JOHN FITZGERALD. Reply to Bob Carr

May 21, 2019

Writing on this blog on 13 May, Bob Carr took me to task for not saying and not writing a good many things, particularly about Chinese Australians. This debating technique is new to me. As a rule, debaters rebut what people do say, not what they don’t. So let me say this.

Over the years I have written a good deal about Chinese government and party interference operations and the challenges these present for Australia’s values, institutional integrity and sovereignty. I welcome and encourage criticism of anything I have actually said or written on the matter. Criticism of things not said belongs in an alternative universe.

Much of my information comes from Chinese-Australians who share my concerns. But among the many things I have said (and the infinitely more I haven’t) I cannot recall anything that would suggest I see myself as spokesperson for the Chinese-Australian community, a diverse and articulate community that is more than capable of speaking for itself. If speaking on behalf of Chinese Australians is a job for an old white man then the position appears already to be filled.

I don’t speak for Clive Hamilton either as he is perfectly capable of representing himself.

But speaking as a citizen of this country I have long been concerned that our political class – left and right, Labor and Liberal – has let Australians down by failing to acknowledge the problem of Chinese communist party and government interference in Australian public life.

This is only partly about United Front operations among Chinese Australians and other Chinese communities overseas. Far more important are the university compromises, political party donations, media buy outs, and recruitment of business and political elites to do Beijing’s bidding, on which I have written at length.

Rather than acknowledge or address these problems, Carr diverts attention to allegations of racism and then follows up by querying things never said and why I never said them. His solution to the problem that he manufactures, as he pointed in the China Daily article that prompted my initial response, is to rally Chinese Australians to come together and unite against racism, only this time without Chinese consular or embassy involvement.

His tacit acknowledgement that Chinese party officials have compromised a number of Australian community organisations (along with distinguished political colleagues) is a welcome if belated concession.

His call for unity has a familiar ring to it all the same. As an ardent fan of General Secretary Xi Jinping – Carr told Shenzhen TV that he is impressed by Xi’s leadership for the world – Bob Carr would be familiar with the Chairman’s take on the need for unity among Chinese overseas to help realise China’s global ambitions. Interested readers can explore what this means for themselves by wading through Xi’s published works.

This is not presumably the unity Carr has in mind. Still, the kind of unity he advocates offers little improvement on Xi Jinping’s vision if it urges Chinese Australians to speak with one voice to an agenda someone else has set for them.

If Chinese Australians want to unite to counter racism, they can and will do so of their own accord. Then again, they may choose to unite against calls by the likes of Xi Jinping and Bob Carr, both of whom routinely publish their recommendations in the party’s premier propaganda channels in China, to unite for purposes that have little to do with Australia.

It is no thanks to Carr that our political class has woken up to the threat posed by China’s interference in Australia. Credit is due rather to the investigative reports of journalists like John Garnaut and academics such as Clive Hamilton. Playing the race card against serious commentators, Carr renders himself irrelevant to meaningful discussion of national issues.

Australia’s institutions will continue to show how robust they are as more Australians speak out when they see editorial independence, academic freedom, social cohesion or parliamentary sovereignty compromised through pressure from a foreign country. Historically, we have been quick enough to do this where the U.S. is concerned: witness the fierce anti-Americanism of the seventies when I, along with many others, felt Washington was intervening in our domestic affairs.

It’s the same with China. If Beijing does not stop pushing, Australians cannot really afford to stop pushing back. That’s just who we are.

John Fitzgerald is Emeritus Professor at Swinburne University of Technology

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