Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts
38 85
Local Resilience and Response
Very High
68 85
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least influence) to 85 (most influence)

header1 Key findings

Report by: Fan Yang

  • Influence tactics shift as Australian response expands: Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence efforts became more adversarial and coercive during the coverage period of the report. Softer approaches, through content sharing agreements with Australian media and an agreement with the state of Victoria to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), were canceled in 2020–21. Chinese authorities detained an Australian journalist in China and forced the remaining correspondents to leave, while Beijing described local reporting as “poisoning” bilateral relations in its list of “14 Disputes” against Canberra.
  • Fewer state media interactions: During the coverage period, local outlets largely eschewed the Chinese party-state’s efforts to influence them through paid inserts. Local media group Nine Entertainment, which publishes the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age, and the Australian Financial Review, quietly discontinued cooperation agreements with China Daily to publish China Watch inserts. The public Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) stopped broadcasting content from state outlets China Central Television (CCTV) and China Global Television Network (CGTN) following a civil society complaint over forced televised confessions by political prisoners in China. Most Chinese state media content that is locally accessible in Australia, including social media posts and Global Times articles, is poorly received by Australian audiences. State outlets do maintain a physical presence in Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne.
  • Heightened public distrust: Bilateral ties have come under intense public scrutiny, rendering the Chinese Communist Party’s influence efforts largely ineffective. Public perceptions of Chinese governance, Beijing’s human rights record, bilateral economic cooperation, and Chinese president Xi Jinping’s leadership have all worsened during the coverage period. In a 2020 Lowy Institute poll, over 80 percent of Australian respondents expressed concern about Chinese government influence.
  • Limited disinformation campaigns: Chinese officials and state media have amplified distorted images. In 2020, for example, a Chinese government spokesperson took to social media to share a digitally altered image of an Australian soldier placing a knife at an Afghan child’s throat. Analytics firms found that the post was boosted by inauthentic accounts and that the Chinese consulate in Sydney had amplified information from inauthentic sources. There were also examples of misinformation on WeChat by Australian MPs to mislead Chinese-Australian voters.
  • Chinese authorities pressure Australian correspondents: Australian media stopped placing correspondents in China in September 2020, after Chinese authorities sought to question two reporters from the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Australian Financial Review who were then pulled out by their outlets. Cheng Lei, an Australian business journalist and news anchor working with CGTN, was detained by Chinese authorities in August 2020 and accused of disseminating state secrets; Cheng’s trial began behind closed doors in March 2022.
  • Intimidation and self-censorship of Chinese-Australian journalists: Ethnic Chinese journalists and commentators faced threats and intimidation for discussing human rights issues in China, including from state-linked actors. Relatives residing in China, meanwhile, have faced police intimidation. Some Chinese-Australian journalists at mainstream English-language outlets use pseudonyms when publishing articles criticizing Beijing in order to shield their relatives in China. Some Chinese-Australian journalists also self-censor for business reasons as well as for their own safety.
  • Diverse diaspora media environment: The expatriate and diaspora population benefits from a significant Chinese-language media ecosystem. About 2.7 percent of the Australian population speaks Mandarin, the most widely spoken language after English. The diaspora’s primary Chinese-language news outlets are privately owned, including Vision China Times, which reports on human rights violations in China and local community news. Some legacy Chinese-language outlets sought support from state-linked actors in the early 2000s, but many later reversed course due to inconsistent funding from Beijing and local backlash from readers and advertisers. There are over 130 WeChat Chinese-language news accounts in Australia. WeChat accounts are often registered as Chinese official accounts and are therefore subject to Beijing’s domestic censorship regime.
  • Skilled local journalists challenged by media concentration, partisanship, lack of diversity: Local journalists are able to conduct in-depth investigations on bilateral relations, Chinese domestic issues, and Beijing’s global influence. News outlets across the political spectrum, including the public broadcaster, have reported China-related news and investigations on CCP influence; however, conservative outlets more often carry such coverage. Local media ownership is heavily concentrated, with the News Corporation holding over 50 percent of the print market. Few Chinese-Australian journalists work in mainstream outlets covering China.
  • Weak defamation protection for media investigations: Though Australia has laws related to preventing strategic lawsuits against public participation, press freedom groups raised concern over the lack of protection for public interest reporting in a court case related to an investigative report on suspected Chinese Communist Party foreign influence. The court ruled against ABC and Fairfax Media in a February 2021 defamation lawsuit and awarded US$400,000 to the plaintiff, an Chinese-Australian businessman.
  • Strong regulatory environment: An independent regulator and several laws govern the local media sector, requiring transparency regarding foreign ownership and limiting cross-ownership. While a 2018 foreign influence law has been lauded as a step toward transparency of foreign actors’ activities in Australia, it has been met with criticism for fostering an environment of racialized suspicion of ethnic Chinese people, who are sometimes accused of functioning as agents of Beijing.
  • Growing civil society and political response to disinformation: Canberra and local outlets consult a large number of independent experts on China, including civil society organizations like the Lowy Institute and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. There is a growing effort to track the Chinese Communist Party’s disinformation and influence efforts. The government is additionally mounting a response to dis- and misinformation on social media, including from foreign sources.
  • Problematic political behavior exacerbates xenophobia: Local politicians exaggerate and manipulate legitimate concerns over Beijing’s influence to advance their own interests. During the 2022 federal electoral period, which was marred by anti-China rhetoric, the Liberal Party depicted the then-opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP) as Beijing’s preferred political partner. The political atmosphere, which grew starker during the pandemic, has contributed to an increase in ethnic discrimination. A 2021 Lowy Institute survey found that a third of Chinese-Australians faced discriminatory treatment that year.

header2 Background

Australia is a democratic country with a high level of freedom of expression that is ranked “Free” in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report.1 News media in Australia consists of taxpayer-funded media networks, commercial media, and non-corporate, independent community media. Ownership of the country’s news sector is highly concentrated and entangled with commercial and political interests. Commercial media outlets in metropolitan cities are dominated by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which controls nearly two-thirds of media coverage there; Nine Entertainment accounts for a further quarter.2 The private Australian Community Media (ACM) has consolidated more than 100 rural and regional news brands under its ownership.3 Public and non-corporate, independent community media services contribute to diversifying the voices of Australian media. ABC and SBS rely on government funding and serve the public interest.4 Additionally, there are dozens of non-corporate, independent community media outlets5 that have been established to serve various groups that are underrepresented or misrepresented by the mainstream commercial and public media.6 These can include indigenous community media, alternative media, and ethnic media that fulfill non-English-speaking migrants’ need for information.

