Nov 21, 2019 — 12.00am
These days there is never a dull moment in Australia-China relations. After
Scott Morrison with China's Premier Li Keqiang in Bangkok on November 3. AAP
It is particularly odd as both Hastie and Paterson are backbenchers, although Hastie chairs the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security. Moreover, the visit was organised by China Matters, an NGO that seeks to promote understanding of the complexities of the Australia- China relationship and aims to be scrupulously objective in this.
Ironically and incorrectly, some of the more trenchant critics of China in Australia, such as Hastie, would regard China Matters as yet another body doing Beijingʼs bidding. It is to Hastie and Patersonʼs credit that they were prepared to visit China at a time of such strain in the bilateral relationship, and as a part of a China Matters delegation.
It is unlikely that had the visit gone ahead it would have changed the parliamentarians' stance, but it may have demonstrated the complexities of contemporary China: a one-party authoritarian state with a modern, technologically advanced, dynamic economy, supported by some of the worldʼs best infrastructure, with a burgeoning, internationally connected and
informed middle class.
They would also have seen where Australiaʼs minerals, metals and food end up, and no doubt have met former students educated in Australia among official and business interlocutors, and met many who holiday in Australia. In short, they would have experienced the basis for much of Australiaʼs current prosperity.
The difficulty for politicians who need to distil complexity into simplified messages is that China today defies simplification.
Without compromising their values or stepping back from their abhorrence of the one-party state and its human rights record, they may have left thinking about former prime minister Paul Keatingʼs comments this week that China is the dominant economic power in the region, that it is a legitimate and growing power, and also happens to be utterly vital to Australiaʼs prosperity, interests and future wellbeing.
The difficulty for politicians who need to distil complexity into simplified messages is that China today defies simplification. The tendency in Australian politics and media then is to treat China in Manichean terms – good versus evil, freedom versus repression, customer versus friend.
Alas, Beijing has blown an opportunity to better inform public discussion in Australia about how to manage the greatest existential foreign and security policy challenge since the British abandoned Australia to Japan when Singapore fell during World War II.
In January, this column argued that China needed to find a more mature foreign policy commensurate with its rising power and influence in the world. While recognising that Beijingʼs hypersensitivity to criticism is attributable to the Chinese Communist Partyʼs historic anxieties about its own legitimacy, it is time to move on and deal with criticism confidently. If China is to be accepted as a great power, which its economic might
© 2018 Geoff Raby & Associates