Antipodica 2: Chen Yonglin: Australia as China’s backyard

This is the final post of a triple on CCP influence in Australia and New Zealand. The first two pieces introduce former PRC diplomat Chen Yonglin’s 2016 China in Perspective piece on Australia as “China’s backyard”, presented for the first time in English.

0. Leading from the back end
1. The cis-Tasman yard
2. Chen Yonglin: Australia as China’s backyard

Chen Yonglin 陈用林 is a former consular official who defected to Australia in 2005 and aired a series of claims about persecution of dissidents and spying on Australian soil. A parliamentary inquiry ensued; the documents show how perfunctorily he was treated, initially being denied political asylum, then refused police protection and even advised by immigration officials to go back to his consulate.

In 2016, Chen wrote a piece for China in perspective (纵览中国), an online publication under the Princeton China Initiative. The article, titled “Australia is in the process of becoming China’s backyard” (澳大利亚正在沦为中国的后院), discusses more recent developments, such as the lease of the Darwin port. Although it might not be possible to verify some of his claims based on open sources, Chen’s insights as a former diplomat make his thoughts worth reading, as they are relevant to the ongoing debate on the extent of CCP influence in Australia.

The original piece in Chinese is available on the website of China in perspective. I particularly liked the epithet 舔屎族 (coprolictae).

An English translation is given below, revised by the author. I’m grateful to the author and translator for their permission to reproduce the article. Needless to say, it reflects the author’s views, rather than mine.


Australia is in the Process of Becoming China’s Backyard

Chen Yonglin

The original Chinese-language version of this article appeared under the title “陈用林:澳大利亚正在沦为中国的后院” in China in Perspective 纵览中国, dated 31 August 2016.

Not long ago I was chatting with some friends about how the Chinese New Year Parade organised by the City of Sydney in 2015 was the 12th such annual parade, and how with Chinese government support in terms of people and funding, the event has become larger and more lively every year. It was also noted that at that time the PRC Consulate General in Sydney had arranged for some ethnic Chinese who were close to the Communist Party of China (CPC) to sign a petition rejecting the City of Sydney’s proposal to localize the procession, under the name of the “Lunar New Year Procession”. In fact the CPC’s all-out infiltration of Australia started in that year of 2004. Over these 12 years we have seen a process by which Australia has gradually and increasingly been turned into China’s backyard.

When Fu Ying was the PRC ambassador to Australia, she repeatedly said to Australian government officials and media that China wants Australia to become a stable and reliable resources and energy supplier. Australia’s only concern at that time was that China would stop buying Australia’s resources.

In mainstream Australian society, the Northern Territory Government has recently been counting its money. The money comes from leasing the operating rights over the port of Darwin to a Chinese company for 99 years! The port of Darwin is the most important Australian military base for countering attacks from the north. Did the Northern Territory Government have the right to represent Australia in submissively giving the port to China? The Northern Territory Government received a little money but the national security interests of Australia were seriously harmed. Most Westerners, and particularly Australians, do not understand the significance of the 99 years. However, the ethnic Chinese close to the CPC and the United Front people will certainly feel a sense of revenge as we clearly remember that 99 years was the length of lease over Hong Kong’s Kowloon and New Territories which Britain demanded from China though it could be normal practice in leasing land in the West.

The media has also recently revealed a list of 30 Chinese persons who have made political donations in Australia. The most prominent are Chau Chak Wing of the Kingold group (the proprietor of the pro-CPC newspaper Australian New Express Daily) and Huang Xiangmo of the Yuhu Group (the Chairman of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China). Many of these donors are members of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China. Studies show that formerly some prominent political figures such as the former NSW premier Bob Carr were looked upon very kindly by the CPC, and seen as “tomorrow’s star”. He then became Foreign Minister in the Gillard Government and today he is pretty well-off. There is also the former NSW Treasurer Eric Roozendaal who has become the deputy chairman of the Yuhu Group responsible for strategic planning. With the support of funding from the Chinese government, Chinese companies are buying huge swathes of Australian farms and large numbers of livestock. Australians are also aghast wondering how it is that Chinese persons have purchased all the property along George Street in Sydney.

Today, Australia not only provides China with cheap resources and energy but also with the raw material for manufacturing nuclear weapons, uranium. According to high-level sources, on several occasions, Australian uranium nominally exported to India actually went to China. The Australian government, even after investigating the facts, did not take any measures to restrict this commercial activity which threatened the country’s security. I consider that China has already used Australian uranium to manufacture nuclear weapons.

Three feet of ice does not form in a day

In the middle of August 2004, the 10th meeting of China’s envoys based abroad was held in Beijing. In his speech, the CPC party secretary Hu Jintao put forward the instruction that Australia should be included in the category of China’s “overall periphery”. In February 2005, in order to implement the spirit of the envoys’ meeting, Zhou Wenzhong 周文重, a vice minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs convened a meeting in Canberra of senior officials at the PRC embassies in Australia and New Zealand and high level foreign ministry staff. I participated together with Consul-General Qiu Shaofang 邱少芳. The contents of the meeting I have already detailed in an interview by the RFA in June 2005, under the title ‘RFA Interviews Chen Yonglin (Part 2): The US-Australia Alliance is Loosening”. Unfortunately, apart from a small number of Western scholars, few people have paid this much attention. Essentially, in accordance with their fixed strategic plans, the Communist Party of China had begun a structured effort to infiltrate Australia in a systematic way.

