JOCELYN CHEY. “People Matter” – Let’s Not Make Exceptions

The corona virus emergency should bring out the best in people, but in some it is causing vicious blame-sharing. Fingers are being pointed at Chinese Australians and accusations levelled of lack of patriotism and even illegal activities.

This global epidemic requires global solutions. Australia has a chance to work more closely with the People’s Republic of China to this end and should avoid relations sinking to a new low.

Reflecting on our universal desire to live in a safe society, philosopher and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowen Williams comments in an interview for the BBC that this period is a chance for people “to settle down and think what matters to them, and who matters.” Isolated in our homes, Australians think first of their family, friends and colleagues, but also, as citizens of a maritime nation, of their relatives and contacts across the seas in New York, Madrid or Hong Kong. As the viral wave of COVID-19 infection spreads across the globe, all Australians wish they could be closer to those they love, no matter where they are and could help in some way. Penned in their own homes, they fight feelings of powerlessness.

Chinese Australians, who make up five percent of the population, have been feeling this pull of family and community since they first heard of the virus outbreak in Wuhan in late December. Now there is sympathy for other Australians with relatives and friends in Europe and America, but support for those in distress in China has been notably absent. There were alarming reports of racist taunts and abuse of local Chinese throughout January and February, prompting the Prime Minister rather belatedly to state that the government placed a high value on the country’s ethnic Chinese community. Nevertheless, anti-China feeling persists and it seems is being fanned by hawkish lobbyists in Canberra and elsewhere.

The Fairfax media have published several articles recently about Chinese Australian-owned businesses back in February organising shipments of surgical gloves and other medical supplies to help the Chinese fight against the Covid-19 virus. The most recent article by Nick Mackenzie and Anthony Galloway appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 April. There are reports elsewhere that the same businessman, Yuanping Kuang, named in this article, is now organising for supplies of medical equipment from the PRC to assist efforts to control the epidemic in Australia. Mackenzie and Galloway allege that this is at the direction of the Chinese Communist Party and part of a PRC soft power campaign to exert political influence in Australia.

The first outbreak of COVID-19 was in the PRC. There government measures to diagnose, control and treat it were heavy-handed, but results have shown them to be effective so that the country will recover more quickly and sooner than the rest of the world. Having stepped up production of medical equipment and hygiene products, the PRC has material and technology to share with others, and half of the world is desperately short of supplies. This week China has sent 10,000 virus kits and ventilators to Palestine, for instance, and is considering sending a medical team to assist local doctors.

Such aid should surely be welcome, but, rather, there is a growing concerted effort in the West to discredit the PRC and turn people against accepting its aid and advice. The media is making much of the fact that some PRC masks and virus testing kits are of inferior quality. (It seems some may have been privately imported and not part of a Chinese government aid package, and PRC officials have said that they originated from factories that were not certified by the government.) The US and China are engaged in tit-for-tat rounds of recriminations and blame for the outbreak and spread of the virus. It would seem wise for Australia not to involve itself in this unproductive argument, but that apparently is not understood in Canberra, where senior journalist Chris Uhlmann states, “It’s a fair bet that the bulk of the population has got some key messages: that this threat came from China, that its totalitarian regime’s first reaction was to lie and that Australia is far too reliant on an unreliable nation.”

One regrettable result of the corona virus epidemic has been that governments everywhere are pulling up drawbridges and retreating into national isolation. The dangers of this approach are recognised by the United Nations, which this week launched a new plan to counter COVID-19. UN Chief Antonio Guterres described it as the “greatest test that we have faced together since the formation of the United Nations.” “What the world needs now is solidarity. With solidarity we can defeat the virus and build a better world”.

Jocelyn Chey is Visiting Professor at the University of Sydney and Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and UTS. She formerly held diplomatic posts in China and Hong Kong. She is a member of the Order of Australia (AM) and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs.


Jocelyn Chey is Visiting Professor at the University of Sydney and Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and UTS. She formerly held diplomatic posts in China and Hong Kong. She is a member of the Order of Australia (AM) and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs.

