actively preparing for the fifth round of commander-level talks to resolve outstanding issues on the ground,” China Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular briefing in Beijing on Tuesday. “We hope the Indian side will work towards the same goal with China, implement the two sides’ consensus and jointly uphold peace and tranquility along the border.”
The Indian Army did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Stretched Budget

The extra deployment to eastern Ladakh comes as the Indian Army is heavily committed -- from protecting the 742 kilometer (460 mile) disputed border with Pakistan, to counter insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and north eastern states and monitoring every ingress point along its border with China.
Positioning additional troops where temperatures drop to minus 30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) in the winters will severely test the Indian Army’s logistics capabilities.
Extreme cold limits the construction of shelters for troops and equipment in the Himalayas to the summer months. Fuel, food, medicines and equipment are moved in advance to the area through two roads which close by December, increasing the difficulty further.
Strengthening border defenses comes at huge cost and places new pressure on the nation’s military modernization program. While New Delhi is the world’s third-biggest military spender, its air force, navy and the army are still equipped with weapons that are largely obsolete.
About 60% of defense spending goes to paying salaries for India’s 1.3 million soldiers -- one of the world’s largest standing armies. What’s left is spent on past purchases, leaving the forces with obsolete equipment and not enough ammunition.
“The additional commitment in Ladakh would put further pressure on serviceability, research and development and capital expenditure as revenue cost rise,” Laxman Kumar Behera, a senior research fellow at the Delhi based think-tank Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses said. “It will be painful if the defense budget isn’t increased.”


Living with China’s ‘white terror’

Dong Wuyuan knew her life would be thrown into turmoil when she decided to take a public stand against the Chinese Communist Party.
Dong protested in Melbourne against China’s crackdown on Hong Kong, the Tiananmen Square massacre and the treatment of COVID-19 whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, and the consequences have been serious.
The student in her 20s received death threats; her parents were threatened with jail in China; her WeChat social media account — the communication lifeline of any Chinese expat — was blocked.
This heavy-handed ­response to a single person’s protest in another country wasn’t unusual. In fact, it was horrifyingly familiar. As members of the Chinese diaspora are aware, dissent is not tolerated by the CCP, no matter where in the world it takes place.
Dong has been living in Australia for more than a year and says she supports democracy for China as well as Australia’s ­demands for a full and transparent investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It all started last September when Dong went to Melbourne’s CBD wearing a cardboard cutout of a figure holding two shopping bags — one with an image of ­Winnie-the-Pooh on it and ­another with Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.
The installation brought together images of the Tiananmen Square massacre figure tank man, defied a ban on satirising President Xi Jinping as Pooh Bear-like, and showed solidarity with Hong Kong protesters at a sensitive time when new security laws were being imposed.
In a video hook-up that Dong recorded, police demanded she ­return to China to face prison. China’s ire had been raised by her Twitter post saying “never forget 1989 Tiananmen massacre, evil CCP government killed its own citizens”.

Chinese Australian's reflect on heritage and home

There are more than 1.2 million Chinese Australians. The Diaspora Project asks this diverse group what it thinks about heritage and home.
On the June 4 anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Dong upped the ante. She ­revealed her identity and blew the whistle on police harassment of her family in a protest on the ­internet in which she posted a Tiananmen massacre commemoration speech hosted by ­Humanitarian China.
As a result, Dong says, she has received death threats from “Chinese nationalists” and all contact with her parents has been cut.
Across several weeks of communications with The Weekend Australian, Dong says the Communist Party screws have been tightened, her WeChat and Chinese QQ mail accounts blocked, her communications monitored and efforts by her mother to make phone contact stymied.
Dong says she is now fearful for the safety of her parents and will not return to China. She uses Dong Wuyuan as an online pseudonym that translates to “Horror Zoo”.
Dong earned a masters ­degree in China and has been ­offered a place at a university in Sydney to continue her studies. With limited funds and no family support, Dong says, her study plans will be deferred for one semester, but she is determined to stay in Australia.
“I want to make a real ­Chinese community,” she says. “Not one controlled by the CCP.
“You will never see the pain in the Chinese people, it is a history trauma.
“This trauma will go to the next generation and the next generation. Some call it the white terror. This is a kind of terror you are facing every day, it is a kind of anxiety.
“I put my strength to make the Chinese understand much about democracy or freedom.
“Because I love the Chinese peop