In looking at Australia, the Chinese government saw only one thing: Australia is rich in high-grade mineral and energy resources. It will serve as an inexhaustible supply base for China over the next 20 years of development, and it will provide an overall logistical safeguard for China’s economic development.

Australia was also the earliest experimental base for the Chinese Communists in expanding their soft power abroad because Australia has advantages in four respects: 1. Geopolitical advantage. It is the nearest major Western democratic polity to China with a stable political environment, relatively weak national power and is the weak link in the western camp. 2. Advantage in terms of Chinese migrants from the PRC. After 1989, over 40,000 Chinese students in Australia obtained residence rights. Adding their immediate relatives, more than 100,000 Chinese persons became Australians. Naturally these people have intimate and diverse links with the PRC, have often been ideologically trained, and a majority have a strong sense of Chinese chauvinism. It is thus that, through their fear of Chinese political power and gangsters, they can be easily coerced. 3. The advantage of multicultural policies. Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act allows minorities to assert a certain confidence. Under the pompous claim of promoting Chinese national culture, they often engage in ideological propaganda. 4. There is no Foreign Agents Registration Act. The US Foreign Agents Registration Act is a trump card in opposing infiltration by foreigners. Australia has no such tool.

China’s political infiltration of Australia involves three spheres: 1. Chinese community organisations; 2. Student and scholar associations; and 3. The Confucius Institute system.

Working with Chinese community organisations is the most important task. The CPC uses Chinese community organisations which are pro-Communist as their base, and from there they radiate into society. “Blood is thicker than water” and ethnic affiliation can be used to influence people. As long as people have Chinese faces, the CPC feels that they have an opportunity to influence and utilise them. Today in Australia, regardless of whether we speak of the Chinese community, political circles, commercial groups, scholarly bodies, literary and arts organisations, news organisations, or even public schools, there will be Chinese agents 代理人 within. The CPC agents are everywhere, with their fear-inducing actions, their lies, their corruption and their cold-blooded ways. Australia’s key values have already begun to be attacked and corroded. For example, in June 2015, the Western Australian Senator Dio Wang, when being interviewed by the Australian Financial Review, spoke in defence of the CPC over the massacre in Tiananmen in 1989.

The key pro-Communist Chinese organisation in Australia is the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China (ACPPRC), which has a pyramid structure with control at every level. The ACPPRC is under the leadership of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification, which in turn is an official organ under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee’s United Front Work Department. The chairman of the China Council is Yu Zhengsheng 俞正声 who is both a member of the CPC Politburo Standing Committee and chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Key members of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China have been directly appointed as “Non-Voting Members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference”. For example William Chiu 邱维廉, a former chairman of ACPPRC, was appointed as a Non-Voting Member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, but has since been replaced by the ACPPRC executive vice president Victor Tian 田飞. The Australian Council of Chinese Organizations 华人团体协会 was originally set up to strengthen control over the Australian Chinese community, aid infiltration of mainstream society and to oppose the overall sanctions imposed by western countries as a result of the June 4 massacre. However, with the grand creation of the ACPPRC, the Australian Council of Chinese Organizations was hollowed out, and its president Dr Tony C. M. Goh 吴昌茂 had to make great efforts to revive his reputation.

The Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) is an organisation which is directly controlled by the CPC through the embassy in Canberra. In order to make control easier, in addition to establishing CSSA bodies in each university, a national Australian Chinese Students and Scholars Association has been created, below which are the NSW CSSA, the Australian Capital CSSA and so on, in a pyramid hierarchy. All are directed by the Education Office of the Chinese Embassy in Canberra and the Education Section of the PRC Consulate General in Sydney, and the appointment and election of CSSA leaders is all carried out under the management of the embassy or Consulate General. On the NSW CSSA website, one can read of the nature of the organisation: “The NSW CSSA was initiated by Consul Bai Gang of the Education Section of the PRC Consulate General in Sydney…”

In 2008, Bai Gang 白刚 the Education Consul of the PRC Consulate General in Sydney also established the Australian Chinese Professionals Association 澳大利亚华人专业人士协会. This association was specifically established for the Chinese students who stayed in Australia after graduation, so as to allow them to continue to ‘make a contribution to the motherland.”

Originally, the Confucius Institute system was established to compete with the Taiwan Chinese-language education materials presented in full-form traditional characters. However, subsequently it was used to recruit agents and establish a pro-Communist network, and it became a major tool for infiltrating mainstream society. Unfortunately, the Australian governments at both the Federal and state levels saw Chinese assistance in providing Chinese language training assistance as a “free lunch” without any conditions. In particular, as the Confucius Classrooms have been widely expanded, the CPC ideological element of education has been further introduced. For China, this means “achieving major aims with a small amount of funds.” This small amount of financial support will result in Australia losing its next generations. The short-sightedness of Australian politicians forms a sharp contrast with the long-term strategies of the Communist Party of China.

