When Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister, Chinese media outlets gave him the nickname Tang Bao, which sounds like his surname and means sweet dumpling, according to Lisa Murray in the AFR. Yet the dumpling has turned sour as relations with China are assessed as worse than they were since the Tienanmen Square incident
On Saturday 9 December last year Turnbull stood in a leafy garden and let fly:
Switching between Mandarin and English, Turnbull then said: “Modern China was founded in 1949 with these words: ‘The Chinese people have stood up’. It was an assertion of sovereignty, it was an assertion of pride.”
“And we stand up and so we say, the Australian people stand up.”
Historians may come to mark that day as a turning point, when Australia’s future was put into play, ending later during Bill Shorten’s period as PM with Australia declaring neutrality in relation to both China and the USA.
On Thursday the 7th Turnbull had introduced foreign interference legislation into the parliament with plenty of talk about China and Sam Dastyari. The aim was to embarrass Labor and force Bill Shorten to sack Dastyari. Now the Government claims that the legislation did not single out any country, but at the time there was rhetoric about “Shanghai Sam” and the “Manchurian Candidate”.
China was not amused and had lodged a “serious complaint” with Australia over the allegations of Chinese interference. So Turnbull doubled down, quoting Mao Zedong in the process, boasting that he had spent 25 year doing deals in China and knew how they thought.
How wrong he was. Wrong too, apparently, in thinking Mao actually used those words.
Murray says that the Chinese thought that after Rudd and then Abbott, whose “best friend” in Asia was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Turnbull’s unique contemporary understanding of China was expected to significantly improve relations between Beijing and Canberra.
It was noted in academic and government circles in China that Turnbull had deep personal and business connections to the country. As a businessman in the 1990s, he set up one of the first sino-Western joint mining ventures in China, and his son Alex is married to Wang Yiwen, daughter of a former Chinese government-linked academic.
After Turnbull’s crude boast of knowing how the Chinese think, it is slowly emerging that Canberra is being frozen out at the political level. The most blatant example was the recent Boao Forum of Asia, which is:
- a non-profit organisation that hosts high-level forums for leaders from government, business and academia in Asia and other continents to share their vision on the most pressing issues in this dynamic region and the world at large. BFA is modelled on the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland. Its fixed address is in Bo’ao, Hainan province, China, although the Secretariat is based in Beijing. The forum, sometimes known as the “Asian Davos”, takes its name from the town of Boao, located in China’s southern Hainan province, which has been the permanent venue for its annual conference since 2002.
Jennifer Hewett, journalist with the AFR, was there this year at the invitation of Fortescue Metals Group chief Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, who jointly chairs a side meeting of business leaders with Li Ruogu. With Michael Smith and Phillip Coorey, Hewett reports that China has put Turnbull’s government in a deep freeze. President Xi Jinping
addressed the meeting, promising to further open China’s economy to foreign companies and imports.
Turnbull was not invited because, the Chinese say, he had other business to attend to. In fact Turnbull and other ministers had cleared their diaries in expectation of a visit. None came.
- Chinese news outlets, including the English language Global Times, also repeatedly attack Australian government actions and language, further hardening the strongly nationalist sentiment of the Chinese population towards any criticism from Australia.
Murray relates how seven months after he became PM Turnbull in April 2016 addressed the showcase trade and investment event – Australia Week – in Shanghai:
- Turnbull talked up the merits of the China-Australia free trade agreement at a lunch where almost 2000 people from both countries washed down West Australian lobster and Black Angus tenderloin with Penfolds Shiraz.
It has become apparent that there will be no Australia Week this year because no-one can get into the country to organise it.
Also while there is regular contact between senior Australia and Chinese government officials, Frances Adamson, head of the Australian department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, also had a planned visit to China deferred.
- The next event in China celebrating Australia is an AFL match in Shanghai on May 19. This attracted huge crowds for the inaugural game last year and the organisers have invited the Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie but she is now not expected to attend.
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo appears to be the only Australian minister to escape the de facto ban on visits after having been invited to attend China’s big Import Export, a new event to be held in November.
