CANBERRA, Australia — On a September night in 2016, I took my seat at a theater in the heart of Canberra for a Chinese national day celebration organized by the pro-Beijing Chinese Students and Scholars Association. There was a commotion and all of the seats around me were suddenly filled by men in black suits communicating with walkie-talkies. They followed me into the bathroom and tried to have the theater’s security staff kick me out.
Earlier, I had reported for a student newspaper on Chinese government ties to the group and its efforts to censor anti-Communist Party material at my university. I later identified the men at the theater as members of the Chinese student association, and it was clear that the attempt to intimidate me was a result of my articles.
Beijing’s reach into Australia goes far beyond groups like the student association. Its interference in Australian society is becoming increasingly bolder. And as Australians debate how to respond, the voices of the Chinese-Australians alarmed by Beijing’s encroachment are being drowned out by an aggressive Chinese government campaign to silence critics here.
With so many Chinese-Australians left unheard, misunderstandings surrounding the Chinese-Australian community are rife. More than one million Australians claim Chinese ancestry, out of a total population of about 24 million.