Under hybrid warfare, Mr Hastie said “university campuses had become the modern battlegrounds of covert influence and interference”, which in turn complemented “more aggressive forms of subversive warfare” such as intellectual property theft, cyber-attacks and espionage.
“All these activities advance the efforts of authoritarian regimes to undermine the West,” he said.
“Our passivity is dangerous, so that we risk escalating tensions if we attempt to recover ground lost by subversive means.
“We must take assertive diplomatic, economic and covert measures to push back against authoritarian states that undermine the global order at the very edge of peace.
“This is for both moral and practical reasons. If we want to preserve peace and avoid war, we must understand our adversaries and become practitioners of hybrid and political warfare ourselves,” he said.
The government MP’s strong views on China have sparked a fierce reaction in political and diplomatic circles. Critics like former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd have accused him of whipping up anti-China hysteria, but his supporters, like former diplomat and parliamentary colleague Dave Sharma, have backed his approach, saying he is right to call for an examination of China’s ambitions. China recently denied Mr Hastie and Liberal senator James Paterson visas to visit the country on a study tour.
Mr Hastie’s blueprint for the West’s own hybrid warfare model includes collaborating on sharing intelligence, training, resources and technical expertise as well as co-ordinating responses to cyber-attacks and disinformation campaigns.
He said it was vital that liberal democracies, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has crowed are obsolete, continually informed the public given the “great power competition between authoritarian and democratic states is ultimately a contest of ideas”.
“The challenge for us in the West is that the character of that competition, being conducted by authoritarian opponents, is attacking our way of life and our freedom in a manner that is remarkably difficult to defeat without undermining the very freedoms we seek to protect.”
Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.