Chinese Impact, Western Response: PRC Influence Operations in Australia

IAS/SIR Speaker Series: Professor John Fitzgerald

John Fitzgerald is Professor Emeritus in the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne and Immediate Past President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities based in Canberra. He formerly served as Head of the School of Social Sciences at La Trobe University and as Director of the International Centre of Excellence in Asia-Pacific Studies at the Australian National University. From 2008 to 2013 he was China Representative of The Ford Foundation in Beijing where he directed the Foundation’s China operations. He has served as Chair of the Education Committee of the Australia-China Council of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Co-Chair of the Committee for National and International Cooperation of the Australian Research Council, and President of the Chinese Studies Association of Australia. His research focus on the history of nationalism, philanthropy and public administration in China, and on Chinese communities in Australia. His books include Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia(UNSW 2007), awarded the Ernest Scott Prize of the Australian Historical Association in 2008, and  Awakening China (Stanford 1997), awarded the Joseph Levenson Prize of the U.S. Association for Asian Studies.  He has a Ph.D. from ANU and held a Fulbright postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a graduate of the University of Sydney. He is currently researching China's influence operations in Australia.


In recent years the Chinese Communist Party has embraced the idea that China’s national culture and value system need to be spread more widely abroad if the country is to secure its foreign policy objectives. It pursues this idea through routine public diplomacy but also through a series of less orthodox influence operations. Australia has been an early target of China’s public diplomacy and influence operations. It has also been at the forefront among liberal democracies in generating community, media and government responses. 

This paper explores some of these operations and the impacts and the responses they have generated in Australia over the period from 2013 to 2017. It finds that many Communist party and government initiatives fall outside the spectrum of acceptable public diplomacy. It also finds that Australian institutions appear to invite influence operations bearing directly on their own field of work. In light of these findings, it questions whether new legislation can be effective without complementary behavioral change, among middle and senior managers, and without further legislation protecting freedom of speech in the national interest. It also explores the risks and costs of possible retaliatory action from China.

This event is co-sponsored by the Department of History and the East Asian Studies Program.