Japan Edges Toward Military Pre-emptive Strike Option

Tokyo debates how to deter missile attacks as threats from North Korea and China rise

This picture, released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on March 10, shows a test of weapons in North Korea. PHOTO: STR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
TOKYO—Ruling-party lawmakers are pushing for Japan’s military to have the ability to strike foreign missile-launch sites to improve deterrence against potential attacks from North Korea and China.
A proposal released Friday by the Liberal Democratic Party’s defense policy committee is set to be a new test of Japan’s pacifist constitution under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has sought to loosen restrictions on the military in response to rising challenges from Beijing and Pyongyang in recent years. 
“New efforts are needed to improve deterrence, including the possession of the ability to defeat ballistic missiles and other weapons, even in the territory of an opponent,” the proposal said. Japan’s National Security Council is set to consider it in August as part of a review of defense policies.
The recommendation follows a government decision in June to scrap a plan to buy a U.S.-made missile-defense system, which would have provided Japan with a nationwide layer of protection against ballistic missiles. Tokyo blamed major new costs and delays from modifications needed to ensure rocket debris from the Lockheed Martin Corp.-developed Aegis Ashore system didn’t land on residential areas in Japan.
The LDP proposal said Japan should look for ways to find similar improvements to its missile defenses to those the Aegis Ashore system would have provided, while also using deterrence to ward off any possible attacks.
Itsunori Onodera, the head of the committee and a former defense minister, said intelligence and surveillance capabilities are needed to provide Japan with the ability to identify missile threats. Japan would likely need early-warning satellites and an increase in its reconnaissance aircraft, as well as new missiles and targeting systems. The proposal didn’t include details.
The proposal is likely to face objections from some opposition lawmakers because Japan’s constitution includes a clause banning the use of military force to settle international disputes. Ruling-party lawmakers say Japan’s military, known as the Self-Defense Forces, has the right to eliminate any imminent threats, such as when an enemy appears to be preparing to launch a missile attack. The LDP committee said its proposal is exclusively for defense.
“This is unconstitutional,” said Asaho Mizushima, a law professor at Waseda University in Tokyo. “The Self-Defense Forces are entitled to counterattack only after an opponent violates Japan’s territory.”
“A pre-emptive strike would change this to self-offense,” he said.
Japan relies heavily on the threat of U.S. military retaliation for its defense under a security alliance formed after World War II. But Tokyo has been boosting its own military capabilities in recent years, such as the development of aircraft carriers and purchases of cruise missiles, as well as the creation of a Marine-like amphibious troop unit.
Mr. Onodera said Japan would closely coordinate with the U.S. if it were to conduct a strike mission in enemy territory.


Hong Kong Delays Election, Citing Coronavirus. The Opposition Isn’t Buying It.

