Wayne Hudson: The importance of creating much greater cultural dialogue between China and Australia as soon as possible

Aug 19, 2022
Australian Chinese
Image: Flickr / Michael Coghlan

The Chinese Ambassador is trying for a reset and it is tragic that his efforts have been misunderstood and perhaps wilfully so.

The Australian journalists looked bored and many of them appear not to have understood the Chinese meaning of what he said.

The media reports of his address were extremely negative and unfair.

I was very impressed by the Ambassador, but then I know China fairly well and have been listening to hidden subtexts to the remarks of Chinese people for many decades.

The locals seemed to think that he was very frightening and committing China to war.

This only underlines the importance of creating much greater cultural dialogue between China and Australia as soon as possible.

There are faults on both sides, but the degree of misunderstanding on both sides is very dangerous.

China does not think in Western legalist terms.

Chinese spokes persons use Western terms like international law but they do not understand these terms in a Western way.

Westerners often do not understand what Chinese spokespersons mean or feel, let alone why.

We cannot change any of this quickly, but we can work hard to create more cultural understanding of China in Australia. We need to do so as a matter of urgency.

It is ridiculous that large numbers of Australians know virtually nothing about one of the greatest civilisations the world has ever seen.

This is not to deny that a scientific analysis of power and wealth in contemporary China tends to identify objective contradictions in China’s modernisation process. Such contradictions hardly feature in the Australian media with some exceptions, mainly Chinese writers who can be very anti-Beijing but they grasp the real variables. Many Anglo-Australian writers on security seem to think they are living in the 1930s and that China and the Russian Federation are similar. Their understanding of the post-Soviet intelligentsia in Russia is as minimal as their knowledge of contemporary Chinese intelligentsias.

It is, of course, clear that Australia needs to promote its own security and national interests and should not be weak in doing so. However we need to be much shrewder and much better informed when dealing with China’s attempts to promote its security and national interests. Australia has some of the best China analysts in the world, but I seriously doubt that many of our journalists have read their books. They should do so as a matter of urgency.

As Henry Kissinger keeps trying to tell whoever will listen, international conflicts can often be avoided if the real interests of the parties are honestly acknowledged. It is then possible to negotiate on a realistic basis. The conflicts of interest remain, but they are not talked up in the junk language of political journalism or reduced to the mythological terminology deployed during the cold war.

Professor Wayne Hudson is Research Professor at Charles Sturt University, Canberra and Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University.

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