The Great Thrall of China

China’s ascendence and influence is “the biggest story in the world” and demands robust media coverage, the audience of the Press Club’s Great Thrall of China forum heard.

While there is a need for nuance in Australian reporting - in particular a clear differentiation between the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese ethnicity – the public should be aware of the degree of influence the Chinese government is cultivating in Australia, and a lot of good reporting is being done on the issue, the panel said.

“Most people in Australia would not know that almost all the Chinese language media is essentially controlled by Beijing. Most people in Australia would not know that Chinese officials go into our universities to drill students on occasions when a leader might be coming so that they can stand in the way of someone who’s protesting for Tibet, for example,” Nine Network political editor, and moderator, Chris Uhlmann said.

“Most Australians don’t know that MSS [Ministry of State Security] agents turn up in Australia and actually threaten Australian Chinese.”

With Australia’s history of anti-Asian immigration policy, race is a sensitive issue for a good reason here, Lowy Institute senior fellow Richard McGregor pointed out, but it is not anti-Chinese to be critical of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Fairfax investigative journalist Nick McKenzie likened accusations that those covering Chinese influence in Australia are “anti-Chinese” to claims of “fake news”.

But there is a need too for perspective, Richard McGregor said, with conversations about Chinese power and influence happening in countries all over the world and China itself grappling with the phenomenon of its own rise.

Uhlmann, who together with McKenzie is involved in significant litigation over his reporting of Chinese influence in Australia, closed the forum with an appeal for media unity on the reform of defamation laws, which are currently being reviewed.

“Otherwise I fear we will be unable to do our jobs in future,” Uhlmann said.

The panel: 

Chris Uhlmann, political editor of National Nine News in Canberra. Uhlmann has reported extensively about Chinese influence in Australia and the South Pacific.

Richard McGregor, senior fellow with the Lowy Instutute and former Financial Times bureau chief in Beijing and Washington. His book The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers won the Asia Society in New York 2011 award for best book on Asia.

Louisa Lim, senior lecturer at University of Melbourne and former BBC and NPR Beijing correspondent. Lim is the author of The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited and the co-host of the Little Red Podcast, an award-winning podcast about China.

Nick McKenzie, senior investigative journalist at The Age. McKenzie was named joint 2017 Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year for work including revelations about Chinese manipulation of Australian politicians.


Apply to join the Melbourne Press Club

Membership is $100 for journalists, $150 for associate members and $40 for students.

Subscribe to our mailing list

Keep up to date with all our events, announcements and special offers.