The Lucky Country – part five: the luck of a laid-back, happy people is getting squeezed

 

Peter Hartcher, ‘China vents its anger at Australia’s stand on airspace rights’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 03.12.13

China is angry at Australia, and when the doors closed on the meeting room in Canberra on Friday, its delegates let the anger show. The third annual Australia-China Forum was designed to strengthen the relationship. Instead, the Chinese used it to pressure Australia.

They had a specific grievance: the government’s rejection of Beijing’s announcement that it was asserting new rights over airspace in the East China Sea.

But they quickly turned the specific into the general, a full-court fusillade of complaints and urgings.

It was an illustration, a case study and a premonition of the difficulty at the heart of Australia’s relationship with its biggest trading partner.

What started the ructions was Beijing’s abrupt announcement on November 23 that all aircraft flying over the islands subject to its dispute with Japan needed to give prior notice to authorities or risk “emergency defensive measures”.

The new air defence identification zone not only covered the disputed islands that the Japanese call the Senkaku and the Chinese call the Diaoyu, it also overlapped the existing air defence identification zones of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

These three last week rejected Beijing’s authority to make such a declaration without consultation.

So did the US. Flouting China’s claim, it immediately flew two B-52 bombers unhindered through the zone without notifying Beijing.

China had committed a “destabilising attempt to alter the status quo in the region,” US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said.

It was now in an invidious position – it was taking criticism from the rest of world for being provocative, and from its citizens at home for being impotent.

Australia objected to China’s declaration of the zone too, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said, because Canberra was opposed to “any coercive or unilateral actions to change the status quo in the East China Sea”.

China’s foreign affairs ministry countered by urging “the Australian side to immediately correct its mistakes so as to avoid hurting the co-operative relationship between China and Australia”.

Rather than correct its position, Australia reaffirmed it. Asked for his view by a reporter, Tony Abbott said: “We are a strong ally of the US, we are a strong ally of Japan, we have a very strong view that international disputes should be settled peacefully.”

Chinese officials believed the Prime Minister had escalated the disagreement merely by restating the government’s position.

The opening session of the Australia-China Forum took place the next morning at the Australian National University.

Ostensibly, it was devoted to “advancing the strategic partnership” struck between Julia Gillard and Chinese President Xi Jinping in April. Instead, the Chinese delegates used it to challenge the value of the partnership.

The forum is a so-called “one-and-a-half track” initiative. This means it’s a meeting between the two governments – the one track – but broadened to include non-officials such as business people, retired officials, academics and journalists, comprising the half-track.

China sent 19 delegates; four were serving or former ambassadors, one of whom was also a retiree at the vice-premier level. They wield little direct power in Beijing, yet all are influential.

Australia’s 31 delegates included two serving cabinet ministers, three former cabinet ministers, and three serving senior officials.

Six of the Chinese spoke in the first session; of these, five challenged Australia’s strategic stance. The sixth emphasised the strength of the trade link: the two economies were “cut out for each other”.

As a participant, I’m permitted to report what was said but not to identify who said it, the Chatham House rule.

The first Chinese strike was directed at Australia’s alliance with the US: “The Sino-American relationship has many high and lows but you may not be clear on just how good it is.

“The Americans sometimes want to put pressure on us so they ask their friends to put pressure on us. When they do, you should sit down and think about it.” The US, the Chinese speaker said, frequently changed its approach to Asia policy, and “Australians need to realise the Americans change what they say without thinking about other people’s interests.”

In other words, if it were merely an American lapdog, Australia could end up alienating China only to be abandoned by its US master.

The second Chinese speaker said the relationship with Australia hinged on strategic trust; with it, there would be a cinematic ending of the Crocodile Dundee type, with two loving partners living happily ever after. Without it, there would be a Thorn Birds-style outcome, ending in tears.

The third said the conception of America as the strategic ally and China as the primary economic partner was wrong-headed; China and the US were both important to regional security. If Australia wanted a strategic partnership with China, it had to include both security and economic aspects.

The fourth called on Australia to beware a growing bellicosity in Japan, and urged Canberra to persuade Tokyo to change its position.

The fifth sought to relegate Australia’s US alliance to history. It was “a product of the Cold War,” he said. And although China would not normally offer its view on Australia’s alliances, it now was affecting China’s “core interests, its sovereignty and its territorial interests”.

This is a tough critique, claiming that Australia’s US alliance infringes on China’s sovereignty.

This speaker went on to hold out a “dream” of China’s relations with Australia, with trade trebling, tourism booming, young people moving freely between the two countries. But he said the dream had a long way to go.

And the responses? The Australians were on the defensive. Some firmly defended the US alliance. Some assured that Australia acted in its own interests, not America’s. One challenged the Chinese to explain what they were doing to ease the tensions. Some tried to change the subject.

