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Sleepers wake: It's time for our political leaders

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Isaac soloman View Drop Down

Joined: 13 Oct 2015
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    Posted: 07 Nov 2018 at 8:59am

Some politicians get it, but far too many don’t. This is why the People’s Republic of China keeps me awake at night. Our political leaders should be vigilant in putting the national interest ahead of profit.

US defence secretary James Mattis famously said nothing keeps him up at night – he keeps other people up.

I wish I could say the same. But the more I read about the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the more I feel as though I’m living in 1930s Europe.

And that is the stuff of nightmares.The warning signs are going off like firecrackers – the threats, the diplomatic posturing, the aggressive territorial claims, the arbitrary incarceration of ethnic and religious minorities – but given the way most of our leaders act, it seems as though they’re not troubled in the slightest.For years after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, in which thousands of pro-democracy protesters were shot, bayoneted and crushed by People's Liberation Army (PLA) tanks, politicians from the West could not travel to China without pressure to question its leadership on its human rights record.

Almost 30 years later, human rights are off the agenda and what's changed?

Has China's government softened in its attitude to its neighbours or its own people?

I can find little credible evidence this is the case.

On the contrary, under President Xi Jinping, who has cemented himself in power, the country has been subject to a crack-down on dissent not seen since Tiananmen.

In China's Xinjiang region, as many as one million members of the the ethnic Uighur community are locked up in internment camps.

The PRC says these muslims – mostly men – are undergoing "re-education".nd ethnic Chinese are sent to live as "relatives" with their families, monitoring their customs in case they are too religious.

Writers, poets, artists, dissidents, are routinely persecuted, arrested, or "disappeared" – sometimes for months, sometimes for years, sometimes forever.

In Australia, our universities have been used as training grounds by PLA military scientists, our governments and businesses are under almost constant assault from cyber attacks emanating in China, and state-owned or state-related companies are buying up Australian assets at a rate which was once unthinkable.

A Chinese company bought a 99-year lease on the Port of Darwin, others are buying into agricultural assets around the country and PLA-linked Chinese telecommunications firms are building Australian tech infrastructure despite national security warnings.In our own state, the government seems to see its economic fortunes tied closer to China than to the eastern states.

Somewhere along the way did we decide the bottom line was more important than our values? That this threat to so many people, which is unfolding in real-time before us, is not worth mentioning?

Surely, we’re better than that.

It would seem not. Some of our politicians routinely accept money from Beijing to fly to the PRC to meet Chinese Communist Party officials.

They take cash and gifts from billionaires linked to the regime and when they get back they attempt to nudge Australian foreign policy into areas more suitable to their patrons in Beijing.

They publish photographs of themselves in Tiananmen Square, smiling beneath the portrait of dictator Mao Zedong.

Most gallingly, they return from their junkets to lecture us on the importance of China to our economy.

As if we weren’t aware.And as though we should be prepared to overlook the persecution endured by millions of Chinese nationals because there's a quid in it for us.

What a big and important market China is for Australian products, they say. Our prosperity depends on “fixing” our relationship with Beijing.hey parrot the opinions of Australian businessmen who make their fortunes in China, while knowing the PRC uses its economic muscle to leverage its foreign policy.

Perhaps our politicians can be forgiven for being afraid of anything which could take any paint off the economy whatsoever.

And it’s true there are certain rewards for a positive attitude to Beijing.

In 2014 President Xi visited Tasmania. Years later, Chinese tourism to the state is still booming.

Fair enough.

But what about Victoria, which recently signed on to Beijing's controversial "belt and road" infrastructure fund, which could see boat loads of Chinese cash flowing into the state.

At what cost? And whose boots will be licked? We don’t know, because the Andrews Government is keeping the terms of the agreement secret.

It’s enough to keep you up at night, right?Relations between the PRC and Australia have been tense over Chinese territorial expansion into the South China Sea and Australia's decision to bar companies like Huawei from the NBN and 5G network.

Alarm bells are pealing loudly and it's not just Australia's national security agencies who hear them ring. As the diplomats like to phrase it, China is Australia's strategic competitor.

But unfortunately, it’s worse than that.

Just look at some of the propaganda the Chinese government is publishing (part of the voice-over in the video below translates as "peace behind me, war in front of me/pick up the steel gun, we must let go of the children").

It has kept the state-control apparatus of its Leninist-Marxist origins and pivoted to kind of bizarre authoritarian nationalism.Politicians of all stripes and at all levels of government should wake up and see what is happening around them.

To the PRC's distaste, and to the relief of some, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is talking about "values" in foreign policy instead of just "transactions".

"We are more than the sum of our deals," he told the Asia Society in Sydney last Thursday.

"We are better than that."

Let's hope that one day we can say the same for every one of his colleagues, right across the Australian political spectrum.

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