Our distorted perspectives, our ignorance, is now more dangerous than the situation leading to the Vietnam War in the 1960s. We have experienced a sudden end to immediate knowledge of Asia including China We are vulnerable thus to pandemics of media misinformation.
To write about propaganda war with China requires review of history and the notions that have dominated Australia’s view of the world. Our present situation, trapped in hostile language, is more dangerous that the situation in 1960, before so many Australian soldiers were killed or wounded in a foolish war in Vietnam into which we followed the United States, a war we lost. We still have a preference for seeing the world through propaganda and conflict perspectives. What has to change?
In 1854, during the Crimean War, British and French forces laid siege to the city of Petropavlovsk (Saints Peter and Paul), in the very far east of Russia, on the Kamchatka peninsula, 7500km by crow from the Crimea. The defeat of British forces at Petropavlovsk led the governor of NSW, 10,000km to the south, to hasten construction at Mat-te-wan-ye, a tiny island on the strategic approaches to the future Sydney Opera House, of a fortified structure to save Sydney from the Russians… now called Fort Denison. Fear of the north is not new. Bigoted apprehensions are not new, as I wrote here. Recent preoccupations with defence forces in the Northern Territory and the port in Darwin are of the same genre. Yes, it makes sense for defence forces to be closer to Asia rather than Antarctica, but notions of a defence line of some kind or a base for a war with China in Darwin, as fostered in public mind, are folly. As foolish as talking up war with China. Darwin serves as a smokescreen to the murky failure of western war in Afghanistan and continued illegal wars in the Middle East.
I was born in 1943 and grew up immersed in memes of hostility, the normality of war, the failure to defeat China in Korea, then the threatening arrows of yellow peril in Liberal Party election advertising. By age 15 I was instructing other boys in the stripping and assembly of the Vickers medium machine gun and overseeing them fire it and the Bren Gun, Owen Gun and Lee Enfield Rifle at school cadet camps.
John Menadue will have vivid recall of 1963 and the Labor decision in relation to acceptance of a US base to communicate with nuclear submarines. In the grip of fear of the enemy to the north, we committed ourselves to a hapless American war in Vietnam in which 521 Australian soldiers died and over 3000 were injured. A war lost by the US, a war from which we did not withdraw until a Labor Government was elected in December 1972. The Whitlam Government proceeded to recognise realities in the region, and recognised governments in Beijing, Hanoi and Pyongyang—focused on reality, not fear created by decades of propaganda poisoning Australian minds. What did we learn from Vietnam? I was away from the Foreign Affairs department from the end of 1975 to the beginning of 1980, in Washington and then working for Labor in opposition. Returning to Foreign Affairs, there was nothing in the cultural memory reflecting on Vietnam. Some angry souls but no learning: we don’t learn from history.
We are in a similar stuck situation now, with obliteration of real information on China, and a hostility to any breath of information or opinion contrary to dominant dogma. No mention for example of the extraordinary reduction in poverty in China. Our distorted perspectives, our ignorance, now is more dangerous than the situation in the 1960s. It has not helped our attitudes to Asia that Australia is locked away from the pandemic. We have experienced a sudden end to immediate knowledge of Asia including China; vulnerable thus to pandemics of misinformation. A weighty journal joins newspapers in calling us a hermit kingdom, a term usually reserved for North Korea.
The attacks on China come under the following headings, these items that become an obligatory creed: the alleged evils of communism and alleged tyranny in China, the alleged evils in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan si. To keep this essay to requested length, I will write about Hong Kong and Taiwan separately, later.
The claims of genocide in Xinjiang have rested on narrow and suspect arguments, see here and more recently here and here. Arguments to the contrary are ignored or disparaged, however much they may be well based in fact. We do have increasing numbers of youtube reports by expats in China on Xinjiang and life now in China generally. Search Youtube for ‘chengdu plus’ for stories like this. Or this string of stories beginning with vlogging by a Pakistani woman in China. I was not impressed by the Vice reporters who scurried about Xinjiang being denied entry to schools with cameras, telling police they were tourists not journalists. Contrast reports like this from an Israeli businessman based in Beijing. You choose whether you like the slender-based western accusations on Xinjiang or this official Chinese rebuttal. I suspect that the Chinese embassy film briefing for Canberra journalists some weeks ago included this film. Nothing seems to have been reported from that briefing other than the rage of journalists. This is normal in a propagandised world. The word propaganda started life here. It evolved thus.
Look for Xinjiang matters among Chinese White Papers. Consider how any Australian government would deal with secessionism and violence in Queensland if Queensland had borders with Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
It is important to recall that claiming that genocide was occurring in Xinjiang was one of the last of many wild assertions by President Trump’s Secretary of State Pompeo, on his last day. It is among baggage that the Biden administration has scooped up and pursued with great vigour, in its campaign to lock in alliances. The major concern of the Biden Administration is of course not to lose the 2022 elections for the House of Representatives or any senate seat from those due for re-election in 2022, a serious possibility of unpleasant consequence seen from Australian idealist perspectives. Biden is not wishing to be exposed on international issues. But there is real risk that the current western rant on Xinjiang will foment unrest in Xinjiang. Xinjiang, twice the size of New South Wales, is of course the main route out of China for new transport infrastructure extending to Europe, which also is a target for hostile comment, led by the United States, reaching hysteria in Australia. The US preference being to contain China, at sea. That won’t happen. See this detailed analysis by a Russian think tank.
Discourse in Australia now includes reviling references to socialism or communism. The national broadcaster ABC provides only bus crash news of China, plus twisted, ideologically driven propaganda. There is a substantial body of people in Australia passionately concerned about human rights wherever. Their energies have been drawn into China discussion by propaganda. It seems ironic that the ABC relies for Xinjiang opinion on the work of Adrian Zenz (google search for Adrian Zenz Xinjiang, I won’t lead you to one side or the other) a deeply conservative Catholic who opposes a raft of social justice concerns of the ABC and most of our nation and who seeks the overthrow of the Chinese government… The ABC also finding human interest stories from separatist organisations in Xinjiang that have sent young people to ISIS and to Turkey to fight in Syria and Libya. The situation is not simple, glib reporting is dangerous. That’s not a new problem. I recall my weekly meetings with Australian journalists in Beijing: “Give us a story, Dennis!” “There’s no story in here, have you looked at the extraordinary story out the window?” It’s always got to be a ‘story’. Muck sells.
This was the 2017 seminar paper John Garnaut gave to government officials when he was advisor to Prime Minister Turnbull. That paper began the drive of Australians into darkness. This sensible and scholarly rebuttal by Christian Forace has attracted no attention. Where John Garnaut has attacked China for being driven by ideology, Forace makes the point that we all live in spaces shaped by ideology, that Garnaut writes from an ideological perspective. The JG rhapsody is now gobbled by Australian universities with this perverse consequence… doctoral students to be vetted as if they were applying to work for ASIO; an Orwellian control of thought.
We experience the world through filters of perception and memes of cognition and emotion… I use the word meme as evolved from Richard Dawkins’ neologism. These are difficult frameworks from which to escape. Whitlam only dinted the cold war memes before he was rejected three years later.
With my earliest tertiary education in social anthropology I am concerned to study while endeavouring to avoid preconceived perspectives. Unlike the legendary British colonial officer in Africa who when asked to report on the manners and customs of people in his district replied briefly “manners none and customs beastly”. There is much as primitive as that in Australian media and in too much Australian opinion about China.
How to learn about China now? It has been argued to me that the ABC’s problem is its reduced budget. Perhaps the ABC needs to read more and chase fire engines less. I read the China Daily online, knowing it’s very close to official perspective. I follow the South China Morning Post for another perspective. I go to YouTube as noted above, for reality not judgement. I follow the Taipei Times, two South Korean news sources, Yonhap and The Hankyoreh, the Jakarta Post, Japan Times, Bangkok Post, and Singapore’s Channel News Asia, to get a broad view of thinking in our region. I read research away from the dominant memes. This is worth reading.
In the far right in the United States there are people who say Biden=Xi Jinping. Biden is running from that, as hard as possible. The United States now has a profoundly fractured sense of self. Compare your usual news sources with this (Alex Jones) and this (4chan) and this. I’m more interested in Consortium News and The Intercept than CNN and SMH, or the United States Studies Centre at Sydney University, or ASPI.
Coverage by western media of the meeting of Chinese and US leaders in Anchorage, Alaska in March was summary and at times sarcastic. It is useful to watch the whole of the first part of the meeting, that was open to media. And useful to see this twelve second clip. The Chinese side was hustled straight to the meeting from the plane and subjected to a long diatribe. Secretary of State Blinken specified as the first of three elements of US international policy the word diplomacy. The treatment of the Chinese leaders was discourteous and undiplomatic. The Chinese leaders said in reply that they were thus obliged to speak not as they had intended but more forthrightly, matching the American firmness and specifically saying that not for some time has the United States been in a situation from which able to talk down to China. This was an historical turning point. We have since then seen a consequential rise in firm presentation of China’s case.
The propaganda war heads towards crescendo. From inside our cocoon some speak of China’s ‘wolf diplomacy’ because they find voice. Are we to refer to the US conducting ‘bully diplomacy’ or ‘gangster diplomacy’?