The latest Quarterly Essay is “Red Flag; waking up to China’s challenge” by Peter Hartcher. It was eye-opening and thorough. It provided a history of Australian-Chinese relations, and the changes that have occurred over the last thirty years, since Xi Jinping.
We have thought of China as a benign beneficial country for Australia for a long time, and ridden on he economic growth through our resources. But what this essay talks about is that we must be wary of the internal changes in China in the last ten years, and we can’t think of China in the same way anymore.
The essay is broadly positive that there is a way that we could continue to work with China that is beneficial for both countries. But that positivity is overlaid by caution, because we need to be careful of China’s intentions with Australia.
It was interesting to learn the more recent psychology and taboos in China, which almost sound more like a re-reading of Wild Swans by Jung Chang. The psychology is becoming more defensive and paranoid – unnecessarily.
While China has said the right things in front of capitalists who are just looking to make money, in fact their values are very different. Hartcher describes the differences and taboos as:
- Western constitutional democracy and capitalist class concepts are completely denounced
- the UN concept of universal values and rights are forbidden in favour of collective rights
- any community-based body or non-government organisation is forbidden
- neoliberalism is a non-no
- the West’s idea of journalism is unmentionable
- historical nihilism is banned, and
- questioning government socialist reform is forbidden.
The essay explores what China wants, and paints a dim picture on their Belt and Road project. It appears that many countries are willingly taking large capital investments from China, with unknown consequences. And these consequences could end up being strong influence on government by China, and also potentially as much as a soft invasion.
It was also interesting to learn about Australia’s almost universal change in its attitude to China over the last two years, and luckily Malcolm Turnbull woke up quick enough to stop China helping to build over 5G network, and various other investments and soft take-overs they appeared to be proposing. It appears that China’s approach became a bit more forceful around that time, and more blatant.
The essay also talks about Australia’s relationship with the USA, and that we need to stand more on our own feet, because in fact USA will not be there for us like they once may have been.
It was a revelation to me that China is running intimidation tactics on people within Australia who are vocal about being cautious of China. This is happening to John Garnaut and his family as we speak, who wrote the report and advised the Turnbull government on China. I hope that Hartcher himself doesn’t become a target after the publication of this essay.
It appears that there is a fine line that Australia must now travel, so that we still have economic benefits from China while China favours us, but to also diversify our trade so that we’re not driven into an economic slump if either China cuts us off, or we decide China should be cut off.