Bernard Keane at Crikey took us down memory lane yesterday in useful fashion regarding Australia and China:
At least Tony Abbott is prepared to admit he screwed up: what he once boasted as a “history making” trade deal with China, and one of his great achievements as prime minister, was a mistake based on “wishful thinking” and a “very benign view” of China.
Similar mea culpas haven’t been forthcoming from the Coalition’s stenographers and cheerleaders, alas. Paul Kelly has never admitted he was wrong in lauding the deal as a “moment of transformation” of global significance, pointing the way to a “glorious future” in which an “astute Xi” would “pull Australia far closer into China’s orbit in coming years”. Greg Sheridan, who lauded the deal and insisted “there is not the slightest evidence that any Australian tradie would be a loser under this agreement”, was a leader of the Coalition/News Corp campaign against Labor for daring to question the deal — to question any aspect of the agreement with China was xenophobic and protectionist.
News Corp and the government now insist exactly the opposite, that Labor is too soft on China — indeed, had fallen into China’s trap, in the words of an Australian editorial in December. Sheridan’s reversal has been particularly risible. In September 2015, he was lauding Daniel Andrews to the high heavens for defying federal Labor’s opposition to the trade deal. Last year he was complaining that Andrews had handed China a propaganda victory for signing up to a Belt and Road agreement.
Sheridan isn’t the only one at the Oz to undertake a humiliating reversal — the editorial writers have gone from declaring “under ChAFTA we welcome Chinese investment in Australia” to cheering the government’s blocking of Chinese investment.
Fair enough. Both political parties and their media cheerleaders have played domestic politics over China for several years. From Shanghai Sam to Gladys Liu, both sides claim anything from a communist invasion to shrill cries of racism when it suits them.
It is also fair to say that the Morrison government only accidentally divorced China so radically and so swiftly in the last few years.
After Malcolm Turnbull composed his excellent foreign interference laws in 2018, it took the new Morrison government several years to actually fund most of the mechanisms that make them work.
Indeed, although the real driver of the Australia/China divorce is structural – liberalism versus illiberalism – it was largely thanks to Morrison’s gaslighting motormouth that the relationship soured so fast over the past two years.
And let’s not forget that despite our protecting ourselves, it is actually China that has done all of the heavy lifting in terms of actual economic decoupling. From limiting foreign capital flows into Aussie real estate in 2016 to today’s trade war. I sorely doubt that any of it would have happened from the Australian side.
So, there’s not a lot of moral high ground for anybody in Canberra to stand on when it comes to China.
But that does not excuse certain positions struck by the parties at particular moments of outright national crisis as the relationship came apart.
There is one moment especially that stands out. As the disintegrating Australia/China relationship reached breaking point, China issued Australia the infamous 14 demands to end democracy:
I am not kidding when I say that this document represents to the free world a kind of reverse Magna Carta. It betrays in detail the precise world that the CCP has planned. A dystopian planet in thrall to a CCP emperor that controls all thought and action.
There is no way known that in the normal course of events the CCP would have delivered such an ultimatum. It was driven to such extremes by the motormouth and gaslighting of Scott Morrison, who so discombobulated the Chinese embassy that it literally screamed, with pen and paper.
For all of that, we should be eternally grateful to our disordered PM for driving the CCP operatives to such breakdown. He flushed them out. Nor does this accidental genesis detract from the importance of the document.
The historic seriousness of the accidental dissertation was later underlined by the unique invitation from the G7 for Scott Morrison to present it to the leadership of the free world.
Anyone with a brain can see that the Morrison government is utterly corrupt and bereft of national interest policy process. It’s also pretty basically dumb. But it did have the brains and instinct to recognise an existential threat to Australia when it appeared.
However, it was alone in doing so. As China declared war on Australian liberalism, the only Australia that matters to any of us, the Labor Party had neither the wit, gumption nor value system to see it for what it was.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese entirely missed the stampeding CCP elephant in the room and instead criticised Morrison:
“I remember Prime Minister [Kevin] Rudd giving a speech in China, in Mandarin, of course, which was critical of human rights issues, but done so in a way that also was designed to make clear our values but not designed to offend for offence sake,” he said.
“And what we were able to do, and the Howard government was able to do as well, is have relationships that built that economic interaction that was very important for us.
“This government seems to have presided over a complete breakdown of relationships.”
Yes, he did. And thank god for it, Albo.
It didn’t stop there. Labor’s phalanxes of China grovelers piled in. Dan Andrews:
…“This relationship is far too important to farmers, to manufacturers, to workers, to profits for Victorian companies and therefore prosperity for our state,” Mr Andrews said.
“This is not just our biggest customer, but it is all about jobs. We need a good relationship but it has to be a fair and respectful one.”
“I just want us to continue to have good, friendly relationships with our long-term trading partners.
“They buy an enormous amount of our products, we buy a much smaller amount of their products.
“It’s been a beneficial relationship for both countries and I think we need to make sure we have cool heads and work things out by discussion and not confrontation.”
“What the mining companies are saying to me is the last thing they want to see are mines closed in Queensland,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“That could have an impact on Queensland jobs.
In short, Anthony Albanese and Labor couldn’t even see the threat when it was printed out in black and white and handed out as a flyer.
Crikey’s Bernard Keane is spot on when he points out that the Morrison government and its media cheerleaders have a chequered history on China. But, more importantly, when it really mattered, it stood up to be counted.
Conversely, when it really mattered, Albo and his coalition of Labor cowards folded like origami paper.
If Labor takes power at both federal and state levels, who is left to resist the CCP?