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Chinese strategy in full force in Australia

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Sydney Morning Herald, with Dr Andrew Foxall, 3 June, 2018

Don’t be fooled by last week’s China Zhejiang–Australia Trade and Investment Symposium in Sydney. For all the positive spin put on the event, Canberra is increasingly wary of the influence Beijing reaps from its investments.

But China’s influence doesn’t flow solely from this. It uses a combination of diplomatic and political pressure, manipulation of its diaspora, illicit financing of political parties, and propaganda. According to some, Beijing spends up to US$10 billion ($13 billion) a year on its overseas operations. If this sounds familiar, it is because these are tactics taken straight from the KGB playbook Russia has followed for well over a decade.

Russia’s aim has been to portray itself as a great power on the world stage. Its tactics are often crude and short-term. China’s, by contrast, are slow-burning and systemic. Beijing’s ultimate ambition is to create a Sino-centric regional order, based around tianxia – an imperial concept that puts China at the centre of nations. This strategy is in full force in Australia.

The effects are striking. Former Labor foreign affairs minister and one-time NSW premier Bob Carr is facing demands that he be expelled from the party because of his deep links to China; he directs a think tank founded with a donation from a Chinese billionaire with close Communist Party links and is alleged to have enlisted Labor senator Kristina Keneally to use estimate hearings to ask pro-China questions. Last December, Sam Dastyari resigned from the party over his dealings with a Chinese billionaire.

Other opportunities to exert influence abound. China is Australia’s biggest export market, and Beijing is currently hampering imports of Australian wine and delaying a big meat-export deal. One-third of all foreign students at Australian universities are Chinese, and the families of Chinese students who have criticised their country while studying here have received warnings. China is now using lawfare and illegal occupation of the South China Sea in order to exert pressure on Australia and other countries who depend on its sea lanes.

Speaking last year, Malcolm Turnbull said that “our system as a whole had not grasped the nature and magnitude of the threat”. He was talking about the Chinese threat in Australia, but he could just as easily have been talking about the West as a whole.

In New Zealand, Jian Yang, a Chinese-born sitting MP, was investigated last year by the national intelligence agency in connection with the decade he spent teaching in military and intelligence academies in China – a fact missing from his CV. In Britain, China has developed arrangements with two major British newspapers, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, and pressured Cambridge University Press into censorship. Elsewhere, it has leant on a number of Western capitals to conform to its view of Taiwan as a province of China.

On the face of it, the threats posed by Beijing should be manageable; each relates to a particular issue that falls under the responsibility of a particular ministry of government. In reality, however, they are difficult to deal with. For the Communist Party, there is no distinction between its business executives, spies, police chiefs, media stars, crime bosses and its politicians. The same people play multiple roles. Everyone, ultimately, is on the same team. The similarities between China and Russia are obvious.

In a report released last week by The Henry Jackson Society, a London think tank, Robert Seely, a British Conservative MP, argues that the Kremlin is waging a “new kind of conflict … in which military and non-military tools are combined in a dynamic, efficient, and integrated way to achieve political aims”. In this conflict, Russia “makes use of at least 50 tools of state power”, ranging from assassinations and blackmail to cyberattacks and disinformation.

Although Seely calls this “contemporary Russian conflict”, he notes that the tools are also being used by other authoritarian states – including China.

Highlighting the threat is a start; the real question is how to deal with it. Unlike elsewhere, the debate about Chinese influence is at full blast in Australia. Duncan Lewis, the head of ASIO, recently told lawmakers in Canberra: “Hostile foreign spies are currently conducting harmful activity … on an unprecedented scale.” In response, Canberra is mulling tough counter-measures, which would require anyone acting on behalf of a foreign state to publically register their activities – akin to the Foreign Agents Registration Act in the US.

But, as Seely’s report makes clear, the questions raised by the behaviour of China and Russia are much broader. They relate to how Western states collectively defend themselves in an age when authoritarian states turn the freedoms of open societies against those same societies.

