This is a translation of a piece in the editorial column of Vision Times Australia (看中国). It is in part a response to the April 2019 edition of China Matters Explores, “Is there a problem with… WeChat?” by Professor Wanning Sun.
The Battle Between the Federal Election and WeChat
By Yan Xia
As the Federal election gets closer, both major parties have been going to great lengths to win over Chinese people. Both leaders have started talking on WeChat to create an image of closeness to “the Chinese”, causing a debate in mainstream society, and outside of the election, about whether WeChat is secure.
UTS Professor Wanning Sun has written a scholarly article for Australian think tank China Matters, entitled “Is there a problem with… WeChat?” Looking at all levels of both parties, it sees WeChat as an effective channel for governments to transmit their policies to the Chinese-Australian community. At the same time, it runs guard for the spread of Communist Party controlled WeChat software in Australia, and directly expresses an idea the Chinese Communist Party are happy to read, which is that WeChat is secure enough, as long as it follows “the rules”. I’m still not sure if that idea is getting mainstream approval.
But it’s well known that with the multipurpose personal media software developed under direct Communist Party planning, convenience of use is an attractive factor, and using big data to carry out all-round monitoring of users is an absolutely unrelenting focus of the authorities. WeChat and Alipay are the most popular convenience tools and are promoted as having Chinese characteristics throughout the Chinese world. Applicants must use real names and real personal information, and bind their bank accounts. When the software is loaded, public group chat, private communications, consumer purchases, and comings and goings can all be monitored at a glance. An artist interviewed by Voice of America in Beijing said “using WeChat is the same as streaking.” It’s an effective means of maintaining stability by keeping the law, but if you’re a user, it’s a clear infringement of your rights.
So, knowing the existence of these dangers, political leaders haven’t hesitated to sign up under someone else’s name and happily use it? The reason is simple, with the election happening, votes are more important, and security less so. We can be sure that whoever wins, discussion about whether WeChat is harmful will start up again, which is probably the politicians’ strategy in reality.
People are wondering if WeChat can function to influence political power. But they already know the answer. Those who say it can’t are extremely irresponsible. The platform is not only filtered for pre-set keywords, it’s also monitored by a huge internet management personnel. So, the whole information network can only operate by keeping to the same voice, without producing any jarring voices. Its permeation and brainwashing powers are incomparable. The government, with its aim of “super privacy”, is giving impetus to the spread of WeChat, and giving people the false impression that it is secure. And it means more people have to load it up to interact with their candidates. But while the politicians are glad their policies are getting out, another bigger, stronger message of Communist Party power is being smoothly instilled into the minds of Australian users.
But does WeChat really work to help them get elected? In fact, politicians don’t really understand Chinese people. The majority of ethnic Chinese aren’t interested in elections, and besides the WeChat cohort is strictly limited in number. They just look on in surprise, and only a small minority know what politicians are talking about. In most elections party policies are aimed at the whole society, not just at ethnic Chinese. Promises to look after them are just political theatre, and they’re not that easily fooled.
Politicians always think fine words spoken face to face can gain Chinese people’s love, and Kevin Rudd won their admiration with his fluent Mandarin, but in fact that’s a mistaken judgement. Because of historical and ideological threads, there’s a mysterious connection between Chinese migrants who grew up under Communist Party of China rule and the Labor Party, and they’ve always inclined to Labor politicians.
The Liberal Party was worried by that, and when their government released its “anti-foreign influence laws”, it offended the PRC government authorities, and further alienated the ethnic Chinese community. But Morrison still has to woo the Chinese on WeChat, to express goodwill to Chinese-Australian voters. I think it’s a needless effort.
Citizens of all autocratic countries have something in common, they’re not used to thinking independently, because if they did, it would mean going onto a “criminal” path, and they are used to being on the side of the most powerful. There’s a Chinese saying, “When a wall is about to collapse, everybody gives it a push.” Followed by, “When the tree falls, the monkeys scatter.”
Since the anti-foreign influence laws came out, although major upsets have occurred on Australia’s political stage, the Liberal Party seems to have the edge over Labor, but they can’t get recognition outside Australia. A lively group calling itself the Chinese Association have popped like balloons, the leaders with their tails quietly between their legs. But by no means think Chinese people aren’t glad about that. Their minds are quite simply happy that nothing is being openly expressed. No-one wishes to see another reiteration of party-state overlordship, do they?
The Labor Party has been super disappointing throughout all this. Not only has one lowlife after another been exposed, but veteran Chinese politicians who made their voices heard have also lost credibility. Mainstream media have kept chewing at Labor Party scandals, and it came out that the NSW Labor leader was deceiving the Chinese with his contradictory statements. Chinese people are probably disappointed with both parties, but Chinese support has been inclining towards the Liberals since the beginning of the year. To please Chinese people, you must first understand them. They worship star politicians and love winners.
Sun Wanning’s report will probably produce mainstream discussion, but the WeChat platform certainly won’t change the overall voting directions of ethnic Chinese. What it will do, unfortunately, is bury unpredictable, hidden dangers for Australia’s future security into the whole election.
Translation by: Graeme Ford, NAATI Certified Professional Translator (Chinese-English), NAATI Practitioner no. 5046
Date of Translation: 13 May 2019