There is another secret aspect of the CPC’s overseas deployments. I can’t count the number of people who have expressed scepticism about my claim in 2005 that the CPC has over 1,000 agents and informers in Australia. The Chinese ambassador to Australia at that time Fu Ying said to journalists that: “If I was overseeing the work of so many spies, would I have time to meet with you all here?” Those who believed this remark have no idea of how professional secret agents work. What answer would we get if we asked the US ambassador in Beijing: “Are you the person who oversees the CIA and FBI agents?” In Australia, the CPC has three avenues of intelligence gathering: the PLA’s General Staff Headquarters, the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security. With the embassy itself added to this, there are actually four avenues. Each avenue operates independently and in principle does not overlap with the others. If there is some overlap in respect of some politically sensitive issue, the matter is worked out through inter-departmental coordination among the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security and the embassy. The PLA’s General Staff Headquarters generally does not intervene in political matters except on the top national strategy. However, in counter-terrorist activities, there is some cross-over involvement, because this is a cash cow for obtaining rewards for achievements. Because they are corrupt or limited in terms of the funds allocated to them, the CPC agents often have close contacts with major corrupt figures or wealthy businessmen who have migrated to Australia. However, the Australian intelligence agencies generally just observe these links and allow these contacts to occur. The Chinese agents in Australia thus do not really know whether they are already under surveillance. Because of the development of voice sampling technology, Chinese agents can be monitored and recorded no matter what form of telephone line they are using. Further the former ploy of using telephone switching to avoid GPS location identification no long works. I am quite familiar with this aspect of the embassy and consulates. The embassy has a military officer who was sent by the PLA’s General Staff Headquarters. Everyone knows this. However many people do not know that there is another person sent by the General Staff Headquarters and based in Sydney. This officer operates independently and his expenses are provided in US dollars, sent by diplomatic bag. Since I left the diplomatic service, every major consulate has increased its staffing of Ministry of State Security personnel. For example, Sydney now has a second Deputy Consul General whose main function is to supervise the staff at the Consulate General, prevent defections and deal with orders from the Ministry of State Security. These Ministry of State Security and General Staff Headquarters personnel are sent to work in the embassy and consulates under the alias of local foreign affairs office staff or major state-owned enterprise staff. The work of Ministry of Public Security staff abroad mainly involves capturing fugitives and counter money-laundering tasks. But if you do not have any money, these officers will unlikely be going out of their way to abduct you. As part of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement exchanges, the Australian government is now promoting the passage of a “Treaty on Extradition between Australia and the People’s Republic of China”. It is possible that in future, this Treaty will be abused and employed to extradite political exiles. As soon as this treaty is passed, people such as the former Yunnan Provincial Party Committee Secretary Gao Yan 高严 will have to start shuddering. Most of the things mentioned above are fairly common knowledge. Working on a figure of 100-plus persons involved in each security branch, that means that there are 300-500 professional secret agents in Australia. If we add the 500-700 external “informers” in Chinese community organisations, student groups, Guangming ribao, Xinhua, China Association for Science and Technology affiliates and so on, a figure of over 1,000 persons involved in intelligence activities is very likely. Through over 10 years of operation, this contingent has expanded greatly. The majority of Australian intelligence agency funding is likely still directed at counter-terrorism activities, but I believe that the funding which is assigned to those beginners engaged in Chinese matters is far below that needed to counter the secret infiltration being carried out by China.

For a long time, the vast majority of Overseas Chinese have pursued a social philosophy where they seek individual security at the expense of principle, and they have allowed themselves to be “represented” by a few low-life Chinese persons who prostrate themselves before the CPC. Over the last 10-plus years, more and more Chinese Communist propaganda has been visited upon the great land of Australia, hijacking the local Chinese. Actually, those who ingratiate themselves with and fawn on the CPC are becoming much more widespread right across the globe. It is just that they are most numerous in Australia.

There is a song0 which goes: “If you close your eyes, nothing will you see. If you cover your ears, not a thing will you hear. But if truth be in your heart and hurt be in your chest, how long can you bear it and how long can you remain silent?”

In recent times, the ‘Australian Values Alliance’ has come to wide public attention because of its efforts to prevent a concert lauding Mao Zedong. This induced great anger among many young Chinese Australians! Further, on the second day after the Australian Bureau of Statistics website suffered hacking attacks from abroad, the Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison declared that, based on national security considerations, he was blocking the sale of Ausgrid to a Chinese and a Hong Kong company. Does this mean that the Australian government has now recognised that maintaining the integrity of Australian values is key to ensuring the country’s overall, long-term national security?

* *

Translated by: Chun Gwai-lo


0“The wound of history” (历史的伤口), recorded by various Taiwanese artists in 1989 to support the Tian’anmen demonstrators.

Antipodica 1: The cis-Tasman yard

This is the middle post of a triple on CCP influence in Australia and New Zealand. The first two introduce former PRC diplomat Chen Yonglin’s 2016 China in Perspective piece on Australia as “China’s backyard”, presented for the first time in English.