China is playing a game of divide-and-rule between Western countries as well as inside Australia. Its aim is to weaken individual countries – and, in doing so, make them vulnerable to Beijing’s influence. But as a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance and a NATO partner, Australia should remember that it has powerful friends.

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Global Britain in the Indo-Pacific

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Henry Jackson Society,  22 May, 2018

The weight of the global economy is going to Asia, it is going by sea – and the United Kingdom must act now if we are to build a truly Global Britain, according to a new report from The Henry Jackson Society.

Global Britain in the Indo-Pacific notes how the future of both the economic order and the rules-based international system will be decided in the Indo-Pacific. China’s growing naval power, its militarisation of sea lanes and its Belt and Road Initiative indicate not only a power determined to become wealthy, but one determined to set the rules of the coming age. However, many of China’s Asian neighbours seek to defend rules over power.

With Britain looking for new opportunities abroad in the wake of Brexit and the economic and demographic realities pointing east, the report argues that the UK must reinvigorate its partnerships with historic allies in the region, not least India and Japan – while also redeveloping new “special relationships” with Commonwealth countries such as Singapore.

The report highlights that:

  • The global middle class will grow 50% by 2030, with much of that growth taking place in the Indo-Pacific – spawning hundreds of new cities, industries and opportunities.
  • Over 90% of global trade is carried by sea and that maritime trade will only increase as regional powers struggle to bring consumer goods and energy to these new cities.
  • China seeks to exert control over these sea lanes in order to protect its own sea lanes, constrain India’s rise and set the rules for the coming era.
  • The Indo-Pacific is becoming a forum for competing visions of international relations – with many of Britain’s historic allies beginning to align in loose security groupings based on respect for maritime conventions and law.
  • The UK, dependent on the rules-based order and the sea lanes in the region, will ultimately have to adopt the “engage and balance” approach that most Asian powers have adopted towards China.

While endorsing the ‘cautious engagement’ approach of Prime Minister Theresa May to China, the report recommends that Britain should:

  • Seek a number of overlapping security relationships across the Indo-Pacific with large numbers of partners – including the ‘Quad’ of the United States, Japan, India and Australia.
  • Create “special partners” in ASEAN – not least Singapore, where Britain should explore the possibility for regular ‘2+2’ meetings between the two countries’ defence and foreign ministers.
  • Renew her security relationship with Australia – a useful “node of access” for the UK, as Australia is developing closer relations with key allies including the US, Japan and France.

Standing up for the rules-based international order in the face of the challenge from China should also involve:

  • An incremental increase in Britain’s defence spending, from the current 2% of GDP to 3%. This, with a particular focus on the future of naval and air power, would equip the UK with the requisite tools to have a truly ‘global’ influence.
  • Invest in soft power diplomacy to improve ties with Asian countries. These should involve a rise in funding for language programmes at British universities, particularly in Japanese, Chinese and Hindi; and providing help financing infrastructure development across the region, to counter the Belt and Road Initiative.

Read the full report here.


Japan is Back on the World Stage

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The National Interest, Nottingham_iAPS, 4 February, 2018

Just over a month after the foreign and defence ministers of Britain and Japan stood side-by-side in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in December 2017, Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kano, and defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, were standing with their French counterparts in Tokyo. As with the UK-Japan 2+2, the meeting focused on maritime security, with their joint statement calling for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and reiterating their “common interest” in the rules-based order. The two meetings are in themselves striking by the number of nodes that match: the United States and Japan are strong allies; the United Kingdom and France have strong defence links; France, the United States and the United Kingdom are strong NATO member states; and the United Kingdom and the United States are in the Five Eyes with Australia, a country that now has defence bilateral links with Japan, the United Kingdom and France.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the much-vaunted diminishment of the liberal rules-based order—much of it at the hands of Beijing and Moscow—has become a defining feature of the age. Just a few years ago, pundits sought to frame international relations with the more prosaic-sounding “rise of the rest” and there were suitable and necessary debates on how the rules-based order should evolve to match the new power realities. Those debates were right and proper, and even morally necessary for the system to maintain coherence and legitimacy. After 2014, much of what should have been about rules-based evolution became power-based revolution. In February 2014, Russia “annexed” Crimea, and their “Little Green Men” marched into eastern Ukraine, breaking the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. In early September 2014, Chinese vessels began “reclamation” work on Johnson South Reef, a part of a busy shipping route to which they had no legal right.

