Australia’s deference to China at a political level does this country no credit.
Australian politicians should stop mouthing vacuous slogans about things they know nothing about, according to long-time Hong Kong-based Australian lawyer Dan Ryan.
He says such utterances show a lack of thoughtfulness about the true nature of Australia’s economic and other relationships with other countries.
Queensland-born Mr Ryan was in Perth addressing students and researchers at Subiaco-based free enterprise think tank Mannkal Economic Education Foundation, which is affiliated to Hong Kong’s counterpart, Lion Rock Institute, of which he’s a director.
To demonstrate his distaste for this proclivity, Mr Ryan highlighted the regularly heard claim that Australians are living in the ‘Asian century’.
Not only are growing numbers of politicians alleging we’re firmly within such a century, the Gillard government actually commissioned a White Paper that explicitly endorsed this notion, he said.
Mr Ryan pointed out that the leaders of America’s major parties have unambiguously stated they’re looking towards the 2000s being an ‘American century’.
And immediate past-secretary of state Hillary Clinton, now gearing-up to become the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, refers to this century as ‘America’s Asia-Pacific century’.
That begs the questions – precisely whose century are we living in, and who in Canberra unilaterally bequeath century 21 to Asia?
If it is, in fact, Asia’s century, which countries will dominate what is a huge region?
My conservation with Mr Ryan, an Australian National University law and Asian studies graduate, revealed a real grasp of Canberra’s political and bureaucratic processes.
He says that selecting the catch-cry ‘Asian century’ phrase was Yes Minister-style speak since it, in fact, doesn’t actually mean what it’s purporting to claim.
“What do people really mean when they use ‘Asia’ in this context?” Mr Ryan asked.
“That this is now the century of the Cambodians, Kazakhstanis or the Koryaks of Kamchatka?
“I would suggest, whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, they mean China.”
Which begs the question, why was the word China avoided and why hand-over an entire century to China?
And who gave anyone in Canberra the right to do so, and so deceptively?
Whoever it was, clearly they never thought of asking our good friends among the American political leadership.
Mr Ryan has contemplated the reasons for this and other examples of Canberra’s linguistic unilateralism for some time.
He directed me to a May 2012 column he had published in The Australian, headlined ‘Caution ahead on Asian Century’, in which he first highlighted such Canberra ignorance and arrogance.
“It profits none to give the impression we view with equanimity the prospect of the People’s Republic of China assuming the role that the United States has in our region or as a new global order-maker,” he wrote.
“There is precious little to suggest that such a future would ultimately result in a net gain for Australia over the present arrangement.
“It also in all likelihood would not be in the interests of other Asian countries, including China itself.
“There is nothing inevitable about the China century, the Asian century.
“Those interested in a peaceful and prosperous century ahead should think long and hard before parroting such glib geo-political slogans.”
Although our conversation broached issues beyond such misuse of terminology, Mr Ryan also highlighted parallel behaviour by Canberra and Beijing political and bureaucratic elites.
Try this even worse case that he’s highlighted in another column carried by The Australian.
“In recent times it has become increasingly common for centre-right Western politicians, in order to show their profound understanding of modern China, to quote the declaration chairman Mao Zedong supposedly made at the founding of the People’s Republic,” he wrote.
“Zhongguo renmin zhan qilai le,” Malcolm Turnbull declares in Mandarin in almost any speech he gives on China.
“The Chinese people have stood up.”
Nor is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop immune from such a practice.
“Beset by occupation from colonial powers, invasion, wars and internal conflict over centuries,’ says Julie Bishop, recounting the gripping tale, “a turning point came in 1949 when the modern People’s Republic was founded under the leadership of Mao Zedong, who famously declared, ‘The Chinese people have stood up’,” Mr Ryan wrote.
“Why do nominally conservative politicians talk like this about a communist takeover of a country?
“Bishop explains: ‘While its trials and tribulations were far from over, Mao was referring to the fact that the Chinese people had assumed control of their destiny, free from domination by external powers’.
“By this logic, should we not also celebrate Lenin’s takeover in Moscow because it allowed Russians to ‘assume control of their destiny’.”
Clearly neither Ms Bishop nor Mr Turnbull have read University of Hong Kong’s humanities professor Frank Dikotter’s books, The Tragedy of Liberation and Mao’s Great Famine; The Story of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, which describe in great detail China’s so-called Great Leap Forward (1958-62) and Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) during which more than 45 million innocent Chinese perished.
The assertion in State Scene (February 9) that noted Australian historian and editor of Quadrant magazine Keith Windshuttle, was a former “Trotskyist” has brought the following response: “I was never a Trotskyite. I had Trotskyite friends at university in the 1960s but I was then a follower of the American 'New Left', which turned out to be just as big a failure, though with less blood on its hands.”
Keith Windschuttle, Editor, Quadrant magazine