Australia established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1972. While the bilateral relationship between the two countries has grown considerably since then, it experienced turbulence after 2018 due to intensified China-US tensions, the PRC’s pushback against Australia’s diplomatic and economic policies, and Australia’s concern over Chinese foreign interference during the government of the conservative Liberal-National coalition (LNP).7 After the center-left Australian Labor Party (ALP) took power in May 2022, Australian-Chinese economic relations took a positive turn. However, concerns about China’s foreign interference, a China-Russia alliance, and the possibility of a war with China over Taiwan are on the rise.8

There are about 1.4 million people of Chinese ancestry in Australia.9 Diversity within the Chinese diaspora is undersurveyed, however. According to the 2021 Census, the total number of Chinese people residing in Australia includes 49,511 Taiwanese and 100,148 Hong Kongese, as well as 549,618 mainland Chinese who were born in those territories.10 Although official statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics do not break down ethnicities under the umbrella term “Chinese,” activist groups and community organizations estimated that there are around 5,000 Uyghurs11 and 2,500 Tibetans12 residing in Australia.

header3 Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts

Propaganda and promotion of favored narratives

Key narratives

From 2019 to 2021, in a context of intensified geopolitical tension between Australia and China, information released by China’s state media generally framed China as a reasonable, moral, just, logical, ethical, contributing, or otherwise acceptable in response to the actions taken by Australia. Australia, on the other hand, was accused of promoting a “Cold War” narrative to intensify tensions between the two countries.1

  • Australia-China trade: Since May 2020, China has imposed a series of retaliatory trade measures against Australian products. The Chinese government has restricted Australian beef, barley, cotton, thermal coal, timber, copper, and lobster imports, pointing to the “public health concern in the global pandemic or “quota restrictions.” China also imposed higher tariffs on other Australian products such as wine. In 2020, while exports from China to Australia increased by 10.9 percent, Australian exports to China decreased by 5.3 percent.2

Official Chinese statements framed these changes as being the fault of Australia. Zhao Lijian, then the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, blamed Australia for disrupting previously stable relations since 2018, citing alleged Australian dumping and subsidizing of barley exports to China; his remarks held China free from any responsibility for the trade dispute.3

The fallout from the trade war was one of the significant factors contributed to Australia’s decision to cancel the Victoria state government’s participation in the BRI. In 2021, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade investigated the framework agreement of BRI and concluded that the agreement was inconsistent with Australian government policy and Australia’s national interest. The CCP–run Global Times and the Chinese embassy in Australia called the cancellation “unreasonable and provocative” and accused the Australian government of further degrading Australia-China relations while showing little interest in Victoria’s economic recovery.4

  • COVID-19: From 2020 to 2021, the Chinese state media portrayed the pandemic as well-managed by the Chinese government. Australia, on the other hand, with its less restrictive anti-COVID measures, was portrayed as jeopardizing public safety. Chinese media coverage of Australia’s anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests implied that they revealed the inadequacy of liberal democratic systems.5 The Chinese government, including the Chinese embassy in Australia, charged that the Australian government’s calls for an investigation into COVID-19’s origins were politically motivated and reflected anti-Chinese bias. Beijing then warned Chinese citizens and other Asian students and tourists against travelling to Australia out of safety concerns.6
  • Crackdown on China’s civil society: Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests and its expulsion of foreign media and NGOs in recent years has further disrupted Chinese civil society and suppressed critical views about the CCP. In 2017 and 2019, respectively, China detained two Chinese-Australian academics: Professor Chongyi Feng, who was eventually able to return to Australia later in 2017),7 and Dr. Hengjun Yang, who remains in Chinese detention as his espionage trial drags on.8 In 2020, Beijing condemned Australia for raiding Chinese journalists’ residences and cancelling Chinese scholars’ visas under Australia’s foreign interference laws.9 Later the same year, China detained Cheng Lei, the Chinese-Australian business journalist and news anchor, in August10 , and then China-based Australian journalists Bill Birtles and Michael Smith were forced to flee the country the following month to avoid arrest11 .
  • Chinese technologies: Australia has subjected technology developed by Chinese companies to higher levels of scrutiny, and in some cases outright prohibition, over surveillance and cybersecurity concerns. China dismissed Australia’s 2018 ban on the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei (华为) and the investigation by the administration of then–Australian prime minister Scott Morrison of the Chinese-based social network WeChat and shortform video platform TikTok in 2020as unreasonable actions based on conspiracy theories.12 The Morrison government’s proposal of banning WeChat also provoked a backlash from Chinese diaspora communities over a failure to consult with immigrant groups and consider the ban’s impact on them.13

Key avenues of content dissemination

Between 2016 and 2021, the previous expansion of Chinese state media in Australia reversed due to worsened bilateral relations, the global pandemic, and ensuing economic difficulties in China and Australia. Currently, the People’s Daily operates in Sydney and Xinhua News Agency maintains bureaus in Sydney and Canberra. Chinese state media outlets rely on their online presence on both Chinese and American social media platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, Twitter (now rebranded to X), Facebook, and YouTube. From 2019 to 2022, the author’s ethnographic observation showed that there was very little circulation of hard copies of Chinese state newspapers in Australia, even in the suburbs where Chinese-born residents make up a relatively larger proportion of the population. During that period, their impact on Australian English-speaking or Chinese-speaking communities has been limited. Beijing’s investment in Chinese diaspora media in general and Australian English-language media significantly decreased during the pandemic. Two Chinese-state-affiliated private media ventures that were based in Australia, the Chinese-language newspaper Sing Tao Daily and Ostar International Media Group, which owned Chinese and English radio stations, magazines, and newspapers, went into liquidation in 2020 and 2021, respectively.14

  • China’s state-owned media and their digital presence: From 2019 to 2021, the Chinese government conducted its media campaign promoting a positive image of China primarily through state-owned media. Since the 2010s, the CCP’s mouthpieces—Xinhua, the People’s Daily, the Global Times, and CGTN (rebranded from CCTV-News in 2016) —presented themselves as counterparts to the established English-language Australian media. Chinese state media outlets recruit journalistic personnel to promote Beijing’s favored narratives outside China.15 In 2018, Australian streaming services operated by Foxtel and Fetch TV broadcast CGTN content.16

Chinese state media outlets have a more expansive presence online than offline. During the 2010s, Australia witnessed the expansion of Chinese digital platforms where content creation, circulation, and consumption are governed by the censorious rules imposed by the Chinese government. These platforms include WeChat, TikTok, the social shopping platform Red (小红书, Xiaohongshu), and the streaming platform iQIYI (爱奇艺, Aiqiyi).

