Flat White

Confronting China’s agents of influence: not McCarthyism, not racism – but in the national interest

21 September 2020

5:00 AM

21 September 2020

5:00 AM

The father of liberalism, English philosopher John Locke once said, “We are like chameleons, we take our hue and the colour of our moral character, from those who are around us”.

Locke is among the most important political philosophers of the modern era. His insight into the thorny issue of influence remains as important today as it was during his lifetime 

Influence and interference have been core principles of the communist movement since inception. Communism thrives on subversive tactics to draw in the masses. One such tactic involves their mobilization of the so-called “United Front Work Department (or United Front). 

In contemporary political language, the United Front represents a group of likeminded persons who have objectives consistent with the aims of the Communist Party and who are ultimately subservient to their control.  

The roots of the movement date back to the practices adopted by the Bolsheviks during the 1917 Russian Revolution 

The Chinese Communist Party has long used agents including groups such as the United Front, the Central Propaganda Department and numerous worldwide community associations for “friendshipto underwrite their influence across the globe. 

The CCP uses this mechanism to allow them to gain organized support and to provide a screen behind which its members can operate to assert influence.  

There are now an estimated 45 million Chinese people living overseas. The United Front strives to dissuade those people from supporting persecuted groups such as the Uighurs and the Falun Gong, to reduce the impact of the Taiwanese democratic model and to promote the CCP’s expansionist agenda.  

The United Front operates under diplomatic camouflage by working with the Chinese community, supporting student associations, and sponsoring Chinese cultural activities.  


The United Front assists the CCP to enact their strategy of targeting foreign elites and the business community, to assist them to promote China’s agenda within their own political systems. 

Under President Xi Jinping, the United Front has doubled down on its efforts to utilise the Chinese diaspora as agents of Chinese foreign policy and coopt foreigners to support the CCP’s foreign policy goals including the so-called “Belt and Road Initiative. 

My home state of South Australia is far from immune from this scourge. It is home to the defence sector in this country. Make no mistake, the United Front walks among us and seeks to pierce our corporations and institutions. So how do we protect our democracy and our values?  

The CCP reacts to threats to their ambitions in a bellicose manner, consequently, unity of purpose among Western countries means pushing back against the shadowy domestic operations of the United Front 

Those in government, academia and business circles need to be properly informed and aware of the United Front’s activities 

Transparency is also critical. Members of Parliament declare gifts and their income, so why should the same not apply to academics?  

People also need to be able to speak up without fear or favour when they perceive unwarranted interference in our values and interests. This is not McCarthyism. It is patriotism. 

Recently, a Bill was introduced by the Morrison Government to ensure that any arrangements which states, territories, and local councils make with foreign governments are consistent with Australian foreign policy and our national interests. 

The Bill seeks to curtail the lower tiers of government from freelancing on foreign policy as we have seen from the Victorian Labor government in signing up to the Belt and Road initiative.  

In addition, I recently joined a group of likeminded Parliamentarians to call for an inquiry into the nature and extent of foreign interference into our university sector following the news that the CCP was co-opting academics into the so-called “Thousand Talents Plan”.  

The powerful Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security will now conduct such an investigation. 

The message from the Morrison Government is clear. Foreign interference into our political system, economy and institutions is an endangered species. We simply cannot be asleep at the wheel when it comes to our sovereignty 

The Chinese are good people who are the primary victims of a loathsome regime. Those who seek to characterise reasonable questions regarding our national security and sovereignty as irrelevant or racist are out of touch and miss the point. 

This is not about condemning the legitimate overseas work of the Chinese people. It is about curtailing the nefarious work of communism on our shores. The responsibility rests with us all.  

It must always be Australia first. 

Alex Antic is a Liberal Senator for South Australia.

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