While statements have been made to condemn these events, the fact is that the West is dismayed and confused in how to react. The election of a nonconformist president on trade and Brexit have not helped. Nonetheless, it is clear from the France-Japan 2+2 and the UK-Japan 2+2 that liberal democracies are beginning to band together. Not, as some would have it, to “contain” China, but rather to attempt to deter further adventurism and to buttress the rules-based aspect of the order. One can also see this in the scope and content of the U.S.-Japan-Australia trilateral and the U.S.-Japan-Australia-India quadrilateral.

What has perhaps been most remarkable about these groupings is the pivotal role played by Japan in them. After all, as recently as 1991, Japan had no close security partners besides the United States, and remained entrenched and immobilized by the pacifist Constitution and foreign policy that it had inherited from the postwar settlement. China and the Koreas notwithstanding, the revival of Japanese hard power and diplomacy has been welcomed and encouraged by the United States, Australia, and India as a return to normalcy—an unsurprising reintroduction of Japan to the family of nations. This has also characterized the views of many of those Japanese leaders inside the LDP, Japan’s ruling party, including Junichiro Koizumi, Taro Aso and Shinzo Abe. While Koizumi is the first post-Yoshida Prime Minister of Japan, Abe has been in many ways, the most revolutionary and dynamic in terms of Japan’s security policy regionally but also in Europe.

Under Abe’s watch, Japan has not only passed significant legislation developing a national security apparatus, he has also passed legislation allowing for collective security with regional partners and introduced intelligence reforms that inhibit espionage inside the country. It is said that Japan is on the cusp of far-ranging intelligence reforms as well, particularly centred around the creation of a civilian-led intelligence agency, overseen by some sort of parliamentary process. Much of this has been done in consultation with those countries that Japan considers partners if not allies, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and of course, the United States.

Japan’s push into Europe is now said to be beginning in earnest and one can see this in a number of ways. First of all, Japan and the EU are going to sign a free trade agreement—it is said, by the summer. This will immediately push Japan past China, South Korea, and even the United States, in the EU’s estimation as an economic partner of significance. China is currently the second largest partner, while the United States is the first largest partner, with Japan coming in at a modest seventh place. Layered atop this new economic importance to Europe, Japan’s ties with France and United Kingdom are proceeding steadily.

The France-Japan 2+2 began in 2014, the same year that China and Russia began to use military force to challenge the rules based order. The following year, the UK-Japan 2+2 began meeting. Both bilaterals bear more than a striking resemblance to the Japan-Australia bilateral in that they remain noncommittal, but nevertheless seek to institutionalize cooperation in the types of sectors traditionally reserved for close allies. Thus, both London and Paris have agreed to Arms Transfer Agreements with Tokyo, allowing for greater defence collaboration at the defence industrial level. With France, the Japanese are exploring a possible undersea mine-clearing UAV, while with the United Kingdom, the Japanese have looked into putting Mitsubishi Electric sensors into the British Meteor missile. Since both are top-tier partners on the American F-35 programme, they are now carrying out a study to see if the resulting missile will be interoperable with the fighter.

There have also been a number of other small steps. The United Kingdom, for example, signed a logistics agreement in 2015 known as an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA). The ACSA enables British forces and their Japanese counterparts to exchange food, fuel, ammunition and carry out other logistical practices together. The defining purpose is interoperability. While France and Japan have not yet signed an ACSA, their joint statement implied that progress was being made on the logistical agreement.

