Identity & parlance: This is who we are
Blunting a few, grilli & gumi races

Australia & PNG: Pawns in ‘The Great Game’

The New Great Game
The New Great Game


ADELAIDE – So there is a contest between Australia and China (through surrogates Telstra and China Mobile) to buy the ailing Digicel Pacific’s mobile phone networks in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Nauru, Samoa and Vanuatu.

This is just another event in what seems likely to be a long and grinding war of economic attrition between the emergent authoritarian Chinese super power and its mostly democratic competitors.

Like Australia, PNG is already just another pawn in the new version of ‘The Great Game’.

This was the name given to the protracted struggle between the British and Russian empires for economic, political and military advantage.

For most of the 19th century and the early 20th century, both powers wrestled for domination in Central and South Asia, places located far from their metropolitan homelands.

In its modern form, ‘The Great Game’ has been triggered by the Western democracies playing strategic catch-up with China.

This was after they realised they’d conceded too much economic and technological power to China in the mistaken belief the Communist country would somehow become a liberal democracy.

A 'Great Game' cartoon from 1878 depicting a cowed Central Asian intimidated by the Russian Bear and the English Lion

This palaver is also looking like a re-run of what happened in the 1930's, when the world's democracies turned inwards and chose to ignore or did not understand the nature of the emerging threat from the fascist ruled European countries and from the Japanese Empire.

China has never been, nor ever will be, a democracy as we in the West understand this term.

Even a basic understanding of its ancient history reveals why this is so.

In the 3,982 years from 2070 BC to AD 1912, 13 imperial dynasties ruled China, never coming close to creating a democracy.

When the final Qing imperial dynasty imploded, China fragmented into a land of competing warlords. Chaos reigned for decades until the Communist Party took over in 1949.

The present Xi regime looks far more like those old imperial dynasties than to any democracy.

In addition, the upper middle class is a minority in China, and seems likely to stay so for a long time. These wealthier Chinese trust the Communist Party to look after their interests more than they trust elections.

Why would they want to replicate the West which, as one commentator has observed, “is not in every way the ideal exemplar for democracy”.

FistsWe in the West, in our hubris and folly, have ignored the profound impact of China’s long history and culture upon how the Chinese people think about themselves and the world around them.

More fools us.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

For anyone wanting to understand China I would highly recommend Stan Grant's new book "With the Falling of the Dusk: A Chronicle of the World in Crisis".

Stan has spent many years as a journalist and lived in China for several years. During that time he got out into the back blocks and spoke to all sorts of people.

His exposition on China's recent history is also very revealing.

Chris Overland

Thank you Keith. You have turned my somewhat abbreviated comment into a coherent article. I am impressed!

Your comment nailed two important issues. The first was placing the China-USA imperial tussle in its historic context. The second nailed the idle thinking that led Western pundits to pronounce that China was heading towards a form of capitalism. Your exposition deserved rather more elaboration than the limitations of a comment. I just did a bit of colouring in - KJ

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