Pro-democracy politicians, who had hoped to ride widespread discontent to big gains in the fall, saw the yearlong delay as an attempt to thwart their momentum.
Civic Party members who were barred from the Legislative Council election at a news conference on Thursday. The decision Friday to postpone the vote was the latest blow to the pro-democracy movement.
Civic Party members who were barred from the Legislative Council election at a news conference on Thursday. The decision Friday to postpone the vote was the latest blow to the pro-democracy movement. Credit... Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times
Austin Ramzy
HONG KONG — The Hong Kong government said on Friday that it would postpone the city’s September legislative election by one year because of the coronavirus pandemic, a decision seen by the pro-democracy opposition as a brazen attempt to thwart its electoral momentum and avoid the defeat of pro-Beijing candidates.
“It is a really tough decision to delay, but we want to ensure fairness, public safety and public health,” said Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive.
She cited the risk of infections, with as many as three million or more people expected to vote on the same day; the inability of candidates to hold campaign events due to social distancing rules; and the difficulties faced by eligible voters who are overseas or in mainland China and cannot return to cast ballots because of travel restrictions.
The delay was a blow to opposition politicians, who had hoped to ride to victory in the fall on a wave of deep-seated dissatisfaction with the government and concerns about a sweeping new national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong. And it was the latest in a quick series of aggressive moves by the pro-Beijing establishment that had the effect of sidelining the pro-democracy movement.
On Thursday, 12 pro-democracy candidates said they had been barred from running, including four sitting lawmakers and several prominent activists like Joshua Wong. Mr. Wong said he was barred in part because of his criticism of the new security law.
“Clearly it is the largest election fraud in #HK’s history,” Mr. Wong wrote on Twitter after Mrs. Lam announced the postponement.
Joshua Wong said he was barred from running in the elections, a day before they were postponed.
Joshua Wong said he was barred from running in the elections, a day before they were postponed. Credit... Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times
Even before Friday, the city’s pro-democracy opposition had accused the government of using social-distancing rules to clamp down on the protest movement that began more than a year ago.
Earlier this week, amid reports that the vote might be delayed, Eddie Chu, a pro-democracy legislator running for re-election, said that China’s ruling Communist Party was ordering “a strategic retreat.” They “want to avoid a potential devastating defeat” in the election, he wrote on Twitter.
The explanation that Hong Kong must delay the vote because of the pandemic is likely to fall flat among the wider public, said Ma Ngok, an associate professor of political science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
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“I think it will be seen as a kind of manipulation, that the government is afraid of losing the majority and that is why they postponed the election,” he said.
Mrs. Lam denied that the decision had been influenced by political concerns. “It is purely on the basis of protecting the health and safety of the Hong Kong people and to ensure that the elections are held in a fair and open manner,” she said.
While Hong Kong has been a world leader in controlling the coronavirus, in recent days it has seen its worst surge of infections yet, with more than 100 new cases reported daily for more than a week. The government has unfurled several new lockdown and social-distancing measures.
“We face a dire situation in our fight against the virus,” Mrs. Lam said.
Under Hong Kong law, an election can be delayed for up to 14 days if there is a “danger to public health or safety.” But Mrs. Lam postponed the election until Sept. 5, 2021, under emergency powers that allow the chief executive to make any regulations considered to be “desirable in the public interest.”
Those powers, which date to the British colonial era, were invoked last year when the government banned the wearing of masks in an effort to stem protests.
China’s central government said it supported Mrs. Lam’s decision to delay the election, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
Mrs. Lam acknowledged that the move created a “rather thorny issue” under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution, which limits the terms of Legislative Council members to four years — meaning that the current lawmakers’ terms will soon expire.
That matter will be referred to the standing committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, which has the power to interpret the Basic Law, for a decision on how to deal with the gap, Xinhua reported.
Opposition candidates took control of 17 out of 18 district councils, which had normally been controlled by pro-Beijing parties, in elections in November.
