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Thursday, 17 July 2014
Page: 8502


Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (10:54): On Wednesday, 9 July, Indonesia, a massive nation of 250 million people, and friend of Australia, held free and democratic presidential elections. In April and May, the largest and most amazing of all democratic elections took place in India for the Lok Sabha, India's national parliament. In contrast to these two positive examples, on 1 July in Hong Kong, more than 500 people were arrested for a pro-democracy demonstration of half a million people who were protesting for democracy in Hong Kong.

Let's go back to the financial crisis of 1997, when President Suharto was forced to resign. In the 17 intervening years Indonesia has seen wonderful democratic development. At the same time, in 1997 Britain handed Hong Kong over to China. Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong was meant to have universal suffrage as an ultimate objective. Seventeen years thence, the Communist Party has stymied democratic process and, in China's so-called peaceful rise, we have now seen, in contrast to Indonesia, what is happening in Hong Kong.

India's population of 1.2 billion people is almost unbelievably diverse and includes hundreds of millions who still live in poverty. Hong Kong, by contrast, has a highly educated and cosmopolitan citizenry. Yet, where India just transferred power in the largest democratic election in history, in Hong Kong the Communist Party has declared that only party approved 'patriotic' candidates will be allowed for election to the Hong Kong chief executive. Worse, Beijing has also declared that Hong Kong judges, as the great Australian foreign policy expert John Garnaut has pointed out, will be referred to as 'administrators' who must be party approved candidates. Shackling the judiciary in Hong Kong to the will of the Communist Party in this way may well have the effect of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Hong Kong's prosperity depends on impartially administered rule of law provided by an independent judiciary.

Beijing's stance against political liberalisation and its increased bellicosity in the South China Sea do represent a worrying trend. It may be that, as Paul Dibb, one of our top experts, says, Chinese military prowess is grossly overstated, but there are recent announcements that China will be building two supercarriers in addition to the modified Russian one that it already operates. It seems unlikely that this renewed political and military hard line is purely coincidental. Of course, we have seen in President Xi Jinping the rise of the most powerful General Secretary of the Communist Party since Deng Xiaoping.

During Prime Minister Abbott's welcome to Prime Minister Abe last week he referred to Japanese World War II soldiers in this way: 'We admired the skill and the sense of honour that they brought to their task.' Prime Minister Abbott was trying too hard. Friends should be able to speak freely when our views differ. I am personally a great friend and admirer of Japan. It was an honour to be mentioned by Prime Minister Abe in his speech to the parliament. But Japan, like Germany, should not forget its dark past. Let's not forget the 30,000 Australian POWs between 1940 and 1945 who were forced to live in the jungle at the mercy of the elements, endure hours of exhausting physical labour, receive no medical treatment and be starved, taunted, abused, maltreated, beaten and derided by their Japanese captors. Let's not forget the 2,000 Australian and British prisoners of war who died in the Sandakan death march in 1945. Let us not forget the brutal humiliation and killing of patients in the Hong Kong hospital in 1941.

China in 2014 is not Japan of the 1930s. Japan should not forget its past, and China should see in the example of Japan in the past just what comes of nationalism, authoritarianism and militarism. India is as massive as China, and Indonesia with its history of authoritarianism has also had great democratic developments. Japan shares a great cultural history with China. All of these countries can move towards democracy and peace, and I am sure that China can too.

It is very important that when we have good relations with all of our friends in East Asia we do not go overboard to revise sad histories. Germany, by contrast, has an interesting way of approaching this. It gives independent assistance to victims of World War II such as the comfort women of South Korea. I urge Japan to look at that example.