Australia anti-Chinese megaphone diplomacy (toned down just a little recently) has caused offence to China which has retaliated with selective trade bans. Papua New Guinea needs to ensure that its own important relations with China are not being caught up and impaired by Australia’s leaden foot and its tin ear - KJ
HONG KONG - Two years ago, I made the “mistake” of tweeting a single word – “yawn” – in response to Australian foreign minister Marise Payne’s decision to place tackling the Xinjiang problem at the top of her agenda on her debut trip to China.
My tweet was directed at politicians who used popular topics to drum up voter support at the expense of respect for a country’s sovereignty – no matter which country – and diplomacy that could pave the way for a better outcome for the issue at hand.
But the Twitter anti-China witch-hunters didn’t see it that way, not even after an explanation.
Certainly not several employees of the Australian and foreign government-funded Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). Instead, they launched a series of personal attacks on my character.
As an Australian journalist covering China and reporting on housing and trade, I’ve faced the full spectrum of bullying, threats and defamation when I pen articles that don’t outrightly ‘blame’ China.
And this isn’t just something that has happened this year over the stress of Covid-19, or as relations fray between Beijing and Canberra; in 2015, one reader left me a voicemail every day for a week calling me a cockroach and “Chinese scum” after I wrote about a study that showed Chinese buyers made up only four per cent of the Australian housing market.
However, nothing compares to what three Australians with Chinese heritage endured at a parliamentary inquiry a few weeks ago, when Australian Senator Eric Abetz demanded they publicly condemn the Communist Party, sparking a public backlash and a potential investigation into his conduct.
What we are seeing is no longer just banter over facts and figures, but the rise of ideological cleansing and cancel culture that seeks to extinguish the opinions of those who don’t conform to an ‘accepted’ view legitimised by popular media outlets and politicians.
It’s almost like a new religious phenomenon in which anti-China do-gooders are trying to reprogram the ‘heretics’ who either don’t have a view of China, don’t care much about China, don’t have any facts or experience of Chinese matters or, worse, the likes of me – those who have a nuanced view of China or are just reporting the facts as they are.
This is concerning, because this phenomenon undermines the very thing this group of people are trying to support – democratic values that include the freedom to express any political opinions, and the right to free speech.
As Linda Jakobson, the founding director and deputy chair of Australian think tank China Matters – which is funded by donations and until recently, by Australian government grants – said during a national security conference last week: “Surely, in a democracy, we cannot accept the use of the very tactics that we so abhor in [China], in other words, the silencing of individuals and the suppression of free speech.”
She’s right because defaming someone as a means of bullying them into silence seems to me like a slightly more obscure equivalent of the direct intimidation tactics employed by the Chinese government.
Worryingly, such an approach also turns people against each other while the real perpetrators – governments – are unaffected.
In a war, there’s collateral damage, and this seemingly weaponless one has still claimed victims.