11 Sep ‘Journos’ linked to propaganda unit
Ben Packham – The Australian – Friday 11 September 2020
Four Chinese “journalists” raided by ASIO were part of a Communist Party propaganda operation in Australia, influencing local Chinese-language media and reporting to Beijing on members of the Australian-Chinese community.
China’s harassment and attempted detention of Australian journalists Bill Birtles and Mike Smith is believed to have been payback for the raids on the Chinese state media representatives, according to senior Australian government sources.
It’s unclear whether the detention of Australian journalist Cheng Lei by Chinese security services was also retaliation for the ASIO raids.
One of the Chinese journalists interviewed by ASIO is believed to be former Sydney Xinhua bureau chief Yang Jingzhong, who left Australia after the June 26 raids and was removed as the listed director of the news agency in August.
Unlike two already identified journalists raided by ASIO — China News Service bureau chief Tao Shelan and China Radio International bureau chief Li Dayong — Yang was not part of a WeChat group linked to NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane and his adviser John Zhang.
Chair of the Senate finance and public administration committee James Paterson said he would raise the issue of whether Chinese state media should be able to access federal parliament.
“Given these revelations, the effectively unrestricted access to Parliament House granted to Xinhua journalists should be carefully and promptly reviewed,” he said. “The parliamentary press gallery is for real journalists … not a front-row seat for foreign state actors.”
UTS China studies professor Feng Chongyi said foreign bureau chiefs of Chinese state-run media organisations were recognised as ranking government officials within the Chinese system.
“Although they are working in those media outlets, they are actually government officials. They do have power, a lot of power, especially in Xinhua News Agency,” he told The Australian. “Apart from doing their media reports, they have the duty to send internal reports back to the party in China on the local business people, local media outlets and community organisations.”
Professor Feng said the Chinese embassy and its consulates typically arranged meetings for the state-media representatives with local community and business leaders, who were also “vying for favour” with the media outlets.
“That is the inner-working of what we call United Front work,” he said.
According to China’s state-owned Global Times, the ASIO raids were “a horrendous violation of the basic rights of the Chinese journalists and freedom of the press”. But Charles Sturt University professor Clive Hamilton, who exposed the Chinese Communist Party’s global program of influence and subversion in his book Hidden Hand, said Chinese state-media journalists “are not journalists in a way we understand”.
“They have been in Australia to engage in political influence work through Chinese-language media, mobilise the Chinese diaspora and network with figures like Shaoquett Moselmane, Bob Carr and so on,” he said. “They are therefore prime targets for foreign interference investigation.”
Professor Hamilton said CNS, which Tao headed, “is the propaganda arm of the United Front Work Department, which covertly runs Chinese-language media in Australia”.
Li’s China Radio International was part of the CCP’s Propaganda Department, and part-owns radio stations in Australia through its 60 per cent ownership of Melbourne company CAMG Media Group, directed by media tycoon Tommy Jiang, Professor Hamilton said. “These radio stations are used to promote the correct line to the diaspora,” he said. All four of the Chinese journalists raided by ASIO had left the country.
Home Affairs also cancelled the visas of two Chinese scholars, Chen Hong and Li Jianjun, on national security grounds.
The academics were part of what Mr Moselmane described as a “friendly chat group”, but which authorities allege was used to influence the state upper house MP.