Combating Beijing’s Sharp Power: How Australia’s Civil Society Led the Way

Issue Date July 2022
Volume 33
Issue 3
Page Numbers 130–43
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This essay probes the role of civil society in Australia-China relations during Xi Jinping’s term in office. Varying explanations have been advanced to explain difficulties in bilateral relations, some pointing to the role of Australia’s security establishment in orchestrating a ‘China Panic’ in civil society and prompting the Australian government to act. I argue that this confuses cause and effect. Civil society was a decade ahead of government agencies in exposing PRC surveillance and interference among local diaspora communities, and it acted not from the angle of geopolitics and international rivalries but out of concern for freedom, rights, and equal treatment for all Australian citizens.  A decade on, it succeeded in alerting authorities to the PRC’s sharp-power operations in Australia and strengthened the government’s resolve to deal with them.

About the Author

John Fitzgerald is emeritus professor in the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne and a fellow of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra. From 2008 to 2013, he lived in Beijing and oversaw the Ford Foundation’s operations in China. His latest book is Cadre Country: How China Became the Chinese Communist Party (2022).

View all work by John Fitzgerald