The People’s Daily, the Global Times, Xinhua, and CGTN maintain social media accounts across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, WeChat, and TikTok; however, their influence is limited, including among Mandarin speakers. In 2018, one study found that 53 percent of the Mandarin speakers surveyed “always” or “sometimes” consumed online news stories from China’s state-run media outlets such as Xinhua, the People’s Daily, China Daily, the Global Times, and CCTV, somewhat lower than the 59 percent that always or sometimes consumed news from mainstream Australian English-language media. The same study found that around 60 percent of Mandarin speakers surveyed ranked WeChat as their primary source of news information.17

  • Content sharing and investment in Australian English media: SBS, an Australian public media service for multicultural communities, commenced broadcasting English content provided by CGTN and Mandarin content shared by CCTV 4 in 2013 as part of the World Watch selection program. Content sharing was terminated in March 2021 due to reports that the Chinese state outlets had aired the forced confessions of dozens of prisoners.18 In May 2016, China Daily entered the Australian media market via an agreement with FairFax Media. According to the agreement, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age, and the Australian Financial Review, owned by FairFax, would each publish an eight-page English-edition “China Watch” section monthly.19 Beijing took the opportunity to spread its propaganda over controversial issues such as the South China Seas through the paid content. The section was considered a “commercial printing agreement”, akin to advertisements, by FairFax, and was not subjected to journalistic editorial oversight by the newspapers in which it appeared. However, the demarcation between the advertorial content and news sections was not made clear to the readership.20 In December 2018, Nine Entertainment acquired FairFax Media, and the new ownership quietly withdrew from the deal with China Daily in 2020.21
  • Content sharing and investment in Chinese diaspora media: During the 2000s, Chinese national and local authorities extended their reach toward Chinese-language diaspora media in the West in the form of co-ownership, event co-organization, and shared content. In Australia, Global CAMG Media Group, a Melbourne-based network of radio stations under Ostar Media International Group, was majority-owned by Guoguang Century Media Consultancy, which in turn was owned by the state-run China Radio International (CRI).22 With limited financial resources to support news production, privately owned Chinese-language media used to share content provided by Beijing. However, those content sharing deals ended as the information diets of Chinese migrants shifted toward content relevant to their new lives in Australia and away from what they used to consume in China.23 As business imperatives predominantly drive decisions by Chinese-language outlets, Beijing’s investment in this particular category of media quietly declined.
  • Official channels connecting the Chinese establishment to the world: The former Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye and the current ambassador Xiao Qian frequently feature in Australian English media outlets and PR content, giving commentary, publishing opinion pieces, and participating in events relating to Australia-China bilateral relations. From 2019 to 2022, Chinese diaspora media outlets regularly republished announcements from the Chinese embassy, primarily travel advice, on Chinese social media such as WeChat. In 2023, the Chinese embassy’s WeChat official account provided daily updates on Xiao’s official activities and China’s diplomatic activities in an attempt to more actively engage with its followers.

Chinese government officials disseminate pro-Beijing and counter-Western narratives on American platforms like YouTube or Twitter, and those narratives are then given further airtime as they are criticized on Australian English media. On November 30, 2020, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson at the time, Zhao Lijian, posted a doctored image of an Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to the throat of an Afghan child holding a lamb and standing over the Australian and Afghan flags. Zhao’s Twitter post, which criticized the “murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers,” came after Australia had released the Brereton Report investigating war crimes committed by the Australian Defence Force during the war in Afghanistan.24 The graphic image, while appearing as if it might depict a real event, was in fact a collage of stock photos processed with light and shadow effects by a Beijing-based semi-official propaganda artist Yu Fu (付昱 or known professionally as 乌合麒麟, Wuheqilin) who is known as a “wolf-warrior artist” in an echo of China’s aggressive diplomacy style.25

Uyghur genocide denialism represented another example of Beijing’s aggressive efforts to broadcast its own narratives. In 2021, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) reported that a number of influencers, including both Han citizens of China and non-Chinese foreigners, took trips to Xinjiang and published their travelling videos on YouTube and the Chinese streaming platform Bilibili (哔哩哔哩). While the influencers did not identify any sponsors in their videos, it was evident that all the Xinjiang-related videos were released sometime around April 2021. The videos followed an established format: introducing Xinjiang’s food culture, visiting cotton fields to see the automated machines used in seeding and harvesting, and talking to Uyghur families about their lives in Xinjiang, without the animated voiceover that many food vlogs would normally include. The scripted videos suggested that the production had gone through editorialization before being launched on YouTube and Bilibili. This introduction to Xinjiang served to showcase a positive image of the region, deny the CCP’s mistreatment of Uyghur people or cultural genocide, and promote tourism in Xinjiang. The ASPI identified that White influencers outside China were preferred by Beijing to push pro-CCP, genocide-denialist narratives beyond China.26

  • Exchange programs: In 2019, five journalists from English-language Australian outlets participated in the China Australia Journalist Exchange program to explore China’s recent developments in clean energy technology. The trip was run in collaboration between the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre and the Melbourne Press Club and received financial support from the Australian embassy in Beijing. Participating reporters met with government officials, business leaders, academics, and journalists in Shanghai, Qindao, and Beijing, and were required to contribute to reports in Australian media outlets with a focus on China’s development in the green energy sector. Some of the published articles are displayed on the APJC’s website, with the program’s sponsorship identified at their ends. Initially established in 2013, the program was halted during the pandemic. 27

Disinformation campaigns

For the purposes of this report, disinformation is defined as the intentional systemic dissemination of false, one-sided, or misleading content, especially through inauthentic activity—such as the use of fake accounts—on global social media platforms. The report finds that from 2019 to 2021, China-related disinformation circulated widely in both Australian English-speaking society and within Chinese diaspora communities.

  • “Little pinks” on social media: Influential patriotic social media accounts known as “little pinks” (小粉红, xiaofenhong) spread pro-Beijing propaganda and disinformation to counter any Western narratives that were critical of China, the CCP, and even Russia. Some of these influential little pinks are based in Australia, with tens of thousands of followers on Twitter. They target Chinese-Australian journalists, researchers, or student activists who criticize Chinese politics and the leadership with harassment or hacking.28 Some little pinks have been commissioned by Chinese authorities, student associations, or third-party marketing agencies, but many are self-organized. They can be international students or long-term residents in Australia who deeply believe in the CCP’s agenda.
  • Nonstate disinformation within the Chinese diaspora: Australia’s domestic politics influence the formulation and distribution of disinformation among Chinese migrant communities in the country, and the disinformation that circulates there is not necessarily related to that promoted by CCP-affiliated sources. In 2019 and again in 2022, Australia held federal elections. A long-term, systematic study conducted by the author on WeChat found that the disinformation circulating among Chinese diaspora communities during elections was characterized by partisan spin, especially of a conservative bent.29 In private WeChat groups, Chinese Liberal-National coalition supporters attacked the Australian Labor Party’s humanitarian immigration schemes and LGBTQ+-friendly policies.

