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Time to talk about China


Photo by Adi Constantin on Unsplash

Having just been working in China, I was interested to hear a fascinating talk from Professor John Fitzgerald of Swinburne University at The Bookcellar this week on the current discussion around China. The talk was based on his current article in The Journal Of Democracy, China in Xi’s “New Era”: Overstepping Down Under and thought I would pass on my notes.

China is a land of extraordinary opportunities, and many for Australia, which is why it is important there should be boundaries on what they do in our country. There is discussion about "China panic" but democracies should be able to discuss these issues and successful democracies should then be able to legislate around those issues if necessary. Every country should try to influence others- that is what diplomacy is about, but it is manipulation we need to be wary of.

In 2008/9 the US lost their credibility as leaders of global liberalism, liberals in China lost influence as a consequence and there was a a return to nativist Maoist values. China is now looking to be "China first" to match the "US first" push. This means at the moment Australian and Chinese national values are very different which should affect our view of what they do in our country.

Australian middle management have been very naive in working with China and we need to be more aware. One of the most obvious places where we see this is in the media. In 2014 the ABC quietly closed its Chinese language current affairs programs. The plan was for the Australia Plus channel to be broadcast in Chinese hotels and conference centres etc. and the ABC dropped its Chinese language programs in order to avoid criticism of the regime which might prevent this happening. The ABC continues to broadcast current affairs in foreign languages throughout Asia but not in China. Despite this "concession", the Chinese government said no to the deal and in fact censors out commentary on China from Australian broadcasts in China. Similarly China International Radio (based in Australia) censors its Chinese language media broadcasting in Australia. Chinese residents in Australia can only get news of what is happening politically in China in English. So they set the rules there, and we should be able to set the rules here.

Another area where our naivete is obvious is in education. The Confucius Institutes established inside Australian Universities do more than spread the word on Chinese culture, they seek to influence what Universities can do here on Chinese topics. I was shocked to discover that some prestigious Australian universities are collaborating on research with Chinese laboratories who are weapons manufacturers. Their English language websites make no mention of this activity, but the Chinese language sites are quite open and explicit about their role in defence innovation and development.

Australia needs to defend our Sovereignty. The Chinese authorities see the Chinese diaspora in Australia as helping further the Chinese dream. Fortunately at the moment our local Chinese do not see it that way, but we need to be aware this is what China thinks which is why they are seeking to manipulate Chinese descendants in Australia through control of what they see and hear about China.

The current trade wars will see China seeking to manipulate the way we work by threatening us with their financial influence over us. Seeking to influence is fine but seeking to manipulate is not and we need to be more aware.

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