So what are the drivers for Japan in all this? Well, as has been mentioned, insecurity has played the primary role. Tokyo sees these security partnerships and defence industrial collaboration as a way of developing quasi-alliance ties with a number of Western states as a means of balancing against what may become a threatening Chinese rise. But not all is grand strategy. Japan faces—like other advanced economies—defence inflation, that’s to say the growing research and development costs of defence industrial capacity. One need only look at the computing power of the most recent advanced fighters, compared to their ancestors sixty years ago. In moving towards mid-sized defence industrial powers, like France and the United Kingdom, Japan is clearly looking to pick up tips on how to make a leaner R&D process, how to create open tenders and how to structure the acquisition process internally. The question will be of course, whether these security partnerships morph into full-blown alliances. At their present state, it is not clear that they are sufficient to buttress the much-needed rules-based order.


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The Interpreter. 22 January, 2018 (with James Rogers)

Recently the Lowy Institute’s Aaron Connelly argued that there is not much Britain can do in Asia because British power is diminishing. This is unsurprising.

One of the biggest challenges in international relations is ascertaining a given state’s place in the international system. People often get it wrong, they sometimes confuse power with capability and, like author Paul Kennedy, miss important trends, such as the information revolution.

While it’s true the UK will incur costs from leaving the EU, the numbers reveal a more positive story than Connelly suggests. Furthermore, the UK’s strong set of institutional, governance, and economic capabilities – comprising actual as well as latent power – will mean greater UK engagement in the world. Indeed, the UK already sees itself moving toward the constellation of states, including Australia, concerned with maintaining the rules-based order from would-be revisionists.

As a 2017 Henry Jackson Society report based on 59 indicators showed, the UK’s total geopolitical capability remains very high despite its decision to leave the EU. Indeed, many of the dire predictions made prior to the referendum have simply not occurred. Nor are there indicators that they might yet happen.

The UK economy remains the fifth or sixth largest in the world (depending on the indicator), and is among the wealthiest and most technologically advanced. Growth for 2016, recently revised up for a second time, was 1.9%, making Britain the joint-fastest growing economy in the G7. Preliminary statistics show that UK output last year grew by an impressive 1.7%.

As for the predicted exodus of financial institutions from London, this has been far less severe than anticipated, mainly because few understand how difficult transitioning to a European capital would be. London is one of the world’s two largest financial centres, and it is highly unlikely that any single European city could replace the financial ecosystem of commercial law firms, international banks, brokerage firms, and financial services that have developed organically in the City of London and Canary Wharf in recent decades. In terms of financial centrality, London has 27% more capacity than Paris, and nearly 99% more capacity than Frankfurt.

The UK retains a number of structural features that bolster its robust economy. Britain’s infrastructure is up to date and successfully connects a densely populated and urbanised island.

While British research and development spending remains lamentably low, the government has pledged to increase it to internationally competitive levels. In any case, this has not hindered Britain’s universities from becoming among the world’s strongest, ranking third in terms of scientific and medical Nobel Prizes awarded to alumni since 2007.

In terms of ‘connectivity’, the UK ranks fifth in the world (and first in Europe) and has several hubs for tech start-ups, including Cambridge and Shoreditch in London.

In military terms, Britain has just launched a 70,000-tonne aircraft carrier which significantly outweighs the combined tonnage of all surface combatants in the German Navy, while the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (Britain’s naval replenishment service) has more than five times the displacement of all the French Navy’s comparable large auxiliary vessels.

The British Isles may seem a long way away from Australia and South East Asia, but these critical capabilities, combined with Britain’s ‘strategic array’ of naval and air stations linking Portsmouth and Plymouth to the British naval facility in Singapore via Gibraltar and bases in Cyprus, Bahrain, Oman and Diego Garcia, affords Britain the ability to overcome the tyranny of distance.

