FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Australia’s China Syndrome

Syndromes can make for cringe worthy, nervous laughter. To see the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, struggle with reconciling China the bully of influence with China the resource hungry friend supplied the press with one such spectacle on Tuesday morning.  Larded with suffocating clichés, Turnbull could speak of the greatest multicultural society on earth (forget the United States or any other comparisons) and those million or so members of the Australian-Chinese family who had made Australia what it is.  Lurking, as ever, is the next diplomatic storm, and the next allegation, of Chinese influence in Australia.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has been doing his own bit to ruffle Australian policy.  Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang quoted Wang’s remark that Australia “take off tinted glasses [and] see China’s development from a positive perspective”.  He also spoke of the “difficulties” that had beset relations between the countries “which even inflicted impacts on bilateral cooperation in some respects.”

Australia’s own Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, has been very busy keeping her own tinted glasses on.  “I get on very well with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, we’ve known each other for a very long time.”  Recent discussions with Wang were “very warm and constructive”.  Pure deceptive theatre indeed.

Within Australia’s own parliament, members are itching to lob grenades at China’s channels of influence, a tendency that is now producing a form of avid competition.  Andrew Hastie, chair of the intelligence and security committee, availed himself of parliamentary privilege to out a certain “Co-conspirator 3 or CC-3” from the shadows, a person familiar to both the Liberal and Labor parties.

Businessman Chau Chak Wing, it seems, had not only busied himself lining the pockets of both sides of the parliamentary aisle to the tune of some $200,000 (donations are not bribes, it seems); he had also been attempting to woo the former president of the UN General Assembly, John Ashe, with a tidy sum.  He had, in Hastie’s words of forced concern, “close contact with the United Front, the influence arm of the Chinese Communist Party in 2007”.

“I share it with the house because I believe it to be in the national interest.  My duty, first and foremost, is to the Australian people and the preservation of the ideals and democratic traditions of our Commonwealth.”  The Chinese Communist Party, Hastie claimed, was “working to covertly interfere with our media, our universities and also influence our political processes and public debates”.

While such revelations are delivered with a sense of heavy moral responsibility, much of it is stretched.  Trade Minister Steve Ciobo was almost dismissive in claiming that the content was hardly novel.  Turnbull dumped some cold water on Hastie’s fire by claiming that “the specific allegations that were made… were not new.” But getting on the China bandwagon of condemnation is all the rage.  Parliament has already sought to curb that vague and immeasurable term “influence” with legislation that muddies rather than clears the water.  When the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 was introduced, it signalled a new front in an inchoate war that, on closer inspection, merely looks like a good stab at civil liberties and an attempt to harness paranoia.

A “new and balanced secrecy regime” criminalising the disclosure of “inherently harmful information” was introduced alongside “offences that criminalise covert and deceptive activities of foreign actors that fall short of espionage but are still intended to interfere with our democratic systems and processes or support the intelligence activities of a foreign government.”

Such words are hard going in the wake of one overwhelming reality: Australia’s satellite status and broader importance in the US imperium.  Should Australia ever wish to bend over for Beijing – and here, Hastie and company should take comfort – a few Pentagon goons are bound to be dispatched Down Under to right matters.  Washington’s indifference to sending an ambassador of clout, or any ambassador at all for some eighteen months is simply an acceptance that the good politicians of Canberra will behave.  Head boys and girls are simply not required.

Acknowledgment of Australia’s efforts has also been forthcoming.  One senior official in the Pentagon with a brief covering US defence policy in Asia, Randy Schriver, was rather pleased by the spurt of legislative activity seeking to rein in those nasty foreign influences.  “I think [Australia’s] woken up people in a lot of countries to take a look at Chinese activity within their own borders.”  The country had “done us a great service by publicising much of this activity and then taking action.”  With such rounded approval from empire, what could go wrong?

The field of political influence will always be a hostage to trends.  As things stand, Australian citizens are being treated to daily doses of anti-Chinese hysteria.  It is hardly surprising that such distractions are necessary consumption for a government desperate to keep its oar in regarding the electorate. Villains are always necessary in political bouts, even if they pay your bills, buy your products, and fill the coffers.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposal Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail