Sometimes it is hard to know whether the success of Beijing’s relentless espionage campaignic: Frankie in Australia has less to do with our adversary’s stealth than with our cluelessness.
Andrew Hastie stunned the political world last August when he warned Australians that the rise and rise of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) represented the greatest threat to our future. President Xi Jinping’s desire to remake the world according to his imperial vision threatens ‘our sovereignty and our freedoms’. Beijing’s denial of a visa to Andrew Hastie underscored Hastie’s point.
Hastie’s assertion came as something of a shock. No mainstream Australian figure had spoken of the PRC as a ‘threat’ since PM McMahon, back in 1971, admonished Gough Whitlam for meeting with Chairman Mao. McMahon claimed Whitlam was betraying our relationship with the U.S., a claim discredited shortly afterwards with Richard Nixon’s famous tête-à-tête with Mao Zedong. Nixon, a devotee of Realpolitik, sought Sino-American rapprochement as leverage against Moscow, its Cold War nemesis.
A warning about the Communist Party of China (CCP), by someone of Andrew Hastie’s standing, has come very late in the piece. The faction that has dominated the CCP since 1976 came to power after the death of Mao. They are communist ‘pragmatists’ who were marginalised during the anti-capitalist hysteria of the Cultural Revolution, which resulted in the death of 3 million people. Led by Deng Xiaoping, whose own son Deng Pufang was crippled by fanatic Red Guards, this new moderate and no-nonsense incarnation of the party promised to make China a responsible member of the world community.
Supreme Leader Deng pledged to overturn almost four decades of Maoist indoctrination and terror, not to mention Third World living standards, in order to transform China into a modern, high-tech nation. His so-called Four Modernisations would be China’s real revolution: in science, technology, industry, agriculture and defence. Say goodbye to peddling to work on a gearless bicycle, $30 a month salary, spartan living conditions, and the ubiquitous navy-blue Mao suit. Say Ni Hao to colour, cars and consumerism.
Deng and his ‘technocratic’ successors have succeeded in many ways. China’s high-speed rail (HSR) network is 30,000 kilometres long. Bullet trains, which travel at speeds of 320 kilometres an hour, have transported 9 billion passengers across the country without recording a single fatality or, at any rate, no fatality the party has chosen to record. Beijing provided the money for the costly experimentation and inevitable glitches in the earlier stages of development. More state funds and subsequent brilliant innovations have made China the centre of the HSR industry. Today Beijing sells its hardware and knowhow to India, while planning to extend the domestic HSR network to Myanmar and beyond. Meanwhile, Australia and even America operate zero high-speed trains.
Not only have Australians viewed the modernisation of the PRC as a success in its own right, but something that is mostly to our mutual advantage. Aussie-brand companies with their manufacturing base in China, mass merchandisers, mining magnates, university chancellors, private-school principals, real-estate agencies, investors and financiers with a global portfolio, tourism firms, wine exporters, dairy exporters, politicians on the take and cultural commissars on the make have all directly benefitted from the China behemoth.
Decoupling from the PRC, a kind of ‘Aussiexit’, would be devastating, as even Andrew Hastie acknowledges. Our interdependence with China has gone from insignificant to immense in little more than a generation. Scott Morrison’s extension of the travel ban from China, due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, threatens to wipe $6 billion off our GDP. Just the stranding of 98,000 Chinese university students outside Australia threatens to cost our educational institutions up to $2 billion.
Optimists assumed the growth of an urban middle-class would initiate an era of liberalism in China. The crushing of the Democracy Wall Movement in 1979 and the Tiananmen Square Massacre 10 years later were momentary setbacks. The appearance of gleaming new skyscrapers and urban flyovers guaranteed that even if the PRC were to remain a one-party state, which increasingly seemed to be the case, both the Communist regime and the 1.4 billion people it ruled were bound to become more free-thinking. The arc of the moral universe, as Barack Obama likes to say, always bends towards justice.
In the case of the PRC, however, the arc bends in entirely the wrong direction. Each year, according to the independent body, chaired by esteemed UN Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, some 90,000 prisoners of conscience, members of Falun Gong, ‘underground’ Christians, Uyghurs, Tibetans and many others, have their organs removed and sold onto a thriving international market.
Sir Geoffrey and his panel of high-profile international human rights attorneys accused the Communist Party of China of “extreme wickedness” and defiling “one of the oldest civilisations known to man”.
A high-tech lifestyle has not liberated the people of China in the sense of delivering personal freedom and independence. It was inevitable, in retrospect, that the party’s unelected and paranoid leaders would turn technology against its own population. Consider the all-pervasive WeChat (Weixin), China’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google, Tinder and Apple Pay integrated as a one state-operated system. WeChat has over a billion subscribers. A ‘middle class’ existence in China is almost inconceivable without WeChat.
It connects you to everyone, family, best friend, work, money, potential new girlfriend, restaurant reservation, everything. It also connects you to Big Brother.
The truth is that the Communist Party of China has offered its people the ‘good life’ but not the ‘free life’. The Leninist tyrants rule the People’s Republic in the name of the people, but they are not of the people. The post-Mao party remains a private organisation more akin to an underworld mob than a legitimate government. The maxim for the party’s Orwellian Social Monitoring System, which rates and rewards an individual’s actions over a period with digital surveillance, says it all: “May the trustworthy roam everywhere under heaven, the discredited take not a single step!”
