Australia’s China threat obsessions are not new. Remember the Vietnam War? Obsessions then were far worse:
‘It (the Vietnam War) must be seen as part of a thrust by Communist China between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.’ (Robert Menzies, April 29, 1965).
‘..there is not the slightest doubt that the North Vietnamese are the puppets of China…’(Defence Minister, Allen Fairhall, March, 1966)
‘The fear of China is the most dominant element in much that happens in Asia, and the fear is well founded.’ (Foreign Minister, Paul Hasluck, October, 1964)
A little bit exaggerated you might say? Philosopher Bertrand Russell explains it well:
‘The fear of alien groups is most prominent in those who have least experience of groups other than their own.’
Canberra qualifies well in that department.
Many assume Canberra’s desire to join the Vietnam War was simply mis-placed loyalty to the US. They did not realise the degree of Canberra’s foreign policy independence, its China paranoia and its ignorance of what was happening in Vietnam.
The paranoia continues. Except that now it is Chinese students and various Chinese business interests in Australia that are supposed to be the puppets of Beijing.
Most of us involved with China over the years – myself with the first opening to China in 1971 and various trade and university dealings since – can only look on with amazement at the ease with which Australian opinion has been manipulated in this anti-Chinese direction.
Some – mainly diplomats with serving experience in China – have tried to counter the paranoia and explain the reality,
In vain. As with Vietnam, the hysteria once unleashed gets a life of its own. It also gives the pundits a platform for life.
Over Vietnam, even when it became clear the pundits were wrong – that in reality the Vietnamese and Chinese disliked each other greatly and that we had in effect been busy killing the very people who could help us stop the alleged Chinese expansionism which they had used to justify our intervention in the first place – the China threat people in Canberra, the pundits, academia and the media showed little sign of remorse or apology.
Now they are at it again.
OK, so yes, Beijing can be harsh and irascible, all of us who have dealt with Chinese officials over the years know too well.But that does not mean they want to take over Australia.
Yes, Chinese businessmen do rely unduly on money and connections to gain influence. Just check out how Taiwanese and Hong Kong Chinese businessmen operate if you want proof. And they too do not want to take over Australia.
And yes China, like Australia, has its amateur overseas spy organisation. But they have yet to produce a blundering scandal like that produced by The Age under Perkin.
True also, Chinese students abroad usually do remain strongly patriotic. Is that a crime, especially given the history of that country?
Go to the excellent article by Margaret Simons in the October 15 issue of Inside Story for a balanced view of how Chinese students see Australia. You will find that the real problem is not the students; it is the Australian lack of interest in the students.
Nor is the inability to see China as a normal nation with normal interests likely to improve. Among the academics we have the academic China specialists whose lack of background in anything other than China means their careers depend on their being either exaggeratedly pro-Beijing or intensely anti-Beijing.
Then there are those, mostly media related, who have made careers for themselves by setting out deliberately to create the China hysteria. Few of them can speak or read Chinese; they rely heavily on spy and other suspect sources for material. (One of them, Fairfax media related, managed to spend some years in Japan without showing any interest China. We never even got to see him. Only after returning to Australia did he suddenly emerge as a China threat expert).
Then there are the defence-related China threat experts, who manage to see China’s puny efforts to create an overseas military presence as a threat while ignoring the 800-plus overseas bases of the US.
As for the ASIO domestic -based spies, we have to assume that their careers as ever depend heavily on their diligent searches for alleged enemies.
(I once discovered that their alleged Soviet ‘expert’ did not even know that KGB offices in the former USSR revealed their locations by displaying large brass nameplates. He had to be told that if you were able to report such a location you were not necessarily a KGB agent.)
(There was also the elderly White Russian operative they tried to use for one of their stunts. He revealed himself by an inability to speak communist era Russian.)
One problem is that domestic-based, ASIO spies are usually those passed over for recruitment into the diplomatic service. They usually have a lifelong urge to prove the diplomats are subverted by the enemy of the day,
Even here in Japan we continue to be pestered by these people, as I relate on my website – gregoryclark.net.
H.L. Mencken sums it up well: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
Those hobgoblins do good business in Australia.
Gregory Clark is a former Australian diplomat trained in Chinese, first secretary in Moscow, resigned in protest against Australian intervention in Vietnam War in 1965, moved to Japan to become president emeritus of Tama University. His books include ‘In Fear of China’ 1968. He speaks Russian, Chinese and Japanese to fluency level.