What is Australia’s role in the "global information war"?


Australia is caught up in a “global information war” between the United States and China, according to one of the country’s leading specialists on cyber policy, UNSW Canberra’s Professor Greg Austin.

Professor Austin analysed the intensifying conflict between the US and China in global information spaces at a public UNSW Canberra seminar today.

The seminar, The Sino-American Information Wars: Implications for Australia, was held to help policy makers, journalists and scholars critically evaluate the character and scale of foreign political interference in Australia and suggest a more measured approach in proposed legislation to curtail these activities.

“China and the United States are fighting a global information war, rightly characterised as a ‘war’, since both countries see the contest as existential. But this is a limited war, where the boundaries are reasonably well established,” Professor Austin said.

“Australia is caught up in this global contest, and thankfully, the country readily stands by the side of the United States in that fight.”

As Australia considers a new law on foreign interference, Professor Austin said it needs to be alert to influencing campaigns from all major powers.

The seminar suggested that the recent book by Professor Clive Hamilton, Silent Invasion: How China is Turning Australia into a Puppet State, overlooks important historical and contemporary realities of collaboration and competition in relations between China and the Western alliance.

Professor Austin said the powers and activities of China in Australia are often overstated, while the pervasive and more successful efforts of US actors can be understated. He said the role of countries like Israel and Japan in behind-the-scenes influencing may verge on unacceptable interference, but this is sometimes overlooked.

“No matter how many covert agents or more visible ‘friends’ China puts into Australia to support its information campaigns, Beijing is unlikely to make much headway,” Professor Austin said.

“There is little sympathy in Australia for China and its system of politics.”