Chinese-Australians have endured more than a year of public abuse in the wake of COVID-19, more disturbingly, they have faced institutional abuse based on suspicion of their nation of origin
8 June 2021 | Marcus Reubenstein (Image by Marcus Reubenstein)
My recent travails where I have been threatened with legal action that could potentially lead to my financial ruin have made one thing very apparent to me—racism comes in all forms but the most nefarious form is when it is tolerated, generated or disseminated from institutions such as governments, mainstream media, academics or think tanks.
A government policy researcher, who is not on a high salary, is using a government-funded law firm to simultaneously silence five people with separate legal actions, ostensibly because we disagree with him on Australia’s policies towards China. A more important question, this action gives rise to, is what level of ‘respect’ Chinese-Australians should be afforded in the midst of diplomatic cold war with the People’s Republic of China?
When an Asian-Australian is abused on the street, on public transport or in a shop, that is low level racism. It is a reflection not on our society but on the individuals engaged in these racist attacks.
The perpetrators of such racism are vile insignificant morons who, not that long ago, were hurling similar abuse in the direction of Islamic Australians.
Along with Michael West—a fearless independent journalist, exposer of corruption and defender of free speech—I am being sued by a government employee, who conducts a substantial social media campaign using government resources.
He is being represented by a law firm, Meyer Vandenberg, which is on retainer to the commonwealth government (in addition to having represented weapons lobby funded ASPI) and he is suing us with the apparent consent of his employers, the commonwealth Department of Parliamentary Services.
How is that not an institutional response?
I’ve lodged my legal counterclaim for defamation against me—publications I allege emanated from within commonwealth government offices—and am more than prepared to have the answers these institutions are ducking in public to be put to them in a court of law.
West has been rock-solid in the face of legal actions which amount to nothing more than bullying and harassment of individuals and small publishers, here is what he has to say:
The gun and Bible can’t be trusted
Given events of recent times I am constantly reminded of the great American soul and R&B artist Stevie Wonder and a song he released on the 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life.
The album debuted at Number One on the Billboard record charts (back when they were in fact vinyl records!). It won Album of the Year at the 19th Grammy Awards and was named by Rolling Stone magazine as the fourth greatest album of all time.
One of the tracks on that album is Saturn, not so much an optimistic song as many of Wonder’s tracks are, but a song of hope in which a line has for years always stuck in my mind:
“We can’t trust you when you take a stand with a gun and bible in your hand.”
At its essence, Saturn was a protest of war in the wake of Vietnam, and the full verse goes:
We have come here many times before
To find your strategy to peace is war
Killing helpless men, women and children
That don’t even know what they are dying for
We can’t trust you when you take a stand
With a gun and bible in your hand
And the cold expression on your face
Saying give us what we want or we’ll destroy
It is poignant to note, on that same list, Rolling Stone ranked Marvin Gaye’s 1971 album What’s Going On as the greatest album of all time.
With its brilliant composition, lyrics, harmony and arrangement, What’s Going On was a protest song about the discrimination of black Americans, which also became a peaceful anthem of opposition against US involvement in the Vietnam War—an American war against communism in Asia, that ended in no regime change, instead the deaths of countless innocent Vietnamese citizens.
That point bears repeating:
That was exactly 50 years ago. The issues surrounding the race riots that plagued America in the 1960s have now become the Black Lives Matter movement. While the “domino theory” which said communism in Vietnam was poised to engulf every Asian nation has now been replaced with the “China threat”.
Are we headed down the same road again?
Is the current situation history repeating itself? Yes and no.
Yes, some would have us head down the same road, with talks of the “drums of war” and an entirely invented “threat of China” which is being spewed out by what many are now calling the “China Threat Industry”.
There is money to be lost for Australian businesses punished by Chinese trade sanctions; but for those attacking China there is money to be made. Plus, for a small band of narrow-minded Sinophobes in Australia’s Federal Parliament, there is political capital to be raised.
The China threat industry’s most active media operatives are the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, through its news and current affairs division and senior on-air presenters who profess a profound knowledge of China; the Murdoch media, in particular The Australian which brings shame upon the national masthead by continually splashing blatant lies across its front pages; and Nine Entertainment with television beat ups on its news and current affairs platform and print news ‘features’ and ‘exclusives’ from reporters who have never been to China.
