William Chiu built close relations with NSW MPs on both sides of politics. Photo: Andrew Darby Bob Carr with China’s “living buddha” Tudeng Kezhu (wearing a robe). Photo: Fairfax
There were clashes as thousands of Chinese people and hundreds of Tibetans watched the 2008 Olympic torch relay in Canberra. Photo: Jason South
Premier Mike Baird attends the 15th anniversary dinner of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China (ACPPRC) in March 2015. Photo: Andrew Darby
Bob Carr with Chinese official Zhu Weiqun (also standing next to the scroll) and “living buddha” Tudeng Kezhu (wearing a robe). Photo: People’s Daily
Enjoying a glass of red wine, Chinese businessman William Chiu announced he would donate $25,000 if the NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith sang him three songs. Mr Smith obliged with Elvis and Sinatra.
How did a student Maoist, arrested by the Malaysian government, imprisoned and tortured for his links to Communist insurgents, come to have the NSW Liberal government singing his tune 40 years later?
In 1974, Mr Chiu was known in Australia as Khoo Ee Liam, a cause celebre for left-wing activists who protested in the streets, calling for the Malaysian to be freed. Wikileaks documents revealed US State Department cables monitoring the international tensions his case ignited.
When he died in June 2015, he had become the NSW Liberals key link to Sydney’s Chinese community. Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian expressed her sadness at the loss of NSW Parliament’s “very close friend”.
Mr Smith, along with other NSW Liberal MPs to benefit from Mr Chiu’s donations, or sponsored travel to China, told Fairfax Media this week they had no idea of his previous identity.
“Maybe it is a good idea that political parties ask more questions,” said the Liberal MP for Oatley, Mark Coure, who received $1990 from Mr Chiu for the 2015 election.
The Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China, founded by Mr Chiu in 2000, attracted scrutiny this week because its new president, Huang Xiangmo, complained that Australian politicians treated the Chinese like “cash cows”. Mr Huang vowed to extract some political return.
But Mr Chiu was the model for Mr Huang’s recent large donations to universities and charities, as he skilfully cultivated close relationships with NSW politicians over 16 years in the deploy of Beijing’s “soft power”.
Condolence motions in the NSW Parliament had MPs from both sides warmly espouse Mr Chiu’s work for “the peaceful reunification of China”, flatly contradicting Australian foreign policy on Taiwan.
He donated big to universities, gave to NSW politicians’ election campaigns, and sponsored MPs travel to Tibet and China with his medical charity. They reciprocated by becoming ACPPRC “advisers” (Liberal MPs Jonathan O’Dea, Daryl Maguire, Mr Coure and Labor’s Sonia Hornery and Ernest Wong), attending dinners, and making Mr Chiu a life member of the NSW Parliament’s Asia-Pacific Friendship Group.
Mr Chiu gained regular access to NSW Parliament to launch events promoting China’s “peaceful reunification” in front of Chinese government TV cameras.
The term is offensive to Taiwanese Australians, and the council’s activities – exhibitions promoting China’s control of Tibet, or visits by Beijing’s substitute for the Dalai Lama – upset Tibetan Australians.
Yet such was Mr Chiu’s status that the ACPPRC pays for NSW Premier Mike Baird to flick the switch to turn the Opera House red for Chinese New Year.
It paid $10,000 to fund the Premier’s 2016 Harmony Dinner, and has paid $10,000 a year to sponsor the NSW government’s Multicultural Marketing Awards since 2011.
The first time Mr Smith sang for Mr Chiu, the money went to the Lions Club. In 2012 Mr Chiu was the only non-politician to become a member of the NSW Parliamentary Lions.
Former premier Barry O’Farrell laid a wreath at Mr Chiu’s Sydney Town Hall memorial. But it was his other funeral, at the Babaoshan Cemetery in Beijing, reserved for communism’s revolutionary heroes, that was the clue to his past.
Rebel with a cause
In 1974, Khoo Ee Liam’s detention by Malaysian authorities under the Internal Securities Act sparked student protests across New Zealand and Australia. He had been a student activist here in the late 1960s.
By December, the Malaysian Minister Mahathir Mohamed, hit out at Australian students “meddling” in his country’s affairs.
