10/08/2011 - 10:44

Rethink needed on Stokes’ Sino suggestion

10/08/2011 - 10:44

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Chinese capitalist ‘culture’ is not something we need to adopt in Australia.

ALTHOUGH the Boao Forum for Asia Conference staged in Perth last month offered a range of star-studded business and other speakers, the address by local billionaire media baron Kerry Stokes was the most disturbing.

According to a report in his own newspaper, The West Australian, after ‘passionately’ calling for a special relationship with China, Mr Stokes made what must go down as the most worrying appeal by a high-profile Australian businessman.

“If we don’t integrate our cultures and become close and accept the Chinese, then it will be to our peril,” he said.

It matters not if it was Mr Stokes or a speechwriter who penned those ominous words; he said them.

State Scene has a learned friend who understands China and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) anti-humanist and anti-democratic practices well.

For security’s sake let’s call him ‘Ron’.

Coincidentally, in the week before the Boao Forum, Ron emailed me a copy of a letter he’d written to the editor of New International Magazine which, in April, carried an article by Richard Swift titled ‘Analysis: China’s Workers’. 

After congratulating the editor for carrying Swift’s insightful report, Ron wrote: “The Chinese working men and women are the largest group of working class in the world and one of the most ruthlessly exploited and systematically oppressed.

“But their plight is little reported and recognised. 

“Swift is right when he writes, ‘... the model of the Chinese economy is based on workers putting in a 12-hour day for just 2.7 per cent of what their US counterparts would make to produce the low-cost goods on sale at the local Wal-Mart or high-end computer store’.”

Ron stressed that the basis of the CCP’s development model hinged around low wages and ‘woefully inadequate health and safety protection’.

He pointed out that, although China produced a third of the world’s coal, its miners made up 80 per cent of deaths from mining disasters.

“The crucial problem is, of course, the CCP which does not allow workers to organise themselves in independent trade unions. Any bold souls trying to do so will be punished by forced labour in laogai camps or prisons,” Ron continued. 

“The so-called trade unions in Chinese factories are no more than a façade and running dogs of the management. 

“Swift’s article tells his readers the incredible but true story of how trade union officials assaulted striking workers in Guangdong.

“This, to anyone who knows what’s going on in China, was not an isolated case. Trade union officials are actually CCP officials wearing another hat. 

“What should worry us is this – as China is buying up and setting up factories, mines and farms all over the world, it is inevitable that they bring their domestic practices abroad.”

Ron highlighted the Chinese state-owned shipping tycoon Cosco which, in 2009, ensconced itself in Piraeus, Greece’s biggest seaport and third largest worldwide in passenger transiting, via a 35-year lease deal with Athens.

Piraeus could become China’s Hong Kong in Europe. How things change, and in so short a time.

“The harbour trade union collapsed overnight,” Ron wrote.

“If Chinese state capitalists could have their way in a European democracy, a member of the EU, one shouldn’t be surprised by their behaviour in small, corrupt and institutionally inadequate countries in the Third World.”

Perhaps when Mr Stokes next visits the Acropolis he’ll inspect – no official Chinese guides and translators, please – Piraeus.

Hopefully he’ll take along a smart WA Maritime Union official and Chamber of Commerce and Industry  labour relations expert to assist in fully assessing things.

The latter would be needed, because having unionists only assessing such matters doesn’t guarantee the outcome, since so many in Australia’s union movement long ago gave-up monitoring what happens to fellow worker brothers and sisters in communist and authoritarian lands.

That trend began in the early 1920s when Australian communists were willing toadies of the Vladimir Lenin-created Comintern and told lies about worker conditions in communist ‘paradises’.

Back then it was such types who promoted the idea of integrating Australia’s politics and culture into a totalitarian polity – the Soviet Union.

Now Mr Stokes follows by asking us to culturally embrace authoritarian China. 

Hopefully this doesn’t gain more backers, especially among our super-rich.

What’s most puzzling in Mr Stokes’ promotion of cultural integration with CCP-controlled China is the fact that he, more than any Australian billionaire, has a truly humble past.

It’s years since I read an account of his early life.

But I recall him being an adopted child, someone who truly battled his way out of extreme poverty; precisely what millions of young Chinese are seeking to do, but under far worse odds.

In light of this alone it’s extremely difficult to comprehend Mr Stokes’ call for integrating into contemporary China’s culture.

Hopefully he’ll eventually explain this massive gulf between his past and present advocacy. 

What of some of Richard Swift’s contentions?

Here are some from his nearly 2,000-word article.

“China, despite its embrace of corporate capitalism and private investors at the top, remains for many at the bottom highly autocratic and arbitrary,” Swift wrote.

“Nothing is more indicative of this than the Maoist-era hukouzhidu laws on family registration that (despite various reforms) still dictate who has the right to live where. 

“This has left millions of China’s new proletariat in a situation of chronic insecurity, preyed upon by their bosses and often corrupt municipal authorities and police. 

“Corporate managements often hold the identity papers and passes of workers to prevent them from leaving or becoming too aggressive in their demands at the workplace. 

“Parents are split from their children, who must pay extra for often inferior education in ‘illegal’ schools if they accompany them to the cities.

“It is cheaper to leave young children with grandparents or other family members so they can attend free village schools.

“Married couples working in different parts of the country are often separated for months on end. 

“Vulnerable workers in this legal ‘grey space’ are subject to various forms of abuse – lax health and safety, speed-up on the job, withholding of wages (sometimes for months on end), fear of police raids on migrant communities, administrative detention without legal recourse, being forcefully returned to their villages.

“The payment of bribes is chronic.Some of the incidents are gradually seeping into the Chinese press as journalists push the limits of the permissible.”

“They include stories of outright slave labour, such as the case of people kidnapped from the countryside to work in the Shanxi brick kilns. The stories provoked an official investigation that found 53,035 people illegally employed.

“According to Li Datong, who used to write for the China Youth Daily; ‘The investigation uncovered cases of people being kidnapped, of restriction of personal freedom, of forced labour, of child labour, and abuse and even murder of workers’.” 

And that’s just the tip of a very huge enslavement trade.

So Mr Stokes; most certainly not the type of culture, if that’s the correct term, I’d want my, your, or anyone else’s kids having to endure. 

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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