Australia’s iron(ic) curtain hurting China ties

Gregory McCarthy, PKU/ EAF/ 20 February 2018

2017 was earmarked to celebrate 45 years of Australian–Chinese diplomatic relations. Instead, Australia alleged that China interfered in its national affairs and the China Daily reported that an on-line poll had voted Australia as the ‘least friendly nation to China in 2017’. Likewise, a Global Times editorial accused Australia of McCarthyism and said that Australia had gone insane regarding the issue of China.

Engagement between China and Australia has evolved through crucial phases of development. In 1972, the recognition of China was seen through the prism of the Cold War, even as former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam valiantly tried to step out of this mindset. There was a sea change in the 1980s after then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s reforms and their emphasis on integrating China into the global capitalist order, the assumption being China was becoming ‘like us’.

Come 2018, Australia now imagines a different China — one that is not integrating but is instead playing by a different set of rules and norms that threaten Australia’s values. This fear has entered Australia’s domestic politics and evokes negative responses from within China at the official and civilian levels.

This fear portrays the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as omnipresent and exporting its influence overseas. A common understanding is that Chinese students are the products of a patriotic education system, which leads to the assumption that these students ‘always follow the Party’ when overseas. There is a logical jump in the argument that sees Chinese students as agents of the CCP who ‘spread propaganda’.

Australian media outlets portray little difference between the Chinese state and its people. Chinese students are seen as so imbued with CCP patriotism that they are accused of stifling free speech on Australian university campuses. Given that there were 157,000 Chinese students studying in Australia in 2017 and only four incidents reported, these myths are sustained by the continuous work of media outlets that reproduce the infiltration fable. What is overlooked is that the patriotism of Chinese international students has many origins beyond the CCP agenda and their socio-political views are quite diverse.

Former Australian senator Sam Dastyari’s associations with a Chinese businessman fanned fears of Chinese influence in Canberra. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that Dastyari ‘did not put Australia first and had betrayed Australia’. Turnbull later alleged that the CCP was ‘working to covertly interfere with our media, our universities and even the decisions of elected representatives’. Read more…


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