By Blair Barker, 6 May 2020

Opinion Contributor

Blair is a former Army Officer, Executive Director of an HR consulting firm and Councillor for Elgar Ward, City of Whitehorse, Victoria and supporter of the CAA.


The Xin Hua bookshop, the official outlet of the Chinese Communist Party, sits proudly at the corner of Station Street and Carrington Road, Box Hill, flogging Beijing’s propaganda to the large Chinese population in the City of Whitehorse.

The shop has been there since 2009, and it bills itself as “a nice spot to satisfy your brain and heart”. From 10.30 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily it sells newspapers, books and videos carefully selected and censored in Beijing to spread the communist government’s message.

It is also, without doubt, a powerful and visible reminder to the diverse local Chinese-Australian communities that the Beijing regime is alive and well and actively watching their response to the Covid-19 pandemic that originated in China.

The audacious presence of the Xin Hua bookshop results from years of incompetence by Australian political leaders who have allowed and enabled Chinese communist party influence to creep from an epicentre in Sussex Street Sydney to Station Street Box Hill.

Now, in a diplomatically outrageous move, the Chinese Ambassador to Australia, Mr Cheng Jinye, has threatened Chinese economic retaliation against Australia following Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s call for an independent investigation into the pandemic and China’s initial response to its appearance in Wu Han.

As a Councillor for the City of Whitehorse, I am deeply perturbed by the Ambassador’s threat, which has properly been called “economic coercion” by Australia’s Defence Minister Marise Payne.

The City of Whitehorse, and Box Hill, in particular, have large concentrations of Chinese-Australian businesses. A small minority of them are loyal to the Beijing regime. But all depend on international students and tourists and would suffer devastating losses if Mr Cheng’s threat materialised.

Sadly, the vulnerability of these businesses is due to small sections of the community and “useful idiot” civic leaders. They have promoted Chinese communist party activities in futile efforts to build community harmony and resilience.

It might seem reasonable to assume that pro-Beijing sections of the Chinese diaspora might review their loyalty to the motherland given the Ambassador’s threat to harm them economically.   Unhappily, their pride in their cultural heritage and ancient civilisation seems to prompt them to be vocal boosters for Beijing and its aggressive geopolitical activities.

Some have business interests in the PRC and feel compelled—like some Australian apologists for China—to express support for Beijing to protect their financial interests. (Naturally, our Chinese citizens from Taiwan and elsewhere do not share this self-serving outlook).

Subversion, threats, and political interference from Beijing are not new phenomena in this community. Last year an alleged “community” event saw the PRC flag raised over the Box Hill police station by local state MP Paul Hamer. Federal member Gladys Liu joined the celebration to cut a cake to mark Mao’s Cultural Revolution—one of Beijing’s great crimes and political/economic disasters.

I criticised these events as insensitive to the diverse Chinese and non-Chinese communities I represent. A newsletter published in English and Chinese smeared me as incompetent, ignorant of multi-culturalism and promoting fake news. I was also subjected to insults and subtle threats after referring to the gaoling of Falun Gong and Uighurs in China.

Now, in the post-COVID-19 world, there are calls throughout Australia for recriminations, changed migration policies, and reset diplomatic relations with Beijing. It is critically important that Canberra take effective action to stop the corrosion of community confidence, unity, and resilience caused by Beijing’s influence in local communities. New vigilance will be required to confront Beijing’s disruptive activities.

Strong and resilient businesses will be more important than ever during the economic recovery from the pandemic. So the federal government would do well to increase counter-subversion programs further. When it is safe to do so, it should support new marketing initiatives to attract and reassure international students and tourists.

In a recent article for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute emeritus professor Stephen Fitzgerald, Australia’s first ambassador to China, noted astutely: “Australian criticisms of China’s policies and activities at home and abroad are routinely met with accusations of racial prejudice.” A renewed commitment, alertness, and willingness to withstand the inevitable threats and accusations of racial prejudice from CCP subversives are now more essential than ever if we are to emerge as united and resilient communities.

Nothing in the Xin Hua bookshop offers any guidance on this critical issue. The brain and the heart must look elsewhere.