One of the most remarkable aspects of the Brexit decision on June 23, 2016, was that a majority of voters in Great Britain and Northern Ireland put political principle before economic advantage. Ordinary people voted to take their country back despite the Remain campaign warning of a run on the pound, the end of manufacturing, the collapse of agriculture, the flight of capital, and so on ad infinitum.
China, I fear, poses the same problem for Australia as the European Union did for the United Kingdom.
We are in a bind. Australia could underpin our future material well-being by kowtowing to Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. After all, a third of our exports in the period 2017-18 went to the People’s Republic of China. Without this vast and relatively new export market, Australia would not have survived the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09 with such élan. Likewise, many tertiary and private secondary educational institutions around Australia will flounder without China’s patronage.
Communist China is counting on us bending the knee and aligning with their version of Imperial Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. But there is a price to pay for compliance. Despite China’s miraculous transformation from a Maoist backwater into a high-tech superpower, their government remains a despotic entity. Digital technology, in the form of the Great Wall of China censorship and compulsory WeChat communications system, makes the People’s Republic of China more totalitarian than it has been in its entire 70-year history, which is saying something.
The advent of capitalism has not turned China into a liberal-democracy but a capitalist-Leninist state. The one-party aspect of its identity should not be underrated. China’s Communist politburo cannot tolerate opposition: this is the paranoia of never having been legitimised by a democratic vote. Leninist regimes are always for the people but never of the people. In short, the people of China, let alone the people of Hong Kong, never voted President-for-Life Xi Jinping into office. Between the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s official recognition of the PRC at the end of 1972, the barbarity of that country, including the 45 million who died in the 1958-62 Great Leap Forward, was an internal matter for China. Australia did not officially recognise communist China during the first two decades of Mao Zedong’s millenialist madness and, given what we now know, we were not wrong.
Today, the true Maoists in the communist politburo are long gone but the ascendant faction, the capitalist-Leninists, are in command and nobody is safe from their brutal distrust, not the Tibetans, not the million-plus Uyghurs in detention camps, not the persecuted Christians, not the Falun Gong (whose organs are harvested), and certainly not the Hongkongers.
The liberty-loving people of Hong Kong must be suppressed because their cries of freedom are a rebuke to a brutal and paranoid communist politburo that remains entirely illegitimate. How can the unelected clique in Beijing respond to criticism other than to crush it? Already the tanks of the PLA are gathered on the border of Hong Kong, while the Beijing-vetted police become more violent by the day in their response to those demonstrating against Carrie Lam’s Extradition Bill.
Chicoms believe they have no alternative but to extinguish dissent in Hong Kong. This is what they did to the Democracy Wall movement in 1979, the Tiananmen Square demonstrators in 1989, and the hundreds upon hundreds of random protests throughout China every year. Already the regime is referring to the ongoing democracy campaign in Hong Kong as the ‘sprouts of terrorism’.
Leninists know that once they begin negotiating with the people, as they did in the Eastern Bloc in 1989, the whole totalitarian project comes undone. Never forget: President-for-Life Xi Jinping and his coterie were never elected to power by the people of China let alone Hong Kong. Their default response to dissent is: (a) paranoia and propaganda; and (b) intimidation followed by violence.
In 1997, China’s politburo solemnly swore to the UK and to the UN that the so-called Special Administration Region of Hong Kong would enjoy a ‘high degree of autonomy’ and an independent judiciary until 2047. But what do old promises matter to panicky and fearful despots when their power is challenged?
As soon as the UK handed over their former colony to ‘the care’ of Beijing in 1997, the writing was on the wall. Only deluded diplomats had any faith in Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping’s ‘one country, two systems’ formula. The vastly improved quality of yum cha in Australia is testament to the fact that many Hongkongers knew all along there could be no live-and-let-live fairy-tale ending with communist China.
The irony in all this, of course, is that some Chicoms themselves might have believed that ‘one country, two systems’ would last more than twenty short years. Consider the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HZMB), costing US$18.8 billion to build, and finally completed in 2018. When the PLA cracks down on the Hongkongers, the HZMB – along with the entire financial and economic miracle that is Hong Kong – will be dead in the water. Sometimes you just have to kill the thing you love.
This outcome could not be the optimum one for the politburo. It is just that Leninists, dating back to their originator, Vladimir Lenin, cannot help themselves. Every opposing opinion is a counter-revolutionary conspiracy and is not to be endured. Threaten it. Demonise it. Exterminate it.
Do we wish to embolden a homicidal regime that cannot help itself from vanquishing every voice raised against it? Last year, Qantas bowed to communist China’s demand that Taiwan never be referred to as the Republic of China. Recently we read about Australian university staff being asked to provide their passport details before teaching students from the PRC. Beijing now demands that parliamentary critics of China, such as Andrew Hastie, zip it. Not long ago, ‘China expert’ Kevin Rudd was demanding that then-PM Turnbull zip it. Membership of China’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, like membership of the European Union, has a price.
The time, then, has come to contemplate our own version of Brexit. Distancing ourselves from the PRC will have economic repercussions, and yet do we wish to end up like the Hongkongers – having to choose between dying on our feet or living on our knees?
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