These people are getting paid handsomely by three outlets which, in order, are government-funded, owned by a deeply anti-Chinese American citizen and thirdly chaired by the former treasurer of a Liberal/National Party Government.
There are the think tanks like ASPI, the US Studies Centre and now the Lowy Institute which recently picked up $1.8 million in government funding to produce a series of research reports on Chinese Australians.
The first Lowy report was roundly criticized by Chinese community leaders for being too open-ended in its findings, thus leaving key parts of the report open to the interpretation that a significant number of Chinese-Australians are disloyal their country.
Then of course there is the security establishment, government officials who constantly leak to the media and key senior figures in academia.
This week one of Australia’s founding fathers of the China threat narrative, Clive Hamilton, took to Twitter (archived here) with a slur that a group of prominent Australian academics were “eat-shitists” after they published an open letter expressing concern of the treatment of the Chinese diaspora in Australia.
His comment was appalling and I fail to see how it is not racist.
Here are my thoughts following a recent trip to the nation’s capital.
Where is the path of peace or protest?
This is the “no” answer.
Prompting public outcry against public figures who are marching Australia off to war with China, has proved elusive.
Save for a small number of voices in independent media, social media activists and YouTubers pushing back against this narrative there is no mass protest movement.
It seems those beating the drums of war are prepared to wait until a cold war becomes a hot war and then deal with the backlash.
Those pushing back right now, among which I include myself, are basically asking of only two things from the China hawks. First, concrete proof of the supposed ills of China. Second, disclosure that they support their arguments based on the propaganda generated by overwhelmingly US-funded groups.
Along with the Chinese diaspora we now find ourselves as targets.
Is the United States exporting China-abuse?
This is a thorny question because what exactly is the definition of the United States?
When millions of people are not prepared accept the results of a free election, and when the defeated leader of the free world seemingly incites the deadly storming of the seat of government in Washington DC, what does that say?
More than anything it says America is divided and—for long time US watchers, like myself—reinforcement that America has always been divided.
The current US political, defence and foreign policy rhetoric on China is a vile, hateful and racist campaign desperately trying to ensure that America remains the sole global superpower.
That rhetoric is, for the most part, dog-whistling. It presents what should be a rational argument on the challenges of the emergence of a second global superpower as a campaign which targets all Chinese.
When these conservative policy hawks begin a sentence, “I am not against the Chinese people but…” that is the red flag!
The anti-China export industry
This is essentially a small but vocal and highly influential group of propagandists. Their broad brush stokes paint all Chinese—except activists from Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang, not forgetting the fervently pro-Trump Falun Gong movement—as being guilty by association, or worse still, ethnicity.
It is Americans, like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, who overwhelmingly shaped my views on humanity—that is why I referred to them above. It is American filmmakers who have caused me to have an open view of the world, and a remarkable American actor in Alan Alda, in the role of “Hawkeye” Pierce in TV series M*A*S*H, who shaped my dual beliefs of compassion towards others and the madness of war.
While the brilliant and fearless American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh made me aspire to producing journalism of the highest standard. Other American writers, Gay Talese, Hunter S, Thomspon, Tom Wolfe and P. J. O’Rourke were equally important influences on me, and remain so today.
It is not people who are exporting anti-China rhetoric around the world—it is institutions and politicians (who technically are people but in 2021 seem to be sorely lacking in humanity).
C’est le ton qui fait la musique
To borrow from the French—it is the tone of the music being played. And it is the tone of institutional, governmental and mainstream media racism which makes low level racism okay.
If the nation’s key opinion leaders are forever unloading criticism on China, indeed when Prime Minister Scott Morrison leaks to the media that an “unnamed state actor” is up to no good, what are people to expect?
It is a global phenomena embraced in Australia with perhaps greater enthusiasm than any other western nation. The so-called “wolverines” in Australia’s national parliament and the apparently racist Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China they helped establish, are at the centre of this.
These people set the tone.
Whether it’s Chinese and other Asian-Australians falling under suspicion in the workplace, being targeted by the media, being denied promotion in government departments or facing harassment when they work in government institutions, that is wrong.
As a nation, Australia cannot remain tone deaf to institutional racism.