Australia’s tightrope walk between long-time friend and ally, the US, and newfound customer for mining and energy exports, China, is back on the political agenda thanks to issues raised in a talk at a conference in Melbourne yesterday by a British academic.
But, while some followers of what seems to be a fairly dry discussion were attracted by the thoughts of Martin Jacques, from the London School of Economics, there were others who had their curiosity aroused by the man himself.
Largely unknown in Australia, Mr Jacques has a pedigree which would earn him lots of friends in China, which is why it was hardly surprising he should suggest that Australia would have to break some of its ties to the US and welcome the influence of China if it is to thrive in the Asian century.
Other people have said much the same thing but they have done it from a pure business relationships perspective.
What Mr Jacques did, was introduce a more seductive line, quoted in the Australian Financial Review newspaper as saying: “What is going to happen in Australia is not just economic.”
He added that Australia’s insistence on remaining a western country was “an unsustainable position because of cultural, political and moral issues”.
It was the point about political and moral issues which caused a few observers to wonder whose barrow Mr Jacques was pushing and on what basis did he believe he could lecture Australia about its future.
That’s when a piece of ancient history flashed through my mind because once upon a time there was a Martin Jacques who edited a truly appalling magazine in London called “Marxism Today” on behalf of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
The main reason for remembering Marxism Today is that in the late 1980s Perth entrepreneur, Robert Holmes a Court, came close to buying another left-leaning magazine, The New Statesman.
Mr Holmes a Court opted to not proceed with the deal because a due diligence team sent to London to check out the magazine, which had featured such famous writers as George Bernard Shaw, had collapsed, being outsold by Marxism Today.
Both magazines sang from the same hymn sheet of far left socialist and communist ideology, until being hammered flat by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, tipping most of the staff on to the street, or into academe where they could continue waving the red flag.
Mr Jacques, it seems, was one of those whose career hit a bumpy patch with the closure of Marxism Today in 1991, and then on to other duties at left-leaning positions, including a post as visiting professor at Beijing’s Renmin University, as well as the LSE, while also finding time to write the occasional column for the New Statesman and a book title “When China Rules the World”.
This background as a career supporter of the far left, as a man who once subscribed to a pure Marxist philosophy and now a man close to the Communist Government of China, is not a particularly strong basis on which to advise Australia as to which road it should travel in the future.
Marxism, the root from which Mr Jacques’ political philosophy has developed, is a completely discredited belief system that has not the foggiest notion about business, private enterprise or the moral values on which western democracy is based.
For Mr Jacques to blow in as a wise man from London (via Beijing) and then suggest that Australia should sever some of its ties with the US is curious indeed. Having got it so wrong with his Marxist/Soviet connections of 30 years ago he has now switched to Chinese Marxism.
As for his reported comment about getting closer to China because “there is nothing to fear, it might well enrich many parts of Australia”, is a classic piece of communist propaganda of the sort not seen for the past 25 years.
Mr Jacques, in keeping with the open society which is Australia, is encouraged to speak freely while visiting this country.
The same cannot be said for the former Soviet Union, which he once supported, or in the modern China, where free speech of the sort he has just practised would not be permitted.
What Mr Jacques and other old-school Marxists have to learn, is that their totalitarian views are tolerated in Australia, and in its close ally, the US, because both countries recognise the importance of keeping society open.
There might be room to criticise the US but the good bits far outweigh the bad.
As for what it is that Mr Jacques is really trying to say, it seems he wants Australia to become more like China.
A few years ago he might have suggested we become more like the Soviet Union – and wouldn’t that have been a silly thing to do.