Australia

Chinese Australians support WeChat campaigning by politicians

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With less than a month to go until the federal election, Australia politicians from both major parties have been spending more time campaigning to voters on Chinese social media platform WeChat, but just how effective has it been?

With only weeks to go until Election Day, WeChat is proving to be fertile ground for both major parties to make a mark.

Several seats in NSW and Victoria such as Reid, Banks and Chisholm have large numbers of Chinese-Australian voters.

Digital media researcher Wilfred Wang, from Monash University, believes appealing to Chinese people is a good gesture.

“There are around 1.2 million people who identify themselves as Chinese ancestry, the majority of them speak Chinese at home,” Mr Wang said.

“So that really sets the context of what we are talking about here - it looks like a good strategy.”

Jennifer Yang and Penny Wong on WeChat
Jennifer Yang and Penny Wong on WeChat.
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In recent weeks, the Labor party, in particular, has ramped up its usage on the “super app” holding a number of "live" question and answer sessions with users as well as running numerous campaign videos in the Chinese language.

SBS News approached people of Chinese background to find out their thoughts and while most people did not know that Australian politicians were active on the app, most people said they appreciated the gesture when they found out about it.

“For the most part this is good, it means the Government cares a bit more about what the Chinese community thinks,” says Sherry Yao.

“Some Chinese people do not have very good English, if there is Chinese, it allows for better understanding,”  Carter Zeng of Eastwood said.

Screenshot of a Live chat Q & A with Jennifer Yang and Bill Shorten.
Screenshot of a live chat Q & A with Jennifer Yang and Bill Shorten.
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However, experts say that using the Chinese based app for political campaigning comes with risks.

"WeChat, like it or not, it is governed by a very different jurisdiction and therefore if you want to use it, including our politicians, have to play along with those regulations that do not necessarily meet our democratic values in Australia," Mr Wang said.

Alex Joske is a Researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and he also raised concerns. 

“WeChat is ultimately subject to the censorship of the Chinese Government, it opens up the possibility that it could be used by the Chinese Government to control content available in Australia,” Mr Joske said. 

“It's also used by the Chinese Government as a tool of surveillance, they use it to track dissidents, monitor conversation and that gives the Chinese Government great insight into the Australian political system.”

Matt Thistlethwaite, member of Kingsford Smith posted a video speaking in Mandarin on WeChat
Matt Thistlethwaite, member of Kingsford Smith posted a video speaking in Mandarin on WeChat.
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Some people who SBS News spoke to also acknowledged that there were risks.

“It can be a risk but censorship would only be a concern if there are any issues raised by politicians on the forum which perhaps clashes with the values of the Chinese government," Libo Liu said.

"From what I have seen on the app, I have not been able to identify such clash." 

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