In 2011, the Royal Navy responded to Typhoon Haiyan with greater speed than most regional powers; today, the UK has a global naval reach exceeded only by the US, and perhaps in the near future by China. And with the commissioning of the Royal Navy’s second supercarrier, HMS Prince of Wales, in a couple of years, as well as a flotilla of larger, more capable replenishment vessels, Britain’s ability to project itself into the Indo-Pacific will almost certainly increase.

The recent trip of British Eurofighter Typhoons to the region shows that the Royal Air Force will not lag behind the Royal Navy in this respect.

Britain also holds latent power, much of it in its military-industrial base, which is one of the world’s largest. British shipbuilding, aerospace, and defence industries bring in revenues of US$40 billion, which is nearly double that of France, and exceeds Russia’s US$31 billion.

What is more, this base is supported by one of the world’s largest military expenditures, at approximately US$56 billion. However, this amounts to only 2.14% of British national output, one of the lowest levels in British history. If this was increased to a still-modest 3% of GDP, considerably less than during the 1980s or early 1990s, the UK would be spending more than US$72 billion per year – more than any power active in the Indo-Pacific, bar China and the US.

To give Connelly credit, he does note Britain’s role in the UN Security Council, as well as its pivotal leadership role in NATO. But he fails to mention that the UK is the only European power other than France to have security arrangements in place in the Indo-Pacific, in the form of the Five Power Defence Arrangements. True, this network is latent rather than harnessed power, but it could be readily enhanced as a locus of regional security cooperation, perhaps involving Japan, as suggested by Shinzo Abe a few years ago.

Connelly also ignores the UK’s powerful position within the Five Eyes network, which is odd given Australia’s own reliance on these jointly pooled intelligence capabilities. In terms of cyber capabilities, of the five allied countries, only Britain and the US have developed significant offensive as well as defensive capabilities sufficient to dissuade and deter attacks.

Furthermore, Connelly overlooks the growing strategic focus of the UK Government on parts of the Indo-Pacific in recent years, even as it has beaten off an attempt to break up the UK and has implemented the British people’s decision to leave the EU. Since 2013 Britain has pursued deeper security and defence relations through a treaty with Australia, and a fast-growing 2+2 defence and security dialogue with Japan, to such an extent that in December, London and Tokyo declared they were each other’s ‘most important partner’ in Asia and Europe, respectively.

Britain has also fostered slightly deeper ties to Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea and India in key areas, such as counterterrorism and cybersecurity. At the western edge of the Indo-Pacific, the UK has boosted its presence in the Gulf and the Arabian Sea with enhanced or new naval facilities in Bahrain and Oman, backed up by a tour of the region by the British Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, and Secretary of State for Defence in December 2016.

The UK’s decline is no more pronounced than that of any Western nation, including the US. Although Connelly is right to point out that efforts to deal with the consequences of withdrawal will take up much bandwidth in the short term, the UK is almost certain to remain one of the half-dozen most capable nations in the world, and one that remains invested in the rules-based and maritime order.

It may well be that Connelly is concerned with political will; but as he should know, this is as changeable as a referendum or presidential election.

The fact is, Britain has the ability if it chooses.

Although it is unlikely Britain will place the Indo-Pacific at the centre of its national strategy, it will look to buttress some of the groups now being formed in the region, such as the US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral, not least to help shore up the rules-based order. It is well within its capabilities to seek a constabulary role over its trade routes, even beyond Singapore.

As the UK’s focus moves away from the European continent and back to its traditional maritime space, its hard power will follow. In the face of rising maritime trade and maritime security challenges, the UK is destined to look at trade, economy and security in a far more unified way than in recent years. This isn’t Britain pining for an imagined imperial past; this is a Britain prepared for a rules-based maritime future.

