Chinese Spies at Sydney University

John Garnaut, Sydney Morning Herald, April 21, 2014

China is building large covert informant networks inside Australia’s leading universities, prompting Australia to strengthen its counter-intelligence capabilities.

Chinese intelligence officials have confirmed to Fairfax Media that they are building networks to monitor the ethnic Chinese community to protect Beijing’s “core interests”.

Much of the monitoring work takes place in higher education institutions, including Sydney University and Melbourne University, where more than 90,000 students from mainland China are potentially exposed to ideas and activities not readily available at home.

Fairfax has interviewed lecturers and Chinese-born students who have suffered repercussions because of comments they made in Australian classrooms which were reported through Chinese intelligence channels. “I was interrogated four times in China,” said a senior lecturer at a high-ranking Australian university.

He was questioned by China’s main spy agency over comments he made at a seminar about democracy at the University of NSW. “They showed me the report. I can even name the lady who sent the report.”

Such informant networks are driving the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation to increase its capabilities. ”They have more resources in Sydney University than we do,” an Australian official said. ”No question.”

The shift under way in Australian counter-intelligence priorities potentially heralds the end of an era that has been overwhelmingly dominated by counter-terrorism since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

It illustrates the complexities of a rising China, whose leaders have recently recommitted to economic reforms while inoculating their

Leninist political system against change and Western influence.

China’s electronic espionage capabilities are broadly known, with high-profile examples of Chinese servers being used to penetrate Australia’s largest companies, most senior politicians and even ASIO’s new high-tech headquarters in Canberra, which remains unopened as a result.

But China’s human intelligence and ”influence” networks have proven more difficult to identify and respond to.

At the overt level, education counsellors in Chinese diplomatic missions organise Chinese-born students into associations through which they can provide support services. In part, they are providing assistance and a sense of community that many Australian universities are failing to deliver, said John Fitzgerald, of Swinburne University.

“Australian universities don’t know what it means to host international students properly,” said Professor Fitzgerald, who is an expert on Chinese communities in Australia. “It means that students from China feel they are being hosted by the Chinese government in Australia.”

The Chinese government-led student associations are also used to gather intelligence and promote core political objectives, according to Chinese officials, Australian officials and members of Australia’s Chinese community.

Chen Yonglin, a Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia in 2005, said on Sunday that students were an important part of embassy and consular work.

Mr Chen, now a businessman in Sydney, confirmed that Chinese diplomats set up Chinese student associations at each university, appointed their leaders, and ensured they were well-funded.

”The students are useful for welcoming leaders at airports and blocking protest groups from sight, and also collecting information,” he said.

Separately, he said, Chinese state security officials in and outside diplomatic missions ran student agents ”to infiltrate dissident groups especially [relating to] Tibet and Falun Gong”.

In 2005 Chinese officials rejected Mr Chen’s claim he was aware of ”over 1000 Chinese secret agents and informants in Australia”.

Jocelyn Chey, a former diplomat in Beijing and Hong Kong who is a fellow at the Institute of International Affairs and visiting professor at the University of Sydney, said: “It’s quite clear that a large part of the business of Chinese diplomatic missions here is just keeping tabs on their citizens.”

Dr Chey has watched the networks become “increasingly complex” since the Chinese embassy opened in Canberra in 1973.

Outside the diplomatic missions, Chinese surveillance work is mainly co-ordinated by the Ministry of State Security and several of the ministry’s provincial bureaus.

Surveillance and influence work is also performed by the United Front Work Department, through various business and patriotic associations, as well as two departments of the People’s Liberation Army.

The on-campus informant networks are constraining the conversations and actions of Chinese-born students, who constitute the largest international market for Australian universities.

In one case, security officials told parents in China to constrain the activities of their son after informants reported he had seen the Dalai Lama in Australia. According to the lecturer who was interrogated in China, the person who informed on his comments at the University of NSW also fabricated information about him making donations to a democracy organisation.

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  • MekongDelta69

    Chinese food – coming to a university near you…

  • IstvanIN

    They need breathing room and raw materials and will soon have access to it all for free.

    • There isn’t real “breathing room” Down Under. Australia is a desert with a narrow green ring around it. It’s about the same size as the US Lower 48, but there are no equivalents of our huge Mississippi-Missouri River system or the Great Lakes. To support a large population, one needs plenty of water.

