BOOKSHELF: China watchBook Review: Hidden Hand – Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World

By Andrew Podger

Published 5 March 2021

Hidden Handis right to remind people that: China and the CCP are not one and the same; China has a party-state system of government that is authoritarian and not democratic; China does not have Western-style rule of law; it does not recognize universal human rights in the way we understand them. What is missing is a balanced discussion of the central debate about the appropriate approach to be taken in the West’s relations with China.

In Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World, China scholars Clive Hamilton and Marieke Ohlberg examine the Chinese Communist Party’s influence in Europe and North America in a similar way to how Hamilton dissected the CCP’s influence in Australia in his 2018 book, Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia.

In my review of the 2018 book, I wrote: “Perhaps Hamilton’s book is a useful reminder that we must not be naïve about our relationship with China. But his prescription, premised on China being our enemy and determined to achieve world domination, is precisely the wrong direction for addressing the genuine issues he raises.”

The new book warrants a similar conclusion, though President Xi Jinping’s continued strengthening of CCP controls and pursuit of hegemony in our region add to the importance of not being naïve.

Hamilton and Ohlberg chronicle the various ways the CCP has attempted to wield influence in North America and Europe, from political and business elites to the Chinese diaspora, media, think tanks and academia, as well as through espionage and diplomacy.

Central to the book’s thesis is the diagram on pages 124-5 summarizing most of the channels of influence from Chinese institutions (particularly party institutions) to various groups and organizations in Western nations. This is a one-direction diagram and assumes a totally coordinated strategy.

The book’s presentation is extremely detailed, including not just the names of Chinese institutions but the individuals said to be directing the strategies of influence. Similarly on the receiving end, the authors describe not only the groups and organizations in the West they claim are being influenced, but many of the individuals involved.

This level of detail is highlighted by the book’s 113 pages of footnotes and a 24-page index.

Despite this, the book is not a balanced, scholarly document. The narrative centers on a single-minded Communist Party that has always sought a Leninist world and is now taking advantage of its increased economic power to advance that objective more effectively.

There is little recognition of the huge shifts in Chinese economic, social and strategic policies over the past 50 years, or of the scale of the changes to its institutional arrangements and the role of government.

The authors also do not allow those in the West who they claim have been successfully (and naively) influenced the opportunity to respond, let alone to present evidence of their influence in the other direction.

Containment vs. “Engage and Constrain”
Hidden Handis