So, while we don’t wish to sound triumphalist, we do wish to assure Aaron Connelly that Britain has the hard power capabilities to drive ever-closer engagement with Australia and other regional powers, and we look forward to working together on the high seas.


Diplomatic initiative revived to counter China’s growing influence

The Financial Times, Kiran Stacy, Jamie Smyth, 14 November, 2017

“John Hemmings, director of the Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think-tank, says: ‘We must ask ourselves: by avoiding collective security arrangements in 2008, did we persuade China to behave as a model citizen in the region?'”

To read the full article, please click here.


A Reborn Quadrilateral to Deter China

The Interpreter, 9 November, 2017

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Recent news that Australia’s Foreign Minister has indicated interest in taking part in a resurrected US-Australia-Japan-India quadrilateral dialogue on the sidelines of the upcoming ASEAN Summit is to be welcomed. It is an indication how much the strategic situation in the Asia Pacific has shifted. Positive as this latest development might be, it should nonetheless be regarded with caution.

The ‘Quadrilateral’ was never an alliance. It was a loose geostrategic alignment of states concerned with China’s potential challenge to their interests, but simultaneously, unwilling to provoke China by assuming the obligatory mechanisms of an alliance. Even then it buckled under pressure. Accused of being a NATO-in-the-making, it was far too full of self-doubt to be effective.

Chinese diplomatic opposition to the forum was keenly felt in June 2007 after Beijing issued demarches to all four countries, but Canberra’s asymmetric economic dependence meant that Australia felt it more than most. Within months of winning the election in 2007, Kevin Rudd’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith unilaterally withdrew Australia from the quadrilateral during a February 2008 meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. While Australia was not the only country suffering internal divisions about the issue – there were doubters among the senior-most levels of the US Department of State and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs – it was the first to break ranks.

At the root of Australia’s indecision has been something common to all the great and middle powers in the region: how to apportion China a regional leadership role while attempting to shape its choices away from illiberal or hegemonic designs.

Sadly, in the years since, China has shown ever-increasing signs of assertiveness in its approach to the region. It has used military coercion and an unprecedented militarisation of maritime sea lanes in the South China Sea; its strategy is both at odds with regional practice and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Despite regional attempts to resolve disputed maritime claims peacefully, Beijing has cynically played for time over the establishment of a Code of Conduct while using economic leverage to prevent ASEAN unanimity.

China’s geostrategic ambitions have become global with the massive, multi-billion dollar, decades-long Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It promises a new age of Chinese leverage over the Asian heartland, as well as a real attempt at internationalising the RMB without giving over political control.

No doubt, this dialogue on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit will feel the full weight of China’s diplomatic pressure. Even in announcing its openness to a meeting, Bishop’s language was ambiguous: ‘…it’s natural that we should continue to have such discussions, but there is nothing formal. There is no decision on that.’ Chinese diplomats are likely to issue demarches and make phone calls to all four capitals.

While no one wishes to have a China backed into a corner, fearful of a NATO in Asia, is that really what is taking place? From one perspective, a rising power with quasi-hegemonic designs is trying to prevent a loose coalition of states from organising themselves in a constraining and deterring bloc. And while it is absolutely in China’s interests to do that, is it in ours to acquiesce?

If the quadrilateral format is embraced, the four may find that despite initial protests, Beijing will ultimately accept that each have their own interests and the power to define those interests. This week we have seen Beijing accept – after a year of diplomatic pressure – Seoul’s decision to deploy THAAD missile-defence systems on its soil. South Korea stuck to its ground while simultaneously seeking to ameliorate China’s concerns, eventually winning China over.

The quadrilateral members should adopt that lesson as their own. We must ask ourselves: by avoiding collective security arrangements in 2008, did we persuade China to behave as a model citizen in the region? We must choose actions that meet our own strategic concerns and not China’s. For this reason, the quadrilateral makes sense.