Censorship and intimidation

During the coverage period, the report finds that there was a significant effort by the Chinese government to censor news coverage and public speech about China to and intimidate Australian media. Censorship exists in the forms of China’s systematic oppression of the speech of both Chinese dissidents overseas and of non-Chinese media, journalists and academics; harassment by trolls, including self-organized actors as well as those connected to the PRC; and self-censorship.

  • State-initiated systematic oppression of speech: The Chinese state has banned Australian media in China and expelled Australian journalists. In 2014, ABC became the first Western broadcaster to be granted permission to distribute its content to the entire population of China.30 However, in September 2018, access to ABC’s news website was blocked in China.31 The government’s censorship was considered a response from China against a ban by the administration of then–Australian president Malcolm Turnbull blocking Huawei from participating in Australia’s 5G rollout, as well as ABC broadcasting critical viewpoints on the Chinese government.32 In August 2020, ABC correspondent Bill Birtles, based in Beijing, and Australian Financial Review correspondent Mike Smith, based in Shanghai, were forced to flee China for fear of arrest33 following the detention of Cheng Lei, the Chinese-Australian news anchor and business journalist.34 Cheng remains in prison today on allegations of espionage.

China’s governance and censorship of China-based platforms apply to any individuals or organizations with presences on those platforms. Mainstream Australian English media outlets ABC, SBS, and the Australian opened public accounts on WeChat to reach out to Mandarin-speaking communities. Those accounts all avoid engaging in any political discussions to avoid censorship, preferring soft news. Australian journalists have had their personal WeChat accounts suspended due to their involvement in political discussions.

  • Self- or state-organized intimidation: Chinese-Australian journalists, researchers, and political activists reported that they had experienced online harassment and hacking. CCP intimidation also affected their families and friends.

In 2020, Australian policy analyst Vicky Xu published a report on the Chinese government’s human rights abuse in Xinjiang.35 With Xu’s engagement in political advocacy, she faced a series of online hate campaigns initiated by Chinese authorities and trolls. The Global Times called her a “witch” fabricating stories about Xinjiang,36 and nationalist WeChat public accounts republished the article and made graphic sexist threats against Xu.37 Xu also reported that family members and friends in China were interrogated and detained due to her report and public statements.38 Xu is one of the many Chinese-Australian journalists, political activists, or researchers who has experienced online hatred and bullying, with such harassment often aimed at the target’s gender or sexuality.

  • Self-censorship: Australian businesses, including Chinese migrant business entities, censor themselves based on their economic and market considerations. In 2019, Hong Kongese activist Denise Ho and Chinese-Australian political cartoonist Badiucao criticized the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) for refusing to host their panel about the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.39 The NGV’s refusal to host the event, at the same time that it was presenting a joint exhibition with Chinese museums featuring ancient terracotta warriors and the work of a contemporary Chinese artist40 , was widely seen as being motivated by political concerns.

Chinese migrants are heterogeneous in their views about the CCP. There are people from the PRC who are critical of China, its leadership, and the country’s increasingly conservative politics. Despite any dissenting views expressed by privately owned Chinese-language diaspora media outlets, though, their accounts on WeChat and other news apps self-censor to ensure the smooth daily operation of their business and protect the safety of their staffs’ families in mainland China.19

Control over content distribution infrastructure

Chinese state-linked actors do not control Australia’s content-distribution infrastructure or telecommunication systems. However, China-based companies are involved in a considerable portion of the content dissemination infrastructure in Australia through their ownership of popular content-sharing digital platforms, streaming networks, and digital devices. Since 2021, with Beijing’s increased control over the tech industry, Chinese-branded technologies can impose higher risks to Australia due to their closer ties to Chinese authorities.41 It is foreseeable that we will witness the development of more cutting-edge technologies in China in the future with the government’s investment in science and technology. At the same time, the transnational expansion of Chinese technologies rings alarm bells, as those technologies are governed by arbitrary rules and regulations aligned with Beijing’s ideological interests.

  • TikTok: TikTok is a global subsidiary of the PRC-based tech company ByteDance (字节跳动, Zijietiaodong). There were 7.38 million Australian users on TikTok over the age of 18 in 202242 , and the platform was the country’s most downloaded mobile entertainment app.43 TikTok and its closely related counterpart in China, Douyin (抖音), run under two separate governance systems within one app. A user downloads the same app for either service; however, whether the user is set up on Douyin or TikTok is determined by whether a PRC or non-PRC mobile phone number is used for account. ByteDance learned from WeChat owner Tencent’s example to apply different governance models onto users based in PRC and abroad. Douyin users are able to access more functions but face more restrictive regulations, whereas TikTok users can use limited functions with more freedom of expression.44

However, freedom of speech even on TikTok is not unlimited. Content is still governed by Chinese standards, even though the platform is operated outside Chinese territory. In 2019, a leaked document from ByteDance revealed that TikTok content moderators were instructed to remove any content that was not consistent with Beijing’s ideological interests. The Chinese authorities arbitrarily define prohibited content, with banned topics including Tiananmen Square, Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwanese independence, pro-LGBTQ+ content, the persecuted spiritual movement Falun Gong, or any criticism of China’s Communist Party, socialist system or leadership.45 Additionally, the automatically generated captions filter out swear words by default.

  • WeChat: WeChat, and its counterpart Weixin (微信) used by accounts registered with PRC phone numbers, is the primary digital platform used by Mandarin-speakers around the world, with 1.3 billion monthly active accounts as of April 2022. While geography-specific information is not disclosed by the China-based Tencent, it was estimated that there could be 690,000 daily active users in Australia.46 To accommodate Beijing’s political interests and the tech company’s business imperatives overseas, WeChat and Weixin operate under separate governance frameworks both within China and abroad. Chinese Weixin users based in mainland China face the strictest restrictions, while non-Chinese WeChat users outside China enjoy the broadest range of autonomy and are protected by their nations’ privacy laws. Regardless of a user’s Chinese or non-Chinese membership status, the use of WeChat’s “official account” feature—which allows media outlets and other companies to create and administer public-facing pages—is regulated under China’s jurisdiction.47 The official accounts algorithm allows CCPs mouthpieces China Daily and Xinhua to prioritize their content on WeChat and Weixin’s newsfeed.