Neither Julie Bishop nor Malcolm Turnbull have been to China since 2016. Both have foreshadowed trips to China later this year. It will be interesting to see whether they make it.
Murray tells us that:
China buys almost a third of Australia’s merchandise exports, sends more than 1.3 million tourists to the country every year and accounts for over a quarter of its international students.
Also our services trade with China is now larger than our iron ore exports to Japan and Korea combined.
Now business is concerned and is urging Turnbull to patch the China rift.
Turnbull is now admitting there is a problem:
- Mr Turnbull said there had been “misunderstandings and mischaracterisations” of the government’s foreign interference laws in China’s state-run media but was confident issues with Beijing would be resolved.
“I regularly correspond with Chinese leaders, both the Premier Li Keqiang and the President Xi Jinping. The relationship is very deep and extensive but from time-to-time there are differences of perception,” he said.
The Chinese are essentially denying that anything different is happening, but it is there for all to see.
The Senior Business Leaders’ Forum, co-founded by Mr Forrest and prominent Chinese businessman Li Ruogu, spent considerable time discussing the tensions between the two countries in their annual gathering on the sidelines of the Boao Forum.
Mr Forrest said that an agreed letter from the business leaders to both Mr Turnbull and Mr Xi would deliver “a pretty strong message about what business needs to take maximum advantage of China’s opening up”.
“It requires a standard of political commentary to match the standards of business professionalism on all sides,” he said.
Over 120 countries list China as their number one trading partner so we’re not as special as we like to think. Around 100 of these were represented at the Boao forum.
Apart from the above, International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells slammed Chinese foreign aid in the Pacific and former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce and Defence Minister Marise Payne have railed about the military threat posed by China.
Former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr, who now heads the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, says the government has been hardening its anti-China rhetoric since January 2017 in a bid to impress US President Donald Trump.
In November last year Turnbull held discussions at the East Asia Forum with India, Japan and the United States on the restoration of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a regional forum designed to counter the power of China. Currently Turnbull is visiting the UK and Europe. His agenda includes discussions to revamp the Commonwealth to counter China, plus parallel talks with France in relation to a grouping of the former French colonies.
The Chinese, of course, are fully aware of all these activities. The question is how hard they will push to obtain a change of behaviour before the current freeze ends. At the limit, instead of running ships through the South China Sea we could come under pressure over ANZUS and Pine Gap.
There is a disagreement over whether the threat from China is real or overblown. I understand Bob Carr feels Trump is a greater threat than the Chinese. Certainly we seem to be making a special effort since February 2017 to impress Trump with our anti-China stance.
Clive Hamilton has written a book Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia which not everyone likes. For example:
Tim Soutphommasane, the Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner has described the book as using ‘language (which) flirts with exciting an anti-Chinese or Sinophobic racial sentiment. It recalls old fears about yellow hordes overwhelming a vulnerable white Australia. It all smacks of The Yellow Peril revisited’. Hamilton calls for surveillance and immigration restrictions targeted specifically at Chinese, and for restricting residency to those engaged in a widely defined ‘patriotic agitation’.
David Brophy’s review is essential reading. Bottom line he sees Hamilton’s book as a “McCarthyist manifesto”:
In a rivalry between Beijing’s empire of debt, and Washington’s empire of drones, we should be doing all we can to avoid taking sides.
The tectonic political shifts that have aroused Clive Hamilton’s anxieties are real, and there is no avoiding the political questions that they raise. But to deal with them effectively, we need to find ways to formulate legitimate criticisms of China’s actions without adding to our all-too-rich library of Asian invasion fantasies.
There’s good reason to be wary of foreign money in Australian politics. But let’s shine the same spotlight that fell on Sam Dastyari onto all the back-room lobbying that’s going on. Let’s give our universities the funding they need to resist the many and varied threats that corporate and political interests pose to their integrity. And let’s show some consistency in our anti-imperialism in the Asia-Pacific. Only then might we stand a chance of convincing Chinese in Australia that our policy was grounded in principle, and not xenophobia.
29 thoughts on “China matters: Turnbull puts Australia’s future in play”
Hmmmmmm, “McCarthyist” is a strong call.
