09/05/2012 - 11:01

A liberal approach to national security

09/05/2012 - 11:01


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Some senior Liberals are a little too quick to fall in line behind business leaders advocating closer ties with China.

Some senior Liberals are a little too quick to fall in line behind business leaders advocating closer ties with China.

I’M not sure whether it’s naivety, search for the dollar, or just plain silliness, but they’re the three possibilities that spring to mind whenever some of our so-called leading citizens comment on China.

Several reports have appeared during the past month indicating China – either via state-owned entities or privately owned ones with high level Beijing contacts – is gaining support from unexpected Australian quarters.

Now, I must stress, at first appearance this isn’t necessarily of concern. But nor should this growing fad be ignored, especially when it results in a public split within the ranks of a major Australian political party, as recently happened.

I first drew attention to this soon after last year’s Boao Forum held in Perth – a talkfest involving Chinese and Australian business and other figures.

At that event, Western Australian billionaire Kerry Stokes, who has a big financial stake in China and owns the state’s only daily newspaper, The West Australian, was reported as saying: “If we don’t integrate our cultures and become close and accept the Chinese, then it will be to our peril.” (Rethink needed on Stokes’ Sino suggestions, WA Business News, August 10 2010.)

That, to say the least, was a strange thing to advocate, considering Mr Stokes is referring to a highly authoritarian and increasingly fascistic one-party state where those who suggest instituting democratic practices are jailed.

Furthermore, Beijing avidly guards nasty authoritarian regimes including North Korea, Iran, Burma, Sudan, and Zimbabwe – although it’s looking as though Burma wants to escape Beijing’s orbit.

Mr Stokes is therefore either unfamiliar with, or prefers to ignore, that wise old adage: ‘He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon’.

Then, at last month’s Boao Forum held on Hainan Island, China’s Hawaii, Fortescue Minerals Group chief executive Neville Power is reported to have criticised the absence of federal and state governments at China’s biggest economic and business gathering at a time when its relations with Australia are under pressure.

Although this wasn’t as enthusiastic an endorsement as that of Mr Stokes, it was nevertheless another business identity lecturing Australia (even though our ambassador to China, Frances Adamson, was at Hainan).

Talk of little tails wagging dogs.

“Ultimately it is about developing close relationships that will improve the investment flow both ways,” Mr Power reportedly said.

“I think it’s disappointing that there isn’t anyone [from government] here.”

Then, two senior Chinese businessmen – Sinopec chairman Fu Chengyu and National Energy Commission advisory board chairman Zhang Guobao – criticised restrictions on Chinese investment in the US and Australia.

As if Beijing has never restricted foreign investment in its economy.

Mr Power then referred to Canberra blocking, on national security grounds, China’s communications giant, Huawei Technology, from bidding for work on Australia’s National Broadband Network.

Ren Zhengfei founded Huawei in 1987, soon after he ceased being a major in the People’s Liberation Army.

Ren had Communist Party of China membership and was a representative at its 12th National Congress.

According to one source: “His ties with the Chinese military and Communist Party are being cited as a security concern in not allowing Huawei to expand in India.

“This follows similar objections raised by the US, which ultimately led to the collapse of Huawei’s efforts to buy [second-rank US company] 3Com.”

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Asia regional editor, Bruce Einhorn, said this wasn’t surprising from the security standpoint.

“But rather than allay concerns that he’s somehow still connected to the military, Ren has stayed in the background,” Einhorn wrote.

“While Huawei often makes other executives available for interviews, that openness ends with the CEO. 

“Trust me; I’ve tried – many, many times – to get an interview. Nothing.

“When the boss won’t talk, that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence among people already inclined to distrust the company.” 

According to an opinion column by Labor MP Michael Danby in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph (April 20 2012), headlined ‘Conservative Australia is suddenly in bed with Reds’, Huawei has managed to gather a sizeable coterie of Liberals willing to speak-up for it, suggesting Mr Stokes may have launched a fad.

“Former foreign minister Alexander Downer, who like past Victorian Labor premier John Brumby is handsomely remunerated for his position on Huawei’s Australian board, told the ABC that Huawei was a ‘Victim of Sinophobia’,” Mr Danby wrote.

“Some Liberals led by Julie Bishop, together with vested mining interests, questioned the Gillard government accepting ASIO’s advice against letting Huawei bid for NBN. 

“The normally sensible Liberal finance spokesman Andrew Robb, along with Julie Bishop and Bronwyn Bishop, all criticised the government for following the security service’s advice. 

“All recently had been guests of Huawei in China. 

“Indeed Julie Bishop has been to China four times in 18 months.

“Julie Bishop and Mr Downer really should know better. Fortunately, some Liberals do know better. 

“Senator George Brandis, the shadow attorney-general, was briefed by ASIO and eventually Tony Abbott overruled Robb and the two Bishops on Huawei.

“Retired Liberal Senate leader Nick Minchin backed ASIO’s advice.”

What, therefore, has the Boao Forum disclosed from just two sessions? 

A WA billionaire – Mr Stokes – is in there batting for Beijing, and a split surfaced across senior Liberal ranks, with Julie and Bronwyn Bishop, Mr Robb, and onetime foreign minister Mr Downer backing a Chinese company, against considered ASIO advice, in contrast to Senator Brandis and former Liberal senator Nick Minchin, with Mr Abbott finally forced to step in.

That’s an amazing development, suggesting it’s time the Liberal Party’s upper echelons knuckled out precisely where they stand on crucial security issues.

While doing so they should read former Office of National Assessments intelligence analyst, Andrew Campbell’s, pathfinding National Observer article (No. 68, Autumn 2006,) ‘Guanxi and Australian-China consultants — the risk of dual allegiance’. 

Dr Campbell highlighted that the Chinese appreciate close contacts with foreigners who can be considered ‘invaluable’ assets, as statements by Boao Forum participants have demonstrated, although only Messrs Downer and Brumby can be classified as ‘consultants’ here.

The Chinese even have a term for this, guanxi, meaning ‘personal contacts networks’.  

Guanxi is comprised of two words, guan and xi, and literally means ‘connection’, Dr Campbell writes.

“Guanxi can be in the form of a dyad, or two-person, guanxi.

“An individual can ‘have guanxi’. Guanxi networks are known as a guanxi net. 

“But guanxi also implies long-term mutual commitment, loyalty and obligation. 

“This can pose a serious counter-intelligence problem, especially as guanxi is critically important for personal, social and political business operations in China.” 

Anyone searching for Dr Campbell’s article will note he recommended immediately instituting a register of Australians working as consultants for foreign governments and allied entities.

Messrs Downer and Brumby, now on Australia’s Huawei board, are undoubtedly consulted.

As for the mayhem within Liberal ranks, if gifts or trip costs were ever accepted, that largesse should also be publicly disclosed via a still-to-be drafted Australian Foreign Agents Registrations Act.

Dr Campbell said such registration would, “provide ASIO with the necessary legal powers to counter and neutralise Chinese intelligence operations and collection which is targeted against Australian and US defence interests in Australia.”

Well said.


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