Australia is implementing its own “foreign agents” legislation modelled off of the US’.
The government recently announced that foreign lobbyists must register with the authorities and that political parties will be banned from accepting foreign donations.
The move to stop foreign funding is clear-cut and understandable, though there’s a lot of vagueness and prevailing uncertainty over what criteria will be used to designate someone as a “foreign agent”.
Interestingly, the narrative that’s being relied in this context in order to push this legislative package is that China is supposedly meddling in Australian affairs, which is basically a cut-and-paste application of the same story that’s been spun about Russia supposedly meddling in Western affairs.
There’s more to this comparison too, since the US stands to strategically gain from the deterioration of Chinese-Australian relations and Russian-Western ones.
Per the first pair, any diminishment of China’s powerful economic influence in Australia – particularly in terms of commodity purchases, investments, real estate deals, and wealthy foreign students – could theoretically be replaced by the US or its allies, though not on the same qualitative level and not without self-inflicted damage to the island nation. This is almost exactly what the US did when it politically intervened to aggravate Russian-EU relations. The two long-standing economic partners drifted apart, and the US exploited the void in certain sectors such as the energy one, all to its own benefit and at the Europeans’ financial expense. The same thing can be expected to happen in Australia if this possibly American-influenced piece of provocative legislation results in an anti-Chinese witch hunt that leads to a similar scenario.
There’s another dimension to all of this too, and that’s the military one. While there’s a large overlap between most EU and NATO members, the same couldn’t previously be said for Australia when it came to the US’ regional security architecture. Over the past year, however, and especially in the last few months, there’s been an effort to incorporate it into something that’s colloquially called “The Quad”, which would bring the US, Japan, India, and Australia together in a de-facto “China Containment Coalition”. The Australian government cannot go forward with this move without experiencing some degree of economic repercussions from the Chinese, so already expecting as much, they thought it prudent to manufacture a fake Russian-like political scandal to preemptively paint China as the aggressor instead of the victim in advance of this happening.
With China framed the same way that Russia is, the Australians – just like the Europeans a few years before them – can now undertake hostile military-political action against their economic partner as per the US’ “Lead From Behind” demands, with the public already preconditioned to accept any blowback not as being the consequence of their government’s unnecessary actions, but as a “hybrid war” attack by their former partner.
This makes the entire “foreign agent” move more of an exercise in perception management than “national security”, and thus exposes it as a political tool for use on one’s own population than anything else.