Opposition candidates took control of 17 out of 18 district councils, which had normally been controlled by pro-Beijing parties, in elections in November. Credit... Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times
The postponement will likely be met with criticism from the United States and other countries that have expressed sharp disapproval of China’s tightening grip on Hong Kong. This month, President Trump said that because of the national security law, the United States would begin to curb its special treatment of Hong Kong and deal with it more in line with the rest of China.
The elections “must proceed on time,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday in a U.S. radio interview. “They must be held. The people of Hong Kong deserve to have their voice represented by the elected officials that they choose in those elections.”
“If they destroy that, if they take that down, it will be another marker that will simply prove that the Chinese Communist Party has now made Hong Kong just another Communist-run city,” he added.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Friday that the Hong Kong election was “a local election in China and is purely China’s internal affair.”
The national security law targets activity that it describes as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers. It has stirred concerns in Hong Kong because it allows mainland security services to operate openly in the city and makes some speech, such as advocating Hong Kong’s independence, illegal.
On Wednesday, in a sign that officials would strictly enforce the law, the police arrested four activists, ages 16 to 21, who were accused of supporting separatism in social media posts.
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And the next day, in barring the 12 opposition candidates, the Hong Kong government said that the grounds for disqualifying them included advocating for Hong Kong’s independence or self-determination, soliciting intervention from foreign governments, expressing an objection in principle to the national security law Beijing imposed last month, or vowing to indiscriminately vote against government proposals.
Opposition candidates say the moves suggested that pro-Beijing officials were concerned about a resounding defeat in the September election. Even establishment candidates have been quietly discussing the potential for a pan-democratic wave.
Elections for neighborhood-level offices, held last November, were seen as a warning: The opposition took control of 17 out of 18 district councils, which had normally been controlled by pro-Beijing parties.
This year, the opposition set its sights on a bigger target: to take at least half the 70 seats in the Legislative Council, the top lawmaking body in the territory.
Banners on a barge in Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong welcoming the national security law imposed on July 1. 
Banners on a barge in Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong welcoming the national security law imposed on July 1.  Credit... Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times
While the protests have abated in recent weeks under the authorities’ crackdown, discontent with the government has remained strong since Beijing imposed the security law on Hong Kong, a semiautonomous city that maintains its own local government and legal system.
Two weeks ago, more than 600,000 people participated in the opposition camp’s primary election, despite warnings from local officials that it might be illegal. Voters generally preferred candidates closely associated with the past year’s protests.
In barring the candidates for the September elections, election officials questioned whether candidates who had previously lobbied foreign governments would continue to do so, which could potentially violate the new security law’s prohibitions on foreign influence. Another question asked was whether candidates, if elected, would veto the government’s budget. Under Hong Kong’s system, if the legislature blocks the budget twice in a row, the chief executive is forced to step down.
Kwok Ka-ki, a legislator who was one of the 12 candidates disqualified Thursday, replied that such a question was political in nature, and that he was unsure why an election official had any business asking it. “After all, this is why there are elections in the first place,” he wrote.
Just half the seats in the legislature represent geographic districts in Hong Kong, another barrier for the pro-democracy camp. The other half are functional constituencies largely set aside for candidates from various commercial sectors, which tend to vote for establishment candidates.
The opposition has pointed to other places that have held successful elections during the pandemic, including South Korea and Singapore.
“I don’t think many people in Hong Kong will be convinced,” Mr. Ma said, referring to the official justification for delaying the election. “They are allowed to go to work, take the subway, take the bus, stand in long queues and then not allowed to vote? It won’t be very convincing.”
Elaine Yu and Tiffany May contributed reporting from Hong Kong. Keith Bradsher contributed reporting, and Claire Fu contributed research, from Beijing.

