The enemy spin of the wheel begins when an Australian official or politician, pumped up with ‘Yellow Peril’ prejudices and US anti-China propaganda, sets out to condemn China and urge severe restraints on Chinese people working in Australia.
The Chinese must be surprised. Only a few years earlier the merry-go-round had stopped at a place where Australian officials and academics had queued up to gain visas, invitations, or other favours to visit or do business with China.
Now the same people seem to be queueing to sling insults.
The Chinese officials decide they have to respond in some way – a clamp down on visas, a threat to impose tariffs on some imports, and so on.
Outsider anti-China groups, mostly US-backed, tell us how brave we are in standing up against big, bad China to defend our country’s values and interests.
This sends the anti-China types into even braver anti-China exploits, and China into even stronger reactions – bringing up war crimes in Afghanistan, for example.
Ambitious academics, who earlier had been lavish with pro-China praises, begin to switch with mealy-mouthed, fence-sitting opinions, saying that while on the one hand China is very important we should also be on our guard against its various tricks and devices.
Some, especially ANU connected, have been anti-China from the start, promoting such groups as APEC and the Quad, which seek to isolate China in Asia.
How did we get into this mess?
The truth is that we were in it from the beginning. We never got rid of the White Australian prejudices, especially towards Chinese people.
From there it was a small jump to Vietnam War fantasies – that the anti-government Vietnamese were really Chinese puppets planning to move south into Asia and attack us.
In 1964 I sat beside an Australian External Affairs minister, Paul Hasluck, in a Kremlin conference room where he had demanded an urgent meeting to persuade Soviet prime minister Kosygin and foreign minister Gromyko that China was a threat to all of us.
Moscow, he said, should join us in Vietnam to help stop the Chinese onslaught.
The Soviet leaders had to tell him, in effect, to stop talking nonsense – that Moscow would, of course, continue to help the brave Vietnamese in their struggle against US imperialist aggression and that they hoped the Chinese would do more to help.
Seemingly unfazed, Hasluck still managed to return to Australia to continue to talk about Vietnam as the first stage in Chinese aggression towards Australia. But fortunately, talk about a Soviet-Australian alliance against China stopped.
The Chinese do not accept fools gladly. For almost a century they have had to put up with White Australia insults, the hysteria over Vietnam, and now what we see today.
Can any one be surprised if they react strongly?
True, there was a brief respite after the 1971 Zhou Enlai-sponsored pingpong breakthrough and the opening of relations with China. But as someone closely involved with those events I know just how superficial it was at the Australian end.
Even among the journalists covering these events, the racist undercurrent continued. Those who could speak Chinese were viewed with suspicion, as if they had some secret ability to communicate with the enemy.
One of their capers was to tell their hosts that in Australia the word for friend was ‘dickhead’. When they came to leave, the hosts lined up for the chance to say ‘goodbye dickheads’.
They were laughing a long time over that success.
Things never improved much after that. Most of the associations set up to create or improve relations with China in the wake of the pingpong breakthrough seem to have spent most of their time looking after themselves.
When the Chinese tried to reciprocate by sending a table-tennis team to Australia, the receiving group managed to exclude everyone from the original Australian team. They used the event mainly for their own interests.
It should have been the start of a nationwide publicity campaign, as the Chinese did for us in China.
One result is that today, with the exception perhaps of Kevin Rudd, no one with the prestige of the pre-war scholar and writer C.P. Fitzgerald has emerged to encourage Australians to take China seriously.
Like Rudd, most of the post-war generation of genuine China experts have found it easier to operate abroad.
We are left mainly with a strange collection of bigots and journalists who have little experience of China and cannot speak a word of the language but have been able to dominate the China commentary field for years.
Behind them is an army of ASIO, ASIS, military outfits, institutes and think-tanks only too happy to be paid for alarmist scenarios or to feed out tidbits about fantasy Chinese plots.
From my experiences with the alleged Russian experts employed by some of these outfits I am sure that their main qualification for employment is never to have sullied their super-Oz patriotism by ever having had anything to do with the people or language from the alleged enemy nation they are supposed to be dealing with.
They are joined by a handful of would-be China experts who, feeling they have been ignored by Beijing, have turned anti-China to make their reputations.
This is not to say there are no problems in dealing with China and Chinese. But given the unfortunate history of their nation, and its recent amazing growth, it is not surprising if some can be abrasive or arrogant.
And all Chinese regimes, whether communist or not, do try to keep tabs on their citizens abroad – something that feeds easily into Canberra’s anti-Beijing paranoia.
Those in business can be pushy and politically devious. But that is true for Overseas Chinese everywhere.
Even at their very worst, the Chinese people abroad do get to learn the language of the country in which they are working. The same cannot be said for Australia.
Thanks mainly to exchange programs and vastly improved university teaching, Australia is finally turning out some young people who do speak Chinese well and are able to take China seriously.
But they have little help from the top in getting to positions where they can be effective. It now seems very unlikely they will get that help in the future.