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This report examines the impact of Australia’s foreign interference debate and declining relationship with China on Chinese-Australians and Chinese community organisations in Australia. Existing research has established the connections between some Chinese community organisations in Australia and the Chinese Communist Party’s united front, a sprawling network of groups and individuals that aims to shape discourse and decision-making at home and abroad in Beijing’s favour. Rather than revisit the activities of the united front, this report seeks to better understand Chinese community organisations in Australia, the way they relate to China, and how they have reacted to Australia’s increasingly intense national debate about China.
Drawing on interviews, focus groups, and survey data, this report finds that Australia’s foreign interference debate and the souring of bilateral relations between China and Australia has left many Chinese-Australians and their community organisations caught in a contest for their loyalty. The Chinese Party-state clearly reaches out to overseas Chinese communities in Australia to promote China’s political interests and economic development. Australia’s efforts to combat this outreach have had mixed results thus far. Many Chinese-Australians welcome new anti-foreign interference laws, as they see them as helping to protect the community against CCP outreach. But a greater number of those surveyed said attacks — political, verbal, and sometimes physical — on Chinese communities had alienated Chinese-Australians and in some cases made them more receptive to messages critical of Australia.
It is clear that Beijing’s economic incentives appeal to some Chinese-Australians and are often promoted by community organisations. Many of these community organisations in Australia have evolved from service-providing organisations to vehicles for networking, business, and influence. Newer organisations are more likely to have closer economic and other connections to China. Some of these groups claim to speak for Chinese-Australian communities, but the interviews and focus groups found little to no engagement with such bodies and minimal support for the idea that they were representatives of the communities’ broader political views.