Chinese newspapers dedicate front pages to exiled billionaire Huang Xiangmo
Mr Huang quickly became an influential player in Australia after moving here in 2011. He donated lavishly to both major parties and funded China-focussed initiatives at universities.
But Mr Huang, a former chairman of property development company Yuhu Group, has been stranded in Hong Kong since early February, when the Australian government denied his application for citizenship and cancelled his permanent residency.
That action was taken after the Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said Mr Huang was “amenable to conducting acts of foreign interference”.
The letter supporting Mr Huang, who is reported to be appealing the government’s decision, is identical in each paper. It features a smiling photo of Mr Huang and text atop an image of the Australian flag.
The letter says Mr Huang is an innocent philanthropist and businessman, and that any member of the Chinese community in Australia could share his fate.
[Mr Huang] is just some rich guy with political connections who made a lot of mistakes.
Dr Kevin Carrico
It goes on to say Australia’s decision to cancel Mr Huang’s residency will damage minority group’s participation in politics and that members of the media and politicians have used information from the security services to demonise Mr Huang.
Kevin Carrico, a senior lecturer at Monash University and China expert, said Chinese Australians had no reason to worry about Mr Huang’s predicament.
“There is an attempt to personalise it… but in reality I think most people recognise what happened to Huang Xiangmo has nothing to do with them,” Dr Carrico said. “[Mr Huang] is just some rich guy with political connections who made a lot of mistakes.”
But David Brophy, a senior lecturer in modern Chinese history at the University of Sydney, said the letter raised legitimate concerns.
“The letter rightly points out that this isn’t just something that Chinese Australians need to be worried about,” Dr Brophy said. “This is potentially a threat to immigrants from any country holding permanent residency.
“The idea that through a secretive process the minister could simply revoke permanent residency on vague character grounds diminishes significantly the protection afforded by permanent residency,” Dr Brophy said.
Mr Huang has angrily denied he was an agent of Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia, calling Australia’s actions those of a “giant baby”.
“The decision of visa cancellation was made based on unfounded speculations that are prejudiced and groundless,” Mr Huang said.
“This is not the Australia that I believe in, the Australia of freedom, democracy, rule-of-law and fairness, but I keep my faith in law and justice.”
There are 128 organisations listed as signatories to the letter.
Alex Joske, an Australian Strategic Policy Institute expert on Chinese Communist Party influence, said many of the signatories to the letter were linked to the United Front Work Department.
The United Front is an agency under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee that aims to influence Chinese people living abroad and foreign elites to adopt Beijing’s stance on important issues.
“Many of [the signatories to the letter] are actual member organisations of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China,” Mr Joske said of the pro-China group suspected of United Front links Mr Huang used to lead.
Mr Huang spectacularly fell out of favour in Australia after it was revealed he had stood next to then-senator Sam Dastyari as the Labor powerbroker made pro-China remarks on the South China Sea that contradicted his party’s stance on the issue in 2016.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said three newspapers featured the letter on their front pages. It was two. The third featured the letter inside.
Nick is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.