The real reason you won’t be reading my new book on China anytime soon

Published in The Age, 28 November 2017

Earlier this month, publisher Allen & Unwin pulled the plug on my book, Silent Invasion: How China is turning Australia into a Puppet State. The book was about to go to the typesetter. It would have been my ninth release with the company.

The publisher dropped the book – or delayed it until some vague point in the future after some legal actions had been resolved – because they are afraid of commercially damaging retaliation instigated by the Chinese Communist Party.

No actual threats were made by Beijing or its agents; the shadow it now casts over Australia was enough. The fear of the Communist Party in the hearts of much of the Chinese diaspora here has spread into the mainstream.

Allen & Unwin is probably the most admired publisher in Australia, certainly within the industry. So its decision is a major turning point in Australia’s political history, for it signals that a powerful, authoritarian foreign state can suppress criticism of it abroad, and so smooth the path for its ongoing campaign to shift this country into its orbit.

Allen & Unwin’s decision received enormous media coverage both here and overseas. China-savvy journalists and editors immediately grasped its significance. As defenders of free speech, they have watched President Xi Jinping’s systematic crackdown on dissenting opinions with mounting anxiety.

The 2015 kidnapping of five Hong Kong booksellers whose shops stocked books critical of Xi and the CCP sent a brutal message. Four were eventually released –three “confessed” and have remained mute, while one spoke of his mistreatment. The fifth is still imprisoned.

Beijing has been extending its silencing tactics abroad for some years, beginning with the Chinese diaspora including the one million or more citizens of this country with Chinese heritage. So while once we had a vibrant Chinese-language media, now 90 per cent of newspapers and radio stations toe the Party line.

Recently, Cambridge University Press and the giant German publisher Springer succumbed to the demands of President Xi’s censors, although CUP was forced to backtrack after an outcry and calls for a boycott.

Silent Invasion remains without a publisher.

Silent Invasion remains without a publisher.

I have been flooded with messages of support. Many people want to read my book, suggesting some Australians understand the threat to our freedoms posed by the People’s Republic of China. Yet the PRC’s supporters and apologists in this country – including business people, political leaders, university administrators, think-tankers, commentators and former prime ministers – occupy powerful positions of influence that they use, wittingly or otherwise, to advance Beijing’s agenda.

Last week, Attorney-General George Brandis was interviewed on ABC Radio about the federal government’s plans for new security and subversion laws. No one doubts they are prompted by China’s activities here. The laws are expected to include the requirement that all those acting on behalf of foreign governments register, just as “foreign agents” must register under US law.

The interviewer, Sabra Lane, asked Brandis, “Will people like former politicians Andrew Robb and Bob Carr have to register?” It’s a fair question, though one the Attorney-General chose to dodge.

The introduction of the proposed laws to parliament, expected any time now, will be the acid test of the Labor Party’s loyalties. Just how far has Beijing’s penetration spread through the party from its epicentre in the NSW Right faction?

In the meantime I am searching for an Australian publisher with the fortitude to publish a book that exposes the CCP’s far-reaching campaign to acquire influence in Australia’s political, intellectual and cultural institutions.

The story of my publisher dropping Silent Invasion is likely to have a chilling effect. Will other publishers find excuses to reject books about China’s politics? Will authors reassure publishers that in writing on China they have stayed away from criticism of the Party and stuck to safe ground?

To silence critics in Australia the CCP often mobilises its friends to attack its enemies as “xenophobic” and “anti-China”. It’s a cynical ploy used most effectively against those who take Australia’s history of anti-Chinese racism seriously. The fear of being accused of xenophobia (xenophobiaphobia?) blinds some progressives to the threat posed by the CCP to our sovereignty.

Even so, there is a risk that exposing the activities of the CCP may cause an anti-Chinese backlash from those Australians who confuse “Chinese people” with the Communist Party (just as the CCP wants us to).

I have asked my Chinese-Australian friends how they feel about this risk and their response has been uniform. One put it this way: “We want you to say it. We’re in the same boat. It’s nothing to do with ethnicity, it’s political. If something is wrong, we must try to correct it.”

Many Chinese-Australians came here to escape the Party’s oppressive ways and despair as they watch its creeping influence in their adoptive country. If there is a backlash from my book then, they tell me, so be it. They are more afraid of the CCP.

So I am not fazed by accusations of xenophobia. I have, however, stepped up measures to protect my personal security.

What kind of place is Australia becoming when a writer has to do that?


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