An ABC-Fairfax investigation into the ties between Chinese interests and Australian public life has thrust the issue of Chinese donations to Australian political parties into the spotlight. Accusations of selling out to the Chinese and the revelation of the Julie Bishop Glorious Foundation dominated question time. But what do the Chinese community in Australia think about all this sudden attention?

Joey, relief international relations officer of the Sydney University Chinese Student Association (SUCSA), told me there has been a growing sense of animosity that had trickled down to the student organisation.

“There’s a sense of lingering Cold War sentiment, and it feels like other groups might see us as more than just a simple student body.”

He says other student groups have made backhanded remarks, calling the SUCSA “Communists”. SUCSA wanted to demand fresh student elections from the University of Sydney Union but balked out of fear of being accused of exerting “external” influence on student politics.

Fiona Li, a Chinese international student at the University of Melbourne, says the reporting on Chinese donations in Australian politics has been biased. 

“I think it frames the Chinese community into a political context. What is suspicious for me, is that the interviewees were mostly Australian politicians, scholars, Anti-China activists, or students who supported their viewpoint. There was a notable lack of … opinions from those who would disagree with the show’s narrative.”

Jieh-Yung Lo, co-founder of Poliversity, a partisan organisation that aims to strengthen multicultural representation and leadership in the ALP, says the media coverage on Chinese influence in Australian politics has deterred some Chinese-Australians from getting involved in Australian politics: “Since details of the investigation became public, many community members have expressed to me privately their concerns regarding the Australian public’s perception of Chinese-Australians (i.e. we are all spies and corrupted all thanks to the actions of a few). And because of these negative perceptions, some are no longer interested to get active and involved in Australian politics, which in my view is a great shame because like all Australians, we need to have our say on issues that are of concern to us.”

Victor Tang, a University of Melbourne student, says the media coverage has been fraught for him: “Alienating, particularly since I’m an Australian born Chinese, as it seems everything reported about China in the Australian media is always negative.” He also felt betrayed by the ABC, which he says has been “quite reputable in the past”. 

Migrant Freddy Jiang says it’s just politics.

“If ABC/Fairfax’s report of China’s attempt to influence Australian politics is true, it’s not really surprising as in the great chessboard of the world there are only players and pawns, and Australia unfortunately is a pawn.”

“I am not supporting China’s actions, I am just saying any rational person would do the same. My point is what China is doing is nothing personal, it’s just playing the game of geopolitics like any other rational actor would.”

Linda, a corporate consultant, says she is worried about the impact the stories will have on her family and friends.“Stories like this will just end up hurting the Chinese community in general. My daughter is already uncomfortable of bringing Chinese food to school.”

And she says it could hurt her career prospects. 

“Of course I also have to take my career into account. Asian people already face harder chances of promotion and I do not want to be falsely accused of certain beliefs.”

Peter Fray

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