We need to talk about China

Here the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People on January 28 in Beijing, with appropriate distancing. Dr Tedros later commented that Xi had a surprising mastery of the detail of what was going on. Two days later the WHO declared the novel coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern. People have made up stories about this meeting and the sequence, but it seems to me an orderly progression of events, coming 10 days after China had alerted the world to a person to person highly infectious novel coronavirus, then sealing off and locking down Wuhan on 23 January.

Subsequently, on 11 March, the WHO declared Covid 19 a pandemic, pointing to the over 118,000 cases in over 110 countries and territories around the world and the sustained risk of further global spread. Time magazine has a good explainer in World Health Organization Declares COVID-19 a ‘Pandemic.’ Here’s What That Means.

Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the whole business “borderline semantics”. Indeed, I think it is pointless arguing over who may have influenced whom, for what reason. This is important:

    “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death,” said Dr. Tedros on March 11. “Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”

With all the current kerfuffle over trade between China and Australia, a couple of factors perhaps need to be emphasised.

First, the decision to conduct an investigation into how the pandemic arose and progressed was not made by the World Health Organisation. Rather it was made by the World Health Assembly, which is the body established to supervise the World Health Organisation (WHO).

China has agreed to the inquiry, but as Adam Kamradt-Scott, Associate professor, University of Sydney points out just when and how this will happen are still in dispute. China has agreed to a WHO-led ‘independent’ inquiry provided that it happens after the pandemic is over, whatever that means. Also the resolution does not mention China by name and has been broadened to cover how the pandemic was handled by all parties.

Who else, other than the WHO answerable to its member states, would establish and supervise such an investigation? Similar circumstances apply with the World Trade Organisation and for that matter the UN.

Lai-Ha Chan, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Technology, Sydney and Pak K Lee, Senior Lecturer in Chinese Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent have some specific suggestions about who should be consulted within China and the questions that should be answered if the inquiry is going to be fair dinkum and restore faith in the WHO. Clearly they are not sympathetic to the WHO, but they are right, the WHO must ultimately have the respect of the health profession and the constituent members. However, most knowledgeable commenters say that the big lack is in the basic funding of the organisation, which has a budget about the size of a single US teaching hospital, with most of that predetermined by donors who give with conditions attached. Also, much of the criticism is not disinterested; political agendas are in play.

On Australia’s effort to instigate an investigation, I would ask whether anything at all was done differently or sooner by virtue of actions taken by Australia in calling for an inquiry at the very time when POTUS Donald Trump was fingering China to distract from his own failings and calling for reparations. I’m inclined to think not. There was always going to be an inquiry, and China was always going to have a fair bit to say about the scope, timing and modus operandi.

The resolution also:

    asks the WHO to work with the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization, now led by the Chinese scientist Qu Dongyu, to: “Identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts.”

Wild stories about human agency invented by propagandists in the US and China have been shunted to where they belong.

Australia, I think, has contributed nothing, and should save its energy for where it can make a difference. There is more to be said, but China’s reaction to Australia has done it harm. The world needs leadership, not a new bully on the block.

Accounts such as those by the ABC and by the SMH (see No longer a joke: Why Australia’s COVID-19 inquiry campaign won the day foreground Australia’s role, and are, I think, obviously partisan. Deutsche Welle quotes former Australian PM Kevin Rudd as president of the president of the (American) Asia Society Policy Institute, but Australia as such does not rate a mention. We should not get inflated ideas about how much we matter.

A number of foreign reports give a short factual account of Australia’s trade problems with China. Foreign Policy reports that Trump Stumbles in Effort to Confront China at WHO as the:

    U.S. fails to gain support for an immediate investigation into coronavirus origins and for bringing Taiwan on as observer.

No mention of Australia.

Many have characterised world politics in terms of the US under Trump vacatiing its special mission to civilise the world, leaving a vacuum in a unipolar world, with China moving to fill the space. Kevin Rudd talking to Tom Switzer is worth a listen. Rudd always emphasises the complexity within the Chinese regime. Globally he thinks the world will become more anarchic. He:

    argues that neither China nor the US will gain a strategic victory from COVID-19. And, he predicts that unless a Democrat wins the US election, the international system will become more anarchic, and a new Cold War will begin.

I was impressed by an opinion piece in the South China Morning Post by Laurence Tubiana – A truly multilateral order can emerge from the ashes of the coronavirus pandemic, with China and Europe leading the way.

She says history tells us that out of cataclysms we can build anew. Hence the League of Nations was born from the ruins of World War I, the United Nations from World War II:

    we live in a deeply interconnected world – from the virus’s casual crossing of national borders, to the scenes of empty shelves due to global trade disruptions.

    This opens a window of opportunity for discussion – in the wake of this crisis, we should rebuild our system of international cooperation, moving from siloed diplomatic discussions on specific topics such as climate to a broader approach that integrates the management of the new global commons together.

Tubiana hopes that National People’s Congress this week will drive a green transition through a stimulus package. Given that there are major meetings scheduled for later this year on climate, hosted by Britain, and biodiversity hosted by China, Tubiana hopes for new Bretton Woods moment that drives nations to commit to true sustainability and a greening of the planet.

I’ve never been convinced that China is serious about climate change. From what I’ve heard so far I suspect the BBC is right – NPC: China’s congress will be about Hong Kong, the virus and the economy.

Europe cannot lead the world alone.

So, what happened in Wuhan?

There is an excellent half hour BBC radio program I managed to isolate by googling China and the Virus + BBC radio 4 + 20 May 2020. This is their summary:

    Has the coronavirus epidemic weakened or strengthened the grip of China’s Communist Party?

    In the early stages of the outbreak in the city of Wuhan, authorities there downplayed its significance. A doctor who sounded the alarm was forced to contradict himself. He later contracted Covid-19 and died from it. Medical facilities were initially unprepared. This and other similar stories led to an explosion of critical comment on Chinese social media, with deep distrust emerging of the official explanations.

    President Xi Jinping initially avoided becoming publicly involved in the response to the epidemic, perhaps to avoid a political taint. The government then began to change tack, instituting wide-ranging and it seems effective restrictions, which have slowed the growth of the epidemic. The central government blamed any problems on failings by local authorities. Many Chinese citizens are now taking pride in their country’s response, even arguing that it is an example to the world, despite the continuing economic slowdown.

    In this documentary, Mark Mardell assesses how President Xi and his government will emerge from the crisis. (Emphasis added)

I would suggest that Xi sensibly put his deputy in charge because it just doesn’t make sense for a leader to get sucked into any specific problem. That is what was wrong with Kevin Rudd’s leadership.

