BOB CARR. The China panic and John Fitzgerald.

May 13, 2019

In a contribution to Pearls and Irritations published on April 16 I took up a point made by Gareth Evans who argued in March that “in Australia a new form of Sinophobia is emerging.” He said this was one of the reasons Chinese-Australians are underrepresented in senior leadership.  

In my article, inspired by Gareth’s observation, I surveyed the anti-China panic that took hold in 2017 and gave some vivid examples from the Australian media. In passing I said that the academic Clive Hamilton “and his supporters like retired academic John Fitzgerald insist on seeing China as Australia’s enemy.

John Fitzgerald objects to this association with Hamilton in his article published in Pearls and Irritations on May 8.

I understand that Mr Fitzgerald might wish to distance himself from that anti-China panic. Even Malcolm Turnbull seemed to realise it had run too far and spent time in 2018 retreating from the undiplomatic rhetoric of 2017- such as his parody of a phrase popularly attributed to Mao when he introduced anti-foreign interference legislation, his verbal excesses when he beat up Sam Dastyari or his June 3 2017 speech which seemed to endorse an American military build-up in the Indo-Pacific to contain China. Scott Morrison early committed to a more positive tone as confirmed by his first speech touching on China on October 4 2018 which he gave to a gathering of Australian-Chinese in the marginal seat of Banks. Federal Labor has made a feature in the election campaign of talking about more discipline and consistency in Australian statements on China.

That Fitzgerald wants to distance himself from his endorsement of Clive Hamilton’s book Silent Invasion is hinted at when he says it was a mere eight-word cover blurb. In fact, his enthusiasm for the book bubbled over into a generous four sentences- by my count, at a more robust and rhapsodic 50 words. He also feels obliged to say, “It’s not a perfect book…” yet insists in these pages it is “brave” and “well documented.”

Of course to reach this assessment he has had to overlook the assertion on page 22 that China has territorial designs on Australia, “positioning itself to make a future claim over Australia.” Has Fitzgerald reservations about this assertion that not even anti-China zealots in the Australian Security Policy Institute have echoed? Which cannot even claim a pre-echo in the era of the Cold War? Can he still endorse the Hamilton book when it offers no source for this startling assertion that no Defence White Paper has even hinted at?

Fitzgerald’s argument that, unlike Hamilton, he does not see China as our enemy would be more convincing if somewhere he had dissented from another piece of Hamilton orthodoxy that can be found on page 280 of the book. There Hamilton states the following:

Remembering that there are over one million people of Chinese heritage in Australia, we could expect some, citizens and non-citizens alike, to take to the streets to express their loyalty to Beijing-in other words, to Australia’s enemy. [My emphasis]

Hamilton arrived at the view that up to 30 percent were loyal to Beijing and ready to march in support of Beijing, rather- I’m guessing here- like the Yellow Vests in Paris. Hamilton based this 30 percent on the opinions of two friends. Two friends? As the source for the bold assessment of a mass treason? I would think this falls a little short of the crushing weight of peer-reviewed work and survey material that Fitzgerald implied when he extolled Silent Invasion as well documented.

In fact Hamilton’s intellectual foundation are these:

  1. that China is our enemy;
  2. that 30 percent of Chinese Australian are ready to take to the streets in support of it.

Both are striking in the lack of any evidentiary base.

Fitzgerald argues that he is not part of a smear campaign targeting Australians with Chinese heritage as “traitors.” This would only have force if he had explicitly spelt out- even on this blog- that he does not endorse that part of Hamilton’s book which says that such a high percentage are ready to rise up in support of China that is, in a monolithic and exuberant act of loyalty to an enemy power.

Has Fitzgerald, who has worked on the history of Chinese in Australia, any sympathy for the Chinese-Australian smeared last year because, serving in the Army Reserve, he was posted to a Chinese vessel in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370- because, as his superiors concluded, he was a Mandarin speaker who might serve as interpreter? Has he expressed any sympathy for the Chinese-born Australian member of the New South Wales Parliament who was damned in June 2018 when an article in The Sydney Morning Herald said security sources had concluded he had been “targeted” by foreign agents while at no time being aware of it or of doing anything wrong? There is no way Mr Ernest Wong can defend himself from a charge so damaging yet non-specific. Isn’t this a clear injustice and deserving of the attention of an academic who wants noted his sympathy with Australian-Chinese?