0. Leading from the back end
1. The cis-Tasman yard
2. Chen Yonglin: Australia as China’s backyard

Meanwhile in Australia, Clive Hamilton’s book on CCP influence cis Fossam has just been published, after refusals by three publishers fearful the entities it discusses might retaliate. The first of these would-be publishers was the centenary Allen & Unwin, now prevented from profiting from a much-publicised tome in exchange for their ascent to the pantheon of the vicarious enforcers of CCP censorship, together with CUP (Censor U Poshly) and gleichgeschalteter Springer. I haven’t read the book yet, but news reports indicate it’s the culmination of years of work by Hamilton, together with his researcher Alex Joske, on the Party-state-Army’s influence in Australian academia, politics and, perhaps most importantly, coprorate power and coproratised think-tankery and academia. (A rather unfavourable review has just appeared.) In many ways, these activities seem to be more extensive than outre-Tasman, but they have been less successful: CCP influence has been the object of much scrutiny, press coverage and debate, and even some politicians have changed their minds about the need to welcome it. Although serious concerns about the CCP’s activities in Australia had been raised by John Fitzgerald more than a decade ago, and journalists (notably John Garnaut) were writing about billionaire United Frontling and political donor Chau Chak Wing 周泽荣 in 2009, it would seem it has taken a while for these activities to receive sustained attention and discussion in mainstream media and politics.

Given the abundant coverage of this topic in Australia, now including a book, debate about a book, and coverage of fights over a book, there’s no need to recapitulate it there. I will just remark I was delighted to learn Hamilton’s tome devotes an entire chapter to Bob Carr, a retired politician who has found a new career as director of a Research Institute initially funded by Huang Xiangmo 黄向墨 (Huang Changran 黄畅然), then Australia, now Oceania’s top United Frontling. Just like Raymond Huo’s Xi-speak slogan ignited in me the Passion of the Rolled-up Sleeve, prompting a closer look at New Zealand United-Frontlinghood, the peculiar circumstances of Carr’s ascent to Sinological punditry suffice to justify an interest in the Australian version.

I conclude this brief Antipodean detour with two items relevant to the Land of Yeast-Extract Delicacies. The first is a short parable I wrote to celebrate a state-media celebration of Carr’s scholarship. The second, for which the rest of this series is meant as an introduction, is an article by Chen Yonglin, a former Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia in 2005, presented here for the first time in English.


Tasmaniani cis maris aequora (Standards Australia / Wikimedia Commons).

After reaching the heights of Novoaustralocambrian and national politics, former Australian foreign minister and multi-term NSW premier Bob Carr (affectionately known as Beijing Bob (北京宝宝)) began a second career as head of the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) at University of Technology Sydney (UTS). The University established ACRI in 2014, with money that included a donation from United Frontling Huang Xiangmo 黄向墨 (Huang Changran 黄畅然). Said donation we may affectionately call the ACRImonies. Huang was appointed ‘chairman’ of the Institute, in which capacity Huang chose Carr as director. Although Huang no longer chairs or funds it, the shop remains committed to a “positive and optimistic view of Australia-China relations”, radiatingpositive energy‘ (正能量) partly generated by “corporate contributions” from i.a. Chinese SOEs.

The Institute’s activities have received mixed reviews. James Leibold calls much of its output “one-sided, decontextualised fact sheets and opinion pieces” and criticises its “closed-door” activities and Carr’s meetings with CCP officials, including no less than Zhu Weiqun 朱维群, a United Front cadre well known to my regular readers. To an outside observer, ACRI’s most visible output does indeed make it look like a BRI-touting think tank. Like many other state and non-state actors, the CCP has a known interest in setting up, funding or otherwise grooming lobbyists for its policies; what is remarkable is that such groups can be institutionally embedded into universities, and continue to function as positive-energy emitters even if state-linked entities  have ceased to be their primary funders. This can look better and be more cost-effective than in-your-face exoprop endeavours like Confucius Institutes, and shows a savvy exploitation of the public disinvestment, bureaucratisation and corporatisation of universities in many countries. (United-Frontling munificence indeed allowed UTS to replace an existing China-studies centre with ACRI; the Australian National University intends to turn its own into a ‘hub‘ without permanent faculty staff.) The ACRImonies also illustrate another aspect of the vulnerability countries like Australia offer to such actors as the PRC Party-state: the ease with which moneyed lobbies can work their way into policy-making. Exposing (and mocking) ACRI’s PRC links might prompt a PR reaction, but it’s highly unlikely to reduce such vulnerability.

ECSN, a manifestation of the China News Service (中新社), takes a more charitable view of ACRI. A Carr panegyric last year talked of his “sharp eyes”. “Bob looks full of energy and well presented.” As behooves the director of “the only think tank in Australia that is dedicated to study Australia-China relations”, Carr has an office where “there is a statue of Yat-sen Sun [sic], the book titled ‘Art of War’ and other Chinese works.” Although the readily admitted that to “really become a ‘China expert’, there is still a long way to go”, he was portrayed holding a copy of Sunzi’s Art of War (孙子兵法), in its case.

De bello australi. ACRI Director Carr holds a case containing a book (source).

I took the trouble to identify the tome. It’s a bilingual edition with Giles’ public-domain translation. It comes with some commemorative stamps, part of a series called, hardly in Giles’ English, “Collector’s Version of Chinese Classical Books in Silk Version”, marketed on Taobao as a coprorate gift fitting interactions with foreigners (送老外).


Carr’s gradus ad Parnassum. Readers of modest means may choose to read the same text, also with the Giles, on ctext. Those looking for more recent scholarship can go for Mair’s English; for those into older stuff, Amiot’s French is on Gallica.