The program highlights the role of social media in this issue, and in China generally. When unwelcome comments are made on the regime they are simply reposted by others, for example by a group called The Digital Resistance. Change, the BBC group thought, will not be towards democracy, rather that there may be greater transparency in future. In this case when Xi went to Wuhan to greet the people in empty streets people yelled at him from balconies in much the same way that Scott Morrison got yelled at during the bushfires.

I think it is noteworthy and admirable that people aggrieved with the regime express their opinions quite vocally. There seems to be no fear of personal repercussions. The account in Der Spiegel (see below) says this of now famous whistle-blower Li Wenliang:

    Ophthalmologist Li Wenliang was so ill by the end of January that he had to be transferred to the intensive care unit and intubated. On Jan. 27, he defied the official ban on speaking to the press and gave an interview to the state-run Beijing Youth Daily using a messaging app. He could no longer speak. On Feb. 5 and 6, his condition deteriorated further and he had to be placed on life support. The hospital reported on his treatment using the microblogging platform Weibo. Some 17 million users followed the increasingly hopeless developments late into the night.

    Shortly before 3 a.m., the doctors lost the battle to save their colleague’s life. It unleashed an overwhelming wave of sympathy, with 870,000 users expressing their anger and grief on the internet, leading the state to ultimately abandon its censorship efforts.

The Economist (no link, I have the hard copy) reports Xi acknowledging that feelings would be raw after experiencing lock-down for so long. He said:

“They have emotions to vent. We must be tolerant and forgiving. We must continue to step up the intensity of our work in all aspects.”

The notion of ‘forgiving’ sits ill with free speech.

Xi may have been referring to an eruption of emotion on 6 March. The newly appointed party Wuhan party boss Wang Zhonglin told party officials that a campaign of “gratitude education” was needed to make sure people could understand what the Chinese state had done for them in this emergency. His words repeated on local media sites provoked a storm of outrage on social media, and were soon deleted. The new party chief of Hubei issued a clarifying statement that “Wuhan people are heroes” and that he was sincerely grateful to them.

Der Spiegel has now published a blow by blow account of how the local authorities covered up and lied in A Failed Deception: The Early Days of the Coronavirus Outbreak in Wuhan.

By early January medical staff themselves were catching the disease. News was leaking via chat rooms to epidemiologists and virologists in Beijing.


    On Jan. 11, [the Wuhan health authority] reported that there hadn’t been a single known case among medical staff. In chatrooms, though, the opposite claim was spreading, something that epidemiologist Li Lanjuan learned on Jan. 17. Alarmed, she reported to the National Health Commission and requested permission to drive to Wuhan immediately. Officials in Beijing agreed. On Jan. 18, Li left for the city together with five other epidemiologists. It was only after this visit by the third Beijing delegation that the world would find out what was happening in Wuhan.

    The team visited several hospitals, the Huanan market and the Center for Disease Control located only 300 meters away. The experts no longer had any doubts about human-to-human transmission of the virus or that medical personnel had themselves become infected. In a confidential meeting, Li urged that the highest disease alert level – normally reserved for plague or cholera outbreaks – be declared. She proposed sealing off the city of Wuhan. There were only a few days left until the peak of the New Year travel season, and the concern was that the disease could spread throughout the country.

    The experts flew back to Beijing on Jan. 19 armed with these recommendations. At around midnight, they were received by the Chinese health minister, and the next morning, they attended a cabinet meeting in Zhongnanhai, the innermost circle of power in the Chinese leadership. They issued their warnings at the meeting.

    It was then, on Monday, Jan. 20, that the Chinese and the rest of the world would learn of the shocking news from Chinese media. Three days later, in the early morning hours of Jan. 23, Beijing moved to seal Wuhan off from the outside world.

If you read the eyewitness accounts by medical staff in Wuhan case files the first is by Wu Feng, a doctor from the southern Guangdong province who volunteered to help out in Wuhan after being approached. She boarded a plane bound for the city as part of a 128-member medical support team sent from Guangdong province late on the night of 24 January.

She was part of the 42,000 medical staff who were brought to Wuhan, housed in hotels, fed and transported to and from work every day. The logistics are mind-blowing. Basically I can’t believe the operation was organised from a standing start on 20 January. An investigation might reveal whether it was a pre-prepared strategy, or whether planning started earlier when Beijing first began getting information in diverse ways. If Taiwan acted from January 1 it is more than likely someone with real clout in Beijing formulated plans on or before the end of the first week of January.

Which would mean the three weeks were not wasted, probably not more than one.

Der Spiegel reports:

    In March, an international team of epidemiologists calculated that the number of infections would have been three-times, seven-times or 18-times higher respectively if China had imposed the lockdown on Wuhan one, two or three weeks later than it did. It is difficult to imagine how many cases and deaths there might be in the world today had the country waited.

    But the same study estimates that the numbers would have been 66 percent, 86 percent or 95 percent lower respectively had the government closed off the city one, two or three weeks earlier than it did.

There is evidence now that the virus had already escaped Wuhan and Hubei to other parts of China and indeed overseas before the end of 2019. So there is no realistic scenario in which the virus could have been contained and killed off in central China. Europe, the US and many other countries were completely unready for such a virus. What happened in Italy, New York, Britain and elsewhere would have still happened. Only the timing would have changed.

The Wuhan case files and the graphic accounts in the Der Spiegel article indicate that China too was far less ready than say Taiwan. The scenes described resonate with accounts from Italy. Here’s Wu Feng using garbage bags as foot covering on 11 February, about three weeks into her mission:

In the beginning Wu Feng says they had to wear two to three layers of protective clothing, it was so thin and weak. At first they had to change in a dark room without light. Ask her what she thinks of the CIA report cited by Lai-Ha Chan and Pak K Lee that China was manipulating the timing of announcements so that it could “hoard” personal protective equipment around that time.

It is significant, I think, how much Chinese society has been internationalised. Wu Feng had personal contacts overseas, including the USA where many Chinese have gone to study or work. The Der Spiegel story tells of virologist Gao Fu, the head of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who on 30 December picked up on the internet rumors about an internal memo from the Wuhan Health Commission on the outbreak of an undefined lung disease. He called an official at the authority and was exasperated by the evasive answers he was given. He then sent the first of three teams of experts to Wuhan. The Beijing office of the WHO was informed the next day. shortly thereafter he was on the phone to his mate Robert Redfield, then (and still) director of the Center for Disease Control in the US. In a subsequent conversation it is said Gao cried.