In November 2020, WeChat blocked a public message by Scott Morrison, then Australia’s prime minister, on his WeChat official account. The short article criticized Chinese spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s doctored image on Twitter and expressed Morrison’s appreciation and respect of Chinese migrants in Australia.48 It was unclear why the post was censored, but WeChat’s statement said that the content had violated Tencent’s regulations.

  • Growing Chinese platforms: From 2018 to 2023, there have been more Chinese digital platforms joining, and leading, the Australian market. These platforms include Red, iQIYI, ride-hailing service Didi (滴滴), and Temu, an online marketplace headquartered in the U.S. that is a subsidiary of Chinese-based PDD Holdings Inc. The Chinese government demonstrates varying degrees of control over these platforms.
  • Digital infrastructure: While Huawei’s 5G network infrastructure has been barred from entering Australia, digitally networked devices including smart watches, smartphones, tablets, smart home appliances, electric vehicles, and commercial drones from Huawei and other Chinese tech companies like Xiaomi (小米), Oppo, and DJI (大疆创新, Da Jiang Chuangxin) are accessible on the Australian market. Although Australia has not yet determined these smart devices to be “risks” at the current scale of use, it is plausible that in the near future, Australian government investigations into Chinese-branded digital devices’ practices data harvesting and storage, censorship, surveillance, and cybersecurity could trigger strong defensive reactions toward foreign interference.

Dissemination of CCP media norms, tactics, or governance models

There was no evidence during the coverage period that Australian media professionals or government officials received trainings aimed at spreading Beijing’s information-control tactics and norms, or that they were otherwise persuaded to adopt CCP-style media governance models. Tense Australia-China relations and pandemic-induced border closures were responsible for disrupting a previous media exchange program last held in 2019 (see Exchange programs). In 2023, although economic connections between Australia and China had begun to recover, the Australia’s tightened foreign interference policies are more likely to restrict any future exchange programs.

Chinese diaspora media

Australia is home to a range of Chinese diaspora media outlets that are owned and managed by Chinese-Australian media entrepreneurs and transnational Chinese diaspora networks. These media outlets are heterogeneous in their political stances, depending on their ownership. Chinese speakers also have access to public media services, including ABC and SBS, which provide Chinese and Mandarin channels. However, privately operated, commercial media outlets on WeChat control the majority of the Chinese diaspora media market, as WeChat remains as the primary digital platform used by Chinese-Australians.49

  • Political stance: Chinese-language media outlets owned and managed by Chinese-Australian media entrepreneurs maintain a politically moderate stance toward China. Chinese-Australian media professionals do not share homogenous political views.
  • Self-censorship applies, but not uniformly, as some Chinese-Australian media professionals and entrepreneurs have been critical of Beijing, especially when the China-Australia bilateral relationship began to deteriorate. Others, though, kept any critical views of Beijing private to protect their business income and safeguard staff members’ families from Beijing’s intimidation.

As Chinese-language media outlets seek to increase Australian readers’ engagement while working within the constraints of the limited financial and human resources such outlets have for original content production, the majority translate news stories from Australian English mainstream media outlets into Mandarin rather than producing original news reports.50 Because the Australian English-language media can be critical about Chinese policies, Chinese-language media outlets moderate the tone of politically sensitive stories when they translate them in order to accommodate the PRC migrant market, advance media outlets’ business interests, and evade Chinese censorship.51 Influential Australian Chinese-language media outlets are invited to events organized by the Chinese authorities. The outlets’ participation in China-affiliated events is more seen as a chance to associate those businesses with power in order to advance their own interests, rather than an endorsement of Chinese government policies.

Falun Gong-affiliated Chinese-language media outlets operated by transnational diaspora networks are active in Australia. These media outlets include the Epoch Times, New Tang Dynasty Television, and Vision Times that disseminate anti-democratic false news and conspiracy theories while being strongly critical of the CCP.52

  • Digital-native media outlets: From the late 2000s to the early 2010s, the expansion of Chinese social media to Australia provided a space for independent, digitally native Chinese-language media accounts, known as “self-media,” which emerged on the microblogging platform Weibo (微博) and later thrived on WeChat. Those media accounts were established mostly by first-generation migrants from China, many of whom were Chinese international students or postgraduates who found content creation on social media lucrative. Influential Chinese-language media accounts and companies established by first-generation Chinese migrant entrepreneurs include:
  • Lion Media Group: The Melbourne-based digital media and marketing agency was founded in 2011. As the largest Chinese-language media company in Melbourne, Lion Media Group runs channels on Weibo, WeChat, Douyin and Red, with 600,000 followers in total. Lion Media Group covers aspects of news stories targeting Chinese migrant communities in Melbourne and Sydney and niche Chinese migrant parent communities.53
  • Media Today Group (今日传媒集团, Jinri Chuanmei Jituan): The headquarters of this digital media company is based in Sydney, and there are branches in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth, as well as New Zealand. The company was established in 2010. It now manages one news app, five news accounts on WeChat, and several platforms that provide businesses or services for Chinese migrants. It primarily targets first-generation Chinese migrants in Australia and New Zealand. The Australia Today news app (今日澳洲, Jinri Aozhou) has more than 870,000 users. Its official account on WeChat, Sydney Today (今日悉尼, Jinri Xini), has more than 650,000 subscribers, and is one of the most influential official accounts in Australia.54
  • Fancy Media Consulting Group (繁星传媒, Fanxing Chuanmei): The company is known for its influential WeChat official account, Australia Chinese News (澳洲红领君, Aozhou Hongling Jun), formerly known as Australian Red Scarf (澳洲红领巾, Aozhou Honglingjin). The company’s was established in 2015 in Melbourne, and its reach has since extended to Sydney and Brisbane. The company primarily targets Chinese international students and Chinese migrant parent communities, with more than 560,000 subscribers in total.55
  • Yeeyi (亿忆, Yiyi): Yeeyi is one of the earliest digital-native Chinese-language media companies in Australia. The company was established in 2006 in Sydney as a news website. It then expanded service to WeChat and the company’s own news app. While Yeeyi tends to be less competitive on WeChat than other major Chinese-language digital media companies, it gets seven million monthly website visits and 170,000 monthly active users on the app.56

Australia’s English-speaking mainstream establishment has recognized the significance of the media ecosystem served by Lion Media Group, Media Today Group, and Fancy Media Consulting Group. In the 2019 and 2022 Australian federal elections, WeChat official accounts managed by the three companies hosted political advertisements for major Australian politicians.57

