December 4, 2017
Senator the Hon George Brandis QC
Attorney-General for Australia
PO Box 6100
Senate Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Re: China’s Influence and Foreign Interference
Dear Attorney-General Brandis,
Human Rights Watch is an independent nongovernmental organization that monitors human rights in more than 90 countries around the world. We have been reporting on and advocating solutions to human rights violations in China for more than 30 years.
We write regarding your efforts to “investigate espionage and foreign interference” following recent revelations regarding Chinese influence on politics in Australia.
While Human Rights Watch’s research focuses on human rights violations inside China, we increasingly find ourselves documenting abuses committed by Chinese authorities beyond China’s borders and Chinese government’s efforts to weaken international institutions that promote and protect human rights. We urge you to address some of these areas in the scope of your review.
For example, Human Rights Watch has long documented ill-treatment and torture by Chinese police as well as China’s abuse of Interpol’s “red notice” system—alerts seeking the arrest and extradition of wanted people—against peaceful critics and others abroad whom China deemed problematic. Consequently, we found it deeply concerning that China’s Vice Minister of Public Security, Meng Hongwei, was named the President of Interpol, a position with agenda-setting powers that raises questions about undue Chinese influence on the organization.
Human Rights Watch also detailed Beijing’s efforts to deliberately weaken key United Nations human rights mechanisms. Those tactics have included harassing UN experts on UN premises in Geneva and New York, and in their home countries.
We have also been documenting Chinese government strategies to limit academic freedom— a key component of the right to freedom of expression—outside China, including in Australia. This set of problems has been well-documented by the Australian media: Chinese government officials enlisting students from the mainland to surveil their teachers and classmates on campuses in Australia, and demanding apologies from scholars who have made comments that the government finds offensive. As Duncan Lewis, director-general of security of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), has said: “We need to be very conscious of the possibilities of foreign interference in our universities. That can go to a range of issues. It can go to the behaviour of foreign students, it can go to the behaviour of foreign consular staff in relation to university lecturers, it can go to atmospherics in universities.”
President Xi Jinping’s signature anti-corruption campaign involves significant overseas operations, as Chinese officials from the Ministry of Public Security and Chinese Communist Party Central Commission on Discipline Inspection attempt to locate and repatriate individuals allegedly responsible for corruption. At least 10 of China’s top hundred “fugitives” wanted on corruption offenses are believed to reside in Australia. Human Rights Watch has reported on several abusive aspects of this campaign: the legally baseless and highly abusive system of arbitrary detention in which Communist Party members are held during “investigations,” known as shuanggui, and multiple impediments to a fair trial upon return to China.
Others have detailed China’s pursuit of criminal suspects in other countries, which typically involves Chinese government officials threatening the alleged fugitives with mistreatment of their family members who remain in China. Human Rights Watch is encouraged by Australia’s efforts to establish new rules with China in September 2017 regarding the conduct of Chinese police in Australia, partly in response to past abuses, but vigorous enforcement will be key.
In light of these abuses, we urge that you consider the following recommendations as part of your review:
• Individual universities and the Department of Education and Training should engage in public outreach in support of academic freedom, establish mechanisms by which these kinds of threats can be reported and investigated, and act to promote core principles protecting academic freedom.
• The Australian Federal Police should promptly and thoroughly investigate any allegations regarding Chinese officials intimidating and harassing Chinese citizens residing in Australia and Chinese-Australians.
• Australian authorities should commit to investigating and appropriately prosecuting any Chinese government officials found to be violating criminal law while operating in Australia.
• Australia should use its membership in relevant international institutions, including those identified above, to actively push back against Chinese actions that have negative consequences for human rights.
We look forward to discussing these and other matters with you at your convenience.