Aussie 'think tank' behind anti-China blitz

Gao Wei
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said earlier this month that the Australian Strategic Policy Institute is spearheading anti-China forces.
Gao Wei

In a yellow three-storey building in the capital Canberra, so inconspicuous that one could easily miss it, dwells an institute behind plenty of anti-China campaigns in Australia.

It pumps out a "one-sided, pro-American view of the world," said Bob Carr, former premier of the New South Wales. "I see it as very much the architect of the China threat theory in Australia," said ex-ambassador to China Geoff Raby.

The two men are referring to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said earlier this month that with such strong ideological bias, the institute is actually spearheading anti-China forces and its academic credibility has been seriously questioned.

Anti-China propaganda

About two weeks ago, Twitter removed thousands of pro-China accounts following a study by the ASPI.

The institute has fabricated reports on policies in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, which the Chinese government has repeatedly refuted.

A member of the ASPI was a bylined contributor to the coverage of Wang Liqiang, who was reported by Australian media to have defected to Australia and confessed that he had worked as a secret agent in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but later proved to be a convicted fraud with a fake ID.

"The Wang Liqiang story is just the latest example of claims running ahead of an evidence base in Australia," said James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney.

In fact, ASPI executive director Peter Jennings is a frequent contributor to Australian media, producing articles like "A new cold war will force changes in Australian behaviour," "Party's over for the bullies of Beijing," and "China will be surprised how long it took us to act on foreign investment laws," all of which visibly embody a Cold War mentality.

Foreign funded

Many believe that the ASPI's stance against China is linked to its sources of funding, a lot of which reportedly come from defence contractors and foreign governments.

When the think tank was founded in 2001, it was funded by Australian government through the Department of Defence.

However, it "was taking nearly 450,000 Australian dollars (about 311,000 U.S. dollars) from the U.S. State Department to track Chinese research collaborations with Australian universities," according to an article by Myriam Robin carried by the Australian Financial Review (AFR), citing Kim Carr of the Labor Party.

Although the exact number is yet to be verified, the AFR report said that the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme, which was introduced to monitor the alleged influence of the Chinese government in Australia, "ironically captured some more recent sources of ASPI funding, including NATO, the U.S. State Department and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office." The list also includes the Embassy of Japan, said the article.

Defence contractors such as Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Thales and Raytheon are also among the ASPI's sponsors, along with some technology companies.

"These other sources have grown far faster than its funding from Defence, meaning in the most recent financial year it accounted for a record-low 43 percent of ASPI's 9 million Australian dollars total budget," said the AFR article.

Objectivity questioned

On the front page of the ASPI's official website, the think tank describes itself in bold as "an independent, non-partisan think tank that produces expert and timely advice for Australia's strategic and defence leaders."

The institute's claims have come under criticism.

An article on iTWire, an Australian IT and telecommunications news website, said "ASPI runs a hawkish line on China in a bid to hype up the fear index and make it possible for its donors to sell more weapons to countries in the Asia-Pacific region."

"This is an old strategy," said the article written by Sam Varghese. "It was used by the U.S. in the Middle East and still is."

John Menadue, a former diplomat and ex-Qantas CEO, said the ASPI "lacks integrity and brings shame to Australia."

"Think of how insidious that is," said Geoff Raby in the AFR article. "When the U.S. wages a war, the military industrial complex benefits."

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