The Interpreter, 26 July, 2017

The recent exposure of Chinese influence-peddling inside the Australian political system is just one example of China’s growing influence and willingness to act in Western states. In these days of austerity for many Western nations, money speaks loudly and in recent years Chinese investment into Western liberal democracies has surged.

Chinese foreign direct investment is shifting from commodities in the developing world to high-tech acquisitions, equity stakes and mergers in advanced economies. In Europe alone, Chinese investment increased 44% between 2014 and 2015, when it reached €20 billion. For the most part, these funds have been welcomed by cash-strapped Western states seeking to reinvigorate their economies. However, there are also risks associated with Chinese investment in telecommunications and other mainstays of modern commerce.

Research carried out by the Henry Jackson Society suggests that Chinese investment in national infrastructure is taking on critical proportions, and Western states – particularly the five countries involved in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance – are responding in piecemeal fashion with each screening investments in different ways. A number of incidents in recent years have underlined the need for better co-ordination between nations, particularly those that share intelligence, and improved understanding of China’s investment strategy into the West.

In 2016, for example, a Chinese consortium that included a subsidiary of the Chinese defence industrial giant AVIC, bought a large stake in the UK’s largest data centre operator, Global Switch. Whitehall approved the deal, only to see the Australian Department of Defence pull out of future business with Global Switch, citing the AVIC buy-in. Then came the Canadian government’s approval of a Chinese takeover of the Canadian satellite communications company, Norsat.  After the Trudeau administration confirmed that change in ownership, the Pentagon announced it would have to re-examine its contracts with the Vancouver firm.

MERICS research suggests China’s state owned enterprises (SOEs) accounted for more than 60% of China FDI in Europe in 2015. While this is not as high as it has been, the trend is upward which adds to the argument that much of the investment surge is strategic in nature. Beijing has also recently announced its intention to become the global leader in artificial intelligence (AI), a cutting-edge technology upon which the defence of the West will depend. One can see China’s intentions in its Made in China: 2025 strategy that was announced in 2014. The strategy involves subsidising Chinese firms targeting acquisitions and mergers of Western AI, IT, and telecoms firms and using non-tariff barriers to provide a sanctuary for Chinese firms inside China so they can advance safely away from the harsh glare of competition. The goal is to give China strategic dominance in the technologies of future warfare.

Such goals are alarming, and it’s not just policy analysts who think so.The Trump administration, for example, demanded an investigation in Chinese investment into Silicon Valley start-ups and the resulting report indicates that many of the Chinese firms operating in this field have state support and direction.

The recent decision by Berlin to restrict Chinese investment into parts of its digital economy and infrastructure is another indicator of how critical this issue has become. As one of the West’s most open economies, this action demonstrates Berlin is taking the situation very seriously indeed. While London mulls over a body similar to the Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States or Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board to supplement its current ad hoc system, it is imperative that the Five Eyes alliance members systemically overhaul the range of sectors open to Chinese investment. Some practices that could assist include:

  • Instituting a regular Five Eyes meeting between the heads of their investment review boards.
  • Use this process to build a ‘common operating picture’ of Chinese investment practices and targets.
  • Sharing more information on what Chinese firms are doing in each of the Five Eyes economies, their ownership structures, and any past instances of serving Chinese national security objectives.
  • Considering an overhaul of the Five Eyes working groups in telecoms and AI, giving them greater prominence than they now have, and creating stronger links between private sector actors and security agencies.
  • Developing better monitoring by Ministries of Economy; presently, governments capture statistics without giving much background. They can and should provide more information to regulatory bodies.

The surge of Chinese SOE-led interest into Western infrastructure and high-tech can help bridge the gap between supply and demand for investment dollars. However, we need to be realistic about Beijing’s own industrial goals and objectives and the nature of its investment strategy. A common assessment system for the Five Eyes allies would assist in safeguarding our interlinked telecommunications and high-tech sectors.

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

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