Disenchantment and fear: Chinese-Australians need a stronger political voice

Jason Yat-Sen Li has warned that Chinese Australians need to play a more active role in local politics


Amid growing political tension between Canberra and Beijing, a Chinese community leader has warned that if Chinese-Australians are not given a chance to participate in Australian politics, significant disenchantment could arise. 

“If you don’t give the Chinese community a voice in local Australian politics, or a sense of belonging here in Australia, that makes the allure of the CCP more powerful,” Jason Yat-Sen Li said.

Mr Li said since the Fairfax Media and the ABC’s joint investigation into China’s interference in Australian politics, residents of Chinese heritage were afraid to speak up because they feared being regarded as working for the Communist Party of China (CPC) after tensions over the alleged espionage.

“They [Chinese-Australians] are afraid of the media will dig up whatever connections between them and the CPC. Then their reputation will be destroyed,” he said.

Mr Li, a former Labor candidate who contested the seat of Bennelong in the 2013 federal election, spoke earlier this year at a conference of the Victorian Chapter of the (CCCAV), which discussed the challenges that Chinese communities faced in the political tension between Canberra and Beijing.

Fairfax Media and the ABC’s joint investigation last year reported that China was the “key suspect” of Australia’s “espionage and foreign interference”.

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Relations have worsened since this visit by the Chinese Premier China’s Premier Li Keqiang last year.

Responding to the investigation, the Chinese Embassy denied Beijing had been involved in any Australian internal politics.

Not long after the Fairfax and the ABC’s coverage, the former Turnbull government announced a new foreign interference law in December, which was passed in June this year.

The law, called the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2018, was designed to limit foreign interference in Australia politics via a number of measures, including the outlawing of foreign political donations, and establishing a list of lobbyists who work on behalf of a foreign government.

In April, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull told radio station 3AW the espionage Bill had elevated tensions between China and Australia, as many Australian government ministers’ visas to China had been refused.

The CCCAV conference was concerned with Chinese-Australians being put in the centre of the foreign influence discussion.

The council gathered community leaders from around Australia to discuss the potential threat to Chinese-Australians’ political life in Australia.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ former multicultural affairs adviser Mike Young said the media tried to create a misunderstanding that residents with Chinese heritage were all closely aligned with the CPC.

“Many members of the Chinese community have fears of being labelled as a China sympathiser or a CPC spy, which I think is absolute nonsense,” he said.

“What is considered having links with the CPC? If we look at the whole picture, everything connects to the ruling party of China, which is the CPC.

“We need to realise the fact that this is the reality, this is the world we are living in.”

Writer and Policy adviser Jieh-Yung Lo was disappointed with the media’s coverage was shocking for the Chinese community

Australia-based writer and policy adviser Jieh-Yung Lo said Fairfax Media and the ABC’s coverage shocked the Chinese community.

“Our community is totally unprepared for such attack. We have not seen many Chinese-Australian voices in the mainstream media to respond the issue,” he said.  

“It is incredibly difficult to get some balanced and model views into the major press, because those views cannot get attention.”

Former foreign affairs minister Gareth Evans offered advice to the Chinese community on how to get their voices heard.

“What the community needs to do is to work harder to get Chinese-Australians’ stories into the media more regularly.

“It is a challenge to the Chinese community to work out what stories are going to be told, and who will tell the stories into the wider community,” Mr Evans said.

La Trobe University law Professor Jianfu Chen said the Chinese community could help the broader Australian society by reaching out and working with other minority groups in Australia.

“We not only need to go out to speak issues relating to Chinese-Australians, we also need to (be more) outspoken of other minorities,” he said.