      • IstvanIN

        But they have some living space, plus the minerals, and they could use desalinization to bring more water to the desert. The Chinese have never been fussy about the environment.

        • Reverse-osmosis desalinization has gotten more energy efficient in recent years, but the water would still have to be piped a long way.

          The long-term solutions to China’s population problem are, along with the existing low birthrate, settlement of ethnic Han Chinese in Singkiang and Tibet (however little the Uyghurs and Tibetans like this) and a rising standard of living, which reliably and rapidly causes a decrease in birthrates in non-Muslim countries.

          • IstvanIN

            That may be logical but this is the Chinese century. They are threatening Japan over the Senkaku Islands and seizing a Mitsubishi ship in Shanghai.

          • It’s not the “Chinese century” at all. Currently, China has lots and lots of very poor people. In 20 years, they’ll have lots and lots of very old people. They’re not only threatening Japan, but also the Philippines and Vietnam. The real Asian power shift has involved China’s belligerent behavior only tangentially: it has been India’s rapprochement with the US.

          • David Ashton

            History is what we make it.

  • Daniel Schmuhl

    I doubt this would change John Engelman’s mind on Asian immigration.

  • FozzieT

    If only there were some way they could identify these Chinese spies. Something that differentiates the Chinese from the native Australian citizens. If there were some way to identify a visual characteristic, for example, between these otherwise identical groups of people. Then they could at least monitor the Chinese students. But they obviously blend in so seamlessly, it’s just impossible to tell who is Chinese and who is Australian….

    • Robert Haschberg

      They are supposed to have narrow body openings. I suggest probing with a large dildo – if it fits its an aussie. The chinese cannot escape the trial by dildo test.

  • MBlanc46

    I can’t speak to the Australian situation, but in the US, the elites are so attached to the Chinese teat that they couldn’t speak out or act against Chinese aggression even if they wanted to.

  • Romulus

    Jooooohhhhnnnn!! Wherefore art thou John?
    Even during the construction of the three gorges dam, the Chinese we’re consulting with American and British engineers.
    I won’t bore readers repeating myself about Chinese espionage.

    • Intrep1d

      Most Chinese spying isn’t academic or industrial espionage. It’s to monitor their own.

      • That was my take on this as well. Where their government is concerned, capitalism is well and good, but people thinking for themselves about politics is anathema.

  • Pro_Whitey

    Crikey! How ’bout Awstraylia for Awstraylians, mate? That’d be fair dinkum. Ah, who am I kidding . . .

  • Robert Haschberg

    The funniest thing about chinese espionage is that americans, in their bottomless greed, let “naturalized” 1st generation chinese immigrants work on top-secret projects like nuclear weapons and jet fighters. Why? Because they are cheaper to hire than american engineers.

  • DudeWheresMyCountry?

    I just admire the Chinese, their culture and their ways so much!

  • Jon Doe

    If you aint cheat’n you aint try’n lol… besides how many US intelligence agents is stationed all over the world?

  • Robert Haschberg

    A ton of copper consumed by China is a ton of copper that cannot be consumed by America. A barrel of oil consumed by China is a barrel of oil that cannot be consumed by America etc. America will have to restrict Chinas resource usage or be starved. Thats the long term reason for war between China and America.

    The interesting thing is that this situation has a precedent. America forced itsefl on Japan in 1852. Some greedy americans wanted to do business in what was essentially an iron age Japan. They basically forced the japanese to trade with them at gunpoint. The japanese, being severely humilated, underwent a period of social and industrial change. In 1905 the japanese surprised the world when they beat the russians in armored ship battle at tsushima.The expanding Empire of Japan eventually ran afould of US ambitions in western pacific and eventually the japanese went to war again in 1941 to secure their access to resources. All this because of some greedy americans 90 years earlier.

    In 1972 America normalized relations with China. The chinese eventually realized they were way behind in the 80’s and reoriented their society towards individual intitative and a mix of state and private capitalism. Then America decided to outsource its industry to them. The difference here is that while USA was 2x the population of Japan in 1940 and had much larger industrial capacity, China has 4x the population of USA and likely industrial parity or even superiority in some areas. I dont think USA can win a conventional war against China in 2030 without using nuclear weapons. All this because greedy americans in the 80’s and 90’s. You know how the rest of the story will go but this time America is the smaller nation with lesser industrial capacity.