ASPI chief takes exception to being singled out by China

Apr 25, 2024
Australia map with details.

The director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a lobby group for big tech and foreign agencies, claims that China’s alleged targeting of the agency “should be of concern to all Australians”.

In an op-ed written for the Canberra Times, Justin Bassi said the “revelation” of a foreign government taking aim at an Australian institution “should be a wake-up call whether you like, dislike or don’t know ASPI”.

The claim about China targeting ASPI was made in The Nightly, a new publication launched by Seven West Media.

In a report on 10 April, the publication claimed: “Chinese spymasters have identified Australia’s top security research institute as a priority target in their cyber-attack operations, with an investigation by The Nightly for the first time able to reveal messages between hackers that refer to our nation.”

ASPI styles itself as an independent non-partisan think-tank, but its list of supporters shows that this description does not tell the entire story. It is owned by the Commonwealth which provides it with $4 million every year.

It receives contributions from many foreign governments, but appears to have cut back on direct receipts from defence firms who figured prominently in previous years.

Bassi wrote: “This is not espionage, a practice all nations do in spying against each other, nor a case of commercial or analytical competition, nor simply a government disagreeing with criticism.

“This is a major authoritarian power trying to intimidate, and interfere in, Australia’s capacity to have open inquiry and debate about the most important of issues-our national security. It is an attack on fundamental principles that underpin a healthy democracy.”

He failed to note that there have been many examples of state actors, like the NSA, spying on smaller entities in countries abroad. Files released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden showed that the organisation had spied on several entities abroad, among them the Chinese communications firm Huawei Technology.

A report about the NSA’s activities in the New York Times said the operation was codenamed Shotgiant and aimed to find links between Huawei and the People’s Liberation Army.

Bassi asked: “So why is the Chinese Communist Party targeting ASPI? ASPI, while independent from government direction, is a Commonwealth company in which the federal government — and specifically the defence minister — is the sole shareholder. We are partly funded by the Defence Department.”

One look at iTWire’s coverage of ASPI’s publications would easily supply an answer: ASPI is extremely hawkish about China and tends to only provide negative coverage of the world’s second biggest country.

Some of the organisation’s coverage has been wildly off the mark.

Bassi claimed that ASPI’s coverage “simply assesses the strategic implications of China’s growing strength in areas such as critical technology and military capability. Importantly, our analysts go where the evidence takes them and this has resulted in the exposure of malicious Chinese government actions – such as human rights abuses and methods of propaganda and disinformation”.

He failed to mention reports that have been wildly inaccurate, such as a claim that election interference is only indulged in by Russia and China, when the US has a history of poking its nose into elections and toppling elected leaders around the world.

Bassi said if the media did not take an interest in this matter, “the message would be that Australia tolerates a foreign government, its intelligence service and criminal proxies attacking any Australian company and organisation”.

Republished from iTWire, April 22, 2024

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