'Beijing will certainly exploit it to influence elections,' Australian academic says
By Jung Min-ho
|Clive Hamilton, a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia, and the author of "Silent Invasion: China's Influence in Australia'|
Only several weeks ago, a Chinese woman living in Delhi under a false identity was arrested on suspicion of spying on senior officials of the Indian government. In January, a British lawyer of Chinese heritage was named by the U.K.'s spy agency as an "agent" of Beijing, seeking to influence its parliamentarians.
Given the many reports of such episodes, an Australian scholar claims it is naive to assume that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will not exploit the voting rights of non-citizens in Korea ― because it will.
"The Chinese government will certainly exploit the non-citizen right to vote in an attempt to influence the elections and the composition of the government," Clive Hamilton, a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia, and the author of "Silent Invasion: China's Influence in Australia," told The Korea Times. "Koreans should be very worried about CCP influence. All important institutions, or rather the elites that lead them, are targets of CCP influence campaigns."
His warning comes several days after Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon said he would press to reform the current voting system in cooperation with the National Assembly, because giving non-citizens that right "may distort the will of the people."
Concerns have been raised here over the growing political influence of non-citizen F-5 visa holders (permanent residents), most of whom are Chinese nationals, who could help determine the winners of regional elections, such as city mayors, provincial governors and education superintendents. In the Gyeonggi governor election on June 1, Kim Dong-yeon of the opposition Democratic Party of Korea defeated then rival Kim Eun-hye of the ruling People Power Party by just 8,900 votes. Government data showed more than 50,000 non-citizen voters live in the province.
Permanent residents in Australia do not have the right to vote in federal, state or territory elections with a few exceptions for "British subjects." Yet the CCP has been accused repeatedly of trying to influence politics there. The efforts are believed to include placing its agents in the offices of politicians as well as giving donations to certain politicians through businessmen it had ties to. Such allegations prompted Australia's parliament to pass laws in 2018 aimed at preventing foreign interference in the country.
Hamilton said that Australian citizens of Chinese heritage have become the main targets of the CCP's influence campaigns, which he thinks could also happen in Korea.
"A number of people with secret allegiance to the CCP have been elected to positions in local and state governments in Australia, and even one or two to the federal government," he said. "The CCP has a name for using people of Chinese heritage to influence democratic processes, 'huaren canzheng (ethnic Chinese participation in overseas politics)' … If Koreans loyal to the CCP want to run for election, then that is their right. But they should declare it publicly so voters know who they are voting for."
Hamilton warned of the CCP's ability to "use democracy to undermine democracy," urging the public to keep an eye out for any such attempts.
Under the Korean election law, F-5 visa holders can vote in elections for local government positions, after three years have passed since they acquired their visas. More than 126,000 people falling into that category were eligible to vote in the latest local elections. Among them, Chinese nationals accounted for nearly 79 percent, followed by Taiwanese (8.4 percent), Japanese (5.7 percent), Vietnamese (1.2 percent) and Americans (0.8 percent).
Some people have voiced their opposition to revising the law, saying that non-citizens should keep the right to vote as they pay taxes in Korea. But Hamilton disagrees.
"Foreign tourists pay taxes, should they have the right to vote? Rich Koreans find ways of avoiding taxes, should (they) be banned from voting? Citizenship involves much more than simply paying taxes. It means commitment to one's country," he said.
On Monday, Rep. Cho Jung-hun of the minor opposition party, Transition Korea, said he proposed a bill to take away the voting rights of most non-citizens based on the principle of reciprocity.