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12 Responses to JOCELYN CHEY. “People Matter” – Let’s Not Make Exceptions

  1. Michael Flynn says:

    Thank you Professor Chey for your voice in building better opinion here. We all have more to do. I focus on the student who came alone from China to secondary school in Canberra and lived with my relatives who visited her family in China last year. The student is in her second year of university studies here. Her family look to her Canberra “family” for support that is there with love for the long term beyond Covid 19. Her generation are the future. Perhaps we should work harder on dual citizenship.

  2. Hal Duell says:

    Chris Uhlmann, Andrew Bolt, Peter Hartcher – remember Spiro Agnew? I never had much time for Richard Nixon’s vice-President, but he did use the term, “nattering nabobs of negativism”.
    What would the three mentioned have to talk about without the Yellow Peril to fall back on?
    And isn’t it time to find new voices here in Australia? Voices that talk unity and sense, rather than disunity and nonsense.
    Ok, China is not perfect. And we are?

  3. Peter Martina says:

    Chris Uhlmann states, “It’s a fair bet that the bulk of the population has got some key messages: that this threat came from China, that its totalitarian regime’s first reaction was to lie and that Australia is far too reliant on an unreliable nation.”
    Does he think that the “threat” was deliberate? Does he believe China should pay reparations? Perhaps this would be appropriate after we set an example by paying for the damage caused by the ‘Australian flu” in England last year. And of course, reparations to the Australian aboriginal population for the destruction caused by smallpox and syphilis etc. but we would get some money back from the Americas for AIDs and swine flu so not all bad.
    If “Australia is far too reliant” on China then lets take the economic hit and cease trading with them and see how that works out. After all what’s money when our principles are at stake ? We are also “far too reliant” on the United States for Defence so it would be a good idea to cut those ties as well. Surely Trump’s United States meets the definition of “an unreliable nation.”?
    As for their “first reaction was to lie”, I’m assuming that’s a trick they learned from Scott Morrison.

  4. H.K. Colebatch says:

    That the Covid-19 outbreak has provided a peg for people to hang their various existing attitudes on does not remove the need for discussion of the underlying issues.

    One is that the SARS epidemic began in a Chinese wet market, and this led to government restrictions on these markets, but when SARS died down., the restrictions were relaxed, and what followed was another epidemic. So the most tightly-controlled regime in the world could not be bothered controlling the thing that mattered to everyone on the planet.

    In February, Chinese companies in Australia were buying up all the medical equipment they could found and shipping it to China – while at the same time, the Chinese government was shipping medical equipment to South America as part of its ‘soft power’ strategy. As a result, there is not now enough medical equipment for the health workers responding to the disease in Australia.

    Chey talks of ‘China’ as though there is only one such animal. But the civil war in the Republic of China has not finished, and the non-communist minority, on Taiwan, has persisted as a fascinating ‘natural experiment’ – what would the Chinese do if they didn’t have a Communist government. The answer seems to be that they would be infinitely more prosperous (Taiwan’s per capita GDP in purchasing power terms is higher than Germany, let alone Australia and the PRC), egalitarian and democratic. Taiwan’s response to Covid-19 seems to have beenas least as effective (and probably more so) than that of the PRC, and much less coercive.

    Could we leave the name-calling about racism to one side and have a discussion about the governance of pandemics ?

  5. john austen says:

    Prof Chey: thank you for a good article.

    It is hard to disagree. And the poor behaviour and the stoking of xenophobia (and worse) is not limited to our national boundaries or even (assumed) other nationalities. This idiotic ‘them’ and ‘us’ stuff is all around and getting worse, with encouragement by people who should know better.

    We have a pathetic spectacle of state premiers ‘going it alone’ creating a dogs breakfast of incomprehensible and inconsistent rules, said to last to the horizon but changing by the hour. Supposedly, the gross inconsistency is on public health grounds but who could believe it doesn’t include a high quotient of ‘state of origin’ spin (my state is better than yours) – to cover dreadful failures, like with cruise liners.