In the early 1950s, China had been “lost” to the CCP under Mao; the Cold War with USSR had begun; USA had loyalty oaths, HUAC and FBI, etc.
CPUSA had been stronger in the 30s and 40s but its influence had waned since the disastrous Wallace campaign for the Presidency in 1948, when barely-disguised Communist support was swung in behind Mr Wallace. CPUSA never had the strength in labor unions that the CPA had in Australia, for example.
Then along comes Senator Joe, using the already existing Congressional mechanisms, and endless publicity: “I have in my hand a list of secret Communists working in X Dept, Army, Hollywood, etc.”
A populist and liar. Only used xenophobia, as far as I can recall, in that the Soviets and Chinese PRC were foreigners.
If I oppose Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons program, does that make me anti-Korean? anti-Asian? anti-communist? anti-feudal-hereditary-dictatorships? anti-WMD? pro-UN? xenophobic?
Or am I simply McCarthyist, after all?
Thanks, Brian, for that comprehensive article on important issues.
Where do I start?
Tim Soutphommasane, for whom I do have respect and admiration, is drawing a very long bow indeed in associating the current resistance to, or fear of, Chinese expansion and influence in Australia with the Yellow Peril. That’s like blaming Hengist and Horsa for Brexit. Yes, there is still remnant racism, illogical racism, here and there in Australia and Tim and his organization are doing a fine job in ridding us of that nuisance. However, current concerns about losing control of our productive assets, our profitable trade opportunities and our sovereignty (such as it is) are based on observation, on reality and on rational expectations, not on any racism..
Instead of politely and firmly asserting Australian interests, as well as emphasizing the mutual benefits of each side dealing fairly with the other, the Australians fall in a blubbering heap as soon as someone on the Chinese side says, “White Australia Policy” or “Lambing Flat”. Do not blame the Chinese at all for taking advantage of the grovelling Australians: who wouldn’t take advantage of a serious weakness shown by the other side? There is no law in the whole wide world that says you must give a born sucker an even break.
There are all sorts of ways you can stick up for yourself and for your side without insulting and causing outrage; why not do something really novel and try them? It would make such a refreshing change from the perpetual moral cowardice the Australian side is so proud of showing off to the whole world.
Your comment about Chinese investment reminds me of a scare in the late 60s through to the 80s at least.
Were we to become completely dominated by the USA, politically, because many large Australian companies and rural assets had been purchased by US corporations? Then under Keating/Hawke, were US and British and German banks going to get a stranglehold on our financial markets?
The ebbs and flows of ownership and control are interesting. Populist groups can try to press the xenophobia button.
In the 1930s there was some talk of “international finance” (perhaps code for “The Jews”?) or “the Bank Power “.
Meanwhile we muddled through, give or take a World War and a GFC along the way.
Of course a few scallywags liked to set fire to Chinee pigtails as a prank a century or so ago. … small beer beside the various genocides (industrialised, or more handmade, by mobs of artisanal craftsperson murderers) on the globe in the last hundred and twenty years.
And not wanting to get into a “their massacres were worse than our massacres” contest.
It’d be stupid to blame a Chinese inmate for the actions of the most advanced communist iteration.
They’re all prisoners with no individual rights, no democracy and no liberty.
“Let several hundred million flowers bloom!”
Let schools of thought contend!
Ambi, you didn’t mention the Japanese. They were big for a while.
I mentioned “McCarthyist” because it was there. I didn’t think it was particularly apt. Nevertheless, anyone reading Clive Hamilton’s stuff has to come to terms with David Brophy’s critique. I haven’t read Hamilton and I’m not informed enough to have a view.
However, Turnbull was really quite boofy and kack-handed. Now he has dumped us in the pooh. I’m not sure how serious it is. Other countries have had the treatment for a while and then relations were normalised.
I think Turnbull thinks that if he hangs around it will all go away. The Chinese have the whip hand so we’ll see how they play it. Some of the security experts are saying that Turnbull doesn’t have a strategy, which is a worry, but not surprising.
