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Thursday, 4 February 2010
Page: 555


Mr DANBY (12:30 PM) —I want to mention a recent article in the Business Spectator written by former foreign minister Alexander Downer. I am sure General MacArthur’s dictum of old soldiers fading away would have been embraced by the member for Curtin, Julie Bishop, when she read this article. It seems to be undiplomatic from someone who is supposed to be busy solving the Cyprus problems as the United Nations Special Envoy, a job the Rudd government supported him in getting, to be critical of the current government’s policy towards China. ‘Fix the China relationship,’ he demands, as if it were a matter of chatting to some chaps at the Adelaide Club. What we need is ‘mature dialogue’, he says, as though 11 years of mature dialogue between the previous government and the Chinese regime had some magical effect on Chinese behaviour. Things must be ‘managed discreetly’, he says, not mentioning that it was his own party that last year demanded tougher action against Stern Hu and at the same time accused the current Prime Minister of being too friendly with Beijing.

The fact is that the terms of the China debate have changed dramatically since Mr Downer left office two years ago, and it is time he caught up. China’s behaviour has been growing steadily more aggressive both domestically and internationally. We saw it most dramatically with China’s sabotage of the Copenhagen climate summit and its gross discourtesy towards the President of the United States at Copenhagen. China is cracking down harder than ever on domestic dissidents such as the Tibetan and Uygur minorities. Recently we saw Dr Liu Xiaobo, the leader of the 300 Chinese academics’ Charter 08, modelled on the great democrat Vaclav Havel and his attempts at liberation in Europe, sentenced to 11 years in prison for inciting subversion of state power. This academic, who offered no violent threat to the Chinese state, was jailed for 11 years, and Mr Downer thinks we should accept this without comment.

China is getting much tougher in the business area. James McGregor, the former Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, writing in Time magazine, said:

I have seldom seen the foreign business community more angry and disillusioned than it is today.

He cited:

… arrogant and insolent Chinese bureaucrats … purposefully inconsistent and nontransparent enforcement of regulations, rampant intellectual-property theft … blatant market impediments through rigged product standards and testing, politicized courts and agencies …and selective enforcement of WTO requirements …

but Mr Downer thinks we should say nothing about this.

Internationally, China has stepped up its campaign to become a leader of the anti-Western Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, with Russia as its junior partner. Every oppressive regime in the world knows that it has a good friend in China, especially if the Chinese want something in exchange. The military junta in Burma, the genocidal regime in Sudan, the dictatorship in Yemen, the ayatollahs in Tehran who shoot down demonstrators in the streets, Mugabe’s plunder of Zimbabwe—these are all China’s best friends in the world. In exchange, the Chinese get cheap Sudanese oil, Iranian oil, platinum from Zimbabwe, naval bases from Burma. It is sad to see a great people like the Chinese people, who have suffered at the hands of Western imperialism, being ruled by a regime which is itself becoming a neocolonialist.

How should Australia respond to this new phase in China’s policies? We should respond by defending our interests and values. Mr Downer disagrees. He said we should accept the trend towards domestic neoStalinism in China, its arrogant and corrupt conduct in business relations and its unprincipled international behaviour. Like Julie Bishop, he says we should not have granted a visa to the Uygur dissident leader Rebiya Kadeer. He says we should not criticise China’s treatment of domestic dissidents. He says we should not extend our support to the people of Tibet. He implies we should not pay attention to China’s provocative military triumphalism celebrating the anniversary of the Communist Party in Beijing just a few months ago, a regime that the great biographer of Mao, Philip Short, notes is responsible for the deaths of 80 million of its own people. We should accept China’s alliances with the dictators in Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe and Sudan.

I am pleased to say that Australia will not be accepting Mr Downer’s rather patronising advice. The Rudd government has sought to maintain a relationship with China that is both in Australia’s economic and diplomatic interests and consistent with our national values. It is not an easy task. Despite the difficulties posed by China’s increasingly anti-Western attitudes, the Rudd government is doing a much better job than its predecessor. Mr Downer, whose term of office included the scandal of the Australian Wheat Board, is in no position to lecture us. He should stick to his day job in Cyprus and leave Australia’s foreign policy to the government the people elected.