JOHN FITZGERALD. In response to Bob Carr on China.

May 8, 2019

Professor Bob Carr singled me and a few others out for criticism on the Menadue blog. Fair cop. Along the way however he made demonstrably false claims about my stance on China and Chinese Australians which have since been reproduced on official sites of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and on 30 April in Beijing’s premier international propaganda journal, The China Daily. This is going a bit far. I respectfully ask that my corrections are published in all three places. 

In his post of  16 April in this blog, Carr rightly points out that I supported the publication of Clive Hamilton’s Silent Invasion, a book he deplores. The major public comment that I have made about the book appeared on its cover, so that is presumably what Carr is alluding to. In that eight-word cover blurb I describe the book as very important, which of course it is, in content, in evidence, and in argument.

The book is significant for another important reason to which Carr makes no reference. A number of Australian publishers declined to publish the book, not on its merits, but for fear that publishing it would harm their commercial dealings with China.  Ironically, these anxious judgements confirmed the book’s core argument: that the Chinese Communist Party is exerting undue and disturbing influence over key institutions in this country.

The board of Melbourne University Press was especially craven, with one member expressing concern to me at the time that publication of the book would compromise the University’s Chinese student recruitment program. Hamilton devotes a chapter and more to the claim that the government of China exercises improper influence  over Australian universities. Melbourne University sealed his case.

I have written a great many blurbs for book-covers over the years, some for books I don’t entirely agree with but that I think merit a serious read. Hamilton’s is one. It’s not a perfect book, and the author does not claim to be a China expert. But it’s a brave, well documented, and timely protest by a public intellectual whom no-one could call xenophobic, much less racist. When Hardie Grant publishers approached me at the time they were considering publication, I gave its publication the strongest possible endorsement to ensure that it went to press. I stand by that statement and that belief.

Carr goes on to assert that I regard China as an enemy. This is demonstrably false. I have explicitly stated and written in a number of places that “China is certainly not our enemy.” We need to make a clear distinction here between protection of Australian sovereignty and liberal democratic values, and our approach towards China.

Not only are we not enemies, we are not even competitors with China, as the Americans plainly are. Still Australians would be naïve to overlook the glaring fact that the Communist Party of China regards liberal democracy as it enemy, domestically and internationally.  Being a liberal democracy, Australia needs to be on its guard against those who would “make enemies of us.” The time has passed when we could complacently assume that the arc of history bends towards liberal democracy. Internationally now it is under siege on several fronts.

As I have also argued elsewhere,

the issue at stake is not whether authoritarian Leninism and liberal democracy can work happily and co-operatively in their separate jurisdictions, but whether it is possible for a democracy to maintain jurisdictional separation in a dependent relationship with a Leninist state without adjusting its everyday modes of operation. Whatever we think of authoritarian Leninist states, of which contemporary China is clearly one, they are founded on an ‘enemy mentality,’ and they have immense difficulty recognising the territorial and jurisdictional limits of their overweening hierarchical authority. How is a liberal Australia to deal with a Leninist China as that country becomes more assertive beyond its borders?

In other words, Carr has the matter entirely the wrong way around, both in terms of my own stance , and in relation to the problems facing this country.

Third, Carr says I am part of a smear campaign targeting Australians with family links to China as ‘traitors.’ Carr provides not a scintilla of evidence for this claim which is itself a smear on me for exposing Communist Party interference in Australia.

I have published and edited many books, articles and commentaries on Chinese-Australian community history and community affairs over the years. My students are at the forefront of this important field of historical research. Nowhere in this body of work will Carr or his friends find evidence that I hold or advocate the view he attributes to me.

Chinese Australians can speak on their own account and they do so from a variety of perspectives, as of course they should.  I don’t presume to speak for anyone but myself. Nevertheless I am concerned for those Chinese- Australian friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who would like to speak out but cannot as they feel pressured by the Chinese Communist Party and its security agencies into silence, for fear they, their families or their businesses in China would suffer adverse consequences.

I can truthfully report that the publication of Professor Carr’s smears and insinuations in the official propaganda organs of the Chinese Communist Party have brought them no comfort and confirmed some of their worst fears.

John Fitzgerald is an Emeritus Professor at Swinburne University in Melbourne 

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