Features Australia

Our Manchurian candidate

5 October 2019

9:00 AM

5 October 2019

9:00 AM

‘Power grows out of the barrel of a gun,’ said Mao Zedong and there were plenty in evidence in Tiananmen Square as the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its seventy-year stranglehold over the people of China on 1 October. More than 160 aircraft, 15,000 troops and 580 weapons systems showcased the cutting-edge gun barrels which President Xi Jinping hopes will ensure that he is president for the rest of a very long life.

Xi paid tribute to the embalmed corpse of his hero, Chairman Mao at the mass murderer’s mausoleum, the first time a Chinese head of state has done so as part of National Day celebrations since the end of the bloodbath that was the Cultural Revolution in which two million Chinese died.

Xi is no more squeamish about Mao’s victims than was Mao, who famously said of the so-called Great Leap Forward — which resulted in the deaths of some 56 million Chinese through torture, murder and starvation — that it was ‘only a partial failure,’ adding, ‘Comrades, you must all analyse your own responsibility. If you have to shit, then shit. If you have to fart, then fart. You will feel better for it.’

In a surreal moment, having perhaps enjoyed a cathartic fart tomb-side, Xi waved contentedly at a monumental portrait of himself as it rolled by with dozens of rainbow-coloured floats that had nothing to do with gay liberation and looked vaguely reminiscent of Disneyland.

Birthday greetings arrived from the last remaining communist outposts. North Korea promised to stand by its neighbour ‘defending and glorifying socialism.’ Vietnam was less effusive given Chinese efforts to claim oil to which Vietnam is entitled in the South China Sea.

Beijing’s favourite puppets attended; Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie ‘Silence of the Lam’ and ten Hong Kong police officers who excelled in suppressing anti-government protests.

And there was a sea of flags. ‘A man getting drunk at a farewell party should strike a musical tone, in order to strengthen his spirit … and a drunk military man should order gallons (of alcohol) and put out more flags in order to increase his military splendour,’ a Chinese sage was quoted as saying by Evelyn Waugh in his brilliant novel about the phony war at the start of the second world war.

A phony war was the theme of former Labor luminary and now One Nation leader in NSW Mark Latham, who said ‘some people in the Australian foreign policy debate ‘need an enemy,’ lamenting that ‘there seems to be a fair bit of feverish activity to define China as an enemy.’ He called this ‘Cold War stupidity’ and sabre-rattling and adding that the Chinese regime should be celebrated for lifting millions out of poverty in a way no liberal democracy could have and was no more responsible for the slaughter in the ‘Great Leap Forward,’ than he was responsible for the Stolen Generation. It was an unfortunate analogy given that Sky News UK has just revealed that in addition to the widely discussed forced detention of a million Uighurs in concentration camps, it seems that the children of detainees are being removed from their families and put in re-education kindergarten.

But don’t mention the concentration camps to Labor’s shadow defence minister Richard Marles, who was in Beijing in the lead-up to the birthday celebrations and has replaced former senator Sam Dastyari as the Opposition’s kowtower-in-chief. Marles was rewarded with suitably low-level official meetings in Beijing where his interlocuteurs impressed on him that what was missing from Australia’s relationship with the Middle Kingdom was ‘respect.’ An opinion piece written by Liberal MP Andrew Hastie had been raised as an example of our disrespect. ‘People are unhappy about it,’ he wailed. ‘There is no moral equivalence between China and Nazi Germany,’ he said, turning a blind eye to disturbing reports of the execution of detainees to provide organs on demand. We should be working with China ‘in a respectful way,’ Marles exhorted ABC viewers, astonished that Prime Minister Scott Morrison wasn’t suitably deferential to a nation which shows its respect for Australia by holding one of our citizens in solitary confinement, without access to his family or a lawyer, interrogating him while shackled in chains, to say nothing of hacking into Australia’s parliamentary server, seeking to buy influence in our political parties, stealing intellectual property on a massive scale, ignoring international trade law to gain an unfair advantage and refusing to reduce emissions until 2030.

‘What the prime minister did this week was not respectful,’ Marles continued. ‘The way in which we deal with China … needs to be characterised by a sense of respect,’ he added as if the ABC’s Fran Kelly, who did a surprisingly good job of questioning him, was a slow learner.

It made one think fondly of the Cold War classic, The Manchurian Candidate and the immortal lines of Dr Yen Lo, who said of Sergeant Raymond Shaw, ‘His brain has not only been washed … it’s been dry-cleaned.’

Marles did not want to comment directly on how his Chinese overlords had reacted to Morrison’s remarks that China should no longer be treated as a developing country and needed to play fairly according to new, fairer international rules. ‘What I can say is that the state of the relationship as it exists between Australia and China right now is terrible,’ Marles said. ‘We are falling down their ladder of relevance,’ he moaned. Punishment for mismanaging the ‘complex’ relationship, would have ramifications for the millions of Australians whose jobs depend on exports to China.

Threats of punitive action haven’t materialised on a major scale, presumably because damaging our two-way trade relationship, which is worth some $215 billion would hurt the Chinese as much as, and possibly even more than, it would hurt us.

But Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye took up the theme urging Australia to remember that it depends on China for its economic success and a visiting Chinese university team, accompanied by Chinese embassy officials branded Australia as the pioneer of a global anti-China campaign.

‘Right now, we have a massive trust deficit in terms of our relationship with China, and we need to build trust,’ Marles intoned, ignoring the fact that it is Beijing that is refusing to meet Australian ministers not vice versa. Thankfully, Labor’s shadow foreign minister Penny Wong hasn’t drunk the Chinese kool-aid and her recent speech on China and the US largely aligns with the concerns expressed by Morrison and Trump, the G20 leaders, the OECD and the EU rather than the Manchurian candidate. Let’s hope, for everyone’s sake, it stays that way.

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