In an exchange celebrating Carr’s erudition on a microblogging site, user Yun suggested Carr and others should read Zhuangzi 庄子 instead. I found the remark very sensible, and composed the following parable, an imitation of Zhuangzi’s famous butterfly dream. In it, Carr becomes a fruit, rather than butter-, fly, alluding to both Mao’s muscid poem (小小寰球,有几个苍蝇碰壁 On this tiny globe / A few flies dash themselves against the wall) and the Belt-and-Roady connotations of the genus name Drosophila (爱露 ‘dew-loving’), interpretable in Chinese as 爱[一戴一]露 ‘love of [One [Nipple] Covered, One] Revealed, [in scandalous homophony with “One Belt, One Road” (一带一路)]’.

Alex Joske has translated the parable and graciously authorised me to republish his version here, in a slightly edited form.



Carr dreams of a fly

Once, Carr dreamt he was a fruit fly, going about happily and as it pleased. It did not consider ten thousand li to be far away and flew over to China, reaching Chaoshan [Huang Xiangmo’s home region]. A man from Chaoshan saw this southern fly and knew it loved fruit, so he gave it a massive pear [a pun on a Chinese name for Sydney [雪梨 (Cantonese Syut3lei4)]. This fruit fly fluttered about, and upon seeing the pear was extremely delighted and ate it, tasting it sweetness. It became full and went to sleep. The fly dreamt it was Carr, but was not sure whether it was really Carr dreaming he was a fly, or a fly dreaming it was Carr. Suddenly, a toad [perhaps former president Jiang Zemin] appeared and opened its mouth to eat it. The toad knew it was a fly.

2. Chen Yonglin: Australia as China’s backyard

Shenghe’s Greenland U+REE investment gets FIRB approval

Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board has approved Shenghe 盛和 Resources’ purchase of one eighth of GME, the ASX-listed owner of the license for the Kvanefjeld uranium-rare earth project in Greenland. Other approvals should be coming these days, as everyone concerned in Australia and China should be happy with the deal.

Meanwhile in Greenland, things aren’t looking so simple. As explained in my previous post, Greenland is ruled at the moment by a Große Koalition of parties that agree on everything, except uranium mining. GME should be applying for a production permit before the end of the year, and that application could be handled by Múte Bourup Egede, a new minister who has already said he’s ‘against’ uranium mining, in so many words. Conflict within the ruling coalition is already showing. On the one hand, Jens-Erik Kirkegaard (long-time readers will remember his ’13 Jiangxi Copper visit) from majority partner Siumut thinks that GME have earned themselves a right (retskrav) to get their permit as long as they comply with environmental and other regulations, and the new anti-uranium minister “can’t just take a political decision.” On the other hand, Sara Olsvig, chair of coalition partner IA (long-time readers will remember her Tibet visit and meeting with the Tibetan gov’t in exile), says GME’s application could be rejected not only on environmental, but on “political” grounds (Weekendavisen via Sermitsiaq). Egede, the new minister, who’s from Olsvig’s party, has said he’ll decide based on the application’s merits as well as ‘listen to the people.’

General Nice buys into Canadian oil

General Nice (俊安集团), owners of the Isua iron ore project in Greenland, have acquired a 30% stake in a small Alberta oil company through their HK-listed arm, Loudong General Nice Resources (楼东俊安). The operaton cost Loudong General Nice, where General Nice and related parties are shareholders, some $65m in consideration shares.

The Calgary-based target of the acquisition, Rockeast Energy, has a few oil licences in Alberta. The company was, already before General Nice’s entry, at least partially Chinese-run and owned. Rongshi United Investment Management (嵘世联合) aka Runiworld have a stake in Rockeast, and some sort of ‘alliance‘ has existed between Rockeast and Zhefu 浙富 Holding Group. Zhefu, chaired by Sun Yi 孙毅, primarily make hydropower equipment, but they have an interest in Canadian oil since the purchase of a number of oil fields from Zargon. As of last year, Zhefu’s Canadian subsidiary, Ascensun Oil and Gas, shared an address with Rockeast. It’s unclear who did General Nice buy the stake from, since the transaction was made through a series of BVI companies.

Loudong General Nice Resources, the HK-listed company that has bought Rockeast, is partially owned by General Nice Group (I’ve written about other shareholders here). The Isua licence in Greenland is not owned through Loudong General Nice, but through a Jersey-based of another, non-listed, company of the group. I have a whole series of posts and a background article on General Nice.

A bit as in the case of the Greenland mine and other recent acquisitions, this latest move can be seen as part of General Nice’s effort to diversify away from its historical core business, Shanxi coal, by buying cheap overseas assets.

Meanwhile in Australia, Pluton Resources, partially owned by General Nice, has halted operations at the Cockatoo Island mine amid a dispute with the Western Australian government over unpaid royalties.

outsourced soft power channels Xi Jinping’s dream to Icelanders

“Chinese propaganda,” translated for the convenience of Icelandic readers, is being delivered by news site gbtimes, writes Hjálmar Friðriksson on Stundin. While most of the content on the Icelandic version of Gbtimes, notably an article praising Xi Jinping’s concept of the ‘Chinese dream‘, is simply translated from English originals, some of it is occasionally produced ex nihilo when touching on Iceland-related topics, says its staff of one freelancer, interviewed for Hjálmar’s article. Gbtimes also has versions in English and a few other languages, especially covering the Nordics and the Baltic states. The English version seems to carry the most original content. The issue isn’t thus particularly Icelandic, and the publication isn’t particularly new either, but I thought the Stundin article on it was as good a trigger as any to take a look at what might be the only Icelandic-language media entity aligned with the Chinese state, and to provide some context to judge that ‘propaganda’ label against.