    Exacerbating this backward shambles, some ordered their State borders ‘closed’ but do little about borders – or disease clusters – inside their own state; seen by the public as sheer perversity. For example, the qld Gold Coast has more than ten times the number of the virus cases than the adjacent NSW Tweed area, yet the border closure prevents travel from the Tweed to the Gold Coast and not vice versa. And movement restrictions on the Gold Coast are far less than in the Tweed, leading to confusion and incredulity all around.

    Moreover, although closing borders, some states welcome back ‘their’ people returning home from elsewhere in Australia, and in one case, also ‘foreign’ (i.e. other Australian) workers but only for ‘essential industries’ – like those generating royalties. Backpackers though are to be isolated elsewhere for two weeks.

    These are probable serial serious breaches of the Constitution. Will the Commonwealth – which seems to think of itself as just a big state, or government of last resort – do anything about the chaos and fracturing resulting from State ego tripping?

    Then we have very prominent tut tutting and finger pointing by some members of the public about ‘out of towners’, ‘visitors’ and cars with ‘non-local’ number plates being in ‘their places’, like public carparks in towns on the NSW coast. Egged-on by community ‘leaders’, local politicians and media. How do these people know about such invaders when they are staying home as required? Will they practice their ‘stay away’ preaching by a noble refusal of medical services anywhere except their patch of paradise. And will they as loudly condemn their fellow locals who might take a trip to or stay in another locality? Say to – or near – a well-equipped city hospital?

    All while shamelessly trying to start a chorus ‘we’re all in this together’. As with unfair slurs against the Chinese, the sanctimonious hypocrisy aimed at other Australians might leave a stigma long surviving the emergency.

    Thanks again.

    • Richard Ure says:

      “a dog’s breakfast of incomprehensible and inconsistent rules” isn’t confined to state premiers. We have JobKeepers, good, who aren’t required to report fortnightly and receive one amount, in some cases more than they were being paid before, and JobSeekers, leaners, who must submit to scrutiny fortnightly and receive less.

      Surely the Seekers at least deserve an explanation for the discrimination they are suffering. Along with the many who fall through the racks of both Centrelink versions 1.0 and 2.0

  6. John Wallace says:

    Given its virulence, the anti-China virus abroad in Australian public life looks as though it will take longer to get over than COVID-19.
    Reflexive anti-China sentiment is a massive challenge for Australia in its future dealings with China, but one that seems barely recognised by much of the news media.
    What is particularly disappointing is the way the virulence surfaces on the national broadcaster unchallenged by an alternative view. This morning, for example, RN Breakfast gave unchallenged voice to an academic who said of COVID-19:
    “We need to be clear that this is a virus that originated not just from China as a place, but from the CCP system that currently rules over China. There are people who have proposed calling it the CCP virus instead.”
    And a little later, saying that China’s “failures are being exported out to us in the form of this virus and in the shortage of supplies that we are facing. ”
    And further on: “There needs to be very real pressure on China to change its system. Otherwise we are going to be facing SARS 3.0.”
    The unfortunate reality is that, as the global community struggles to deal with the virus crisis, there are people using COVID-19 as an opportunity to question the legitimacy of China’s governance system and, to put it bluntly, advocate for regime change.
    Not only is this endeavour bizarre; it is bizarre that the national broadcaster should be advancing this kind of existential geopolitical critique at a time when our medical people are trying to work with colleagues in China to combat a virus that threatens us all.
    As Jocelyn Chey writes, this is a global epidemic requiring global solutions, and Australia has a chance to work more closely with the People’s Republic of China to this end. One can add that news media have a role to play here, too.
    [I’ve chosen not to name the academic. If you want to use it, the name is Dr Kevin Carrico, senior research fellow, Chinese Studies, Monash University.]

  7. R. N. England says:

    The COVID-19 outbreak provoked a clash between one Chinese characteristic, the superstitious tendency for Chinese people to consume exotic animals as a prophylactic or remedy, and scientific socialism. The leadership has backed scientific socialism and suppressed a Chinese characteristic that damaged the well-being, both of the Chinese people and of humanity.

