The “China Panic”, a phrase coined by Professor Bob Carr, ex-Australian Foreign Minister and Director of Australian China Relations Institute (ACRI), started in December 2016 when the media and the Turnbull government started to “bash” China starting with a media blitz about Chinese political donations to political parties and alleging breach of parliamentary sovereignty and followed by proposed legislation, the Foreign Interference Bills, which was subsequently passed in the Federal Parliament. These events generated xenophobic overtones against the Chinese Australians. The government seems to change direction when PM Turnbull delivered a conciliatory speech at the University of New South Wales attended by the Chinese diplomats. Despite the turnaround, there has been collateral damage done to the 1.2 million Chinese Australians. Notwithstanding recent adversities, Chinese Australians are hopeful for better times as they believe Australians are fair minded.
At the peak of the China Panic, an article “What is the-Chinese Australian community reaction to-the-recent public debate in the media alleging foreign interference and espionage by Chinese in Australia?” appeared in Quora, expressing the sentiments felt by the 1.2 million Chinese Australians to the adverse publicity.
In the above article, an attempt was made to explain the wide diaspora of Australian Chinese in Australia and depending on which country of birth they migrate from, their education and degree of western influence (or exposure to political systems), their thinking and political outlook are broad. The diaspora minority are those emigrated from China in recent times. Hence, the attempt to stereotype Chinese Australians as spies and having connections with the CCP, or agents of China, is just simply propaganda, but it was effective in inciting xenophobia overtones and including increased public display of racism, racial vilification and hate speech by extremist groups.
Whilst on the defensive, the Chinese Australians has shown resilience and patience and were optimistic that this anti-Chinese sentiments will eventually go away and they believed that the majority of Australians are fair minded and bears no ill feelings to their fellow Australians of Chinese descent. It would appear that racial politics and fear mongering have the upper hand for the time being.
On this belief, the Chinese Community Council of Australia (CCCA) held a Forum the New South Wales Parliament House to discuss and broadcast their views on the matter. The Forum was moderated by a prominent journalist Geraldine Doogue from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC – a government owned Radio/TV) with prominent Australian speakers Prof John Fitzgerald and ex-Ambassador Tony Kevin. One of the important topic of the discussion was the Foreign Interference Bills (FIT).
CCCA media release on the Forum made the following statements:“Chinese Australians are a large complex melting pot with a range of multi-generational families of the late 1800’s, SE Asian settlers of 70’s and 80’s and new mainland residents over the past 20 years. The attitudes of local mainstream Australians have changed significantly with the rise of China’s economic and political influence. There are dynamics of positive business and trade development, heavy presence of Chinese tertiary academics, geo- politics of the increasing presence of the Belt Road Initiative and South China Seas dispute. More recently the Chinese Australia community is the centre of attention in the proposed Foreign Influence Bill, and is surrounded by the mainstream media on the developing interplay of the US – Australian defense alliance and the Chinese government actions.
The aim of this conference is to discuss the relationship of the above areas that are sources of opportunities and concerns to the Chinese Australian as a community in regards its dialogue within, its communication with mainstream, its leadership(s) and its direction, and changes within its particular melting pot of various sub diaspora groups”
The public was invited to make submission to a parliamentary committee and CCCA, an independent Australian organisation made a submission said China was the obvious elephant in the room’ for the legislation and the Chinese Australian community was worried about being marginalized and scapegoated amid China’s political and economic rise.
One eloquent submission against the bill was made by another independent NGO, “Get Up”.
With bi-partisan support, the government passed the bill through the House of Representative and the Senate. At this junction, the Chinese community expressed its respect and compliance with the law but cautioned that some part of the legislation could be misused.
Post Foreign Influence Bill
A recent speech by PM Turnbull given at the University of New South Wales, attended by a large delegation of Chinese diplomats including China’s ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye, came days after Beijing warned it was up to Australia to take steps to repair the bilateral relationship.
In his conciliator speech that would give “clearer thinking” about his government’s attitude to China, PM Turnbull said ” It would be a “big mistake” to assume China will become a Soviet Union engaged in Cold War rivalry with the United States..
