Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday, 4 July 2020

China’s Hidden Hand: This isn’t paranoia

Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets with China’s President Xi Jinping during the G20 in Osaka, Japan on June 28, 2019. Picture: Adam Taylor/PMO
Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets with China’s President Xi Jinping during the G20 in Osaka, Japan on June 28, 2019. Picture: Adam Taylor/PMO
Read this book. It will knock your socks off. This is a book that neither Beijing nor its agents of influence want you to be allowed to read; which, of course, is precisely why you should. Clive Hamilton and his co-author, Mareike Ohlberg, a German specialist on Chinese propaganda and influence operations in Europe, remark in their preface:
Universal human rights, democratic practice and the rule of law have powerful enemies; and China, under the Chinese Communist Party, is arguably the most formidable.
Since the end of the Cold War, many of those committed to democracy and the rule of law have been asleep at the wheel. It’s time to wake up, both in the West and on the world scene.


If you are still a bit drowsy, read Hidden Hand.
Hamilton had difficulties finding a publisher for his precursor to this book, Silent Invasion. Hardie Grant scorned the wrath of Beijing and published it in early 2018.
It broke the ice regarding strategic Chinese influence and espionage operations in Australia, helping smooth the passage of our foreign influence legislation in December 2018.
China’s hidden hand had overreached and received a rap on the knuckles. That has caused it to curl into a fist.
Australia’s actions have led a growing pushback against Chinese interference globally. Silent Invasion was a defining moment. Hardie Grant now has published this powerful sequel, concentrating on Chinese operations in Europe and North America. The book was published in German in mid-May and became an instant bestseller.
A third printing was ordered within a fortnight. Translations into Italian, Korean, Dutch and Swedish are in preparation. This is the kind of pushback Beijing resents and has been aggressively trying to stop. Its latest attempt is the threat by the 48 Group Club in London of a defamation suit against the British publisher of the Hidden Hand, Oneworld. Watch this space.
Hidden Hand, by Clive Hamilton
Hidden Hand, by Clive Hamilton
The 48 Group Club story goes back to the earliest years of the Cold War. Between 1952 and 1954, three secret members of the British Communist Party, Jack Perry, Roland Berger and Bernard Buckman, set up the London Export Corporation and the 48 Group Club to facilitate trade with China — at the suggestion of Zhou Enlai himself.
But in addition to trade, they built a deep network of influence directly tied to the Chinese Communist Party. It is now run by Perry’s son, Stephen Perry. The extent of its influence network is extraordinary. The account of this in Hidden Hand (pages 60-67) is the target of the threatened defamation case. It is an eye-opener.
Zhou (1898-1976) was eminence grise of the party’s secret intelligence networks for a half-century, including the International Liaison Department and the United Front Work Department. The ILD and UFWD remain the key instruments for influence operations even now.
Hidden Hand spells out the extent of their work. It is a priceless resource for those alarmed by the party’s relentless operations, but even more valuable for those who have failed until now to realise the scope and success of those ­operations.
Those wanting to amplify their grasp of Chinese intelligence organisations should read two other recent books on the subject: Roger Faligot’s Chinese Spies from Chairman Mao to Xi Jinping and Peter Mattis and Matthew Brazil’s Chinese Communist Espionage: An Intelligence Primer. Hamilton and Ohlberg are across both.
Hidden Hand has 13 chapters. The first two outline the Leninist nature of the party and the fact it has never given up its foundational anti-Western, anti-liberal goals. It has just become far richer, far more technologically advanced and far more ambitious, having been permitted to super-size its economy by mercantilist means. Chapters three and four show the scope of its operations in North America and Europe. Chapter five addresses how it has built quiet influence networks in Western states, cities and local councils.
Chapter six analyses the Belt and Road Initiative and how the party has built its corporate conglomerates and alliances with some of the Western financial and business elite.
Chapter seven is about its operations against the Chinese diaspora.
Chapter eight is about its vast espionage network. This isn’t paranoia. China’s espionage is on a scale and to an effect unlike anything before in the long history of spy craft and political subversion. Its achievements, resourcing and strategic co-ordination have been breathtaking.
Chapter nine is about the use of mass media and the rapidly increasing reach and sophistication of the party’s disinformation and propaganda arms, as China’s wealth skyrocketed this century. Chapter 10 is about the deep involvement of the PLA, the party’s huge military arm, in cultural affairs through a company called Poly Culture.
Chapter 11 covers the penetration of think tanks in the West. Chapter 12 is about the infiltration and manipulation of Western universities. It’s more than Confucius Institutes. Chapter 13 deals with the party’s long-term plan for reshaping global governance.
All this is richly documented. The end notes run to 113 pages. There are also a useful glossary and table of acronyms.
In short, Hidden Hand is a work of scholarship, not a rash polemic, as hostile critics asserted of Silent Invasion. It should inform debate in this country, as we respond strategically to the now explicit intention of the party to detach us from the US alliance and reduce us to ‘‘Finlandised” subordinate status in the party’s imagined Asian — indeed, global — co-prosperity sphere.
Hidden Hand should be required reading for our diplomats, intelligence analysts, military officers and businesspeople — to say nothing of premiers and former prime ministers. Hopefully, Chinese and Japanese language versions will follow the Korean one. A documentary film or TV series would be a good ­follow-up.
The book is supremely timely. Sunlight, they say, is the best disinfectant. The Xi regime has spread more than one kind of infection. Now is the time to roll back its operations and turn the tables on it strategically.
Paul Monk was head of the China desk in the Defence Intelligence Organisation in 1994-95. He is the author of 10 books, including Thunder from the Silent Zone: Rethinking China (2005) and Dictators and Dangerous Ideas (2018).

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