Yes, Beijing knew early that something terrible was afoot. So did America.

China will try very hard to make sure they are not caught short again. The problem is that they are likely to try to plug these informal channels. In all probability they won’t succeed.

What kind of society is China becoming?

If you have been following closely you will have noted that Wu Feng volunteered, she was not commanded to go. Chinese fish monger Chen Qingbo in Wuhan was a small business owner, with two trucks and three employees. He owned two apartments apart from the one he was living in.

Laboratory tester Dr An Taixue talks of changing antibody test brands five times in two weeks.

This is not a command economy. My best window into Chinese society has come from companion TV watching with my son, who is trapped with us after coming for a short transitional stay in February. When I first saw the Chinese dating TV show If you are the one on SBS Demand I thought it unwatchable. After four or five times I started to become interested in the humans in front of me. I was astonished when my wife also became genuinely engaged. Here is the program info, because unfortunately the SBS rights expire tomorrow:

    With a viewing audience of up to 50 million per episode, this popular Chinese dating show is a cultural phenomenon. A lone male suitor has to impress a panel of 24 single women, who can then register their interest or disinterest in the man through the use of their podium lights. Popular host Meng Fei oversees the action in front of a large studio audience.

The program has normally been shot in Nanking, a city of 8.5 million approximately east of Wuhan. I’ve seen the guest shows they did in Sydney, and in Singapore. I’d say that if you want to use capitalism to become who you want to be, China is the place to do it. The young people who inhabit the show are mostly middle class university graduates, from early 20s to mid 30s.

As an example, one of the ‘contestants’ (boys seeking a date) had worked successfully for some years as a wedding designer. He didn’t like the way his bosses treated him, so he started his own company as a wedding tiara supplier.

The market is so large in China that practically anything is possible. And the available discretionary spending compares well with ours.

The show is hosted by Grandpa Meng, who with a PhD in philosophy (he also owns a chain of restaurants, including one in Sydney) is supposed to provide wisdom. He sets the mood, challenges people and jerks them around a bit, providing entertainment. The real wisdom comes from Mr Jiang, who is a very perceptive psychologist, and Ms Huang. Together they oil the process and I think look after the interests of the participants, so that no-one is psychologically damaged.

At times you get the impression that if you haven’t attained a senior position in a large company or started your own by your late 20s, you aren’t really trying.

Regional differences are strong, many of the participants have studied and/or worked overseas. Several contestant have been Taiwanese. Quite simply Taiwan is Chinese, with open channels to the mainland commercially, culturally and in terms of people movement.

The picture you get is of people who are to me surprisingly individualistic and hedonistic (‘clubbing’ seems a favourite past-time), super respectful of parents, but quite clear that they will make their own decisions.

Please don’t get me wrong. The people on the show can be silly and make the same mistakes in relating to other people as anyone. It’s just that what you see on screen has extreme cognitive dissonance with the notion of a people oppressed by an ugly communist party dictatorship.

Clearly the show is edited, but it is definitely not scripted. There is evident spontaneity of action and reaction.

The program has excellent production values and has been running for 11 years, typically with 40 to 50 episodes in a series.

While we are here, I’m told that Three lives, three worlds, the Pillow Book is far and away the most popular series on Chinese TV, with over 70 episodes in the first series and over 50 in the second. If communism was meant to get rid of heavenly beings, it failed.

I do actually find that one unwatchable, but it’s like taking Greek myths and legends as the basis of escapist TV.

Finally, take a look at Digital Deities and Galactic Guardians – How China is Invoking Ancient Gods in Cutting Edge Tech. China is incorporating its myths and legends into its digital future.

They too busy becoming themselves to think about being like anyone else.

Which brings me to the question of Tibet and the Uighurs of Xinjiang Province (apparently one of 55 recognised ethnic minorities).

I’m told that the two big things to remember about China is that the PRC desperately want to avoid a repeat of Tiananmen Square, and that the internal diversity makes it difficult to keep the bits together.

Quite simply, both Tibet and Xinjiang should be their own country, like Mongolia. What we have is grotesque ethnic cleansing, not unknown elsewhere in the world.

My sense is that Chinese autocracy cannot tolerate a powerful god.

The biggest worry about China is that over the long term it is unstable, and is almost bound to become kleptocratic, like Russia.

Meanwhile Donald Trump…

In the beginning of April Elizabeth Drew pronounced that The Trump Presidency Turns Deadly. Trump is mainly successful at blame shifting. In future people will be left with:


    The hardest question to face, and one that will be long debated, is how many people died needlessly as a result of Trump’s leadership.

By the end of April we have Fintan O’Toole with Donald Trump has destroyed the country he promised to make great again The world has loved, hated and envied the US, Now, for the first time, we pity it


    Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.

    However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.

    Will American prestige ever recover from this shameful episode? The US went into the coronavirus crisis with immense advantages: precious weeks of warning about what was coming, the world’s best concentration of medical and scientific expertise, effectively limitless financial resources, a military complex with stunning logistical capacity and most of the world’s leading technology corporations. Yet it managed to make itself the global epicentre of the pandemic.

    As the American writer George Packer puts it in the current edition of the Atlantic, “The United States reacted … like Pakistan or Belarus – like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.”

    It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster, quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time – wilfully, malevolently, vindictively.

With that he is just warming up.

Previous virus post: WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM TAIWAN COV19

47 thoughts on “We need to talk about China”

  1. Sorry about the length. It’s 4,133 on the counter.

    Generally speaking I think posts should be 5-600 words, or max out at about 1200. I think this year I’m writing nearly as much but posting much less.

    I’ll try to behave!

  2. Brian: If Xi Jinping is smart he will learn lessons from what happened as a result of failings in the early Chinese response to the crisis and the way structural problems within China did not help. (Prime example was the initial shutting up of the Dr who first realized there is a problem.)
    He might also realize that China’s bullying response to things like Australia’s demand for an investigation and the sudden action on Barley will generate push back and reduce China’s desirability both as a customer and supplier.
    Doesn’t help either that the current congress will result in more problems with Hong Kong, particularly in terms of distorting the treaty with the UK.
    Australia also has a lot of thinking to do about its commercial relationship with China and free trade in general.

  3. I was going to do another post, but I’ll do it here in brief.

    The anti-dumping thing stems from the fact that China in settling its trade war with the US promised to but $40 billion extra of agricultural products from the US.

    In my view that was inappropriate, because governments, not even China’s don’t buy agricultural products from other countries. In China this would be done by wholesalers and entities within the supply chain. Under WTO rules that would be done on quality, price, ability to supply etc. not on politics.