    Every culture has its damaging superstitions. Western individualism is the supreme example, endemic for millenia, competing with Christianity, feudalism, and then with science. After defeating them all, it has become an epidemic, mutating into two especially idiotic forms, neoliberalism and post-modernism, destroying its host.

  8. Anthony Pun says:

    The Chinese Community Council of Australia wish to thank Prof Chey for being empathetic to the stress and trauma of being targeted by racists during this period of coronavirus epidemic. The Community responded with a commentary published in Melbourne “What a shame Kate McClymont, Nick McKenzie and SMH!”
    US doctors on CGTN cable TV crying out on the desperate need for PPE equipment for their front line medical and nursing staff of the hospital emergency department. Meanwhile Pompeo ratcheted up the rhetoric about trading with China and generally talking down on the quality of Chinese goods (NK95 mask) compared to US FDA (N95) specification. The doctors were appealing to Washington to stop playing politics and save the lives of the front line medical and nursing staff.
    Meanwhile in the background, 80 tons of PPE stuff flown from Shanghai landed in New York on Sunday Mar 29, with 21 flights following; and now this Russian planeload. That goes to show that Trump and his sidekick rhetorics are only hot air, when they accept goods from the Commies.
    For China, it is another PR win showing the world that she does not hold back goods destined for a Cold War opponent when saving lives is more important than politics. in this context, sinister SMH media reports of Chinese buying PPE and hoarding supplies in Australia is inconsistent with Chinese shipping PPE goods to the US. Is Australia travelling the same way (as the US)?

  9. Jim KABLE says:

    Jocelyn Chey:

    What you write here is, sadly, not without elements of truth. But just think of all the Murdoch NewsCorp shock jocks pushing an anti-China line from several years back – falling into the US paranoia trap. I hold them largely responsible though good ole Geoff Blainey did his best back there in the 1980s to stir up anti-Chinese sentiment. I don’t get it. I grew up in a rural town in NSW in the 1950s to mid-1960s. Neighbours had Chinese Xiamen ancestry back into the mid-19th century – my widowed mother’s first landlords in that town after our remove from Sydney were an elderly couple who had arrived in New South Wales in 1899/1900 – just before Federation and our paranoid Immigration Restriction Act (aka “the White Australia” policy) came into effect as the first piece of legislation – to our eternal shame. I had friends during my university years of Chinese background – or studying from Hong Kong – Stuart CHENG – in his 70s now he must be – and as workmates – one laughing as he explained to me in broadest Aussie English that he was an ABC – Australian-Born Chinese. Of course now into the 21st century I have kinfolk who are out of China – and friendships/past students – all a significant participating part of Australia’s culturally/ethnically diverse population – out of Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Viet-nam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Fiji, PNG, Singapore, Indonesia and China itself. Those ignorant enough to label our fellow citizens as responsible for the corona-virus are expressing fears raised by the kind of gutter press/radio I referred to above – who need to own up to their complicity in this and to make amends – loud and clear!

  10. Teow Loon Ti says:

    Ms Chey,

    Even as a Chinese whose family has lived generations away from China, I too felt the pain of an unfair targeting of the Chinese people. We too get the brunt of the backlash because we have Chinese faces.

    There has been to this date, half a dozen articles written about the activities of companies and characters buying and sending back to China “badly needed” supplies of medicine and medical equipment linking them to the corona virus and now to the bushfires. For a week now, Sydney Morning Herald journalists seem to be in a feeding frenzy disparaging some Chinese companies and characters in Australia. The question foremost in my mind is why this frenzy at this particular point in time; this time when most Australians are anxious, sensitive and thus most susceptible to media ascriptions of blame? Like other ethnic groups, the Chinese people are not angels. If they have really done something wrong, the press is doing us a favour by pointing it out. However, the timing and lexicon of these articles suggest pernicious intent. When the first article came out, I wrote to the author questioning her intention. Of course I did not receive a response. If these journalist think that siphoning off badly needed supplies is bad, why have they not pilloried the Australian government on their oil problem with East Timor when the country needed every resource they could find to feed their people? It is the “Holier then thou” attitude that I dislike and to some extent fear when people with a big voice and public trust abuse it.

