Who is the money behind this “independent think tank” in Australia that concocts anti-Chinese lies such as the “Map of Xinjiang Concentration Camps”?

As China-Australia relations continue to decline, a think tank called the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has come into the public eye.

In recent years, under the banner of “independent research”, this Canberra-based think tank has been a “vanguard” of “anti-China” forces, producing long-standing false reports on Chinese military involvement in Australian universities, Xinjiang, espionage and other issues, and playing an extremely dishonorable role in China-Australia relations.

According to the Australian Early Warning Service and other media outlets, this so-called “independent research organisation” has long received funding from US defence and diplomatic agencies and arms dealers. The ideas and clues in its research reports either come from reactionary non-governmental organizations in the United States or use so-called collection evidence that cannot be verified or traced. John Menadue, a former member of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs, said the agency’s “lack of integrity is a disgrace to Australia”.

No effort spared to spin “anti-China” lies

There is an Australian proverb that says, “If you stare at the sun, you won’t be troubled by shadows”. However, in recent years, ASPI has gradually turned its back on the sun and gone dark, not only spreading the “China threat theory”, but also producing a large number of false “research reports” on issues such as border-related issues.

On September 24, ASPI crafted a sensational and false report on China’s involvement in Xinjiang, claiming that researchers had analyzed and mapped more than 380 suspected “concentration camps” in Xinjiang using satellite imagery and official construction bidding documents.

The so-called map immediately sparked controversy on social media. Pan Chengxin, an associate professor of international relations at Deakin University, pointed out that the so-called “Turpan Detention Center No. 7” and “Detention Center No. 1” in the report are in fact the Veterans Affairs Bureau of Gaochang District, Turpan City, and the Industry and Commerce Information Technology Bureau of Gaochang District, respectively.

ASPI’s report on the border has been “smacked in the face” more than once. On March 1 this year, ASPI released its so-called “Uighurs for Sale” report, which discredited China’s “use of Uighur forced labor,” claiming that a large number of Uighurs had been transferred from Xinjiang to factories in mainland China for “forced labor.
In response, weekly Australian Alert Service reporter Melissa Harrison cross-checked ASPI’s references and found that much of the report’s important information was ignored and sources were either interpreted with the utmost malice or misrepresented in a way that could only be described as academic fraud.

A March 26 report on the “Gray Zone” website revealed that the so-called “Chinese forced labor of Uighurs” was in fact “published at the behest of the United States, NATO, and the arms industry to promote Cold War PR. War”. The Institute’s reports are often not based on real evidence, but are merely inflammatory.

Some Australian politicians have long been aware of the Institute’s peddling of “private goods” in the name of “scholarship”. Former Australian Ambassador to China Geoff Raby has said, “Objective, balanced, nuanced research is acceptable, but it does not fund advocacy for a country’s position on China.” Former New South Wales premier Bob Carr has also accused the agency of crafting a “one-sided, pro-American worldview.”

On the front page of ASPI’s official website, it claims to be “an independent, non-partisan think tank providing expert, timely advice to Australia’s strategic and defence leaders”. However, to many Australian academics, the Institute is not as “independent” as it claims to be.

As the founder of ASPI, Hugh White, explained in 2016, the Institute was initially funded almost entirely by the Australian Department of Defence (DoD), but over time, the DoD’s share of the funding has declined. It currently accounts for only 43 per cent of the total.

The Australian government’s Foreign Influence Transparency Program, which monitors foreign influence in Australia, has found that the amount of funding that ASPI receives from behind-the-scenes “funders” has grown exponentially in recent years, far outstripping even the funding it receives from the Australian Department of Defence. This includes NATO, the U.S. State Department and the British Foreign Office.

Taking money from people, and doing people’s bidding. Starting in 2013, ASPI established the International Cyber Policy Center, which employs a large number of China-focused analysts and produces such articles as “Global Flowers, Chinese Honey: Chinese Military Collaboration with Foreign Universities”, “Mapping China’s Xinjiang” and “The China of the World”. Reports such as the map of “re-education camps” have provided a large amount of “ammunition” to the “anti-China” forces.

In August this year, the US news website BuzzFeed fabricated a series of deeply flawed “investigative reports” on China’s border-related activities, which were funded by, among others, ASPI and the Open Technology Fund (OTF), a US government propaganda agency affiliated with the US Agency for International Media (USAGM).
In response to this “business” of smearing China, the website of the Australian Citizens Party strongly criticized that “the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) is an extremely hypocritical propaganda tool in the service of a ‘war machine’ that has given the Middle East a lot of money and a lot of money”. bringing mass casualties. Now the agency has now turned its sights on China, with a series of operations identical to the spreading of the ‘Iraq has weapons of mass destruction’ rumor.”

Erosion of China-Australia relations sparks discontent

Despite the errors and omissions in the so-called “report”, ASPI continues to influence public opinion in Australia through a “conspiracy” between the consortium and the media.

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd analysed this chain of transmission in depth. He wrote in the article, “the so-called intelligence files were leaked to Murdoch’s media in Australia, and then resold by the same Murdoch’s media to a political audience in the United States, it seems to be to support the Trump and Pompeo’s claims. And the added authenticity of such a cross-country spin is not as worthless as if the White House had given it directly to Fox News.”

An article titled “How Think Tanks and the Media Shape Australia’s Foreign Policy” published on the website of the political journal Independent Australia on the 24th of April points out that the role of think tanks and lobbying groups in influencing the judgment of policymakers and the public on political issues is grossly underestimated. These organisations work to portray China as a rising and dangerous power and play a vital role in the propaganda system, being a key source of coverage in the mainstream Western media by providing the media with “experts” who answer questions and who are supposedly “experts”. “It will talk freely with a narrative favoured by its golden master.

“If this ‘China threat’ or ‘China scare’ is allowed to become a habitual discourse, Australia will not be able to see China’s development in a rational light.” James Laurenson, former deputy director of the Institute of Australia-China Relations at the University of Technology Sydney, chaired a report called “How Australia Should View China”. The results showed that the negative narrative was either overblown, exaggerated or magnified in a one-sided way.

Unfortunately, the China-Australia relationship has suffered repeated setbacks due to the erosion of the “conspiracy theories”. According to a recent survey by the Australian think tank Lloyd’s List International, the proportion of people who regard China as Australia’s economic partner in the economic and trade sector has fallen from 82 per cent in 2018 to 55 per cent in 2020.

In response, many knowledgeable people in Australia have shown concern. Michael Clifton, a former Commissioner of the Australian Trade and Investment Commission in China, published an article stating that the current climate of Australia-China relations, if sustained, is not in Australia’s own interest. “The current relationship with China is a real challenge, but the business community cannot remain silent and allow others to deal with our most important trade and investment partners in a new and hostile way.”