Is Fitzgerald tempted to speak out in defence of those candidates for local government elections in New South Wales who were smeared in an article making reference to their Chinese heritage despite there being no record of them having campaigned in support of any aspect of China’s foreign policy apart from the peaceful reunification of China which is, of course, compatible with Australia’s own policy on Taiwan? Did he speak up in support of Chinese students in Australian universities after they had been smeared by John Garnaut for embodying “racial chauvinism” when, despite their 130,000-strong presence, precisely no evidence has been yielded up of any behaviour that reflects this colourful description?

It would have been generous if he had, and might have provided support for his argument he has not joined the Hamilton smear directed at Australians of Chinese heritage.

By contrast I am able to point out that I, on the record, deplored the notion of Mao commemorations in Australia and have spelt out and endorsed our diplomatic differences with China in maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and praised the noted Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. I am on record saying Australia was getting China policy right in the latter period of Tony Abbott’s government. Indeed an article to this effect I had published in The Australian brought a call from Dennis Richardson, then head of the Department of Defence, with the observation that I was “spot on.”

Perhaps Mr Fitzgerald in damning me as a Beijing sympathiser would spell out where my rhetoric differs with that used by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in saying, on October 4, “So I can’t stress this enough; China, as the most populous nation in our region and our largest trading partner, is important to Australia. We welcome its’ remarkable success and we are committed – absolutely committed – to the long-term constructive partnership with China based on shared values, especially mutual respect. We believe in the prosperity of our region and the prosperity of our region depends on these increasingly strong and connected ties.”

Or how he believes I differ from Bill Shorten who said in his Lowy address on October 29 that “pre-emptively framing China as a strategic threat isn’t a sufficient response to its role and increasing influence in our region.”

There are three other revealing observations in the book by Hamilton which Fitzgerald might dissociate himself from just on the grounds of their daffiness. First, Hamilton warned that UTS which hosts the Australia China Relations Institute “abuts Chinatown” as if the wafting flavours of Cantonese cuisine can damage its scholars’ judgement. Second Hamilton referred to the headquarters of the NSW Labor Party being “located in Chinatown,” as if the decision to locate the Trades Hall in Goulburn Street in the 1880s was the Original Sin that must be shouldered by the NSW ALP to this day. Third, there was Hamilton’s sweetly nostalgic McCarthyism in recording, while attacking me, that my wife Helena is Chinese. Typically, his research was shoddy. This damning indictment fails, up against the truth that Helena is half Indian, Malaysian-born and for 40-years a citizen of this country. Not enough, apparently, to wipe away the racial tarnish embodied in her grandmother’s Hokkien heritage.

While Mr Fitzgerald says there is no hint of racism in Silent Invasion it should be noted that The Guardian’s editors on February 18 2014 took a different view of an article written by Hamilton on Chinese investment in Sydney’s real estate. They noted, that Hamilton’s article had to be amended by the paper because he had ‘overstate[d] the evidence then available’ and had to be corrected to ‘give readers assistance in weighing it and to avoid any inference of racism.’

As Premier of New South Wales I got to know the Chinese community and have maintained contact. Its members are entitled to be up in arms at Hamilton’s conclusion on page 40 of his book that because of Chinese government influence “the integration of Chinese-Australians into a diverse but unified Australian society will likely fail.” In fact the integration of the Chinese community is already a fact of life and an absolute triumph of Australian multiculturalism. It’s confirmed by the success of those numerous families with fathers from Shanghai or Guangzhou driving taxis, or working hard at other jobs, who proudly report that their sons or daughters have graduated as doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers. That they remain loyal to a foreign power is a collective smear that would not be tolerated for one moment if it were directed at other migrant communities because of pride in their homeland or residual support for a foreign policy position.

A serious scholar, even if he agreed with other elements of Hamilton’s book, would be bold and principled enough to correct him at least on this.

Bob Carr is the longest-serving Premier of NSW and former foreign minister. He served as the Director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney for five years, retiring last month.

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