    China’s case was bodgie for a variety of reasons, like 1. the Murray-Darling scheme is not a subsidy to barley growers, 2. nor is drought relief and 3. the base price they used was Egyptian barley, which has nothing to do with the cost of production of ours.

    China’s case will probably get knocked out in the WTO hearing, but that could take years.

    You know that it is really about politics, because the ambassador and the Chinese state owned media said as much. It’s part of a ‘good cop’ ‘bad cop’ stunt that the Americans have used in the past in trade negotiations.

    It tells the Chinese traders, especially after it was repeated in beef, that if you want to buy Australian your supply will likely be disrupted.

    Australia’s action was like cutting off you own legs. Morrison doesn’t control his coalition partners, nor his own back bench, but this was his own foreign minister leading with her chin.

    They are unfit for government.

  4. I talked tonight with my son Mark about Tibet and the Uighurs of Xinjiang Province, putting to him my theory that the PRC couldn’t play second fiddle to an all powerful god or a figure like the Dalai Llama.

    He said maybe so but the more important thing is that the PRC actually believe in stuff.

    When the Maoists took over they got rid of arranged marriages on the basis that individual persons, using their reason, should be able to determine their own future, effectively liberating women.

    So it’s not just evil power-hungry freaks wanting control.

    This story should end in democracy, but they think that will just embed undesirable folk customs.

    Essentially they want the Tibetans and the Uighurs just to be sensible and give up their religion.

    Marx did not understand how to effect change in the human sphere. This mob have problems also.

    I’d suggest that they are not on their own.

  5. I have thought for some time now that the voter sentiments that sustain Trump may be so deeply embedded and so divisive that the US may never recover, whoever is in power. Even if Democrats take Congress and the Presidency, I expect there will be a very divided country, roughly along N-S lines.
    My American friends and family are in the main, Democrats. But a few are Republican, and they are absolutely intolerant of any criticism of Trump or his governance. They perceive no threat to institutions, truth, justice, and the American way. ( I recall that from the Superman series in my childhood)
    The Democrats, in the group that I know, openly claim that Trump is a disaster but that he will go away at the next election, unless he rigs it – which he is already trying to do e.g. limiting vote opportunities such as postal votes. They seem to believe that without Trump, all will be good again.
    I don’t sense urgency or deep concern bordering on the fear that their great country is further diminished each day. Hand-on-heart belief that the US is indestructible seems to shield them from what is increasingly obvious to the world – the US has surrendered its primacy and government has become so white-anted that its global respect is rapidly diminishing.

    Increasingly we are concerned by our reliance on the US as our strongest “friend” – can we trust them? Possibly not as evidenced by their withdrawal from many agreements and institutions worldwide. Who would replace them? China has come out more overtly than ever as a bully as they weave their influence across the globe.
    My view is that we develop our own manufacturing base that relies upon our own resources and does not place us at the economic outcome dictated or driven by outside interests.

  6. Geoff, I think that is pretty much spot on, and I think the problem runs deep. The constitution was flawed from the outset, and the ethos was to privilege male property owners. The First Nations people and the African slaves were subhuman.

    In recent times Newt Gingrich from 1993 started to oppose anything Clinton wanted to do on political grounds rather than on merit. This became extreme when Obama was elected.

    The Americans invented the term ‘gerrymander’ but it is now used on a war footing by the republicans to try to suppress minorities from access to voting.

    The attitude to small government is such that the place doesn’t work anymore. States are responsible for delivering health, schooling, justice, policing, welfare etc. but they are still writing out cheques.

    Internationally, Obama made some mistakes, notably extra-judicial killing by using drones which he took a personal interest in, but he saw the US as part of a multi-polar world and had a strategy of working with Europe, China and other powers.

    However, I think you are right about the future. Joe Biden has little to commend him except that he isn’t Trump. Obama seems to have moved to show that he will became very active in the campaign, but I’m not sure that will be enough to bring out the vote, but there is a new complication with a third candidate Justin Amash who could cause some trouble In November.

    Not sure who he will hurt most, but if elected Biden lacks vision, understanding and probably energy to make much difference.

  7. Getting back to China, I guess my main plea is that we have to try to look beyond the media discourse about China, which appears to be dominated by the security boffins and, frankly, xenophobic racists. I know very little about China, and had intended to research Deng Xiaoping before finishing the post.

    I just didn’t get around to it. Deng Xiaoping’s time came in 1978, following Mao, and is credited as being the architect of the modernisation of China. I’m told he had a good look at Singapore when he was setting up ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristic’s’. In our hallway on my way to this computer I pulled down one of Mark’s books, a 800p or so tome with the title Becoming China: The Story Behind the State by Jeanne-Marie Gescher where the blurb says:

      Despite decades of a relatively open door relationship with the rest of the world, China is still a mystery to many outside it. A world of its own, China is both a microcosm and an amplification of questions and events in the wider world. China’s story offers us an opportunity to hold a mirror to ourselves: to our own assumptions, to our values, and to our ideas about the most important question of all: what it means to be human in the world of the state.

    Gescher is a British barrister who has lived, worked and thought in China for over 25 years and I understand provided advice to the British embassy there.

    The blurb also tells us that Deng saw “mind emancipation” as a central issue. Sounds a bit like Paulo Friere’s philosophy in running literacy programs for the illiterate in South America, until he was run out of town.

    That kind of discourse resonates more with what I see on the screen, where young middle class people, like ours, don’t seem to think much about politics. Yet we are also told by people who should know that they all know about and at times talk about Tiananmen Square which happened on Deng’s watch.

    I think we need to understand that there is much we don’t know.

  8. Yes there is so much we don’t understand about the Chinese culture and nation. When I was a child the Chinese person was characterized as a small diminutive figure, thin, bent over working in a rice paddy, and wearing a conical hat that itself contributed to the pathos the whole description intended. I think that stereotype persists to some extent today, and I’ll maintain it has prevented Australia from accepting the worth of an extraordinary culture.
    China is not an “emerging”, it is a re-emerging economy after being prey to a number of invaders – Ambi, our resident historian may care to offer some examples. History will show that China has suffered greatly in the hands of others, but now has developed as an industrial giant.
    That we don’t understand their history and culture inhibits our ability to work with them in a non-adversarial manner. Maybe Andrews has it right, I don’t know. But it’s a really good time to get some understanding.

  9. Yes, Brian Deng Xiaoping was a critical force in reintroducing capitalism into a country where small entrepreneurs, farmers and city-dwellers had traditionally been active and alert to opportunity.

