Professor Chen Hong (Director, Australian Studies Centre, East China Normal University)
First published in The La Trobe Asia Brief Issue 2 on 1 July, 2019.
The past two years have witnessed a mounting volume of attacks aimed at China on a series of issues by some Australian media outlets, think tank academics and political figures.
While China welcomes constructive suggestions and advices based on truth and fairness, there has been a growing exasperation in China at such incessant lopsided and double standard denigration which has played an alienating and distancing role in the bilateral relations of today.
Distorted portrayal of China as a force with contrivance to impel political directions in Australia is so ridiculous that it does not warrant serious scrutiny; yet the absurdity of such allegations ferments to fan a misled public panic at China and even the Chinese community in Australia.
Demonisation of China’s constructive role in the South Pacific has abetted to create the fallacy of a ‘China Threat’. Australia has also initiated a smear campaign to vilify the private-owned Chinese business Huawei. Instead of embracing innovative technology they are painted with a mission of espionage and interference.
It is a fact that China and Australia have distinctively dissimilar political and social systems. Each country has its own values and cultures of preference, but that gives no excuse to make judgement to impose on the other.
Dichotomisation of the world into antagonising camps is indeed outdated in Thomas Friedman’s flat world, which celebrates global convergence of interests and aspirations, rather than promoting an ideologically driven mentality like during the Cold War period.
Admittedly China is now the world’s second largest economy, but it is not a political and military super power that some people with vested interest have been portraying – nor does it want to be. China has the least intention to become a geopolitical hegemony.
To avoid misinformation or misguidance, it is important to reiterate a number of positions pertinent to our bilateral relations that China upholds.
China has not the slightest interest in influencing or even manipulating Australia’s national mechanism of governance. As China does not want other countries to interfere with its own internal affairs, China respects Australia’s political, economic and social system and way of life.
However on issues of core national interest, China will definitely not hesitate to be adamant and outspoken to make its position and attitude known, but that will of course be within the framework of locally recognised lawful conduct in Australia.
It is in fact a disgrace and paranoid to concoct the conspiracy theory that China connives to threaten Australia’s sovereignty and integrity.
As Australia’s biggest trade partner, China wants its business activities including investment, acquisition and technological collaboration initiatives and activities to be handled on the basis of equality and impartiality. China opposes approaches and policies to deal with business proposals from Chinese companies with national prejudices.
Some critics in Australia have been insinuating that China is or will be using trade as a leverage to effect policy changes, but China always believes that politicisation of business activities is dangerous. China has never cited the so-called security concerns to reject or even ban business ventures and trade deals with Australia.
China’s aid programs and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure projects in any part of the world are between China and the relevant countries or regions, aiming at development, prosperity and mutual benefits.
The programs and projects have received enthusiastic and congenial reception from the local governments and people. China does not appreciate Australia’s repeated attempts to disparage China’s presence in the South Pacific, even to coax and coerce some island nations’ governments to edge out China’s business engagements.
China espouses the outlook that the world is free and open, and no part of the world should be deemed as some country’s ‘own patch’ or backyard. China does not believe in zero-sum contestation, and is willing to work in collaboration with Australia to promote development and prosperity of the Asia Pacific region, and welcomes Australia to participate under the BRI cooperative framework in various practicable ways.
China’s relationship with any third party country, region, organisation or alliance will not adversely affect its relationship with Australia. China will not sacrifice mutually beneficial relations with Canberra in order to pledge allegiance to any other country.
We believe the comprehensive strategic partnership with Australia is important to China’s national interest, and to the regional and international stability and peace.
In a number of instances Australia pioneered and went even further than some of the other Western countries to contain China and counter its peaceful rise, which is damaging or in fact destructive to the mutual trust and friendship between our two countries.
Some Australian scholars have been vociferously creating an outlandish fantasy of China’s ‘silent invasion’, citing illogical and baseless stories which genuine academics would not deign to take seriously.
Such fake news and conspiracy theory misinform and mislead the public in a viral way, provoking a ‘Red Scare’ or ‘Sino-phobia’ that overflows from the news press to spill into the government’s policy-making process.
It is deplorable that the bilateral relationship has been undergoing depression for two years. We appreciate some recent positive signals released by the Australian side to thaw and revive the frosty ties, but continual cancerous attempts such as the Four Corners recent calumny of China are still emerging to bring the relationship to an even further decline.
We hope sensibility shall ultimately prevail over prejudices that, according to the English/Irish writer Oliver Smith, should be lopped off to ensure the healthy and vigorous growth of the goodly tree of humanity.
Photo: Anti-Chinese foreign investment protesters outside the Chinese consulate in Sydney, 30 May 2015 (Reddit).