The digital-native media cohort was later joined by Chinese migrant businesses, most prominently real-estate agencies and immigration companies that have incorporated news translation and distribution into their marketing activities in order to stay abreast of their policy-sensitive industries. One such company is Australian Financial News (澳洲财经见闻,Aozhou Caijing Jianwen), a media outlet established in 2016 in Sydney with services that have expanded from WeChat official to its self-developed app. The outlet is affiliated with the company’s property and financial investment services arm, and targets elite Chinese migrant groups with more than 180,000 subscribers.58 The outlet was known for its active role running political advertising on behalf of Josh Frydenberg , who served as Australia’s treasurer and represented the district of Kooyong in parliament.59

Another portion of the sector consists of legacy media outlets that became dependent on digital users. Chinese-language newspapers joined WeChat after witnessing the traffic and advertising revenue aggregated on the platform. However, at the time, the competition on WeChat was already fierce, and those legacy outlets gained very little advantage. Examples of this group of outlets include:

  • Nanhai Media Group (南海传媒, Nanhai Chuanmei): The media company was founded in 2011 in Sydney, with a focus on Chinese-language magazines such as CityWeekly and CityWalker, as well as Australia Chinese TV (雪梨视频, Xueli Shipin). In 2013, the company’s online presence was then extended to WeChat and established what became one of the country’s most influential WeChat official accounts, WeSydney (微悉尼, Wei Xini), with 380,000 subscribers in 2022. In addition to news, the company provides marketing and PR services. Compared to other Chinese-language media outlets, Nanhai Media Group has a high level of social, cultural and political capital, and maintains a strong presence at events associated with China or Hong Kong.
  • Chinese News & Media Group (1688 传媒集团,1688 Chuanmei Jituan): The company was initially established as a Chinese-language newspaper—the Daily Chinese Herald (澳洲日报 Aozhou Ribao)—by Fengyu Huang, a Taiwanese-Australian media entrepreneur60 . The company is headquartered in Sydney with offices in Melbourne and Brisbane. It runs newspapers, news websites, WeChat official accounts, and its own news app, with a focus on current affairs and real estate. The main news website receives more than 200,000 visits per day and the news app has more than 10,000 users, with 80,000 subscribers on WeChat.61
  • Australian Chinese Daily (澳洲新报): The newspaper was established in 1987 by Sandra (Meiling) Lau, a Hong Kongese-Australian media entrepreneur. The paper is published daily both online and in print, with no presence on Chinese social media. The paper targets primarily older-generation Chinese migrants, with an estimated circulation of 17,000 to 20,000 copies.62

Against this context, Chinese state investment in the diaspora media sector in Australia has quietly declined amid changing media consumption patterns by Chinese migrants, following the heightened CCP involvement in worldwide diaspora media in the 2000s.63 For instance, the Australian government reported that CRI had ceased its involvement in Australia via Global CAMG in 2021.64

As a recent observation, since 2023, the pandemic-induced economic recession, China's goal of attracting foreign investment, and the tendency towards better Australia-China economic cooperation have pushed less well-resourced Chinese-language media outlets toward republishing news information from Chinese state media alongside English news translation. The inclusion of Chinese state/provincial media in the newsroom suggests that Chinese-language media hope to attract funding and advertising revenue from the Chinese side of the market at a time when the Australian market is shrinking.

header4 Resilience + Response

Underlying media resilience

  • Backlash against Beijing’s media influence: Beijing’s soft-power expansion has provoked a strong backlash in Australia. Since 2016, the Sydney Morning Herald has dedicated a webpage to documenting the spread of Beijing’s influence.1 In 2019, in response to the global expansion of China’s CGTN, the Sydney Morning Herald placed alarming messages at bus stations across Australia to remind the public of the risk of Beijing’s media influence (see Figure 2).
  • Discontinuation of media collaboration program: In December 2018, Nine Entertainment acquired FairFax Media. In 2020, FairFax withdrew the company’s “commercial printing agreement” with China Daily. In March 2021, SBS terminated its content sharing with CCTV and CGTN due to deteriorating Australia-China relations.
  • Journalistic professionalism and public scrutiny: Australian media of different political leanings maintain critical stances toward the Chinese government, though public discussions of China can be highly contentious. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sky News Australia journalist Sharri Markson promoted the unproven theory in her reporting that the coronavirus had leaked from a lab in Wuhan. Markson’s coverage was then criticized by ABC journalist Wendy Harmer, who quoted a China Daily story and said that Markson’s report “would be a catalyst for World War 3.”2

In general, Australian media are resistant toward Beijing’s propaganda, and public trust toward Beijing is low. The Lowy Institute’s annual national poll shows that a strong majority of the Australian public perceives China as a “military threat” and a “security concern,” and does not trust the Chinese state.3

A strong legislative framework to counter foreign interference

  • Legislation against foreign interference: Starting with the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018, Australia has been working to enhance its security system to counter foreign interference by individuals, organizations, or infrastructure. Later foreign interference laws passed include the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020 and the Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Act 2020. The government has also supported a Model Code on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom. Legislation and initiatives countering foreign interference touch institutions throughout Australian society, including legislative bodies, industry, education and research, and local communities.
  • Law enforcement bodies: Australia’s Counter Foreign Interference (CFI) Strategy has sought to protect national interest by applying systematic methods, new legal frameworks, and heightened public scrutiny. Governmental bodies including the Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce (CFITF), the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) work together to detect, disrupt, and investigate foreign interference activity.

China-specific resilience

Australia has a strong system for the prevention of foreign interference, especially regarding Chinese investments and Chinese-made technologies. This has led to a range of specific policy actions, including:

  • The cancellation of Victoria’s Belt and Road agreements: In 2021, the Morrison government used the Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) (Consequential Amendments) Bill to tear up Victoria’s Belt and Road agreements with China. The Australian foreign minister at the time, Marise Payne, responded that Victoria’s agreement with China was “inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations.”4 The agreements were signed by Victoria’s Labor premier, Daniel Andrews, with China’s National Development and Reform Commission in 2018, which had long been viewed warily under Morrison’s administration.
  • Counter China-made technologies: Since 2023, Australia’s federal government has committed to removing Chinese-made security cameras at government buildings5 . In April 2023, joining the Department of Defence and Home Affairs, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry banned staff from downloading TikTok on work devices.6

Major parties’ approaches toward China

Australia largely operates as a two-party system, with the Australian Labor Party representing the center-left and the coalition between the Liberal Party and the National Party representing the center-right. With the change of governments during the coverage period, positions on China also shifted to some extent.

