Given that, it is mystifying why the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian Federal Police did not make public the fact that it had questioned four Chinese journalists on June 26 and cancelled the visas of two Chinese academics.
Relations between Australia and China, which buys 40% of its exports, have hit their lowest point yet, with issues like the banning of the Chinese telecommunications equipment vendor Huawei Technologies from bidding for 5G contracts.
There have been a number of demonstrations of the fact that the same security model as in 4G — separation of the core and the radio access network — is possible in 5G. But Australia has insisted otherwise — despite evidence to the contrary — and gone ahead of the ban.
Australia could, thus, have publicised the interrogation of the Chinese journalists in a media-savvy way. That did not happen. Instead, the way that the public and the world at large learnt of it was when two Australian journalists in China, Bill Birtles of the ABC and Michael Smith of the Australian Financial Review, fled that country after they were called in for questioning over the arrest of a third Australian; the frightened pair took refuge in their country's diplomatic compound before a way out of China was negotiated.
The pair were questioned about a third Australian journalist, Cheng Lei, who has been detained by Beijing.
That the AFP and ASIO have no objection to publicising their activities when it suits them is illustrated by the fact that the same day, a raid on the home and offices of NSW Labor backbencher Shaoquett Moselmane in Sydney had the media in attendance. The local news agency AAP issued pictures of AFP officers entering the MP's residence early in the morning.
Apart from the lack of openness in the matter of the raids on the Chinese citizens, this is a dangerous indication that law enforcement and intelligence agencies are attempting to influence Australia's foreign policy, something that is endemic in the US.
ASIO was set up by the Americans. A former prime minister of Australia, the late Gough Whitlam, grew alarmed when he discovered that it was keeping tabs on politicians. His attorney-general, Lionel Murphy, even ordered the Australian Federal Police to raid the ASIO. This was in the 1970s.
Both ASIO and the AFP were aware that there could be repercussions for Australians in China and have said so openly, after their actions against the Chinese in Australia were revealed. Additionally, prior to this the US and China indulged in tit-for-tat embassy closures (in Houston and Chengdu) and also expelled journalists this year. These expulsions were publicly announced by the two governments when they happened.
It does not take much intelligence to reason that if Beijing acted like this when the US was involved, then it would certainly do so when Australia, a minnow by comparison with the US, acted in similar fashion.
Some journalists have been running interference for the Australian Government over exposing its citizens to danger in this way; patriotism, it has been said, is the last refuge of scoundrels. The fact is the safety of Australians should not be jeopardised.
In the US, there are numerous ex-intelligence officials who appear as talking heads on cable news shows, pushing the public view on issues this way and that. Additionally, the intelligence and law enforcement agencies have not shown the slightest reluctance to hold back when it comes to trying to influence political developments one way or the other.
That is something Australia can certainly do without.