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Media must go deeper than 'yellow peril' fear-mongering



The Chinese government is out to undermine every aspect of the Australian way of life, from our Census to the integrity of our democracy. Any day now the red flag of the Communist Party will be flying over Parliament House in Canberra ... Or so, you'd be forgiven for believing.

Old Yellow Peril cartoonChinese fear-mongering has hit a fever-pitch in Australia's media in recent months and the lines between genuine concern and sensationalism is becoming increasingly blurred.

How can we make sure journalism keeps level-headed and fair, especially when the issues intersect with Australia's international diplomatic posturing?

The recent avalanche of 'Red's Under the Bed' media fear-mongering kicked into gear after the crash of the Census website. The morning after the website crash Australian Bureau of Statistics' David Kalisch said the Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on the website came from an 'international source'.

Despite the fact that these attacks by nature hijack large quantities of international internet traffic and there being no evidence as to where the attack originated, the media jumped on it and had a field day. Beijing was out to get us ... and our Census data.

ABC's Media Watch was scathing of the media's coverage that week, pointing out the incredibly long bow being drawn by ABC and other reports — which laid the blame for the attack squarely on China and also suggested anger at doping comments made by Olympic swimmer Mack Horton in Rio may have been the reason behind the attack.

As respected tech podcaster and blogger Patrick Gray told Media Watch, the amount of evidence that China's government or even Chinese individual citizens were behind the attack was 'none whatsoever'.

It's not just China's government, but a wide segment of the Chinese diaspora, who, pledging allegiance to the Communist Party, are setting about to undermine Australia from the inside.


"Would this have happened if it was a different country? Would an article on Belgian influence be run including donations by those with 'Belgian sounding' names?"


With Chinese community members planning a concert in honour of Chairman Mao, Fairfax took a newfound interest in inter-Chinese community disputes last week, with a big portrait of Mao on the front page. On the same day, the ABC Radio National AM program reported on an investigation into businesses with 'close ties to China donated $5.5 million to political parties'. They attached a list of the Chinese government-linked donors and how much they gave. While there were Chinese state-owned companies and individuals with clear links, there were also some questionable inclusions on the list.

Some individuals listed had no information at all about their links to China, or whether they were even Chinese citizens. In the absence of any such information it appeared to be just their Chinese name that was used as proof that they were doing the Communist Party's bidding. Also listed was banker Lawrence Kung Chin Yuan, who has close ties to Taiwan and is an active anti-Beijing advocate, making his listing as a peddler of Communist Party influence even more questionable.

Would this have happened if it was a different country? Would an article on Belgian influence be run including donations by those with 'Belgian sounding' names?

Despite there being little evidence that China's lobbying has had any success in changing Australia’s position, it's a conversation with have here with fear and trembling.

At the same time as Australia is hosting a continuous rotation of US troops in Darwin, we have been some of the most vocal critics of China's claim to disputed territory in the South China Sea. When last month China rejected the jurisdiction of a UN tribunal to rule on a dispute with the Philippines over the territory, the Australian government was scathing in its critique. Never mind that we then did the same thing, rejecting the right of the UN to make a ruling in our disputed maritime border with East Timor.

However there are genuine questions that need to be asked about donations. Donations made to Sam Dastyari from Chinese companies were front and centre last week, coupled with reports that he held a press conference in June alongside a donor promising to support China's position in the South China Sea. These are serious and genuine allegations of donors buying political influence.

However aside from Dastyari himself, Australia’s position has remained staunchly anti-China. Political donations from mining and gambling companies have appeared to have markedly more success in influencing government policy in the past, but China’s an easier target to focus on.

While we stand and condemn the overtly racist words of Pauline Hanson, debate in the last month has shown that as a society we are still deeply anxious in our region and there is still clearly a fear of the Yellow Peril, being overran by Asians. The issue of Australia's place in Asia during the Asian century is one that won't be going away, but journalists need to do a better job of siphoning out the hype and the fear the comes with it.


Jarni BlakkarlyJarni Blakkarly is a Melbourne based freelance journalist who regularly contributes to the ABC and Al Jazeera amongst other places. He tweets as @jarniblakkarly.

Topic tags: Jarni Blakkarly, China, Pauline Hanson, Census, Mack Horton



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Existing comments

Forget reds under beds try Catholics in cells and behind bars: "In view of frequent turnovers of those religious and faithful who are being jailed, the Foundation has difficulty in obtaining timely information about their detention and release; consequently, the Foundation is unable to compile an updated and reliable list of prisoners of religious conscience in China [Cardinal Kung Foundation]

Father John George | 06 September 2016  

I want to see all large political donations banned, international or not. There is a very bad smell that comes with money for favour and that's what it is. This is corruption, there's no other word for it. Both parties are guilty, the NSW government is also in it up to the eyes. Our political system and laws need cleaning up.

Kate | 06 September 2016