At first sight, the Gbtimes site doesn’t differ that much from the your typical Chinese foreign-language state media outlet, with its assorted general-interest stories punctuated by articles relaying official talking points on issues like South China Sea sovereignty claims, Hong Kong chief executive nomination procedures, Taiwan independence and human rights abuses outside China.

There are surprises though. The French version includes a discussion with a French history teacher on the Tibetan empire and its relations with Tang China, including the brief occupation of the Tang capital Chang’an by Tibetan troops in 763. While the facts in her account are undisputed, the presentation is markedly different from what you typically read in materials produced by state media, especially in those meant for the edification of foreign readers: there, you’d hardly expect to go over a few paragraphs (or a few minutes of audio) without intoning some mantra or another about Tibet inalienably and uninterruptedly and undeniably belonging to China since unfathomable antiquity. Indeed, recently these claims are being pushed as far back as the 7th century. GBTimes (still not sure what to capitalise in there) chose to illustrate the story with a map prominently showing a large Tibetan empire, as of 800, bordering on a separate China drawn in a different colour. Not something you’d see every day in places like the People’s Daily.

And now this, on the English version: ‘World Report 2015 highlights plight of China’s Uighurs‘. The ‘world report’ in question is that produced annually by Human Right Watch, which the GBtimes article links to, describes as highlighting “China’s crackdown on Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang”, and paraphrases as stating that “the lack of information emerging makes it impossible to know whether crackdowns in the region are aimed at the right people.” The paraphrase turns out to be a bit too liberal if you check the report, but it’s still a far cry from state media takes on HRW, which would rather refer to it as a “so-called NGO” grouping “self-styled American observers and commentators”. They’d also refrain from linking to any references to mis-aimed ‘crackdowns’ resulting in anybody’s ‘plight’. The Gbtimes article has a picture, taken from the HRW report, of none other than Cao Shunli 曹顺利, an activist who died in March 2014 after almost six months in detention. Mainstream media in China largely ignored Cao’s death, a UN statement on the incident was dutifully censored, and the English-language China Daily quoted an official statement denying she had been denied medical attention. Although the Gbtimes doesn’t as much as mention Cao’s name, and her relevance to a story on Xinjiang is unclear, that picture, or pretty much anything else coming from HRW, wouldn’t be your typical state press organ’s choice of illustration. Just like the Tibet story, it looks like a mistake, but not a state-media sort of mistake.

The reason is that Gbtimes is not a typical Chinese state media outlet. The website is operated by a company based in Tampere, Finland and led by Chinese media entrepreneur Zhao Yinong 赵亦农. Mr Zhao arrived in Tampere as a student and worked as a tai chi instructor before turning to the media. His company FutuVision (大众明天集团), not much easier to capitalise, started producing media content in the early 2000’s. The domain includes an online store where you can shop for Chinese textbooks and tea (though they seem to be short of the latter). So what we have is a private businessman whose endeavours include a China news site, conceivably funded by advertising, with a perspective fortuitously, though imperfectly, aligned with that of Xinhua?

Well, not quite. The company behind the site, Gbtimes Oy (环球时代传媒有限公司), was actually established as a joint venture between Zhao and a subsidiary of China Radio International (CRI, 国际台), which is about as much of a state-media outlet as they come. Zhao’s Gbtimes was also one half of an agreement signed in 2012 to broadcast CRI content in Portuguese on Rádio Íris, an FM station near Lisbon. Zhao is also involved in Confucius Institute activities in Finland, also in partnership with CRI. The only thing on the Gbtimes (English) website that looks like advertising is content promoting Zhejiang province and the city of Zhengzhou. Zhengzhou’s campaign on Gbtimes, which also involves a radio programme, was launched in August last year, at an event attended by CRI representatives and the head of Zhengzhou’s Propaganda Department.

In a statement on its partnership with CRI, Zhao’s company FutuVision Media described its mission in the context of efforts to increase international recognition for Chinese brands (and ‘Made in China’ as a brand), a drive led by government organs and endorsed by the country’s top leaders. The company specialises in “producing localised radio and Internet content” in multiple languages, in order to “report on China’s economic, trade and social development” and disseminate Chinese culture, “based on the thinking, listening and watching habits of Western audiences.”

Tailoring the message to Western audiences helps Chinese companies ‘going out’, explained Zhao in a 2012 CRI interview: international media differ from those in China both in their basic principles and in how they’re operated, and as a result of such differences they will often jump to conclusions and unwarranted speculation when analysing Chinese companies’ activities abroad. This “has a very strong influence on our companies ‘going out’. We’re not used to such Western modes of operation. It can’t be denied that in the examples of our unsuccessful takeovers, these Western media have added fuel to the fire (起到了推波助澜的作用).” An inability to communicate with foreign media is a generalised problem among Chinese companies. These should think ways of “bringing out their story and create an image as responsible members of the society.”

Zhao’s views are endorsed by officials involved in these promotion efforts. In 2012, during a meeting with Zhao in his capacity as CRI representative, Ding Wei 丁伟, at the time China’s ambassador to Italy and now the country’s vice minister of culture, praised the state broadcaster’s outreach efforts as part of the country’s media ‘going out’ strategy.