OK we can insert the Japanese. Strong industries, buying up beach resorts in Qld. Then their major recession lasting decades. Anyone for negative interest rates??
I wasn’t complaining about your post. It’s fantastic. Just worried that some trite terms tossed together, make for unclear thinking. Sometimes, words precede thought.
(Other terms tossed around that spring to mind are Fascist, commie, Keynesian, Great Again, working families, illegals, dole bludgers, the not-taxed, Education Revolution, nuclear exchange……)
No problem, Ambi. I appreciate you pulling apart the aptness or otherwise of the use of the term.
I would emphasis Brophy’s concluding paragraphs, for example:
He says we should do all we can to avoid taking sides. I think Beijing would be happy with our neutrality.
I’ve just read the article in the Oz that caught my eye on the purpose of Turnbull’s GHOGM trip. Seems the Brits, looking for new partners after Brexit, are considering inviting Francophone countries to join the Commonwealth! providing a counterweight to China’s influence in the Pacific and Africa is given as one of the reasons.
To me it doesn’t seem right to have countries in the Commonwealth who don’t play either cricket or netball!
China has been throwing its weight around and pissing of its neighbours. It needs thoughtful handling with cooperation between government and opposition.
Certainly doesn’t need political point scoring.
But France plays Rugby!
Alas, there is nothing popularist or conspiracy-theory at all in my attitudes, (which are based on many decades of contact with all manner of Chinese – but that would be Arguing From Authority, wouldn’t?) .
Having had the misfortune of seeing too many Australian business, academic and government figures let loose among the Chinese without holding mummy and daddy’s hands. I do believe my criticisms of the Australian side are justified. Some of them, regardless of whatever exalted titles they might hold or their Intelligence Quotient, are as dumb as dogs’ droppings and their bed-sharers are generally even more so!
I agree with Brian where he said, “…. Turnbull was really quite boofy and kack-handed. Now he has dumped us in the pooh. ….”. And Turnbull, by comparison, is one of the more astute ones. Perhaps we might be a lot better off if Tattersalls were given the whole electoral roll to and they then selected Australian interlocutors with the Chinese authorities and businesses from that roll?
Among the many serious problems we face is the widespread refusal to recognize that we are dealing with a rapidly emerging imperial power – and one which has a very different background and very different ways of doing things to the only two other imperial powers we ever bother thinking about, the now-defunct British Empire or the failing U.S. world-wide empire.
Sorry, Ambigulous, just looked over my bookcase and I couldn’t find the Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion nor the Tanaka Memorial anywhere at all. 🙂
I wasn’t claiming you are prejudiced.
The naivety of Austtaluan business and political negotiators has been on display for many decades.
Like many US, European corporations, ours saw the honey pot of a huge population and plunged right in.
Port of Darwin sale was unbelievable.
Australians too have shared their Austtaluan cousins’ foolishness.
On the other hand, Graham: look at the brilliance of Australian companies inside Australia!
Fees for no service.
And then they lie to the regulator.
“Dud, dud, dud, dud, dud,……..”
(to a traditional melody)
Thanks for that David Brophy book review. I skimmed through it and found several errors and significant omissions – shall go through it word by word on the weekend, (unless I’m interrupted). At a brief glance, I suggest his sources of information and opinion may well have been quite restricted and well sifted.
There is one weapon which the Chinese authorities use superbly well: that is Outrage. Boiling Anger that cannot be appeased and Righteous Offence at anything and everything. The Chinese people have suffered all sorts of appalling atrocities and oppressions over the centuries, some committed by foreigners, more committed by their own people, so much of their indignation, their fears and their hatreds are quite justified indeed. But it is truly amazing that an Australian political and business class, heavily infested as it is are with high-flying lawyers, is too thick-and-stupid that they cannot distinguish between justified indignation and the confected outrage that is used so successfully as a bargaining weapon and a cudgel for domineering opponents. Not one of these prominent boofheads has the wits or the moral courage to call the Chinese bluff from time to time when it may be necessary to do so; all these brilliant Australian decision-makers can do is either crawl and grovel or get into an unnecessary and always costly head-to-head punch-up; subtlety and cunning are well beyond their skill-set..
