Australian Notes

Australian notes

13 June 2020

9:00 AM

13 June 2020

9:00 AM

Chinese aggression and the New Cold War

Over recent weeks commentators both in Australia and abroad have drawn attention to sundry acts of aggression by Chinese agencies against other countries, not least Australia. The Australian’s editor-at-large, Paul Kelly and its foreign editor, Greg Sheridan have written on the topic, and have also extensively reported a paper written for the Centre for Independent Studies by Dr Alan Dupont, nowadays a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute. His paper, Mitigating the New Cold War: Managing US-China Trade, Tech and Geo-Political Conflict, is of particular interest for using the term ‘New Cold War’. Yet as its full title indicates, Dr Dupont misses two fundamental points, as do his fellow commentators: first, the New Cold War is not just between China and the USA, but between China and the rest of the world. Second, there will be no chance of ‘mitigating’ that growing conflict.

Some time ago we saw, for instance, acts of Chinese military aggression in our neighbourhood, when Chinese warships actually sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel going peacefully about its business in waters belonging to Vietnam, but illegally claimed by China; and intimidatory actions against a rig contracted to drill for oil in Malaysian waters also illegally claimed by China. As for Australia, we have seen successive acts of (non-military) aggression directed at us by the Chinese Communist Party, under the tutelage for some years now of President-for-Life Xi Jinping. Infuriated by the Morrison government’s temerity in demanding an international inquiry (independent of the subservient-to-China World Health Organisation) into the origins and handling of the deadly Wuhan coronavirus, China moved to put us in our place.

First came the imposition of an 80 per cent tariff on a large proportion of our barley exports, portrayed as an anti-dumping duty in retaliation for countervailing duties previously imposed by Australia on imports of certain types of Chinese steel. This shot across our bows was followed by suspension of beef imports from four of our export-approved abattoirs, with admonitory ‘signals’ from the Chinese authorities suggesting that Chinese consumers might switch their preferences for Australian beef, wine and other things to different sources. These actions have been accompanied by a running fusillade of criticism, verging upon insult, from China’s embassy. Ironically, the most recent Chinese démarche, from the Ministry for Culture and Tourism, could have mixed results. In a remarkable ‘travel safety reminder’ last weekend, it warned Chinese citizens (including students) against traveling to Australia because of ‘racial discrimination and acts of violence’ here against Chinese (and ‘other Asian’) people. Personally, I don’t want previous levels of Chinese entrants, whether tourists or people claiming to be students, resuming once our borders are re-opened: two classic cases where national interests differ from sectional ones.

These recent overt acts of Chinese aggression should not have come as any surprise. The only thing new about them is that they have become (partly at least) overt, instead of being undertaken, as they have been for some decades now, covertly. Or, to put the point more bluntly, we need to recognise that, whether it likes it or not, the West is already embarked upon a ‘New Cold War’. Having fought for 45 years, and eventually won, the original Cold War against the USSR, the West now needs to look fully in its face this New Cold War against the Chinese Communist Party.

Note that whenever some criticism of China is uttered, it has become almost obligatory to add that the criticism is only of the CCP, and that no criticism whatsoever is intended of all those thoroughly decent Chinese-Australians (about 650,000 of them born in China, many of them still with family members there available as ‘hostages’) who share our values, and hold the CCP in the same low regard as an increasing majority of Australians do. Well, as Evelyn Waugh said, ‘Up to a point, Lord Copper’. Even a routine scanning of newspaper Letters pages will reveal China-supporting views expressed by some people with Chinese-looking names. In a nation that values freedom of speech (or says it does, despite everyday evidence to the contrary copiously furnished by the ABC/SBS duo), these frank expressions of opinion should not concern us. The real worry consists in those Chinese-Australians whose loyalties to China are never publicly revealed.

Are we so naive, for instance, as to fail to realise that the extremely efficient Chinese intelligence agencies will have arranged for infiltration of our trusting society by agents who, arriving here in one guise or another, have since become permanent residents, then citizens, and now remain as ‘sleepers’? Where did those Chinese toughs come from who, last July, physically beat up Drew Pavlou and his small band of supporters mounting a peaceful protest at the University of Queensland in support of their freedom-loving Hong Kong counterparts?

A century ago, French Prime Minister George Clemenceau said of Alsace-Lorraine (ownership of which had been stripped from France following its defeat in the 1870-71 Franco–Prussian war): ‘Always think of it, never speak of it’. Recall also the similar dictum of Deng Xiaoping seventy years later: ‘Observe calmly; secure our position;… hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership’. Thirty years on, the CCP has until recently never lost sight of Deng’s injunction. In short, whether we like it or not, we are at war with China: a war not of our making, but one the recognition of which, and public acknowledgement of which by Australians generally, will be vital if we are to avoid the awful consequences should we lose it.

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