But the Chinese were single-minded. And their plans to ease the escalations in their border disputes? They had nothing to say.

red-star

What it means to be Australian

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-24-41-pm

Peter Martin, ’China’s gifts, research, “special bonds” and Sam Dastyari’s ghost from his past,’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 08.09.16

Sam Dastyari had been in the Senate mere months when a ghost from his past came back to haunt him. He was sued by a marketing company over work it said he had commissioned and then abandoned while general secretary of the NSW Labor Party.

He settled the case for around $5000, but rather than pay it himself or get the Labor Party to help, he sent the bill to the Yuhu Group, reporting its support in the register of senators’ interests.

The Shenzhen Yuhu investment development group was founded by Huang Xiangmo, a Chinese-Australian billionaire to whom $5000 was literally small change.

A few months earlier he had given $1.8 million to the University of Technology in Sydney to help establish an Australia-China Relations Institute, which supplanted an existing China Research Centre whose publications had at times been critical of China.

It emails journalists offering all expenses paid trips to China (“flights, accommodation, meals and internal transport”) and, in an unusual approach for a university body, describes itself as taking a “positive and optimistic view” of the Australia-China relationship.

Click the “research” button on its website and you won’t see research, but “fact sheets” urging Australia to approve the Australia-China free trade agreement, not to run freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea and not to block the takeover bid for an electricity network.

Huang chairs the Institute himself, or so he says, in another departure from normal practice. He says he personally chose Australia’s former foreign minister Bob Carr to run it.

John Fitzgerald, a China specialist who directs philanthropy studies at Swinburne University, says it is the clearest departure from accepted university practice he has seen. Other research centres, such as those part-funded by the United States, critically examine what’s happening in the US. Another academic familiar with the Institute who teaches in China says there is more questioning of the Chinese regime among his own Chinese students than there is at the University of Technology, which seems to be the way Huang wants it. A prodigious donor to both sides of Australian politics, he wrote in a Chinese newspaper last week that donors needed to learn how to have, “a more efficient combination between political requests and political donations, and how to use the media to push our political requests”.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-25-12-pm

Huang sees donations as transactional. But the transactions aren’t always in Australia. In China, where some of his associates have been under a cloud, giving money to Australian universities and politicians is seen as a way to do the right thing by Chinese officials. China has set up “Confucius Institutes” at 10 Australian universities including the University of Melbourne with the aim of promoting “Chinese language and culture in a friendly, accessible and educational way”. They are also in high schools, 35 of them according to the former education minister Christopher Pyne.

To the Chinese Communist Party they are “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up”. To Australian schools desperate for funds, they are a way to get teaching resources cheaply.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-25-30-pm

The Communist Party itself has ultimate control over their curriculum, budget and hiring and training of staff, according to a Parliamentary Library research note, creating “extra-territoriality” within Australian universities and schools.

In Canada the Association of University Teachers has urged universities to sever their ties with Confucius Institutes. In the US, the Association of University Professors has issued a report suggesting their governance arrangements are “inconsistent with principles of academic freedom”, and at Chicago University the university senate has voted against renewing the institute’s contract after receiving a petition from 100 staff complaining that an outside entity was “in effect seriously influencing who’s teaching and what’s taught under our name”.

But here we don’t seem to care as much, perhaps because, like Sam Dastyari, we believe we can take money without being expected to give anything back in return. That isn’t how it’s seen in China, that’s not how it’s seen by donors such as Huang, and it’s not what the research shows. Yes: there is economic research into our response to gifts.

Oddly, and disturbingly for recipients such as Dastyari, it finds that small gifts can pack a biggerscreen-shot-2016-09-08-at-1-25-45-pm punch than big ones. For their study entitled You Owe Me, Ulrike Malmendier and Klaus Schmidt allowed bidders to give gifts to students deciding which firms to award contracts to in a laboratory experiment. The games weren’t repeated, so there was no chance of ever encountering the gift-givers again. Yet the small gifts won them over, even when what the bidders were offering was a worse service. As the size of the gift grew the effect faded.

They explain their findings by saying gifts “create a special bond between the gift giver and the receiver”. The more obvious the attempt, the more our guard goes up. It’s why doctors surgeries are filled with branded pens and free samples rather than wads of cash.

But there’s a caveat. Experienced China watchers say the gift needs to be just big enough to create a slight feeling of unease. Once the recipient feels they might have transgressed, they’re hooked for next time.

* Fairfax Media (the publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald and of this article) has joined visits to China organised and paid for by the Australia-China Relations Institute

red-star

The sort of speaking that resulted in so much political heat for Dastyari:

Gareth Hutchens, ’Labor senator Sam Dastyari claims 10 companies have taken control of Australian politicsBendigo Advertiser, 08.09.16

What a US peppercorn buys in Australia:

At a ceremony in 1967 the US ambassador to Australia Ed Clark laughingly paid the Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt a peppercorn for a year’s rent on their spy base at North West Cape in Western Australia. The lease did not allow Australia any degree of control over the station.