What is it that terrifies the people of Hong Kong about the Chinese Communist Party that eludes so many pliant Australian academics, business leaders and ex-politicians?
In the same breath, some local cognoscenti lament the Australian government’s weakness in barely mentioning the troubles in the Chinese territory before returning to their rote gripe that Canberra’s national security establishment is too hawkish.
Protesters in Hong Kong chant outside the office of the Chief Executive.
Australia’s intelligence agencies are better described as cautious about the balance of risks and opportunities that come with China’s rise because, unlike their critics, they are not wilfully blind. The agencies are not seeking to contain China and understand it will be the dominant power in our region but worry about that because they see in the Chinese Communist Party what the people of Hong Kong see.
On the streets of Hong Kong a people’s visceral fear is on parade. They fear they are to be subsumed by what looks increasingly like a nasty totalitarian regime. They know that, inevitably, they will lose their right to protest and they are raging against the dying of the light. They fear their children’s education will one day be handed over to an Orwellian state and, from infancy, they will be taught to love Big Brother.
This is no flight of imagination. They fear these things because they have seen the evidence.
The people of Hong Kong know that, even without an extradition treaty, some of those deemed troublesome by Beijing have already been spirited to the mainland.
They have watched the security apparatus of their giant neighbour reach out to touch every one of China’s 1.4 billion people. They know that one day they too will be given a social credit score and, if deemed untrustworthy, their lives will be made miserable.
They know, despite small victories, that this will be their fate because Hong Kong is part of a Marxist-Leninist state run by a President for Life who has made it clear that every citizen and business is a servant of the party. The party’s only gift to Hong Kong was time and Xi Jinping has grown impatient.
The back down by Hong Kong’s quisling administrators is simply a pause in a long march that has only one destination. The people must also know that no one will come to their aid. Countries like Australia will watch mute, so as not to uproot the money tree.
Worse, a long line of Beijing’s locally engaged sirens will march on to the airwaves here to softly urge that the Chinese Communist Party is our future too. That everything will go well so long as we don’t irk the paymaster.
Former prime minister Paul Keating drew cheers from this crowd when he dubbed the intelligence agency heads “nutters” and demanded they be sacked to soothe relations with the easily offended Beijing.
He complained that when “you have the ASIO chief knocking on MPs’ doors, you know something’s wrong”. One can only assume this is a reference to the warning the agency issued to the major parties in 2015, that some of their major donors had Chinese Communist Party links.
When a former prime minister wants our intelligence chiefs dismissed for quietly alerting political parties to foreign interference in Australia’s democracy then, yes, something is very wrong.
One wonders what counsel Keating offered Labor when China was pushing Australia to sign up to an extradition treaty in early 2017. It was backed by the Turnbull government and failed in the Senate when Labor supported a motion not to ratify it, led by South Australian conservative, Cory Bernardi.
In the wake of that decision Primrose Riordan reported in The Australian that Bill Shorten, Penny Wong and Richard Marles met China’s Meng Jianzhu in Sydney on April 22 that year. There the former security tsar urged Labor to reconsider and issued an extraordinary threat. “Mr Meng said it would be a shame if Chinese government representatives had to tell the Chinese community in Australia that Labor did not support the relationship between Australia and China,” the report said. Labor sources have confirmed this account is accurate.
Pause for a moment and imagine how China would react to the suggestion that a million-strong ethnic diaspora inside its borders might be mobilised against it by a foreign power. And why did this breathtaking, deeply aggressive and offensive statement raise barely a ripple when it was reported? Where were the calls from ex-PMs demanding the official resign?
Expect no parades of courage here. Australia’s problem with China isn’t that it is too assertive, it is that we are weak.