New Chinese era of living dangerously

New Chinese era of living dangerously, by Greg Sheridan.

Australians need to absorb a disturbing message — the scale of foreign intelligence activit­y against us today is greater than it was during the Cold War. …

We have had a deluge of powerful institutional warnings about Beijing’s activities. Duncan Lewis, the recently retired head of ASIO, said Beijing was using interference techniques to try to control Australian politics, and that the threat was long-term. …

More drama­tically, Lewis said foreign interference was a greater existential threat to Australia than terrorism and “the current scale of foreign intelligence activit­y against Australian interests is unprecedented”. …

Dennis Richardson, also a former­ boss of ASIO, and former head of the Department of Defence and DFAT, in reflectin­g on the angst with Beijing, told The Weekend Aust­ralian: “At the base of it is China’s own actions. We would not be having this debate if it were not for China’s actions both in Australia and overseas. In part it is their tendency to hack into everything that moves in Australia.

Richardson, Warner, Lewis and Adamson are not swivel-eyed, right-wing loons — Richardson was Bob Hawke’s chief of staff. Their statements, and many others, represent the mature conclusio­ns of the deepest work and analysis of national policy instituti­ons. …

A bit of history:

From 1972 to 2014, the Australia-China relationship was like a market stock that trended ever upwards. … And it ended in 2014 when Abbott hosted China’s President, Xi Jinping. On that visit, Xi embraced a Comprehens­ive Strategic Partnership between­ Beijing and Canberra. During Abbott’s tenure the two nations also negotiated and finalised a wide-ranging free-trade agreement. This was both the high point and the last moment of the old paradigm. …

Since then, Xi has changed Chinese political culture fundamentally. His government has crushed all internal dissent, ­suppressed religious minorities, arrested all the human rights lawyers­, occupied and militarised the South China Sea, forged a dangerous strategic relationship with Moscow, interfered in the domestic politics of numerous nations­, incarcerated foreign indiv­iduals as bargaining chips in bilateral disputes, and aggressively engaged in cyber and other espionage at a level beyond that of other nations. These actions are where the big change lies. …

Even sucking up to Beijing does not guarantee calm sailing. No businessman could have done more to cultivate good relations with mainland Chinese leadership than James Packer, yet no Australian business was ultim­ately treated more cruelly. …

Peter Varghese, former head of DFAT and the most sophisticated of our foreign policy thinkers, believe­s the relationship has changed profoundly since 2014. He tells The Weekend Australian: “We will see a bifurcation of the relationship into economic and non-economic parts. The econo­mic will be positive. But the rate of growth will slow. The non-econo­mic will be very truncated. We are beginning to recognise that our strategic congruence is limited. China’s fundamental strategic positioni­ng is not consistent with our interests.

“There is still a view among some that there’s a problem in the relationship and Australia has to fix it. But most of the problems we have arise from the nature of the Chinese political system.” …

Now we enter the era of living dangerously.