by Michael Danby MP
I want to comment on a recent article in the Business Spectator by the former Foreign Minister, Mr Alexander Downer. Mr Downer obviously has forgotten the dictum of General McArthur that old soldiers should just fade away. His comments seem a bit un-diplomatic from someone who is supposed to be busy solving the Cyprus problem as a UN special envoy, a job the Rudd government helped him get.
Mr Downer is critical of the government’s policy towards China. “Fix the China relationship,” he demands, as if it was just a matter of chatting to some chaps at the Adelaide Club. We need “mature dialogue”, he says, as though eleven years of mature dialogue between the Howard government and the Chinese regime had any effect whatever on Chinese behaviour. Things must be “managed discreetly,” he says, not mentioning that it was his own party that last year demanded tougher action on the arrest of Stern Hu and at same accused the 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’s time he caught up. China’s behaviour has grown steadily more aggressive, both domestically and internationally. We saw this most dramatically recently with China’s sabotaging of the Copenhagen climate summit, and its gross discourtesy towards US President Obama at Copenhagen.
Domestically, China is cracking down harder on domestic dissidents, as well as on its Tibetan and Uyghur minorities. Recently we saw Dr Liu Xiaobo Charter 08, a leading academic dissident, sentenced to eleven years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” Mr Downer thinks we should accept this without comment.
China is also getting much tougher in the business area. James McGregor, the former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, writing recently in TIME magazine said that he had “seldom seen the foreign business community more angry and disillusioned than it is today.” He cited “arrogant and insolent” bureaucrats, purposefully inconsistent and non-transparent enforcement of regulations, rampant intellectual-property theft, blatant market impediments through rigged product standards and testing, politicised courts and agencies and selective enforcement of WTO requirements. Mr Downer thinks we should say nothing about this.
Internationally, China has stepped up its campaign to become the leader of the anti-democracy bloc the sinister 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 it has something which China wants in exchange. The military junta in Burma, the genocidal regime in Sudan, the dictatorship in Yemen, the ayatollahs of Tehran who shoot down demonstrators in the streets, Robert Mugabe’s regime of plunder in Zimbabwe – these are China’s new best friends in the world. In exchange China gets cheap Sudanese and Iranian oil, platinum and tobacco from Zimbabwe, and naval bases in Burma and now also in Yemen. It’s 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 neo-colonialist power.
How should Australia respond to this new phase in China’s policies? We should respond by defending our interests and our values, the values of democracy and freedom. Mr Downer disagrees. He says we should accept China’s trend towards domestic neo-Stalinism, its increasingly arrogant and corrupt conduct of its business relations, and its unprincipled international behaviour. Like Julie Bishop, he says we should not have granted a visa to the Uyghur 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 shouldn’t pay attention to China provactive military triumphalism celebrating the anniversary of the Communist party responsible accorting to phillip short for the deaths of 80 million of their people.
I’m pleased to say that Australia will not be accepting Mr Downer’s rather patronising advice. The Labor government has sought to maintain a relationship with China that is both in Australia’s economic and diplomatic interests, and consistent with our values. That’s not an easy task, but despite the difficulties posed by China’s increasingly anti-western attitudes, the current government is doing a much better job than its predecessor did. Mr Downer, whose term in office included the scandal of the AWB affair, 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 Australian people elected.
9 February, 2010
Michael Danby is the Federal Member for Melbourne Ports and Chair of the Parliamentary Sub-committee on Foreign Affairs.