Playing the Chinese Card: An Unconscionable and Hazardous Enterprise

Feb 22, 2022

For a person who hailed from Malaysia, driven to Australia by the push and pull of racial discrimination and liberal democracy respectively, the recent playing of the Chinese card by both major parties in Australia even before the next election campaigns are in full-throttle engenders a feeling of deja vu.

For about five decades at least from the time Singapore was booted out of Malaysia, politicians in Malaysia have played the Chinese card very successfully.  Just to illustrate what I mean, the following quote is taken right out of the horses mouth:

It goes without saying that if the small number of non-Malays who are financially handicapped are assisted towards achieving what their richer countrymen have achieved, then the disparity between the educational status of the Malays and non-Malays would increase even more.

(Mahathir bin Mohamad, 1970, p.75: The Malay Dilemma; Federal Publications SDN BHD, Petaling Jaya)

This is just a sample of the type of political statements that the longest serving Prime Minister of Malaysia would make to win elections. Clearly, the victims of a race-based economic policy is always the least economically and socially empowered people, what Mahathir labels as the “financially handicapped”.

While successive Malaysian governments used their own unempowered Chinese citizens as a perennial tool for winning general elections, they gladly engaged with the Chinese government for investments and other business arrangements.  Chinese Malaysians were blamed for all manner of failure of the Malays to achieve their economic ambitions; and the politician who is seen to be toughest on them gets elected.  We are beginning to see a similar trend among Australian politicians.  Since, as Paul Keating said, we are the arse end of the world, things are therefore done the other way around.  The major political parties compete to demonstrate who is the tougher on the Chinese government; and the equally unempowered Chinese Australians catch the spillover or become collateral damage.

National security issues are now politicised against the advice of ASIO (Wright, SMH, 16/02/2022).  The Coalition government began playing the Chinese card by accusing the Opposition Labor Party of being the preferred govenment of the Chinese Communist Party.  The Labor opposition took the bait and tried to do one better by accusing Dr Chau Chak Wing of being the puppeteer behind an attempt to influence the election of candiates favoured by the Chinese government.  Regardless of the truth of the matter, one cannot but disapprove of a Senator, in this case Kimberly Kitching, using parliamentary privilege to accuse an Australian Chinese citizen of a wrongdoing without producing a shred of evidence.  Since no evidence is deemed to be necessary for such an accusation, this reeks of McCarthyism.

Members of the Australian Chinese community, like the rest of the Australian population, have mixed feelings about the current strain in the Australian and China relationship.  What is concerning is the readiness to use an already difficult situation for political gain regardness of economic or social consequences.  We are equally concerned that if such debates are not handled with temperance, it can compromise the multiethnic cohesion of this country.

The word “liberal” before “democracy” is meant to afford vulnerable minoirities a level of protection against “dictatorship of the majority”.  Seen from a moral perspective, one is reminded of Machiavellian tendencies and Immanuel Kant’s advice not to use other human beings purely as a means to an end.  Regardless of how one seeks to justify politicising and playing the Chinese card, the job of protecting Australians against foreign subversion is best left to the proper government agencies such as the police, ASIO and the courts to deal with.  Politiking with it can have unfortunate outcomes.  A good example of the harm caused by race-based politics is the May 13 1969 riots in Malaysia which resulted in hundreds of innocent people (up to more than a thousand in unofficial estimates) being murdered.  An Australasian example is the Christchurch shooting on the 15th of march 2019 that resulted in 51 innocent Muslims being killed through religious hatred.

Apart from the moral dimensions, there is evidence that playing the Chinese card with its attendant racism comes at a big economic cost.  When Singapore was booted out of Malaysia in 1965, most of the natural resources and human capital were in Malaysia.  Today, the per capita GDP of Singapore is about six times that of Malaysia.  This is not to suggest that Singapore is free of racism.  However, the government of Singapore wisely took measures to curb it.  In Australia, the economic malaise from the unnessary conflict with China is yet to fully unfold. A summary of the outlook is best reflected in the following statement by AIIA reporter, Cameron Smith (30/08/2021): “…  Ambassador Fletcher acknowledged the current strains. China is pursuing actions to reduce Australian imports. The disruption has affected several Australian industries – coal, timber, meat and seafood in particular. Australia and China have not had ministerial meetings or phone calls since early last year.”  Playing the Chinese card in the forthcoming elections is unwise.  The future does not look promising if we keep cutting the nose to spite the face.

One would expect Australian politicians not to decend to a similar level of politiking as the quasi democracies in the region.  Yet there it is, warts and all.  There is a plethora of social and economic problems that need addressing. Unfortunately what our politicians choose to do is to bicker with our largest trading partner and use the Chinese demon so created to win an election.  Now we are back to poking the dragon in the eye to get an adrenalin rush and complaining about heat and smoke.  We are cooking our own goose.

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