Canberra Times

Print this article | Close this window

Wikileaked: Billionaire Australian donor's Beijing links detailed in 'sensitive' diplomatic cable

Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker

Published: July 16 2017 - 1:22AM

When one of Australia's biggest political donors sought to deny links to a secretive Chinese Communist Party lobbying organisation, he did so in the style befitting a billionaire.

Chau Chak Wing, who has given more than $4 million to the major parties, instructed his lawyer to write to the chief executive of Fairfax Media, Greg Hywood, and the ABC's managing director, Michelle Guthrie. He demanded apologies, saying: "Chau has no knowledge of an entity referred to ... as the United Front Work Department".

Late last month, Chau also conducted an "exclusive", front-page interview with the Murdoch newspaper, The Australian, in which he claimed he had "no idea" of the existence of the organisation.

"As to the entity referred to by the ABC as the 'united front work department', I have no idea what this is," Mr Chau said in the story, referring to a joint Fairfax Media and Four Corners investigation aired last month.

The investigation revealed ASIO's concerns about links between Chinese Communist Party-aligned organisations that seek to advance Beijing's interests, and political donors such as Chau. The Australian citizen, who is one of the nation's bigger donors and philanthropists, has hosted senior ministers, diplomats and former leaders Kevin Rudd and John Howard at conferences held at Chau's palatial Guangdong resort.

The fallout from the Fairfax Media and Four Corners' investigation – which comes as the US grapples with allegations that Russia sought influence in America's political system – includes a commitment from the Turnbull government to introduce new laws to counter foreign interference and fresh debate about political donations reform.

The United Front Work Department is an obscure but important Chinese Communist Party organisation. President Xi Jinping described its work in a landmark 2014 speech as a "magic weapon" for the "Chinese people's great rejuvenation," and a means for the Party to seize victory.

Academics say the UFWD is dedicated to asserting and spreading Party influence inside China and abroad, which is why it has caught the attention of ASIO.

A simple Mandarin Google search reveals some of Chau's United Front Work Department connections.

A deeper dive into the online archives of Chinese government agencies and media offers more clues: pictures of Chau hosting UFWD leaders; UFWD publications featuring Chau; and documents from government websites listing Chau as a member of UFWD-aligned organisations.

And then there is the file that forms part of the database US army officer Chelsea Manning copied onto a Lady Gaga CD and leaked to Wikileaks in 2010. This "sensitive" file is about Chau and the United Front Work Department. It was written by Guangzhou-based US Consul General Robert Goldberg in 2007 and distributed to American intelligence agencies.

While its contents have not before been made public, the cable has most likely been analysed by ASIO as part of the 'five eyes' intelligence sharing arrangement.

It details a meeting Goldberg held with Chau in Guangdong, a province in China's booming Pearl River Delta region. According to Goldberg, Chau told him in this meeting that "the provincial government, with central government backing, had decided" that a new business organisation in the region was needed to assist "overseas Chinese". Chau was to lead it.

Goldberg wrote that the founding meeting of the Guangdong Overseas Chinese Businessmen's Association "clearly had political implications, with participation by [several Chinese Communist Party figures including] ... the director of the United Front Department".

Despite Chau's "comments to the contrary", Goldberg asserted that the Communist Party involvement in Chau's organisation suggested "its formation has more political meaning than economic – that it is part of the party's United Front strategy."

"It strikes us that the Association is essentially a creature of the CPC's [Chinese Communist Party's] United Front program."

Chau's United Front links have also been detailed by the UFWD itself. In 2016, a Guangzhou district United Front Work Department committee published a photograph showing Chau meeting with the local UFWD chief, Xie Wei.

A UFWD report of the meeting with Chau describes the Australian billionaire welcoming "district party standing committee member and UFWD head Xie Wei" as he led a UFWD delegation visiting the headquarters of Chau's business, the Kingold Group, a diversified property development company. Also in attendance was "UFWD deputy head and Taiwan affairs office head Xue Jianbin."

"Kingold Group Chairman and well-known Australian Chinese leader Dr Chau Chak Wing welcomed the party committee delegation's arrival. Both sides entered an intimate discussion, with Dr Chau introducing the current situation of his business's growth and his own situation in promoting China-Australia cultural exchange and trade cooperation to Xie's delegation."

In 2014, a United Front Work Department provincial publication published an article lauding Chau's philanthropy under the website banner "Shantou United Front".

Chau has also previously served on the committee of a Sydney United Front affiliate organisation, the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China. The body is dedicated to advocating for Beijing's territorial claims, with a focus on Taiwan.

The Fairfax Media and Four Corners' investigation into the Chinese Communist Party's attempts to influence Australian institutions sparked significant debate. The government announced an inquiry into the adequacy of Australia's intelligence agency laws, Bill Shorten called for the issue to be referred to a joint parliamentary committee, and the Coalition and Labor traded barbs in parliament over the links between senior politicians and various donors.

China's Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye attacked the reporting that sparked the fall-out, likening it to a re-heated plate of stale fried rice.

Chau, an Australian citizen, not only gave an interview to The Australian (he declined earlier interview requests from Fairfax Media and Four Corners and did not answer a detailed list of questions) but has launched legal action against Fairfax Media and the ABC. Chau claims the coverage has falsely inferred he has betrayed Australia to further Beijing's interests and the work of the organisation he claims to know nothing about – the UFWD.

Chau did not respond to questions about why he has disavowed knowledge of the UFWD or why he has also claimed to have "never been a member of an ­advisory group called the People's Political Consultative Conference", a body managed by the United Front Work Department. A Chinese government website describes Chau as a past member of a CPPCC in Tianhe.

A hint about Chau's attitude towards the media may lie in the fact that he owns a Guangdong newspaper, the New Express, in a country where the press is vetted by propaganda authorities.

The 2007 diplomatic cable asserts that Chau "is thought to have used his considerable connections to take over" the paper, which Consul General Goldberg describes as affiliated with the provincial Communist Party. This was "an unusual transaction given government sensitivity to media control in China." It's a sensitivity Chau appears adept at managing.

In a rare interview about the New Express in 2009, Chau said that "the Chinese government has found this newspaper very commendable because we never have any negative reporting."

This story was found at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/investigations/wikileaked-billionaire-australian-donors-beijing-links-detailed-in-sensitive-diplomatic-cable-20170713-gxb21c.html