Broken vows

A view of Australia-China relations through the prism of a marriage

12 August 2021 | CCCA

The Australia-China love/hate relationship is well articulated by Prof Jocelyn Chey, she is Visiting Professor at the University of Sydney and Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and UTS. She formerly held diplomatic posts in China and Hong Kong. 

Prof Chey’s summary of the Australia-China showed that “the marriage between Australia and China had hit the rocks and the honeymoon and marriage period is truly over.  The separation after more than 50 years of marriage is real.  The separation and divorce is mitigated by a close relative, the US, and extended analogy, the mother-in-law. 

The marriage was a successful partnership which brought great understanding between the people of Australia and China and not to mention the economic benefit that was bestowed upon the two nations. 

This commentary based on Prof Chey’s narrative.

The breakdown is so severe, reports the SCMP, that Australia has amnesia about the good times and benefits it brought; now it is more like trading with a war of words.

The fermented relationship of Australia-China was so matured that showed the Whitlam courtship of China in early 1972 was a brave and courageous one; a correct and fruitful one, and that was seven years ahead of the Nixon/Kissinger ping pong diplomacy of the late 1970s.

Whitlam’s agenda on China was definitely foresighted and beyond politics; ie. his vision was that he had long recognised China as a rising regional power and he made solid plans to deal with her rising. 

Following Tiananmen Square in June 1989, there was a chance that the relationship would break up, but it didn’t happen.

The couple continued together amicably for another 30 years, with sustained good relations leading to China becoming Australia’s top trading partner. The benefits for Australia and China were enormous. And the economic foundation Australia achieved in particular, allows her to avoid few financial crises and depression throughout the relationship until now? 

The Chinese Australian community reaction to Tiananmen Square is illustrated in this article. Although the world condemned the June 4th incident, the repercussions in the west were not sufficient to turn the relations sour.

At this junction, it would be appropriate to pay tribute to the late PM Bob Hawke and his immigration Minister Senator the Hon Nick Bolkus, who together allowed more than 40,000 Chinese students to remain in Australia and a further 2,300 with higher education to settle in Australia. The results, after 30 years, is a boom in small and big businesses connected to China and Australians throughout the cities and suburbs of Australia.  Bob Hawke’s gamble and vision have paid off. 

Many Chinese Australian leaders joined forces around Australia, against tremendous odds and courage, to lobby for the Chinese students to stay.  Not only did Australia has benefited from the big pool of talents but also improved and enriched the cultural lives of Australians and their relations with Chinese counterpart.

As the economic indicators showed that China has risen so fast and so big that it caught the eye of the extreme right wing Whitehouse Power brokers.  The turnaround in the US is basically due to the fear realisation that China would overtake the US economy and hence replace US as the global hegemon.  Many theories were put forward including the Thucydides Trap etc. And as the Trump administration took control of US, the “America first policy” was put into action which culminated in China containment in all fronts and ended up with the US-China Trade War and subsequently, the new US-China Cold war. 

Mother-in-law in the US has not been happy with the marriage since the Obama Administration and the creation of China as the new “enemy” began and materialised in the last few years.  Highlights were the arrest of Huawei’s Meng Wenzhou (5G telecommunications), war drums beating aloud in South China Sea to the constant talk on a war with China over Taiwan. 

Australia, being tied to the mother’s apron strings of the US, became subservient to the policy changes of the US, starting about 4 years ago, when former Foreign Minister Bob Carr coined the term “China panic”.

Major Australian media Sky News, News Corp, Nine Entertainment (The Age and SMH) writers, and others, began to follow other Western media from US and UK, fanning the divorce incessantly, bombarding the public with anti-China propaganda.

By and large, the Murdoch presses and other aligned academics continued the barrage until public sentiment surveys showed the majority of Australians, like the US, have a big negative turnaround attitude towards China.  Having influenced the ‘children’ to take sides and successfully, the divorce between Australia and China occurred as their relations turned frozen. 

Next week, we will conclude this divorce saga and look at any possibility that the marriage can be saved and why? 

Principal authors, Tony Pun and Dr Ka Sing Chua. This commentary is supplied by the Chinese Community Council of Australia Incorporated: Founding President, Dr Anthony Pun OAM, President, Mr Kingsley Liu. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors.

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