The foreign interference legislation might have been moderately effective back in 1978 or so but in 2018 it will only have the Chinese authorities roaring with laughter. I’ll bet they are having a competition among themselves right now to see who can come up with the best one hundred ways of using this legislation to China’s advantage. Now, if Turnbull has his heart set on upsetting the Chinese authorities then he might consider legislation to resurrect Australian manufacturing industry – or else, change the wording of our laws against treason. Who knows but that might give him an opportunity to see 21st Century gunboat diplomacy in action up close and personal.
“Fees for no service.
Fantastic. Profitable. And then they lie to the regulator.
” Yes, I did wonder why they went into that hearing without a herd of criminal senior counsel (or should that be , ‘criminal law senior counsel’?). Elsewhere it would be called Fraud or Theft and followed by “Watch your fingers”, SLAM! I shall read the next few honours lists to see just how the culprits’ “services to the community” are rewarded
Robbing your customers is what you do in business when you don’t have the talent to run a profitable and honest business.
“99-year lease” was an outstanding bit of humiliation inflicted by the Chinese side in the surrender of the Port Of Darwin. Naturally, there will never be a royal commission into that or any other weird deals.
Governments do a hell of a lot more “ fee for no service “ that businesses.
Port of Darwin was essentially a Government to Government deal done without any public consultation or benefit analysis from our batch of Dear Leaders.
China ( politically) is totalitarian to the core, and as such will crash in devastating fashion as they have in the past many times.
The only question is when and how much the rest of the World will be damaged by it.
I don’t think the present regime in Beijing will crash in this century: goodness is no guarantee that a regime will survive and prosper, nor is badness a guarantee that a regime will fall – that’s just the nature of things.
By the way, the not-so-ancient classic on strategies, doctrines, tactics and cunning tricks (and set of thrilling bedtime stories) I mentioned on another recent post, may also be known as 36 Military Strategems (Bingfa Sanshiliu Ji / Ping Fa San Shih Liu Chi). Happy reading.
I did read through the book review of David Brophy. Sadly, it confirmed my first impression. I would not feel comfortable buying either funeral insurance or a used car from that man. It seems he might have read an old paperback titled, ‘Thanks To The Yanks’ as well. I do hope Clive Hamilton’s book is a little better than that review; I shall have to get a look at the book sometime this year, or next.
By the way, concern about China’s present or expected actions does not mean undying, blind love for America. It is not a zero sum game – as some would have us believe. Nor is the reverse invariably true either.
There are a few major differences between those writing about or broadcasting about present-day China and wizened old codgers such as myself. It is highly likely that I will never again be in China, nor am I seeking employment, promotion, funding, fame or renewal of contracts, therefore I feel quite free to express my own opinions, such as they are, without fear of hindrance or loss and without hope of reward or blessing. This doesn’t mean my own opinions are better or more reliable than those of some others.
Basically Sun Tzu in the theatre of politics as far as I can tell at a glance.
But thank you, I’ll look deeper as time permits.
Graham, thanks for your insights. Duly noted.
Jump, my son Mark reckons the Chinese govt has acted more rationally than almost any other in the last 30 years.
He could be wrong, of course. Occasionally he is.
A former scholar and China specialist who made his name as an Australian academic is Simon Leys. His pseudonym was needed when he still wanted access to China.
His book “Chinese Shadows” around 1980 was remarkably clear sighted about Maoist bulldust.
At that time most Western journalists and specialists were falling over each other to praise the PRC government.
At the other end of the credulity or self-preservation scale was the renowned “scholar of ancient Chinese science”, who led and helped produce a multi-volume history in English, but had his own personal reason to kow-tow. Cherchez la femme.
A brief biography of him is Bomb, Book and Compass by Simon Winchester.
Simon Leys was the pseudonym of Pierre Ryckmans.
The sinophile historian of science was Joseph Needham.