    If I recall correctly, Deng (and even more senior) Liu Shao Chi had been persecuted and sidelined in the tumultuous and tormenting “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”. Those years were devastating. But they followed on not long after the famines of the late 1950s (generally now understood to have been a result of Mao’s policies).

    It’s not as if the rice-growing regions were battered by unusual typhoons, landslides, droughts or volcanic mayhem.

    No, the dislocations were deliberate Govt policy.
    I mean, with victory declared in 1949, there had already been plenty of time by the late 1950s, to confiscate wealthy landowners’ holdings, execute any recalcitrant business owners – wipe the slate clean.

    The Kuomintang had fled offshore to Taiwan.

    Let the Glorious Victorious Chinese Revolution proceed.
    “The Great Leap Forward” – an instance of Mao’s ‘vision’ were the ‘backyard smelters’ which of course produced rubbish. Mao Tse Tung Thought can’t defeat scientific metallurgy.

    “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom; let (many?) Schools of Thought Contend” – yes, allow non-Communist views to be aired and follow up with a salutary crackdown on dissident voices.

    Mao had a history of disposing of political rivals, long before 1949. After Liberation he felt just as liberated in pursuing his ‘Thought’ and vanquishing Party foes.

    It’s been a long, hard road.
    The Chinese people deserve better: they deserve to re-emerge in a freer, more humane polity.

    The glories of ancient China were perhaps reserved for the courts of Emperors and warlords. [As ancient democratic Athens was built on the labours of non-citizen slaves and reserved its civic roles to men and patricians.] But China has stood up and all Chinese now know much more than ever about their literary & artistic & dramatic heritage.

    Chinese opera and plays were restricted to Mrs Mao’s (Jiang Quing) drear productions in the mid-Sixties. What a waste!! What a travesty! How boring, dull and ignorant.

    Mao proclaimed at his victory speech, that “the Chinese people have stood up!”

    And then spent the years from 1949 to 1976 (twenty-seven years!) keeping them supine under his despotism. Worse than any Emperor of the past? Over to you, readers.

    Oh yes, in fairness the literacy rates improved, the rodents were exterminated, the ‘barefoot doctors’ likely helped many rural folk, and everyone got fed.

    [Of course, I’m no historian, and all of the above is merely one person’s opinion.]

    Thanks for your kind words, Geoff.
    It’s not clear to me that most Chinese in the PRC know about the TianAnMen demonstations of 1989; I hope they do.

    By the way, I’d like to thank Sam Dastyari for dramatising (a few years ago) the way even a Federal politician can be leaned on.

  10. Ambi, Pheww!! and thanks for opening a window of insight into China we don’t seem to know.

  11. If you can bear it, there’s a biography written by Jung Chang* with Jon Halliday, Mao, the Untold Story .

    It’s a bitter and comprehensive book. Jung Chang as a young woman was an enthusiastic Red Guard.

    She rose to renown with her earlier book, Wild Swans a tale of her own family through three generations. Her parents were steadfast members of the Chinese CP. A heartbreaking chronology of modern China through the experiences of one family.

    Let a hundred flowers bloom.

    BTW, I’m certainly not against commercial trade with China, nor against Chinese youngsters studying here. It’s a squeamishness about 20th Century dictatorships that motivates me.

  12. China plans a Chinese” One Belt, One Road “ controlled by the Chinese Communist dictators.

    I’m more in favour of many, many alternative belts and roads for economic commerce.

    The vast numbers of Western useful idiots all but ensure the East will get their control.

  13. Jumpy you might be right, but I suspect that of those affected by the belt and road project, many will actually be better off for it. It can’t be assessed entirely in western terms.
    Now if you argue nations or sovereignty, there could be a robust discussion.

  14. Culture and the flow of power is an interesting thing, ditto the assumptions made when trying to deal with foreign cultures and the people who are members of these cultures. Sometimes this can be very difficult. My astute wife was particularly fascinated by Warndilyagwa culture and the differences between that culture and ours. However, after eight years she would admit that: “I start to think that I have got their culture worked out then something happens and they do something quite different that what I expected.” Part of her problem may have been caused by the changes taking place in Warndilyagwa culture as a result of close contact with European culture and even the effect on a number of influential Aborigines of spending time over the years with my wife. (Most of us are not particularly aware of our culture. Studying a foreign culture and language often teaches a lot about our culture and language.)
    Perhaps both us and the Chinese need to learn more about each others culture. For example, the barley war suggests ineptness on both sides. A more subtle approach may have convinced China that they needed to take a lead role in setting up an impartial inquiry. A smarter China may also have responded to Australia’s initiative in a smarter way. The ambassadors Trumpeting of China’s intention of using the economic stick was a brilliant way of getting Australia behind Morrison and hostile to China. (Shame they don’t appear to have heard of “Big Stick Policy”:
    “Big stick ideology, big stick diplomacy, or big stick policy refers to President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy: “speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Roosevelt described his style of foreign policy as “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of …”)

  15. Ambi, concerning Tiananmen Square, I had a couple of links to interviews with recently published Chinese writers who were adamant that the massacre was a lively issue in discussion among the people. Mark tells me that the PRC are very aware, and basically terrified of a similar uprising. He’s read a lot of stuff, taught a lot of Chinese students, including Masters level and has worked on a project in Oz with a Chinese govt official aiming to get Chinese credit cards accepted here, so that they didn’t have to buy $US.

    He doesn’t talk about China on social media, because he gets a lot of blowback.

    I’m concerned about the present and the future, and understanding the past in so far as it adds insight.

    My view is that democracy is the worst system of government, apart from all the rest. A benevolent dictatorship can perform well, but they are rare and you don’t get too many in a row.

    In the case of Covid 19, I don’t think too many countries could have suppressed a full-blown outbreak the way that the Chinese did, which had already seeded smaller infestations in the rest of the country

    Mariana Mazzucato and Giulio Quaggiotto have an intertesting article – The Big Failure of Small Government:

      It is no coincidence that countries with mission-driven governments have fared better in the COVID-19 crisis than have countries beholden to the cult of efficiency. Effective governance, it turns out, cannot be conjured up at will, because it requires investment in state capacity.

      Decades of privatization, outsourcing, and budget cuts in the name of “efficiency” have significantly hampered many governments’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, successful responses by other governments have shown that investments in core public-sector capabilities make all the difference in times of emergency. The countries that have handled the crisis well are those where the state maintains a productive relationship with value creators in society, by investing in critical capacities and designing private-sector contracts to serve the public interest.

