Protecting TRADE while upholding values is AUSTRALIA’s CHINA dilemma

MANY are now questioning Australia’s reliance on trade with our big neighbour to the North …

FURTHER, that there should be more diversity among the international students at our Universities … and rather more government investment in these Institutions!

Note CAAN inserts within the text …


Protecting trade while upholding values is Australia’s China dilemma

The Conversation By Michelle Grattan

30 AUGUST 2019

A Chinese and Australian flag o a conference table

PHOTO: Australia’s relationship with China could be tested by a clash between business politics. (Reuters: Jason Lee)

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It was a revealing line. Yang Hengjun, the Australian citizen arrested on suspicion of espionage, says an investigation officer from the Chinese Ministry of State Security told him that

*“Australia was dependent on China for its trade and economy, and Canberra wouldn’t help me, let alone rescue me”.

It was, one supposes, part of an attempt to break the prisoner. And of course it was completely untrue, in fact the Australian Government is trying very hard and very visibly to secure Yang’s release.

VIDEO: Foreign Affairs minister ‘deeply concerned and disappointed’ over arrest of Australian in China (ABC News)

Business before diplomacy?

But in a broader sense the official’s reference to the economic importance of China to Australia goes straight to the dilemma and the potential cost involved in what the Australian Government is currently doing, and must do, in dealing with China.

The debate about China’s behaviour and influence has moved on even from earlier this month, when Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told backbenchers to keep in mind the “national interest” in what they said.

That followed the blunt warning by Andrew Hastie, chair of the parliamentary committee on intelligence and security, that Australia needed to pay more attention to the threat posed by China’s rise.

Australia at the moment seems very explicit in its responses to concerns about China.

The willingness by the government to act is not new, in fact, the Turnbull government’s foreign interference legislation of 2018 may come to be seen as a turning point.

But now Australia appears increasingly prepared to put aside when necessary the imperatives of diplomacy.

Nor is it as reluctant as before to admit particular measures relate to China.

It has been especially strong in its language on behalf of Mr Yang.

The choice in such a situation can be complicated: between being forthright publicly or deciding a low-key approach could be more effective, to say nothing of better for keeping relations smooth.

In this instance, the Government has loudly called out the Chinese authorities’ actions.

It is yet to be seen how things will end.

Spreading Chinese influence

On another front, the Government this week announced a major move in its efforts to deal with Chinese influence in Australian universities.

University protest clash
Chinese students from both the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps at the University of Queensland say they were subjected to intimidation tactics after a violent scuffle.

A University Foreign Interference Taskforce will have representatives from the university sector, government security agencies and the education department.

The group will target Chinese cyber security penetration, and seek to protect research and intellectual property.

This prompts the question: how serious is the problem of Chinese interference in the university sector?

There is a spectrum of issues, from the open and arguable, through to the clandestine and illegal, such as the cyber attacks on the Australian National University.

*With Chinese students 38 per cent (153,000) of foreign students in higher education, Australian universities potentially have a high revenue vulnerability if China reduced the flow.

*CAAN: This figure has been updated in this report!

THE Australian university sector enrols 182,555 mainland Chinese and 11,822 HongKongers …

a colourful wall with pro-hong kong and pro-beijing signage

PHOTO: Chinese students want their views heard at Australian universities. (ABC News: Cameron Gooley)

Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University and an expert on Chinese influence in Australia, was highly critical in a lecture on Wednesday of the university sector’s vice-chancellors.

“The corporatisation of the tertiary sector and the extraordinary dependence on revenue flows from China, coupled with a sustained and highly effective influence campaign directed at senior university executives, has meant that many have lost sight of the meaning of academic freedom,” Professor Hamilton said.

Another issue, which has come into plain sight with the recent clashes, particularly at the University of Queensland, over events in Hong Kong, is the influence Chinese authorities exercise over many students here.

Chinese influence on academia

Then there is the murky area of collaborations with researchers and institutions.

A paper put out by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute late last year authored by Alex Joske, one of ASPI’s analysts, highlighted that “China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is expanding its research collaboration with universities outside of China.

This collaboration is highest in the Five Eyes countries, Germany and Singapore […]. Australia has been engaged in the highest level of PLA collaboration among Five Eyes countries per capita, at six times the level in the US.”

In the education field, it is not just the universities where China’s influence has become a growing worry.

This month, the NSW government announced it would end the Confucius Classroom program that has been running in 13 schools.

A young Chinese woman teaches children about Chinese mask.

PHOTO: Inside a Confucius Classroom in a public primary school in NSW. (YouTube: NSW Department of Education – Learning Systems)

The program, dealing with language and culture, has been funded by the Chinese government amid concerns this arrangement places Chinese government employees inside a government department.

And then there is the property sector

On a totally different front, hearings at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption this week produced a new episode in the long-running saga of the activities of Chinese property developer Huang Xiangmo.

ICAC heard evidence that Mr Huang allegedly gave $100,000 in cash to NSW Labor in 2015, despite donations from property developers being illegal.

The ALP covered up the donation. As a result of the evidence, the general secretary of the NSW party, Kaila Murnain has been suspended.*Leaving aside alleged egregious illegalities, the wider point is that large donations (and Mr Huang donated to both sides) are made in the hope of buying political access and influence.

Mr Huang, who late last year was stripped of his permanent residency and banned from re-entering Australia on ASIO advice because of concern over his links with the Chinese Communist Party, has achieved the bizarre distinction of having contributed to the political downfall of two senior Labor figures.

VIDEO: Sam Dastyari speaks to reporters outside ICAC. (ABC News)

Former senator Sam Dastyari’s dealings with Mr Huang were central to events leading to Mr Dastyari quitting parliament.

This was influence of a sort the billionaire businessman hadn’t quite intended.

Anyone identifying the challenges Scott Morrison will face this term would have to put managing the China relationship high on the list. It’s a complicated juggle, trying to keep bilateral relations on course while protecting Australia’s sovereignty, as well as advancing its strategic interests through policies such as the Pacific step-up.

Although it’s sometimes interpreted as responding to US pressure, basically it is Australia’s own national interest currently driving its toughening position.

Much as we might wish Australia-China relations could be kept on an even keel, and crucial as that might be for Australia’s economic wellbeing, the indications suggest the ups and downs will continue and may get rougher.

CAAN: However, some suggest that ‘Australia’s economic dependence on China overblown‘ contrary to the views of Professor James Laurenceson and his ilk

–that Australia’s economic reliance on China is increasing

Researchers from Victoria University’s Centre of Policy Studies (CoPS) have countered this view, and that Australia’s economic dependence on China is not as great as commonly believed!

IN view of the threats posed by the CCP it would seem obvious there is an urgent need to diversify and increase trade with other nations, and not to put all our eggs in the one basket, and as reported by some others China needs  Australian produce and materials more than the other way around …

Read more:

Michelle Grattan is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra and chief political correspondent at The Conversation, where this article first appeared.

A Chinese and Australian flag o a conference table


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