Two prominent voices on China have warned of ‘relentless’ attacks from Beijing on Australia. China’s cyber attacks are the biggest threat to our democracy and sovereignty, and Beijing will not back down without a fight, according to Liberal senator James Paterson.
Senator Paterson, the head of the parliamentary committee on intelligence and security, told the Australian on Friday that China’s foreign interference was the most significant danger to Australia’s way of life.
“Economic coercion has not worked as well against us as (China) may have hoped, but cyber attacks emanating from China against government entities and critical infrastructure providers is relentless,” he said.
“There’s much more we need to do to harden ourselves against these incursions.” Senator Paterson’s comments about China are unusually harsh and unfiltered for a public official. Beijing is known for retaliating against criticisms from other countries.
But ANU intelligence and security expert John Blaxland said Senator Paterson’s comments appropriately reflected the severity of China’s threat to Australia. “Two years ago, I would have been probably thinking, hold your horses, that’s a bit strong,” Dr. Blaxland said.
“But what we‘ve seen is arguably an exponential growth in the challenge in the last couple of years that seems to be linked to a more assertive President of China and as a response to Australia’s pushback.”
Dr. Blaxland told NCA NewsWire that China’s hacking, espionage, and data-stealing had impacted almost every industry in Australia. “My university has been subjected to repeated cyberattacks; federal Parliament has been almost closed down by it,” he said.
“The whole industry engagement on the cybersecurity front is a direct result from a demand from Australian society for the government to help it.” Senator Paterson said the tension and complexity of Australia and China’s current relationship were unprecedented.
“It’s worse than it was at the height of the Cold War – and it’s a much more complex challenge because we are far more economically and culturally enmeshed with China today than we ever were with the USSR,” he said. Dr. Blaxland agreed, stressing Australia was no longer protected by its alliance with the US.
“During the Cold War, we had a degree of assurance that our side was strong, and there was no question about the survivability of the United States and its allies.” “There is now a real sense of unease about the resilience of the United States.”
The intelligence and security expert said Australia and its politicians now had a tricky balancing act on their hands. “Are are we offering sufficient deterrence to China so that it doesn’t act maliciously … or are we exacerbating the prospect of that happening?” Dr. Blaxland said.
“This is the fine balance of Australia‘s positioning, which is why what James Patterson is saying is as a chairman of a joint parliamentary committee, but not as an executive member of the government’s executive Cabinet. “There’s a slight gap that is an important one to maintain.”