  • The Liberal-National coalition: During the administration of Morrison’s LNP government between 2018 and 2022, LNP politicians frequently mobilized the widespread hostility and fear toward China under narratives such as “Chinese interference” and “Chinese hackers,” especially ahead of the May 2022 Australian federal election. In January 2022, the conservative and pro-LNP Daily Telegraph broke the news that Morrison had lost control of his 76,000-follower WeChat official account. The Australian tabloid characterized the incident as Chinese “censorship” and a “brazen bid to silence” the then–prime minister, a narrative echoed by Liberal Senator James Paterson, then the chair of the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security. According to the Telegraph article and subsequent reporting, ownership of Morrison’s account, which had originally been registered with a Chinese citizen according to regulations governing WeChat official accounts, had been transferred to an information technology company based in China’s Fujian province in or before October 2021 without the Australian government being notified; the account had been wiped and renamed “Australian Chinese new life”7 . The transaction was made outside the coalition government’s oversight due to a lack of management from the Morrison’s team and insufficient communications between Morrison’s Liberal Party and the original third-party account owner. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, WeChat and the account’s new owners rejected accusations of “hacking” and “foreign interference.”8
  • The Australian Labor Party: The ALP, on the other hand, has tended to adopt a moderate approach toward China, seeking economic cooperation while being wary of China’s military expansion, interference, and human rights abuses. The policies and diplomatic activities of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor government have reflected these priorities since the new administration’s formation in May 2022. Following China’s easing of pandemic restrictions on international travel at the end of 2022, there have been more official interactions between China and Australia regarding trade, tourism, geopolitics, consular affairs, climate change, and defense.9 Australian politicians, including Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong, Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell, Victoria premier Daniel Andrews, Mark McGowan, the premier of Western Australia at the time, have all since paid visits to China.

Robust civil society, advocacy, scrutiny, and academic research on China

Australia benefits from groups of academics, journalists, and civil society experts on democracy, human rights, international relations, political activism, and China who are regularly featured in the mainstream media and consulted by the government. There are many schools and research institutes at Australian universities and political think tanks that are well-equipped to study China and its politics, leadership, and migration patterns.

  • Academic research: From 2018 to 2023, Professors Wanning Sun (University of Technology Sydney) and Professor Haiqing Yu (RMIT University) led a project, funded by the Australian Research Council, that studied Chinese-language digital and social media in Australia through the lens of soft power.10 Professor Fran Martin (University of Melbourne) completed a long-term project stretching from 2015 to 2021 on female Chinese international students in Australia and how studying abroad affected their lives,” also funded by the Australian Research Council.11 Dr. Fan Yang (University of Melbourne), Dr. Robbie Fordyce (Monash University), and Dr. Luke Heemsbergen (Deakin University) have developed a long-term collaborative project to monitor and analyze Chinese migrants’ political participation and Australian politicians’ political mobilization on WeChat.12

In Australia, academic institutes focusing on Chinese studies include the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Melbourne.13 the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney,14 the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney,15 the Australian Centre on China in the World at Australian National University,16 and the China Studies Research Centre at La Trobe University.17 Specialized academic scholarships fund projects related to China and Chinese media.

  • Political think tanks: From 2020 to 2023, the Lowy Institute produces annual reports and representative polls on “Being Chinese in Australia” as part of its Multiculturalism, Identity and Influence Project.18 The Australian Strategic Policy Institute is dedicated to systematically evaluating China’s role in world affairs with a strong focus on technology, democracy, climate change, and geopolitics.19 China Matters is an independent organization that provides insights and recommendations on Australia-China relations.
  • NGOs and human rights activists: In 2021, Human Rights Watch issued a report on China’s repression of academic freedom at Australian universities.20 Amnesty International Australia reports on human rights abuse in Xinjiang.

Human rights activists in Australia who run pro-democracy groups working on China-related issues include Badiucao, Drew Pavlou, the ACT Tibetan Community, and Nurgul Sawut, who leads a Uyghur activist community.

  • Australian media: Australia has a journalistic workforce dedicated to producing news stories covering China and related issues, including Chinese migrants, Chinese politics, and Chinese society. News programs and sections covering Chinese issues include China Tonight by ABC, ABC 中文 (ABC Chinese), and SBS Chinese and SBS Mandarin.
  • Government approaches to academic freedom: In 2019, the University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT) was established to protect Australian universities against foreign interference.21 In 2021, Parliament passed the Higher Education Support Amendment (Freedom of Speech) Bill 2020 to ensure that academic research is undertaken without outside pressure.22

header5 Vulnerabilities

  • Funding cuts in academic research: Australia funds academic research with a system in which universities use surpluses from student fees to match money provided by the government. Since 2020, Australian universities have been trapped in an existential crisis due to cuts in the government’s funding and falling numbers of international students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the coverage period, there were waves of pay cuts, layoffs, and workforce casualization.

The former coalition government’s Job-Ready Graduates legislation was aimed at steering students toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professions that were in immediate demand. Conversely, the government discouraged students from pursuing HASS (humanities and social sciences) degrees.1 The crisis in higher education continues under the current administration’s research commercialization plan. That plan focuses research efforts on national manufacturing priorities while putting HASS programs at a disadvantage in attracting industry funding.

  • China literacy shortfalls stemming from structural exclusion: China studies is closely aligned with international relations and strategic and security studies, in which China is critically addressed as a “threat” or an “other.” Research and courses along these lines are more likely to be valued, as opposed to the study of Chinese culture, language, and history, including through a postcolonial lens. Research funding is more readily available for coursework that aligns with the national interest, and students are more likely to enroll in courses or programs that pave pathways for career advancement.2

Structural marginalization of academics from underrepresented ethnic and racial backgrounds in Australia also contributes to Australia’s China illiteracy.3

  • Australian media’s pursuit of clicks and revenue: In 2020, the ABC announced cuts to programing and jobs due to a three-year funding freeze under the Morrison administration starting in 2019. While the capabilities of public media like the ABC withered due to the pause in funding increases, commercial media competed for clicks and advertising revenue across major digital platforms. American and Chinese digital platforms respectively dominate the Australian English-language and Chinese-language media landscape, and the increased prominence of for-profit outlets oriented toward pursuing internet traffic rather than the public interest is likely to change how Australian media tells stories. Additionally, the lack of funding and support provided to Chinese-language media in Australia’s competitive economic environment may create openings for foreign interference.
  • Noncomprehensive approach toward data protection: China and Chinese technologies have been at the center of discussions when it comes to data protection and cybersecurity in Australia. However, policies such as TikTok and WeChat bans on government devices are non-comprehensive approaches that ignore major areas of data protection. Data breaches and hacking continually put Australia’s public interest at risk. Data literacy at both the individual and institutional levels should be enhanced. At the national level, Australia requires clearer and stronger legislative frameworks and methods for data protection beyond the current politicized discourse.
  • Misuse and abuse of “countering foreign interference” narratives: During the period of coverage, China-related topics were subject to politicization by conservative political parties and right-wing groups. Conservative parties and Australian media coverage fanned anti-China sentiment, subjecting Chinese migrants, including Chinese international students to racist attacks and heightened public scrutiny.

