An effort to understand Australian Sinophobia

Since I spend my holidays in Australia, I find a need to understand the extraordinarily vicious Sinophobia thereabouts. In our time, perhaps New Zealand is the only country where it is worse, but that is not by much. Russophobia is part of the picture as well, but not as bad as in that very weird country, the United States.

So let me suggest the following:

1. The weakness of Australian governance, especially at a national level. No matter what party has been in power over the last decade or more, it has characteristically been weak and torn by inner strife. They spend most of their time turfing out one leader and finding another, so much that elections are a waste of time and money. When a government is weak, it likes to find an external threat.

2. There are two caveats here. To begin with, the general populace is largely positive with regard to China. Survey after survey indicates around 65 percent are positively disposed. Further, the political subclass is split, with significant portions across the limited political spectrum engaging with China. For now, the Sinophobic element is able to set the agenda, making use of a gaggle of rabid ‘commentators’ and ‘advisors’ who do not realise they are being used. Australia also has a compliant corporate and state-owned media (ABC and SBS) playing the same tune.

3. At a deeper level, the Sinophobic narrative – with its distortions and deliberate misinformation – taps into a vast storehouse of Australian racism from the past. This comes form a time when the population was less than 10 million and was largely descended from British immigrants. In this context, the ‘yellow peril’ was invoked, an obviously racist trope and part of the white Australia policy. This is really nasty material, which many of us thought had been left behind.

4. The Sinophobic propaganda is a signal of an ongoing identity crisis. Since 1972 and the end of the white Australia policy, Australia has seen British descendants become a minority. Western European descendants (like myself) will also soon be a minority. Most immigrants come from East Asia, the Subcontinent and Africa. For example, Chinese is the second most spoken language in Australia now. As this shift happens, with about 200,000 immigrants per year, the demographics and culture have been changing. In this context, the racist invocation has become more shrill as Australia makes the transition to a Eurasian nation. That it alienates a significant portion of the population should be obvious.

5. The rampant Sinophobia may also be seen as a symptom of the difficulty of figuring how to deal with a declining United States. That the USA is in decline is obvious to everyone. Asian countries have by and large figured this out and have been working to solve their own problems. But Australia is trapped. It gambled on alliance with the United States after the Second World War, but the governing bodies know full well that the USA today would neither want nor be able to lift a finger to help Australia. Further, for some time now, Australia’s number one economic partner has been China, which has enabled Australia to avoid a recession for 27 years. Australian policy setters, along with the woeful media, are unable to manage this situation. Either break with the United States or break with China. The latter option would have severe economic and social consequences, while the former would simply challenge the whole political culture of the last 70 or more years.

6. At the deepest level, this Sinophobia is part of the long-standing colonial and anti-colonial struggle. The anti-colonial project I have in mind is the one that came to the fore in the twentieth century. As the Soviet Union realised (in the 1930s) that the Russian Revolution was in part an anti-colonial revolution, and as it began to support at many levels the global anti-colonial struggle in the name of opposing capitalist imperialism, the century was determined at many levels by this struggle.

With its immense economic power and socialist political structures, China has now taken the lead in the anti-colonial project. We see this with the world-changing Belt and Road Initiative, Africa-China Cooperation, the Asia Infrastructure Bank and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The latest element of this is the shift away from the US dollar in international transactions and reserves (for example, China plans in March to trade oil in Renminbi, the most significant shift from the last item that is still almost exclusively done in US dollars).

In response, a small number of countries – 15 at most – have made an effort to counter this anti-colonial project. Of course, they are former colonial powers, pushing a tired agenda that is too little, too late. The catch is that some of the former colonies have joined this new colonial bandwagon. These are not the countries that achieved independence in the twentieth century, but earlier. The United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia are the culprits. While we may think this is perverse, it is useful to recall that each of them has been a colonial power on their own. Australia, for example, was for long a colonial master of Papua New Guinea and still sees itself as a master. That China has now engaged with Papua New Guinea and is doing what Australia never did – improve the basic infrastructure in Papua New Guinea so that it may actually develop economically – is seen as an affront to Australia’s continuing colonial arrogance.

 

Political weakness, a storehouse of racism, an identity crisis, a declining and angry United States, and the anti-colonial project – these are the factors that seem to be important. There may be more, but none are particularly pleasant. No wonder, then, that in 2017 and 2018, Australia was voted the least friendly country by Chinese surveys.