Gbtimes is not the only element of these outreach efforts. CRI has partnered with a few other media companies in the West to deliver localised content, in at least some cases investing in them or creating joint ventures through a subsidiary. These partnerships have two things in common: they tend to be led by Chinese nationals already active in the local media business, and something about them ends up being named ‘global’ (环球 huánqiú, also part of the Chinese name of other CRI products). This, by the way, explains the capitalisation-resistant name the CRI-Zhao Finnish company was rebaptised with in 2012: the ‘gb’ in GBtimes simply stands for ‘global’, but the more euphonious ‘Global Times’ was already taken (by everyone’s favourite nationalist tabloid). Around the time of the agreement with Gbtimes to broadcast CRI content, Lisbon station Rádio Íris sold a stake to Zhang Liang 詹亮, owner of a Pu hua bao 葡华报, a newspaper targeting the local Chinese community. That stake would later grow to become a controlling one. The station, now managed by Zhang himself, has become part of Iberia Universal (called ‘global Iberia’ in Chinese: 环球伊比利亚传媒集团), a company established in 2013 and also active in Spain. From Melbourne, CAMG Media (环球凯歌国际传媒集团) oversees a network of offices and radio stations in Asia and South America. In California, CRI’s outreach drive is embodied in G&E Television (环球东方广播电视有限公司), owned by James Su (苏彦韬), a Shanghai native whose company EDI Media Inc. owns radio stations and printed media targeted at the local Chinese community, while at the same time it “becomes China’s outward media and adverting proxy“, whatever that might mean.

So we have a global network of Chinese-owned stations partnering with a state broadcaster to provide content tailored to local audiences. These are subcontractors rather than part of the parent entity, and existed in some form as autonomous businesses before joining CRI’s outreach campaign, but CRI is influential enough in those partnerships to, for example, convince them all to be renamed into something ‘global’ more or less at the same time. The slight dissonance emanating from the Tibet and Xinjiang stories would only show that CRI’s oversight over what goes on at the other end of those partnerships is not that strict.

CRI president Wang Gengnian 王庚年 explained the motivations behind the broadcaster’s expansion abroad in an 2009 article in Xinhua journal Chinese Journalist 中国记者, later reproduced on the online version of Qiushi 求是, the Party Central Committee’s theory magazine. Having a voice on the international stage, argues Wang, would allow China to “influence and guide international public opinion trends, as well as influence international mainstream society and mainstream media,” helping create a better global environment for the country’s development while promoting its “soft power”. China’s international voice, however, hasn’t grown proportionally to its economic clout, and the international media landscape is still dominated by the West. Moreover, Western countries have recently been building an “encirclement” around China using radio, TV and online media, targeting the country with nearby broadcast stations and over a hundred dedicated frequencies. It’s the task of China’s foreign-targeted media, such as CRI, to overcome these challenges to “compete to lead international public opinion” and let China’s voice be heard worldwide. Now this struggle requires taking into account the specific characteristics of international audiences, choosing methods that will “make the world understand and accept” a delivery of “a China standpoint” through “an international expression (中国立场,国际表达).” Tasks faced by CRI thus include matching “what we would like to broadcast” with “what overseas audiences care about” and striving to “set the agenda” on the international media stage. To achieve these goals, CRI’s strategy is to increase worldwide coverage by deploying reporters and special correspondents and set up content production rooms, guided and overseen by regional stations.

Wang goes on to tell an early success story: CRI’s “irreplaceable role” in presenting Turkish audiences with an official narrative in the aftermath of the 2009 Ürümqi riots, the ‘July 5 incident’ (7·5事件). Uyghur issues resonate strongly in Turkey, and the authorities’ handling of the Xinjiang riots was condemned from the highest level of the Turkish government: a minister called to boycott Chinese goods and president Erdoğan talked of ‘genocide’. Wang’s article explains how, in order to “counter distorting attacks” directed at China “by foreign hostile forces Western media,” CRI partnered with local FM station Yön Radyo to generate and deliver content presenting the “truth” on the issue. This message reached over a million listeners on the Internet, and they reportedly liked it just fine: “the audience thought that information provided by CRI was more complete and truthful than that from other domestic and foreign media.” The case left CRI with a “successful experience” of “effective international broadcasting targeted at a specific group” by cooperating with an overseas radio station, “borrowing a boat to go out to sea (借船出海).”

The nautical simile was again used to describe CRI’s global outreach by CRI editor Zhang Hui 张晖 in an account of the broadcaster’s multilingual coverage of the 2014 CPPCC-NPC (‘Two Sessions’) meeting delivered at the All-China Journalists Association. Going over the efforts taken by CRI to “broadcast the Two Sessions to the world”, Zhang tells how the quartet of CRI overseas companies with ‘global’ in their name (GBTimes and the other three mentioned above) dispatched journalists to cover the meetings live from Beijing, and even asked assorted officials no less than five questions during press conferences. A Xinhua picture shows GBTimes journalist Andrew Jones formulating a question at a press conference with vice-minister of environmental protection Wu Xiaoqing 吴晓青. Although I haven’t been able to locate the question or its answer on the GBTimes site, the organisation did report extensively on the Beijing event, including an opinion piece on Xi Jinping’s ‘China dream’ (‘Simple, powerful, popular‘) by Jones and shock headlines like ‘Top legislator pledges better legislation as China deepens reform‘.