The US State Department appeared annoyed at the students, and sympathetic to Malaysia’s claims that Mr Khoo had aided the guerilla Malayan National Liberation Army upon his return to Malaysia in 1971, Wikileaks cables revealed.
Former activist David Cuthbert met Mr Khoo when they were officials for the student union at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. Mr Cuthbert says when the New Zealand security agencies, decades later, showed him his surveillance file, it contained photographs of the pair at anti-apartheid rallies and protests against US submarine bases. He said he couldn’t confirm Mr Khoo’s links with the Malaysian Communist Party, but “suspects it is true”.
By 1987, Mr Khoo was living in Hong Kong, but his business was Beijing. He visited Mr Cuthbert in New Zealand to ask for help setting up a New Zealand company called Golden Glory International.
Mr Khoo had an 86 per cent stake in the Badaling Great Wall cable car project, and wanted Mr Cuthbert and trade union leader Dave Morgan to become directors of the NZ shelf company.
Mr Cuthbert was unaware Mr Khoo had later settled in Australia, but unsurprised by his ACPPRC activity. “He had a real ability to get on and very good skills in mixing with people,” he said.
“Khoo would have no particular problem dealing with the conservative side of politics if the politicians could be helpful in a cause.”
Name change in Australia
Khoo Ee Liam arrived in Sydney in 2000 using the name William Chiu. Hong Kong court records show Khoo Ee Liam had spent the previous three years trying to raise cash through a backdoor listing and asset swap on the Australian Stock Exchange for Golden Glory. It struck problems when Deloittes valued his cable car business at $28 million, half of what Mr Khoo had hoped for. The ASX refused to let the new entity trade because it didn’t have enough Australian-based shareholders.
Despite Golden Glory’s cash problems, Mr Chiu created international headlines in 2002 when he paid $1 million to host a World Congress on the Peaceful Reunification of China at Darling Harbour. He reportedly paid former US president Bill Clinton $300,000 to speak alongside Beijing cadres. Mr Clinton was accused of “selling out” by Taiwan media. There were violent clashes.
In 2008, the ACPPRC organised the large-scale bussing of Chinese students to Canberra for the 2008 Olympic torch relay. The display of Chinese nationalism, and violent clashes with Tibetan protesters, again made headlines. It was reminiscent of Mr Khoo’s student activist days.
In Beijing, where he was a member of the National People’s Consultative Congress, Mr Chiu was lauded for his idea to raise $140 million from overseas Chinese globally to fund construction of the Olympic Water Cube swimming venue as a display of loyalty.
Meredith Burgmann, the former NSW Labor MLC, received $4000 from Mr Chiu. She said she worked out he was Mr Khoo and told him she had once marched in the streets for his freedom. “He was proud of his dissident activity, and talked openly about it,” she said. “The Liberals didn’t ask questions.”
Mr Chiu accompanied Mr O’Farrell to Beijing when he made his first visit as premier in 2011, US intelligence cables released on Wikileaks noted.
A spokeswoman for Mr Baird said the ACPPRC was a non-government non-profit community organisation.
“The attendance of the Premier at such events recognises the contribution of our multicultural communities to the NSW fabric: it does not constitute a position on foreign policy, which is entirely a matter for the Commonwealth,” she said.
She said the use of Parliament facilities was a matter for the presiding officers “but the Parliament has always been used for engagement between MPs and community organisations”.
Mr Smith said: “There was never any suggestion you had to do anything for any small amount [Mr Chiu] had donated to my SEC. I like singing and he liked my singing. I see that as a legitimate way of fundraising.”
Ms Berejiklian said 30 per cent of her electorate of Willoughby were Chinese-Australians. “As the local member, I am often asked to attend community events representing the Chinese-Australian community,” she said.
Mr Coure said he understood that statements on the peaceful reunification of China were controversial, but foreign policy was “a federal issue”.
“As a member of state Parliament I want to work with all Chinese groups … I am not out to offend anyone,” he said.
Mr Maguire, who launched the ACPPRC Tibetan events at NSW Parliament in front of Chinese cameras, said Mr Chiu was “a genuine person, he never asked me for one thing … probably the opposite of the current chairman [Mr Huang]”.
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