Thursday, 21 March 2013

General ignorance happy with humdrum Sinophobia

This picture seems to be what Elizabeth Farrelly has in mind when she talks about China in a column published today on the Sydney Morning Herald website. Authoritarian. Uncompromising. Inflexible. Other. Foreign. Different.

And it's quite odd when she gives a nod to the classic Australian "Yellow Peril" trope - (you'd hardly want to be seen firing off that old canard, eh?) - but goes on to catalogue Chinese buyouts of Australian businesses, which she then frames in the context of the authoritarian government that rules in China today.

Of course it's not surprising when all we generally get from Australia's media are stories about odd crimes and government censorship of the press. Intimidation of foreign reporters. Undemocratic selection of the national leadership. Oppression of minorities. Government-sponsored hacking. Bullying behaviour in the South China Sea. Government-sanctioned protests against Japanese interests. Denials. Obfuscation. Secrecy.

Yes, this lack of transparency within China is troubling and to be condemned but the actions of the Chinese government do not represent the will of the people, at least not the will of ALL the people living in China today. I think Farrelly needs to go back to university and do a course of study where she can meet any number of young Chinese people, many of whom hope to translate their degree into permanent residence in Australia. Because for Chinese people the point is not to arrive here with buckets full of dollars, buy out the farm and then impose authoritarian rule on the business. No. The point is to enjoy the liberties that Australians take for granted every day.

You can't buy freehold property in Chinese cities, for example. Chinese people love the idea that you can buy a house in Vaucluse and know that - without fail - you'll be able to pass that property on to your children one day. They know that property has sanctity in Australia in a way that it does not in China, where you can only buy a long lease on property (and it's not cheap). Family is terribly important to Chinese people - certainly more important to them than the Communist Party of China - and those precious links to children, to grandparents, to fathers and mothers can be realised in a concrete way in Australia. They love that.

Chinese students studying in Australia love their country and they are proud of it, but they also value things that are not available there. They do not wish to impose their values on Australians they meet here, in fact they go out of their way to learn and understand Australian culture and our polity. It is true, for example, that the Australian-Chinese press is monitored by the Chinese government through its embassies, but that does not mean that young Chinese journalists working here do not yearn to write big, important stories that can lead to change in the future. They do.

And Chinese businessmen and -women who buy into Australia's economy do not yearn to bring official relations that apply in China to their operations here. Quite the opposite. They will obviously exploit their contacts and knowledge of China to build their businesses. But they will also do so within the laws that apply in Australia. Expressing concern about the possible importation of regulatory structures is not on the point. Chinese people are nothing if not law-abiding, in general.

The dog whistle usually gets blown by shock jocks and conservative op-ed writers, not by people who ostensibly belong to the liberal intelligentsia. This is why Farrelly's column today sparked my interest. It seems to show that general ignorance asks for nothing more than what we routinely get served, when I think it's more important for us to get to know the real Chinese - both those living in our midst and those who live in China - by hearing and reading their stories. We are not getting this. It's time we did. We live in the Asian Century, after all.

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