    Then later:

      The contrasts between the US and UK, on the one hand, and Vietnam, South Korea, and New Zealand, on the other, offer important lessons. Far from retreating into the role of fixer of market failures and outsourcer of services, governments should invest in their own critical faculties. The pandemic has laid bare the need for more state productive capacity, government procurement capabilities, symbiotic public-private collaborations, digital infrastructure, and clear privacy and security protocols.

      Such a mission-driven approach to public administration should not be confused with top-down decision-making. Rather, it should be viewed as the best way to ensure dynamism, by nurturing fruitful relationships between innovators and tapping into the value of distributed intelligence.

    They don’t mention China, but the marshalling of 42,000 medicos to help Wuhan was basically incredible. Then an Australian restaurant owner in Beijing applied for funding help available during their lockdown. Money was in her account four days later.

    Our infrastructure is clunky by contrast. We chose Treasury for JobKeeper, because it was the only thing that would work. That took I think five weeks to produce anything. The Pakistanis used mobile phones.

  16. That’s a very interesting article Brian.

    Glad to hear that many Chinese Mark has talked to know about the Tiananmen protests and their bloody suppression.

    Democracy is the least worst system, I agree. It’s simplistic to say, but I like this:

    democracy is that system under which you are permitted to wonder out loud, how the nation would be going under really good management

    I hope the Chinese will have democracy in my day.

    Remember the pleasures of 1989? We had to tell our children how “We thought we would never see the Berlin Wall come down! ”

    On “Insiders” yesterday it was claimed that our PM had heard from Pres Macron that a European demand for a COVID inquiry was coming soon. Thus our Foreign Minister was not, in effect, chancing her arm and going off on a little frolic when she advocated an independent inquiry. So it is said.

  17. Ambi, what I see or saw on the screen in the Chinese dating show (the SBS licence ran out before we tried to tune in last night) was young people with freedom (I don’t use the word lightly) to shape their own lives and pursue their dreams in a cultural/economic environment that compares well with any you would find anywhere.

    However, their political freedom of speech is certainly constrained, but not in the manner of Saddam Hussein, where it was said that if you criticised him at a family barbeque on th weekend you would likely be presented to your family on Monday in a bag cut into small pieces.

    The ophthalmologist who blew the whistle was not punished, just told to shut up and not spread rumours. However, part of the point was that he as an ophthalmologist was being pressed into service to treat people with lung complaints, which should have alarmed anyone who thought about it.

    I too hope that the Chinese will have freedom of expression, freedom of assembly etc, though I’m just a bit conflicted about tolerating people’s freedom to be a bigot as George Brandis once boasted.

    On your last point, my view is that if our PM knew that Macron and the EU were planning an inquiry proposal, then clearly the matter was in hand. Let them put their case and then support it rather than get out in front of someone else’s initiative.

    Especially in a context where doing so would make you look like a tool of the USA.

  18. Ambi, I need to set the record straight. What I said was:

      Mark tells me that the PRC are very aware, and basically terrified of a similar uprising.

    He has a PhD in sociology and would not make a statement like that without evidence. At the same time I didn’t ask him about his sources.

    My statement about the people talking about Tiananmen Square was from interviews with Chinese fiction writers, whose statements are more likely to be based on their experience rather than systematic research. Nevertheless I would tend to believe them.

    On our demand for an inquiry Hamish McDonald’s piece Journalists on the ramparts tells an interesting story of the whole event. He says that Morrison did talk to Trump. And:

      it became clear that Canberra was way out on its own. Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson and other leaders phoned by Morrison demurred at the timing and nature of the proposal.

    However, that appears to be after Marise Payne had floated the idea. You need to read the whole article. It seems the press are not merely reporters, but work hard to ‘make’ the news.

    I didn’t know that the Australian Strategic Policy Institute was financed by the defence department, military suppliers including Lockheed Martin, BAE, Northrop Grumman, Thales and Raytheon, and the governments of Japan and Taiwan.

  19. Brian

    I have no doubt at all that the political leaders in the PRC well remember the “Tiananmen Incident”, and could well be terrified of a similar upheaval. [A salient feature on 3rd June 1989 was the attempt by thousands of Beijing residents to block the Army’s advance towards the student protestors. Some dragged soldiers from tanks and murdered them on the spot.]

    But it seems that Xi has been amassing personal power – extending his possible term for instance (it would be obvious post-Mao, why a term limit should be set) – and Xi has allowed a “personality cult” to develop. That has chilling echos of Mao. (For younger readers, think Kim in North Korea.)

    Luttwak says that Chinese “elites” (plutocrats? Party warlords?) may install a younger “Gorbachev ” person to replace Xi if he becomes a figure of ridicule.

    Those young, free spirits you saw on Chinese TV, may be sick and tired of hearing lies. I’m not sure, but think it’s possible.

    By the way, in his memoir* smuggled out of house arrest, Zhao Zhiyang advocated a free press and an elected democracy for China with an end to the monopoly power of the Communist Party. He said China might best transition gradually to that state of affairs. Zhao was regarded as an economic reformer in the late 1980s; reportedly he opposed the army crackdown. Deng was for harsh measures.

    * “Prisoner of the State”

    Edward Luttwak, no Sinologist but a writer on strategy, opines that the regime’s mishandling of COVID may herald Xi’s downfall.

  20. “”……Chinese fiction writers, whose statements are more likely to be based on their experience rather than systematic research. Nevertheless I would tend to believe them. “”

    Oh yeah, sounds legit alright.

    Brian, I’m confused about the underlying reasons for sometimes advocating Australia lead from the front, be vocal as an independent Nation with a moral obligation to make the World a better place and flopping to shut up and don’t provoke China out of pragmatic cowardice.

    Fair dinkum you’re all over the place with National priorities depending on your personal biases toward every topic it seems.

    I’m just looking for a common thread to your base ideology.

  21. Brian: “Edward Luttwak, no Sinologist but a writer on strategy, opines that the regime’s mishandling of COVID may herald Xi’s downfall.” May explain the clumsy reaction to what Australia did.
    Jumpy: “Brian, I’m confused about the underlying reasons for sometimes advocating Australia lead from the front, be vocal as an independent Nation with a moral obligation to make the World a better place and flopping to shut up and don’t provoke China out of pragmatic cowardice.”
    Unfortunately diplomacy done well often requires something a bit more subtle than sticking to a consistent line always driven by moral obligation to someone or other.
    From the short term perspective of a WA barley grower Morrison may be looking like a a bumblefoot, particularly if the farmer forgets that the Chinese were already looking at barley dumping.
    From a longer term perspective Morrison may end up being seen as firing a needed warning shot that may inspire a more unified standing up against the local bully. Or making it easier for Australia and others to wind back some of the free trading arrangements that seems to have been benefiting China.