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Deng Xiaoping: Basic principles of international engagement

In the context of the 1978 launch the ‘four modernisations’ (agriculture, industry, science and technology, and national defence), Deng Xiaoping made the following remarks relating to China’s international engagement:

At present, we are still a relatively poor nation. It is impossible for us to undertake many international proletarian obligations, so our contributions remain small. However, once we have accomplished the four modernizations and the national economy has expanded, our contributions to mankind, and especially to the Third World, will be greater. As a socialist country, China shall always belong to the Third World and shall never seek hegemony. This idea is understandable because China is still quite poor, and is therefore a Third World country in the real sense of the term. The question is whether or not China will practise hegemony when it becomes more developed in the future. My friends, you are younger than I, so you will be able to see for yourselves what happens at that time. If it remains a socialist country, China will not practise hegemony and it will still belong to the Third World. Should China become arrogant, however, act like an overlord and give orders to the world, it would no longer be considered a Third World country. Indeed, it would cease to be a socialist country. I first addressed these points in a speech delivered at the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1974. The current foreign policy, which was formulated by Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, will be passed on to our descendants (Selected Works, vol. 2, p. 123).

Fast forward to 2017 and the official launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, where Xi Jinping reiterated the five core principles of peaceful coexistence, which date back to 1954:

China will enhance friendship and cooperation with all countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. We are ready to share practices of development with other countries, but we have no intention to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, export our own social system and model of development, or impose our own will on others. In pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative, we will not resort to outdated geopolitical maneuvering. What we hope to achieve is a new model of win-win cooperation.

In light of Deng Xiaoping’s comments, China is obviously still a socialist country, if not even more so today.

2018: The Year Apple Products Became Obsolete

Is 2018 the year that the global symbol of U.S. technological innovation became obsolete? Or is it the year when we began to realise a reality that has actually been the case for a while?

Not so long ago, it was a given that Apple products would be manufactured in China, but that the crucial value-adding would take place in the United States’ infamous Silicon Valley. In this way, companies like Apple could maintain a stranglehold on the global supply chain. No matter that it was often Chinese whizz-kids who were actually in Silicon Valley, finding new ways to keep Apple in front and ensuring the final value-adding.

In 2018 a few small but significant shifts took place. Let put this in terms of personal experience. A couple of years ago and against my better instincts, I had accepted a Macbook Air from an employer. I eventually became used to the machine, even with its counter-intuitive and closed structures. It had a good battery and good modem inside and it seemed to work passably well for the first year or so. But it was always a frustrating piece of equipment. After a year or so, its basic clunkiness became more apparent. Despite all the vaunted hype by Apple enthusiasts, I found it no better than other machines I had used earlier.

In late 2017 I was fed up. In Beijing I bought a new Xiami laptop, which had recently been launched. At all levels, it is simple a superior piece of equipment. Xiaomi’s aim is to produce the best possible product at a reasonable price. This one was about half the cost of a Macbook Air. What had happened? I thought. Is this an anomaly? No, the value-adding had all taken place in China.

I could repeat these observations concerning the Xiaomi phones, but perhaps Huawei is a better example. In 2018 Huawei produced the world’s best smart phone, with integrated AI (artificial intelligence) and a ‘killer’ camera developed by Leica. Its global market share surged past Apple, and is now just behind Samsung. In a couple of years, it will become the world’s top-selling smartphone.

Is this a sudden development? Not at all, for the enmeshed socialist market economy of China has been in this path for a number of years. Technological breakthroughs – from high-speed trains, through bridge construction to smart phones and quantum communication – have been actively fostered. For example, for some years now more new patents are registered from Zhongguancun (near where I live in Beijing) than from Silicon Valley. While the former has been attracting more and more global talent, the latter has seen a brain drain.

In this light, the crude efforts – by one or two countries such as the United States and Australia – to suggest that Huawei, for example, is a ‘security risk’ should be seen for what they are: desperate rear-guard actions to try and restore the fortunes of companies like Apple.

The catch is that people know the technology is now increasingly obsolete and yet one is supposed to pay a premium price for such technology.

As someone from India – where Chinese high-tech products are in very high demand – put it: I am sick of the United Stated forcing obsolete technology on the rest of the world at gunpoint.