The advent of China as an imperial power, whose reach increasingly extends into the South Pacific, is putting Australia under scrutiny. What if we do not prove to be ‘trustworthy’ in the eyes of the Chinese communists? We have found ourselves in a bind. There are powerful interests in Australia who would be best served if there was no criticism of China. Former PM Rudd is particularly effective attacking members of the Australian government, up to and including foreign ministers and prime ministers, who upset the ‘equilibrium’ in Sino-Australian dealings. To provoke the ire, and therefore distrust, of President-for-life Xi Jinping and Co serves no useful purpose. Pointedly, Australia’s PRC apologists can sound eerily like Beijing’s PRC apologists when they conflate anti-China criticism with anti-Chinese bigotry. It is as if our pro-China lobby is suggesting that Australia, not unlike China, may have the ‘good life’ but not the ‘free life’.
"There are powerful interests in Australia who would be best served if there was no criticism of china."
All this appeasement comes, unfortunately, at the very time that Communist China has penetrated almost every significant institution, economic, political, educational, cultural and social, in the land. As Beijing has forced the people of China to submit to its totalitarian will, now it is the turn of everyone else on the planet, including Australians, to surrender. Peter Navarro’s documentary Death by China made it amply clear, as long ago as 2012, that the Communist Party of China was waging a war against America and the West using the “weapons of job destruction”.
Meanwhile, China vanquishes, we appease. Bill Gertz’s Deceiving the Sky (2019) discloses that Beijing employs 100,000 hackers to snoop on all that moves in the West. China’s agents on the ground have spied on everything from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology to research projects on national security at the Australian National University.
Sometimes it is hard to know whether the success of Beijing’s relentless espionage campaign in Australia has less to do with our adversary’s stealth than with our cluelessness. In February, for instance, the CSIRO was accused of collaborating with a top Chinese marine institute to create satellite-based lasers capable of detecting foreign submarines.
It is not in the interests of those who profit, professionally or monetarily, from their relationship with China to admit – even to themselves – that the regime in Beijing is one of “extreme wickedness” that has every intention of creating a latter-day version of Japan’s WW2 Greater East-Asian Co-prosperity Sphere. If Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is fully implemented, the entire world, including the West, will sooner or later be kowtowing to Emperor Xi. There are now 60 countries fully signed up to the BRI. Membership means Chinese investment in local infrastructure but also the long-term reshaping of a nation into its allotted role as a spoke in a conceptual wheel which posits Beijing as the hub of all things. Already they speak of Africa as the PRC’s “other continent”. The Sino-revivalism of Xi Jinping means fulfilling the destiny of China’s self-ascribed name, Zhongguo or the Middle Kingdom. That is to say, in the middle of the Earth surrounded by servile barbarians.
The leasing of Darwin Port to the Chinese company Landbridge, for a period of 99 years, is an illustrative example of China’s neo-imperialism at work.
There was, from the narrow perspective of the Northern Territory Government, nothing wrong with securing an overseas ‘partner’ to overhaul the underdeveloped local port while, at the same time, securing a handy $506 million boost to the NT’s budget. But no PRC-associated company is independent, and so the anticipated Indo-Pacific base for US marines is not going to be built anywhere near Landbridge’s Darwin Port. The sum of Communist China’s imperial project is greater than its constituent parts, such as, say, building a new railway line in southern Nigeria or a new shipping terminus in Sri Lanka or an HSR service to Tibet.
The incorporation of Huawei technology into future 5G networks, according to Gordon Chang, long-time critic of Beijing, “will enable China to deploy ubiquitous surveillance and control over America and the broader West”. This might be something of a fantasy, as proponents of Huawei insist, and yet who would deny that it may well appeal to the Imperial Court of Emperor Xi Jinping? The European Union, that is who would deny it. As Salvatore Babones recently noted in The National Interest: “Germany’s outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up under Stasi monitoring and Soviet occupation, seems ready to trust the People’s Republic of China on this one.”
There is a flaw in Beijing’s ambition to replace the Pax Americana with its own Pax Sinica. China’s rulers not only demand everyone act the part of a hireling, they depend on everyone playing their allotted roles. The plan had been for the U.S., under the pretext of WTO business-as-usual, to keep transferring its blue-collar jobs and technological intelligence to China while Beijing began incrementally flexing its military and diplomatic muscle. Notoriously, at the 2016 G20 meeting, hosted by China, President Obama was forced to exit Air Force One from the underbelly of the plane or, as the rabid Guardian put it, “from the ass of Air Force One”.
President Trump turned all this on its head by refusing to play according to China’s rules. Kevin Rudd and others warned the international community that global trade would collapse if America did not mollify Beijing by withdraw its tariffs on goods imported from China. He was proven utterly wrong when Xi Jinping abruptly yielded to Trump by agreeing to “phase one” of a Sino-American trade deal. The White House had recognised all along that China needs its U.S. markets more than the U.S. needs China-made imports. That was all the leverage Trump and his negotiating team required.
Australia has rejected Huawei, we ought to nationalise Darwin Port and be more cautious about foreign ownership of our assets. Just as importantly, though, we need to begin speaking the truth about “the extreme wickedness” of the Communist Party of China. I am reminded of the late Dr Li Wenliang, arrested in Wuhan last December after alerting people on a microblog about a new strain of coronavirus. Dr Li’s crime, according to the party, was “spreading rumours”. His real crime, of course, was spreading the truth.
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