  22. Jumpy, my life is a journey. I just don’t feel like attempting to state anything you would recognise as a ‘base ideology’ right now. As it happens last December I started a post about my life journey called Great is truth: reflections. I’m a truth seeker, but not sure I can find the words to tell you all about it.

    Or to spend the time.

    On China, I struggle to know where to start. What I wanted to achieve was to put a dent in the received view of the China bashers which seems to dominate.

    That said China’s hamfisted propaganda attempts and the latest developments on Hong Kong haven’t helped.

    Ambi, in my limited understanding I understood that the main reason Xi couldn’t (I say couldn’t rather than wouldn’t) nominate a successor is that Xi upset a lot of people in cleaning out corruption, so anyone he nominated would have a “X” on his back.

    The problem is that Xi is mortal, and is still vulnerable to a clean coup. Problem is China is becoming too big to fail without causing disruptions everywhere.

    I believe China’s economy is 40% trade exposed. They do aim to reduce that, but it will take decades.

    I’ve been looking for a really insightful analysis, but can’t find it so far.

    Tonight I found China Is Its Own Worst Enemy by Brahma Chellaney. He catalogues China’s sins, but doesn’t point out that the US has upped its aggressive acts this year around China.

    He’s right though in saying empathy and compassion would have served China better.

    Then there was The Future of Global Power by Joschka Fischer, the old German Green Party leader who I think was foreign minister early this century.

    He’s right that China is being more strategic than Trump and thinks China will emerge the winner. Not anytime soon, I think, and anyone who thinks they can see long-term should be dismissed. A bit Eurocentric.

    Finally Adam Triggs does well in what he knows about in The decline in America’s financial supremacy just got faster:

      Donald Trump and the Fed are combining with Covid-19 to undermine the dominance of the US dollar

    As he says, there is no real alternative, but if the dollar is dethroned it will be America’s doing, not China’s.

  23. Just want to make the point that megaphone diplomacy is a really bad idea in most circumstances. It’s usually intended for home consumption.

    The outcomes are usually unintended and not often desirable.

    You would have to ask what Australia’s leaders intended, because what they got was no surprise.

  24. Thanks, Brian.

    For me, China is a mystery wrapped inside a conundrum.
    Yes, there are “China-bashers” around, but even in Australia we have dozens of knowledgeable, experienced people who can spot nuances and the reality behind Cina’s megaphone bluster.

    Let’s hope a whole lot of them work in or advise DFAT, our diplomatic corps, trading and investment firms large and small.
    Personally, I thought Marise Payne’s call for an international inquiry was couched in fairly neutral language.

    As contrasted within days by threatening statements from Chinese official representatives here and State run media in China. (But that’s my opinion.)

    I think we would best be served by putting aside President Trump’s outpourings. He Twits. He seeks and revels in any public storm. He is Stormy. When I were a lad, there was a commonplace observation “any publicity is good publicity”. Shameless but accurate, for his purposes. Keep opponents wrong-footed. Make the news story himself. If he contradicts himself, that merely makes the news outlets more likely to focus on HIM.

    I think the method most national leaders and bureaucracies have adopted is to step around him – where possible. Including the US bureaucracy. Their independent judiciary and press, their not-yet-subjugated State and local authorities likewise – where possible.

    BTW, Mr Turnbull has a very frank chapter about dealing with China, in his recent memoir.

    • Personally, I thought Marise Payne’s call for an international inquiry was couched in fairly neutral language.

      As contrasted within days by threatening statements from Chinese official representatives here and State run media in China. (But that’s my opinion.)

    I’d agree, Ambi, and I’m open to the notion that it was a spontaneous but measured reaction to journo questioning.

    Journos often degrade the discourse, and David Speers is one of them. Study his interview with Penny Wong on Insiders last Sunday as an example.

    The Chinese response was OTT, and Morrison’s response was quite calm. However, at that point two things happened. Morrison instead of telling his troups to pull their heads in turned the issue into an international campaign. And the backbench inflamed the whole thing, especially George Christiansen and Concetta Anna Fierravanti-Wells. The latter was unbelievable.

    I expect the Chinese are unlikely to understand the ‘broad church’ notion espoused by the Liberal Party.

    Then enter all the usual anti-China suspects in the security establishment and media.

    At the same time Xi had made a promise to buy more Agricultural products from the US, and it was very easy to dust off some complaints they had been running for years and bring them to a head.

  25. Haven’t read Mr Turnbull, Ambi, not enough time. I know he had dealings there but put his foot in it big time by quoting Chinese liberation statement in parliament, and essentially claiming solidarity.

  26. Forgive me, back on Trump again…
    Does this fit Trump?
    Avoid abstract ideas – appeal to the emotions.
    Constantly repeat just a few ideas. Use stereotyped
    phrases.
    Give only one side of the argument.
    Continuously criticize your opponents.
    Pick out one special “enemy” for special vilification.

    I reckon it’s a good fit. I got it after watching a really good WW2 doco and one episode featured Goebels who enunciated the principles above, Turns out, those came from Hitler, and Goebels expanded on them.

  27. Avoid abstract ideas – appeal to the emotions.
    Constantly repeat just a few ideas. Use stereotyped
    phrases. Give only one side of the argument.

    Sounds like bog standard advertising so far 🙂

  28. Brian, wow, when do you do all this reading? Do you have time to eat or sleep? Thanks a lot!

  29. Christoph, greetings!

      Brian, wow, when do you do all this reading? Do you have time to eat or sleep?

    Christoph, the short answer is, barely. I’ve been busier since Covid-19 appeared.

    We’ve been interested in the rationality with which Germany has approached the virus. My good wife said the other day that we should have emigrated there. I’ve no doubt that the close up view may not be so favourable.

  30. Yeah OK, Zoot but my intention was to juxtapose Trump’s MO to Hitler and Goebbels. The Germany of the time and much of the world were blind, or would not see, what Hitler et al were up to. Same I think with Trump’s republican governance.

  31. Geoff, I was criticising advertising not your comparison (with which I agree 100%). I think the case can also be made that Rupert Murdoch follows the Dr Goebbels play book.

  32. Yes Zoot, and many other “iconic” establishments. More recently I am suspicioning the elite universities.

  33. Geoff

    A close look at the PR outfits of Australian Universities may reveal a rottenness, in my opinion.

