China’s growing influence over Australian politics has similarities with Russia’s recent meddling in American democracy, a former top US intelligence official has warned.
James Clapper was the Director of US National Intelligence until January 2017, and has just begun work as a visiting professor at the Australian National University’s National Security College.
“The challenge that I think we both face, both the United States and Australia, is the potential jeopardy to the very fundamental underpinnings of our political system,” Mr Clapper said.
The 50-year veteran of the intelligence community has arrived Down Under as more revelations about Chinese political donations have been exposed by the ABC’s Four Corners program.
He believes Australia should reconsider whether foreign financial contributions should remain legal.
“It’s hard for me to rationalise why that is a good thing to do. Why that has a salutary benefit of allowing foreign donations to influence potentially our politics,” he said.
While in Australia, Mr Clapper is promoting the need to protect democratic institutions from foreign interference.
Here he sees some similarities between the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts, and what Moscow has managed to do in his own country.
“They are seeking ways to influence using many techniques; diplomatic, economic, military that they haven’t done before. And so this is as I say, it’s focussed here, it’s focussed regionally and focussed globally,” he said.
While acknowledging China’s importance as Australia’s largest trading partner, he believes it is crucial that authorities closely watch Beijing’s growing investments, particularly when there are national security implications.
He cites the controversial 99-year lease of Darwin Port to a Chinese company as a stark reminder of the importance to remain vigilant.
“It certainly got our attention and I did have occasion to engage with certain senior national security officials here in Australia about it,” he said.