Such news conferences are known to be staged. Foreign faces brought to them by the ‘global’ quartet of CRI-affiliated outlets may help give the impression of a more spontaneous affair, but the blandness of their questions, and the poorly-concealed actual affiliation of their employers, render the spectacle rather unconvincing. The woman sitting behind Gbtimes’ Jones in the picture linked above, Louise Kenney, represented CAMG, CRI’s Australian partner. When she was called to ask a question at another NPC conference, the press corps reacted to its innocuousness by laughing and complaining about “shills” and “fake foreign media”. In an ABC interview, Andrea Yu, CAMG’s reporter at the event two years before and the object of similar derision, hesitated to describe her job as “real journalism” and alleged she didn’t know about CAMG’s government connections when she began her employment there, a full month before being dispatched to cover a major political event.

Although GBtimes only caught the attention of Icelandic media a few days ago, thereby falling within the purview of this blog and motivating me to write this joyful, succinct article, other Western media had written about the outlet and its state affiliation before. My ignorance of Finnish prevents me from saying much about reporting in, say, Suomen Kuvalehti or YLE, but other European media wrote about Gbtimes triggered by a Helsingin Sanomat article in 2013. Mediated by Der Spiegel, we read Gbtimes vicepresident Henrik Resman: “We would achieve nothing with clumsy propaganda. People in the West are too critical of the media for that.” (The Chinese version of the Global Times later reported on the Spiegel report.) Earlier that year, Denmark’s Information asserted that the country’s “largest commercial radio stations are receiving money” in exchange for broadcasting Gbtimes content. Finnish sources quoted in the Danish article assert that CRI “keeps a close eye” on Gbtimes and “dictates an angle for news items” and forbids it from taking on the usual ‘sensitive’ topics. Exceptions do occur: similarly to the Tibet and Uyghur-related items I referred to above, Information caught a “mention” of the Tiananmen massacre during a Gbtimes radio programme.

A look inside GBTimes Tampere headquarters, or at least what they felt like almost seven years ago, comes through another Danish paper, Politiken. Jacob Zeuthen, then freshly fired from FutuVision’s Danish language desk, wrote at the time how Zhao’s company didn’t make money from selling content to radio stations. “Quite the contrary. Futuvision buys an hour’s airtime every week” from the stations it’s broadcast through in Danmark, France, Sweden and Finland. “Futuvision’s income [originates] exclusively from the company’s sponsors.” A main CRI demand back then was, apparently just like now, for the Finnish outlet to devote enough attention to the ‘Two Sessions’. At some point, they demanded a bit more: reader reactions about their coverage.

A problem appeared, writes Zeuthen, “due to the simple fact that [GBTimes’ previous incarnation] Radio86 doesn’t have particularly many readers.” Zeuthen had trouble coming to terms with “the perfect (‘gilt-edged’) solution to this problem” being just “to fabricate some replies and send them over to China.”

Feedback is indeed important: in the Qiushi-reproduced article quoted above, CRI head Wang Gengnian bragged about how in 2008 the state broadcaster “received more than 2.7 million letters and emails from listeners in 161 countries and regions.”

Edited on July 12 to fix wayward links and correct a few typos.

some good news for General Nice

A quick update on General Nice (俊安集团), the license holder for the Isua iron mine in Greenland.

Some two weeks ago, the group’s Hong Kong-listed company, Loudong General Nice Resources (樓東俊安), entered a conditional agreement to issue some $50m in convertible bonds to state-owned investment manager China Huarong 华融. That money would help pay for an investment in a Mainland logistics business Loudong GN have been talking about for some time.

Loudong General Nice have had a tough couple of years as their historical core business of Shanxi coal generated considerable losses, but they’ve been trying to diversify away from it and have already managed to get some new Mainland shareholders on board, as I’ve reported recently. Their shares are trading at almost three times what they were worth not two months ago.

General Nice’s HK-listed company is not directly involved in Isua.

Meanwhile in Australia, a troubled General Nice investment is starting to look better. Pluton Resources, the operator of the Cockatoo iron mine off Western Australia, where General Nice own a majority stake, has come out of receivership, where it had landed after a dispute with Chinese partners and creditors. Encouraged by a rebound in iron prices, they are now seeking to finance new activity at Cockatoo and a new project with a $50m bond offering.

new article: a General Nice backgrounder

While no one seems to be expecting to see much actual mining at the Isua project in Greenland any time soon, I thought its new Chinese owner, General Nice (俊安集团), was worth a closer look, since so little has been written about the company. So I’ve put together a ‘backgrounder’ with highlights from my recent, and not so recent, research on General Nice for everyone to enjoy. Admittedly Isua, an asset which, by all accounts, its new owner plans to simply sit on for the time being, isn’t the hottest topic in the grand scheme of things, but I think the story makes up for that medium-to-low hotness with a flashback to the Shanxi coal rush, with its polluted skies and wild bribing, and a showdown with the ousted ruler of Burkina Faso. Go read the whole thing (still being edited but already up) and confound your fellow dinner-party guests with more General Nice trivia than a barrel of General Nice wine can wash down.