It took 18 months before the China Panic reset button was pushed and that allowed a relief of the excruciating pain suffered by the Chinese Australians. This pain was manageable and bearable when Prof Bob Carr and many senior academics and ex-diplomats have expressed empathy with the Chinese Australian community. Their comforting articles were published in a blog called “John Menadue – Pearls & Irritation.”: An example of such article written by Prof Carr and a comment are reproduced below:
Comment: “The Chinese Australian community wish to thank Prof Bob Carr for his empathy during a difficult period of China Panic in Australia. A change of direction by the Turnbull government should be welcomed by most Australians and particular those of Chinese descent. Turnbull needs to do more than just words to sooth the pain and stress when the Chinese community was put through the wringer during the China Panic of the last 18 months. A dialogue of with the community on how to close the wound and working together for cohesive and harmonious Australia could be useful in producing practical solutions for a better Australia-China relations and restore the genuine feeling of inclusiveness that Australia is home for 1.2 million Chinese Australians.”
An additional article was written by Prof Carr on the sufferings of the 1.2 million Chinese Australians and a commentary to the article is reproduced below?
Comment: “In a Democracy, we respect Clive Hamilton exercising his freedom of expression in his book however we have yet to ask him why, intentionally or otherwise, he has put 1.2 million Chinese Australians through the wringer to suffer the stress and trauma of being perceived as spies, disloyal citizens, subjected to racially vilification, xenophobia and worst, introducing what Prof Carr wrote as ‘Australia’s new McCarthyism declares guilt by association’. We would let History be the judge of Clive Hamilton’s allegations and whether he is morally justified or responsible for the consequences in making unsubstantiated claims against fellow Australians, hence breaking the fabric of our cohesive and harmonious multicultural society.”
It was previously discussed that one of the reasons for the China Panic in Australia is to support US containment of China, as Australia is a close ally of the US. Another reason is the spread of “ethno-nationalism” by Henry Reynolds is an eminent Australian historian. This article appeared after a journalist made racially inspired and divisive commentary in the Australian newspaper.
A commentary to the above article is reproduced below:
“Comment on Henry Reynolds article: “Andrew Bolt wants the cake and eat it too and I am sorry to disappoint him that it is too late to bring back the past White Australia. Our immigrants who have played a significant role in developing Australia into a prosperous nation which all Australians benefit, are here to stay. Very soon, they will outnumber and be more vocal than the racial warriors and any legislative changes that is adverse to the diverse communities can be repealed in the future. Instead of them and us, why can’t we live together as one Australians family sharing the same goals and aspiration for our descendants? To insist on “assimilation” in contemporary Australia implies one race is more superior to another. Integration is more conducive to community harmony.
What are Australian values? It is a living entity which will continue to change by the characteristics of its immigrants blending with the established culture. At this moment, the core Australian values seems to be acceptance of the Democracy & the Westminster parliamentary system, rule of law, and English as a bonding language among all Australians.
The second and successive generation of immigrants will be mainstream and they, together with other immigrant descendants including those of Anglo-Celtic origin (and First Australians), will represent what is Australia.”
With the acceptance of Multiculturalism, we add a universal value of acceptance and respect for the diversity brought by countless immigrants to Australia. This process does not dilute Australian values but enhanced it to a higher level as a showcase for a successful Australian multiculturalism for the world to see.”
Despite these setbacks, Chinese Australians are hopeful that these divisive and harmful commentaries will die down as the community resets itself to lobby for better Anti-Discrimination legislation to protect minorities from racial vilification, hate speeches and racial violence. Race politics and fear mongering is the tactic of Nazi Germany and should be resisted strongly.
The Australian value of “fair go” and empathy for the underdog is still alive and hope these value will overcome division in the community and help to maintain a cohesive and harmonious multicultural Australian society.
This article was published by Quora on the 21st of August 2018.
Advocate/Represent community in public affairs. He studied at UNSW. He lives in Sydney.