2019年11月28日 星期四

Australia Letter: Suddenly the China Threat to Australia Seems Very Real

The talk of this week was the specter of espionage.

Letter 135

Espionage and Interference? Australia Grapples With Its China Relationship

Chinese tourists taking photographs outside Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, in January.Matthew Abbott for The New York Times
The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. This week’s issue begins with an excerpt from a news analysis by Damien Cave and Jamie Tarabay.

A Chinese defector to Australia who detailed political interference by Beijing. A businessman found dead after telling the authorities about a Chinese plot to install him in Parliament. Suspicious men following critics of Beijing in major Australian cities.

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For a country that just wants calm commerce with China — the propellant behind 28 years of steady growth — the revelations of the past week have delivered a jolt.

Fears of Chinese interference once seemed to hover indistinctly over Australia. Now, Beijing’s political ambitions, and the espionage operations that further them, suddenly feel local, concrete and ever-present.

“It’s become the inescapable issue,” said Hugh White, a former intelligence official who teaches strategic studies at the Australian National University. “We’ve underestimated how quickly China’s power has grown along with its ambition to use that power.”

American officials often describe Australia as a test case, the ally close enough to Beijing to see what could be coming for others.

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In public and in private, they’ve pushed Australia’s leaders to confront China more directly — pressure that may only grow after President Trump signed legislation to impose sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials over human rights abuses in Hong Kong.

Even as it confronts the specter of brazen espionage, Australia’s government has yet to draw clear boundaries for an autocratic giant that is both an economic partner and a threat to freedom — a conundrum faced by many countries, but more acutely by Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to insist that Australia need not choose between China and the United States. A new foreign interference law has barely been enforced, and secrecy is so ingrained that even lawmakers and experts lack the in-depth information they need.

As a result, the country’s intelligence agencies have raised alarms about China in ways that most Australian politicians avoid. The agencies have never been flush with expertise on China, including Chinese speakers, yet they are now in charge of disentangling complex claims of nefarious deeds, all vigorously denied by China.

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A firefighter near Colo Heights, Australia, northwest of Sydney, on Tuesday.Reuters

Around The Times

Prince Cyrus, Princess Sakina and a servant in 1998 on the roof of the Malcha Mahal. They called their mother “Your Highness,” and when she died, they embalmed her body themselves.Barry Bearak/The New York Times

And Over to You …

Last week, we wrote about the love-hate relationship between humans and magpies. Many of you shared your own magpie stories. (And pointed out we missed a big draw: their beautiful birdsong.)

“Magpies are also thieves, they will steal your heart. ️I just discovered that the family of four I’ve been feeding are fascinated by water from a hose. On a recent hot weather day, I had four sodden birds playing underneath a hose I held for about half an hour.

I don’t think there is anything quite like Australian magpie song. That, above anything else is the reason I love these birds. If you’ve never heard it look it up. See if you can find a dawn chorus of magpies — magic.

It’s 7:30 a.m. and the magpie kids are in the backyard now, I can hear squawk annoying one of his parents. Time for worms.”

— Sean Flannery

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