WeChat, and the party watches you

Whether you’re one of the billion-plus people living in China or one of the tens of millions to have left the mainland for foreign shores since the turn of the century, there is one universally accepted reality: you’re being watched.
President Xi Jinping’s oft-stated desire to achieve the “Chinese Dream” — the so-called “great rejuvenation” of his nation — might be the mantra of the Chinese Communist Party at home, but it also demands that the country’s mighty diaspora, spread right across the globe, is kept in check.
And in Australia, as in so many other countries with significant numbers of Chinese migrants, Mr Xi’s most powerful weapon is WeChat. The social media channel has been described as a complete digital “ecosystem”.
It’s the main conduit for personal, business and institutional communications in China and, increasingly, its worldwide diaspora, including the 1.2 million-strong cohort in Australia.
WeChat has been a fixture in daily life in China for years, but with tensions escalating between China and its rivals — namely the US and its allies — the relentless gaze of the social media behemoth is making life uncomfortable for Chinese Australians.
One dilemma is that WeChat is often the only avenue for Chinese Australians to engage with relatives back home.
Chinese interpreter Christine Hond, who came to Australia in 1989 as a student and stayed on after the Tiananmen Square massacre, said WeChat, TikTok and Zoom had all been compromised by the CCP.
“I don’t go on to WeChat because I don’t want to compromise my personal life, but for a majority of people, they can’t live without WeChat,” Ms Hond said.
“What is on WeChat is monitored by the Chinese government, so what they are reading is propaganda and they are brainwashed.”
Ms Hond, who has an Australian husband, said it took time to fully appreciate “the deeper value of freedom” after coming from China. “Chinese migrants have access to free information in Australia but it takes 10 years to undo the brainwashing, and that is if you learn English and integrate with the mainstream,” she said.
Concern about Chinese government interference in Australia continues to rise in step with the worsening war of words between the two countries.
Just this week, Beijing powerbrokers accused Australia of “barking at China” at the behest of the US. Earlier last month, Australia had enraged Beijing over its stance on Hong Kong. All this when Mr Xi has made no secret of his desire to toughen CCP control over the overseas diaspora.
An edict sent out earlier this year to all CCP members around the world tightened the regulation of members’ behaviour outside of working hours.
Members are banned from contradicting the party, watching non-approved websites and television, carrying and collecting banned publications, and joining forbidden associations. They also are banned from publishing, forwarding or liking articles and images, videos and audio that damage the party’s unification.
Within WeChat’s multiple networks, users dob in neighbours to police and censors. Unruly or unpatriotic behaviour in Australia can be used to punish Chinese relatives at home.
WeChat combines all the separate functionalities of companies such as WhatsApp, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple Pay, Uber, Twitter, PayPal, Skype, Wordpress, Instagram, MyGov and even Tinder in a single app.
Highly sophisticated monitoring functions make it a cornerstone of the Chinese govern­ment’s social-credit system that, according to China’s State Council, will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”.
Together with the broadcast of state-sanctioned TV programs into thousands of Chinese-Australian homes, WeChat provides a unfiltered stream of CCP propaganda to the global diaspora.
Some foreign powers, including India, have taken steps to curb the global march of WeChat and other apps such as TikTok, arguing that the spread of Chinese propaganda should stay within its own borders. US President Donald Trump is considering taking similar action, but there has been little discussion in Australia of applying any restrictions on Chinese social media channels.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Fergus Ryan said the government should do more to protect the privacy of WeChat users in Australia.
“Australian WeChat users, like all WeChat users, are constantly monitored,” he said. “This data is then used by WeChat to train its political censorship system.”
Mr Ryan said the Australian government should push WeChat owner Tencent to service Australian users without exposing them to unreasonable levels of surveillance and censorship. “ Failing that, the Australian government should be prepared to ban it,” he says.
Tencent did not respond to questions from The Weekend Australian about surveillance of its Australian users accounts.
Maree Ma, general manager of Sydney-based Chinese-language publisher Vision Times Media,said more people were influenced by WeChat than by television and other platforms.
“I think We Chat is a place where propaganda can really infiltrate because it is used all the time and people don’t really have a choice to not use it,” Ms Ma said.
“People don’t bother going to other places and they think what they read is the truth.”
Ms Ma told an ASPI online conference last month that what was less known was how We Chat could mobilise the Chinese community to support particular politicians. “Mostly groups are dormant, but when sensitive issues come up information can be spread incredibly quickly by these groups,” Ms Ma said. “This can happen during elections or be used to target people.”
Ms Ma said when Victorian Liberal MP Gladys Liu made supportive comments about Hong Kong there was a spike in negative comments made about her in WeChat groups.
“This acted as a warning to her that United Front efforts could help her win the election but could also take it away from her if she went out of line,” she said.
As part of a series of articles on the region’s Chinese diaspora, The Weekend Australian, supported by the Judith Neilson Institute, has found a community that retains strong links with China’s heritage but has a mixed and sometimes difficult relationship with the CCP.
Australia’s Chinese community is a diverse mix that includes families that have been in Australia for generations, dissidents enjoying sanctuary from perse­cution and a new wave from the mainland who have benefited most from China’s new era of economic prosperity.
Many support the CCP’s ambitions to stand up to the US in the region and defend China’s policies on Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea. Others regard the CCP under Mr Xi as being out of control.
Dozens of Chinese Australians have told The Weekend Australian they live in fear of online missteps; for them, being excom­municated from the WeChat world would effectively sever all political, social and family ties they may hold with the homeland.
Michael Jensen, of the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, said one of the largest WeChat groups in Australia, OurSteps, had been shut down last year on CCP orders.
“This is evidence of the extraterritorial application of censorship, but it is not just on WeChat,” he said. “Universities in the UK have been told that online students in China must only be required to read materials on an ‘allowed’ list of resources.”
ASPI said WeChat was known to “facilitate Chinese government censorship and surveillance”.
Indeed, a spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs said social media could be a particularly effective tool in the manipulation of information. “Social media platforms can be used to disseminate and quickly amplify misinformation or promulgate political views in a manner which allows the principal author to remain anonymous,” the spokesman said in response to questions from The Weekend Australian.
The CCP also beams its message into thousands of Chinese homes through YouTube and Charming TV, a set-top box service that gives access to hundreds of channels of regional Chinese TV, propaganda films and news.
Aspiring politician Stanley Xie, who came to Australia in 1988 and has been a Unity Party candidate in NSW, has been supported by the ALP as an independent candidate for the Hurstville ward in local government elections.
Hurstville, in Sydney’s south, has Australia’s largest Chinese community. Mr Xie said most mainland Chinese families in Australia were still watching Chinese TV.
“This means their political view reflects the Chinese propaganda,” Mr Xie says. “If you publish something considered to be political dissent, WeChat will kick me out and I will lose contact with my friends and community.”