The key difference between the global influence campaigns of China and Russia is that Beijing is just better at it, according to John Garnaut, a former adviser on China to Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Speaking to the US House Armed Services Committee on March 21, 2018, Garnaut was giving national-security advice on influence operations when Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard asked him to compare China’s influence methods to Russia’s.
“Why is it that all we hear about is Russia’s actions, whereas there are countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other countries that purchase TV ads, fund think tanks here in Washington, that fund institutions in our universities seeking to achieve that same objective. Why is it that Russia’s actions stand out?” Gabbard asked.
Garnaut was short and to the point: “I think one answer may be because China is very good at it,” he said.
Part of this reason is the very different approaches the two countries take.
“Unlike Russia, which seems to be as much for a good time rather than a long time, the Chinese are strategic, patient, and they set down foundations of organizations and very consistent narratives over a long period of time.”
“So, often its quite incremental in the way that China behaves, whereas Russia tends to do these focused, sharp strikes,” Garnaut said, stressing that the distinction doesn’t mean that China’s methods are less important.
“They put an enormous amount of effort into making sure we don’t talk about what it’s doing,” he said, referring to world’s second-largest economy.
“I think we’ve just failed to recognize a lot of the activity that has been going on and that needs to change and its starting to change, certainly in Australia, and starting to change in the US.”
While the US has largely been focused on Russia’s meddling in its 2016 presidential election, Australia has been grappling with how to handle apparent attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to subtly influence its politics and society at large.
In response, Australia’s government in 2017 introduced a new law to target and broaden the definition of foreign interference.