Since 2018, hundreds of PhD applicants and postdoctoral researchers in STEM—including those from China—have reportedly waited as long as three years for visas to arrive in the country. According to the Department of Home Affairs, some of the delays were caused by “legislated national security checks.”4 The long and unpredictable processing time caused many talented academics to seek opportunities in other countries, sabotaging Australia’s research community.

In 2021, the ASIO alleged in a court filing during deportation procedures that influential Liberal Party donor Huifeng “Haha” Liu had engaged in acts of foreign interference on behalf of Beijing.5 However, Liu’s lawyer said the allegation was the result of a smear campaign, which stemmed from a dispute between Liu—the founder of the Australian Emergency Assistance Association Incorporated (AEAAI), an NGO that provided emergency assistance to Chinese-Australians— and a member of the group, Zhen Kang, over a lack of transparency in the AEAAI’s operations and funding.6 7

  • Australian politicians’ lack of genuine engagement with migrant communities: Australian politicians’ engagement with Chinese migrant communities remain largely in the service of their own political interests, especially during the electoral periods. Only a handful of Australian politicians regularly tailor their messages to migrant communities’ concerns and needs and keep them informed about relevant policy changes.8

header6 Impact and Public Opinion

During the coverage period, Australia’s bilateral relationship with China deteriorated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the geopolitical divide between China and the West. Since the current ALP administration took power in May 2022, economic collaboration has been expected to increase.

From 2019 to 2021, public perceptions of China and its economy, politics, human rights records, and leadership turned significantly negative. The 2021 National Poll by Lowy Institute revealed that 63 percent of Australians considered China as more of a security and military threat than an economic partner. This was a substantial 22-point increase from 2020, when 41 percent of Australians saw China as a risk. In the 2021 poll, 34 percent of Australians considered China more of an economic partner to Australia, 21 points lower than in 2020. The attitude toward China’s investment in Australia has also become increasingly negative. From 2016 to 2021, the percentage of Australians surveyed who said that Chinese investment made them view China in a more positive light dropped from 37 percent to 20 percent, while those who viewed China more negatively increased from 59 percent to 79 percent.

In terms of China’s political influence in Australia, in a separate Lowy Institute survey in 2020, 82 percent of Australians were concerned about China’s influence on Australia’s political processes, a 19-point increased from 2018.

Only 10 percent of Australians demonstrated that they had some level of confidence in China’s president Xi to make the right decision on international issues in the 2021 poll. This was less than half the confidence that Australians expressed in 2020, when 22 percent of Australians were confident about Xi’s leadership.1

Concern about Beijing’s influence in Australia also extended to Chinese involvement in neighboring countries. In 2021, Marise Payne, then the minister for foreign affairs and trade, objected China’s development plans on the Papua New Guinea island of Daru due to Australian security concern, although some dismissed Payne’s comments as an overreaction.2

Australians’ anxiety toward China and distrust toward the Chinese leadership continue, with slight changes following the ALP government’s ascension in May 2022. The Lowy Institute’s 2023 poll revealed that fewer Australians (59 percent of the survey participants) see China’s foreign policy as a critical threat, and that a majority of Australians (56 percent) see the resumption of the ministry-level contacts between Australia and China as either “very” or “somewhat” positive for Australia’s national interests. However, a bigger proportion of Australians (52 percent) still consider China “more of a security threat” than those (44 percent) who see China as “more of an economic partner.”3

header7 Future Trajectory

Since May 2022, the new ALP administration has brought a sense of cautious optimism toward the Australia-China relationship. Prime Minister Albanese has said that China’s hardline turn under Xi’s governance will complicate relations between the two countries, and Australia maintains close partnerships with the other members of blocs such as AUKUS (Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and the Quad (Australia, India, Japan, and the United States), as well as Southeast Asian and Pacific allies, that balance against China’s power However, the ALP, especially at the state government level, also seeks to rebuild Australia’s economic relationship with China without being overly reliant on China. With this context in mind, the following are potential developments related to Beijing’s media influence in Australia that should be closely monitored in the coming years:

  • Chinese governments’ more direct interference in Chinese-language media in Australia: Consolidation among media outlets targeting Chinese migrants and the increasing competition for a shrinking market have led to significantly decreased advertising income for small- to medium-sized Chinese-language media outlets. This has created opportunities for Chinese government entities to acquire or invest in those less-resourced media companies. An increase in Chinese government control and monitoring of the diaspora media space through involvement in Australian media outlets’ day-to-day finances and operations may destabilize freedom of speech in that space.
  • Chinese internet governance expanding from digital platforms to AI: Chinese internet governance administers the operation of digital platforms, devices, and infrastructure (i.e., AI, machine learning models, cloud centers, and telecommunication systems), many of which operate transnationally. Internet governance will increasingly be subtle, sophisticated, nuanced, and contingent on both domestic policies and geopolitics. Our understanding of Chinese technologies should be informed by the internal complications, political pressures, and economic imperatives that affect their development and deployment. More research needs to be done on Chinese internet governance and its impacts to track changes and delineate nuances.
  • Transnational attacks on freedom of expression: Hacking, trolling, doxing, and online harassment will continue, and may intensify. Online attacks are likely to be initiated by China-affiliated agencies or grassroots nationalistic users (“little pinks”) to target Chinese-Australian journalists, academics, student groups, and political activists.

Academic censorship can occur beyond Australian universities. Editorial agendas, especially at those publishing platforms managed by China-based academics or staff members, can eliminate academic discussions that are disfavored by Beijing.

  • More polarized public opinions and government approaches toward China: The Australian government, at the federal level engages in constructive dialogues with China, on the one hand; on the other, it is cautious about the security risks and military threats that an aggressive China can pose. Australia’s program to acquire nuclear submarines, announced in 2021, can be seen as an effort to tighten its AUKUS ties while bolstering Australian naval power to counter Chinese military threat in the Asia-Pacific region. At the state level, the premiers of Victoria, Western Australia, and Queensland have sought to actively engage in economic conversations with China to attracting Chinese tourists, international students, and business investment. The divided approach toward China between the federal government and the state government is likely to mirror a more polarized public opinion toward China within the Chinese diaspora and Australian English-speaking society—a polarization contingent on whether China is seen as an economic opportunity or a political threat.

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