    They transpose methods of commercial PR to enterprises which ostensibly are sites of rational and open-minded enquiry, transmitters of the highest culture and deeoest knowledge, guides for the most intelligent students.

    In my (jaundiced) view, the methods – as outlined by you and zoot – are basically at odds with the traditional ethos of the university.

    Of course, any distorting effects this might or might not have had on University practices and attitudes, is open to debate.

    But I will be told that I am
    * old fashioned
    * blind to the financial realities faced by University VCs
    * naively ignoring the reduction in Federal funding for universities
    * bound to an outdated concept of “truth”

    What is truth? asked Pontius Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.

    – Francis Bacon (??)

    Cheers

  34. Ambi I was referring to the Ivy Leauge American universities that whatever their academic prowess might be, their culture is rooted in privilege and entitlement.

    I am conflicted by what I can say about Aussie universities. But of most I have had connections with, my opinion is that their management is rather sludgy, and desperately short of creative flair. Many academics are especially fine people, but as a management team, whose collective IQ should, unassisted, bore a hole to the other side of the earth, that team succumbs to an appallingly ponderous academic environment governed by an administration drawn from the same DNA as the less talented academics. I think that is a bit different to the US univ
    I can’t believe I just wrote that…
    But I think that is different in large part to America’s Ivy League

  35. That’s about right on universities, Geoff and Ambi, from what I hear. Covid 19 has smashed their model, of course, and the government is entirely unsympathetic. I think at the leadership level, Libs and Nats, probably anti-intellectual.

    US I wouldn’t know, but their best is very good.

  36. On the US and China, a weird question entered my head. Currently were are you more likely to be killed by the police?

    The US record is mind-boggling, highlighted by a recent killing in Minneapolis, where the FBI are investigating the death of a black man after footage shows officer kneeling on his neck while telling him to get up.

    That was shocking, but what really shocked me was when they said that killings by police in the US run to more than 1100 each year. That’s over three per day.

    I tried to verify it and found this site on police shootings. If you add up 2019 that makes 1004.

  37. Bruce Shapiro told Phillip Adams that Trump is going flat chat on opening the economy and basically ignoring deaths from the virus. The people dying most are the old and the evangelical religious, who are likeliest to vote for him.

    Michael Bartos had an interesting take in Which side are you on?

      Donald Trump’s economic adviser, Peter Navarro, circulated a memo on 29 January accurately predicting the stark choice faced by the United States: a strategy of aggressive containment, with immediate economic costs, or a strategy of no containment, with the deaths of perhaps a million Americans and, down the track, trillions of dollars in lost economic activity.

    Navarro believes that war with China is inevitable, and the US should entirely disengage from the Chinese economy.

    I think Bartos told Phillip Adams that Navarro was a game theory nutter.

  38. “Containment ” I seem to recall, was a term used by the Dulles brothers in the 1950s. The US should “contain” China on its mainland home.

    At the time, Mao’s regime didn’t very much mind holding a nation very much closed off from outside contact, it seems.

    Massively outgunned by US military strength. America had outposts in Japan, Formosa, Philippines then South Korea, South Vietnam, Thailand later. Encirclement, anyone?

    But nowadays after Richard Nixon/Henry Kissinger/Mao and more importantly Deng, China is fully enmeshed in the trading, manufacturing, energy, agricultural, comminicatuons, tourism and travel system; and in international organisations. The genie is out of its ginger jar.

    “Containment” can’t be attempted.

  39. Geoff

    From the little I know, the gulf on Amerixan Unis between Ivy League and the humblest State Universities could well be much larger than the gap between Australia’s Group of Eight (self styled elite) and, say, Federation University centred at Ballarat, Churchill and smaller offices.

    Aussie Unis are crying poor.
    Too many eggs in one particular basket (hint: which sovereign State brought us thousands of fee-paying students AND the Wu Flu?)

  40. Don’t have time to find the link, but Morrison said to foreign students, if your parents can’t support you, go home, we won’t feed you. But going home wasn’t that easy either, and we didn’t help.

    Meanwhile the students had paid for the courses. Most universities didn’t qualify for Jobkeeper. I think a few private unis did, but that doesn’t help the students.

    Apart from the US most other countries in the business of hosting foreign students did make arrangements to feed the students.

  41. A friend of mine had this to say on Australia and its addiction to great and powerful friends: “Ying & Yang. The Imperial Centre (Great & Powerful friend) and its colonial dominion clients. The Imperial Centre furnishes the Market & the Power. GB did that until its EU entry. Thereafter, America did that via its Japanese client state. Without China, America may have the Power, but it lacks the Market. By this logic, it is no longer Australia’s Great & Powerful Friend. By this logic, China is Australia’s new Great & Powerful Friend/Imperial Centre. It has the Market & it has the Power. However, for cultural, Ideological and geo-political reasons, China is unacceptable to Canberra.
    As a result, this colonial dominion client state, Australia, for the first time in its 230 year history, lacks an Imperial Centre/Hegemon, a Great & Powerful Friend.
    All dressed up and no dance partner.
    Post-1788 Australia now finds itself in the greatest existential crisis in its history. It cannot remain a colonial dominion client state. It must become its own Great Power. The first step Australia’s Policy Elite must undertake to achieve this end is to get a brain transplant. The old one is just not fit for purpose. The first step is to think like a Great Power. (Just one example, build a north/south, east/west, double-tracked, standard gauge, railway system.)”
    My take is that it also needs to build its production capacity. It is a bit hard to take the US seriously when people can say: “If the US went to war against China the US would depend on China for the spare parts needed to fight the war.” (And be sure its control systems cannot be taken over by China.) On the other hand it is hard to have a war between countries who depend on each other for spare parts.

  42. Rowan Callick’s piece Beijing buffeted is good factual stuff, leaving aside the ideology wars.

    China has plenty to worry about. I thought the notion that villages are extracting tariffs from trucks driving through was reminiscent of what happened in the small German potentates before Napoleon tidied the place up.

    From memory, an article in the AFR said that IMF put China’s growth next year as still positive, but down to about 1%. Some 35% of our trade goes to China.

    Canada’s by contrast goes around 75% to the US.

    I’ve checked the IMF site, which has China on 1.2%, the US on -5.9, us on -6.7 and Canada on -6.2. Most of Europe is a tad worse.

    • it is hard to have a war between countries who depend on each other for spare parts.

    There is some comfort in that. One would hope that by the time the US was making it’s own spare parts, the adults would be in charge.

  43. China may have the production side advantage ( because production leads consumption in economic growth) but their customers, outside China have free choice.

    BDS should concentrate on huge China rather than tiny Israel.

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