There are no more reds under the bed
19 October 2022
"I think that it is an error to assume that because of our lamentable history of Sinophobia, this type of thinking therefore is still significant, socially or politically, in Australia"
ADELAIDE - Professor Colin Mackerras (‘Australia should rid itself of its fear of China’) rightly refers to how Australia's lamentable history of Sinophobia has, in the past at least, led to racially prejudiced and unjust policies such as the deplorable White Australia Policy.
I am old enough to remember the 'Reds under the bed' scare campaign that once influenced Australian political thinking, notably amongst conservatives.
There was at least some basis for this at that time (the 1960's) when the USSR's avowed mission was to export its version of communism to the rest of the world.
However, the world has moved on since that time and, at least until recently, Australian governments have displayed a far more nuanced and subtle understanding of the world, including relations with China.
Unhappily, the Morrison government reverted to the sort of anti-Chinese rhetoric that was common in the 1960's. I doubt that this was a conscious policy decision in the first instance.
It seems to have been an artefact of Morrison's unwise and ill-advised megaphone diplomacy over the origins of Covid-19, which was subsequently compounded by the Chinese government's equally unsubtle and self-defeating policy response.
In any event, the Albanese government has gone to some pains to tone down the rhetoric and there has been some reciprocation on the part of the Chinese government.
The two governments now are at least talking to one another again and there seems some hope that the relationship can be rebalanced, albeit based upon respectful disagreement upon some issues.
On balance, despite the alarmist rhetoric of the Morrison government, I do not think that there has been a significant resurgence in Sinophobia in Australia.
Even where such sentiment exists, it is likely to be confined to a very small minority of the 'usual suspects'.
I think that it is an error to assume that because of our lamentable history of Sinophobia, this type of thinking therefore is still significant, socially or politically, in Australia.
With about 5% of Australians being of Chinese origin, they are represented very broadly and deeply within modern Australian society.
Many Australians of a non-Chinese background know, work with and socialise with people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, and this makes it much more difficult than in the 1960's to generate the 'fear of the other' that is the basis of racist thinking.
That said, I think that there is well founded belief that the Chinese government, and the Chinese Communist Party of which it is composed, are organisations that should be regarded with considerable suspicion.
This suspicion is a rational response to the actions and words of Chinese government and CCP representatives, not evidence of resurgent Sinophobia.
Like any emerging great power, China is beginning to throw its weight around. It actions towards Australia are clear evidence of this propensity.
It is therefore an entirely rational response for a medium sized power like Australia to seek to ally itself with an existing great power with whom it has strong and friendly relations extending back nearly 80 years.
This does not mean surrendering our independent capacity to make policy judgements in our own national interests.
This is a fallacy much beloved of the progressive left of Australian politics.
Admittedly, the decisions of some former Australian governments, such as Liberal prime minister Harold Holt's assertion that we would go 'All the way with LBJ' in Vietnam and John Howard's decision to involve us in America's misadventure in Iraq, do give this idea some force.
However, I think that it has never been a necessary precondition of our relationship with the USA that we must fall into line with its foreign policy objectives.
In this context, I note that Labor governments have been much more inclined to take an independent outlook, notably the Whitlam and Keating governments.
Consequently, I expect that the Albanese government will pursue our national interests with China even if, at times, this may not meet with the approval of the Americans.
For the reasons mentioned, I think that Professor Mackerras is unduly pessimistic in his analysis, but I agree that we should be prudently watchful for the re-emergence of unhelpful thinking based on racial stereotypes.
Such thinking can only lead us into error and does a considerable disservice to our many loyal citizens who originate from other than English speaking countries.
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