When I said I was free to express my opinions, I neglected to mention one constraint: Australia’s anti-racism laws, regulations and practices. The basic concept of opposing vicious and unfair racism is terrific – pity about its misapplication to serve narrow sectional and commercial interests though. For example: if I dare repeat some of the things Chinese have told me in conversation, or speak about certain things I have seen with my own eyes, and someone deems them to be “off-message”, then I will be slammed with the full blast of a misdirected anti-racism.
Mark is dead right about the Chinese authorities being very rational. Even their apparently irrational actions and wild statements tend to be tied firmly to long-term, well-considered objectives. They seem to be quite clear about what they want and how to get it. They have achieved outstanding success for themselves, in our age, where the Nazis were such miserable failures, in a previous age.
Damn; I sent my own copy of “Chinese Shadows ” off to a charity shop ages ago. Maoism was indeed bullshit; we in The West blinded ourselves to just how much bullshit it was by, ironically, our own rabid Anti-Communism. We believed our own bullshit far too much, instead of taking a dispassionate and logical view of Maoism’s strengths as well as its weaknesses, of its opportunities for us as well as its very real threats. And heaven help anyone who tried to do just that; I tried and was condemned for it – but in the long run, who was vindicated and who was damned wrong? 🙂
Joseph Needham did indeed have his particular ways and needs; his broad legacies are still with us today.
It is quite possible, and honourable too, to be either a sinophile or else a true friend of the Chinese people without resorting to being a sycophant, a running dog (zou gou). That distinction is clearly way beyond the abilities of those who skulk around our parliaments, our lecture-halls and our boardrooms.
The whole situations is not impossible – but, gee, it is hellishly difficult for us.
I may have been harsh and too specific in labelling Maoist propaganda as bulldust.
There is plenty of bull going round. Whole industries in advertising, marketing, retailing, are based on bull. Harnessing statisticians in survey work, writers in ad campaigns, film and video production.
Goebbels may have lacked testicles, but he was in a very long tradition.
It wasn’t only Uncle Joe S, Chairman M, Enver Hoxha, Fidel C, the dear Kim Family, and other rulers to their West, who aimed to befuddle and delude “their people”.
Eric Blair/George Orwell still stands firm as a beacon of bull-busting, IMO.
Australians aren’t the only suckers in the world. The Chinese got themselves a nice 99-year lease on the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota, which hasn’t been handling much commercial traffic at all since they took over. ((Sorry, my link to Nikkei news didn’t work here.))
Wasn’t that the nation, Graham, which was humiliated by those frightful British, when a long lease was imposed for a small, island-strewn enclave called “Hong Kong”; which poor and downtrodden nation then used said enclave to begin trading with the world, while maintaining a pure and rarefied isolation from the globe?
“Do unto others as they have done to you in the recent past.”
Indeed, Ambigulous. I feel the Chinese term ‘ bao chou” has a wider and deeper meaning than the usual translation of it as ‘revenge’. That’s why I have nothing but loathing for the ignorant Australians who were so stupid or so evil as to agree to that “99-year lease” on the Port Of Darwin.
When Sri Lanka was Ceylon, it was a tightly- controlled colony of the British Empire; so I cannot understand why on earth the modern Chinese inflicted this particular humiliation on the modern Sri Lankans when they occupied that sea port. Perhaps they wish to be seen as equal-opportunity humiliators?
Graham, I googled. Here is a story from December last year about Sri Lanka handing over Hambantoto port to the Chinese on a 99-year lease.
Here’s a recent story from the AFR Inside China’s $1 billion port where ships don’t want to stop, with another version at Stars and Stripes. The story comes from Bloomberg.
Seems they are getting about one ship per day, with most ships heading to Colombo. Yet they are undeterred:
They also plan to lure vehicle trans-shipments, refueling and oil storage services away from Singapore, the UAE Port of Fujairah and Malaysia’s Port Klang.
Michael Smith for the AFR in Shanghai reports that China ramps up anti-Australia rhetoric as new tensions surface.
Ross Garnaut says the “incoherence” in US global leadership and China’s rising economic might has created a perfect opportunity for Beijing to play a more prominent role.
The rest of the world should get used to China throwing its weight around.
Seems the minions in China have got the message – annoy Australians.
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