    I must say that the Sydney Morning Herald journalists are extremely effective in their purpose. Use eye catching words like “whistle blower”, “made millions”, throw in a couple of shady (or made to look) characters preferably with links to the PLA, time it to a national crises (especially if it involves the lives of people), link it to the Communist Government of China and you have a perfect formula for an article with nefarious intent.

    The question I would like to ask is that since all the companies in China are Chinese own or invariably linked to the the Communist Government of China, why has the Australian government been trading with Chinese companies for about three decades now? Under that level of scrutiny the Government of Australia could easily be accused of supporting the PLA because the money China earns from trade with Australia would invariably go towards sustaining the PLA.

    The medical supplies were bought at a time when the COVID19 epidemic was ravaging China while the rest of the world, including Australia were looking at it as if it were a “Chinese only problem”. If the supplies were sold now, when the government of Australia has declared it a national crises, then the companies can be accused of callous and unethical behaviour. If, in such a situation, the companies selling in bulk to Chinese companies knowing full well that they are meant for export, why aren’t these medical supply companies accused of being avaricious?

    What I do not like is trial by media of the subtle sort that exists in countries, present and past, that inculcates and ingrains a deep sense of prejudice among a mainstream that make certain despised minority groups suffer unjust persecution. Australia is a new country which has little experience of the ravages of war and ethnic cleansing that happened in Europe. Read any reputable historical accounts of the cruelty (both mental and physical) in Europe during and in the aftermath WWII, one would be reminded of the atrocities committed, not just against the minorities despised by the Nazis but also the backlash against innocent Germans. They all start with innuendo, propaganda to instill deep prejudice.

    Just to bring home the problem on a personal level, years ago, friends of mine pointed out something ugly committed by a couple of Chinese people, expecting a reaction from me (defensive? embarassment? contrition?). All I said was “I do not carry the burden of all Chinese on my shoulders!” “Do you carry the burden of all the wrong doings of your own ethnic group or race?” The question is, would my Australian born grandchildren be able to defend themselves in this manner? What effect would it have on their psyche if such incidences are repeated over a long period of time.? It has been 35 years and 33 of which I have been an Australian citizen and the problem seems to get worse under the present government. The best years were those under Bob Hawk and Paul Keating and to some extent under Rudd and Gillard. Research has shown that when people in power frown on racial prejudice, there are fewer incidences of abuse.

    I am not a Chinese defending China and other Chinese. To think in this way is another form of racial profiling. I am a Chinese/Australian/Malaysian pointing out a media indulging themselves in unconscionable acts of trial by media. I would be inclined to defend any other people of any ethnicity or race who are forced to live under such a cloud.


    Teow Loon Ti

  11. George Wendell says:

    I can’t agree more, and even though I am not Chinese, the daily tirade against China in newspapers like the SMH is appalling. (I don’t read Murdoch’s propaganda). Fairfax and now the newer owners Nine Media, have been at it for years in that newspaper, and if you read the readers comments on their anti-China stories they are full of blatant racism and hate. It’s encouraged. They target the CCP as the oppressors, but it’s anyone with Asian appearance that pays the price in Australian society. And if, according to their spin, mainland Chinese people are oppressed under their political system, as they make them out to be, they also end up with being targets of hate for a system they have no control over. It has been even worse in the USA, where Trump and Pompey have used every opportunity to blame the Chinese for the virus over and over again.

    I agree that Uhlmann’s article yesterday was a shocker, but there have been many more this week appearing one after the other. Never a positive word for China, always condescending and patronizing over whatever China does, not a hint of compassion for the people, and regular articles of absolute bias. It’s the Trump view, and I ask why is Australia always pushing America’s geopolitical world dominance causes? It reminds me of the well documented CIA’s interference and manipulation of the news networks in South America that were used to bring about US pro-right wing control the entire region. It’s still going on, just look Bolivia and Venezuela and what has been going on their in the last year.

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