SILENT INVASION: China’s Influence in Australia
by Clive Hamilton
Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne
Paperback: 376 pages
Reviewed by Jeffry Babb
There is no other nation like China, and never has been. Experts have been predicting the collapse of the Chinese economy for the last 40 years, yet China still keeps growing. Will U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs cause the downfall of China’s economy? I doubt it, the Americans will soon realise the main losers are themselves.
As Professor Julius Sumner Miller used to ask: “Why is this so?”
China is a totalitarian political system, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) holds exclusive power, combined with an economic system that is effectively state capitalism. But it is capitalism that works.
To understand China, we should compare it with the Soviet Union, which Hamilton fails to do. Hamilton says that by 2020 Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP) will be the same as Russia’s; yet, compared with the Russian bear, Australia will remain a cuddly koala. The Soviet military did not collapse, the socialist economy did.
I was recently talking to a prominent Australian businessman who deals with Russia. He says that the Russians have good technology but are rather naive when it comes to business. For the Russian workman, the workweek, he says, is something that fills in the gap between the weekends. Russians are not very ambitious. The Soviets did attempt to infiltrate Australian politics in a ham-fisted way, as outlined by Dr Hal Colebatch in his thesis on the World Peace Council, which attempted to manipulate Australian domestic politics. But the Soviets never had any money.
Stalin’s disastrous collectivisation of agriculture meant that the USSR went from being a leading grain exporter in Czarist times to being a grain importer under communism. Russia is now resuming its historic role as the granary of Europe, and muscling in on Australia’s markets in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
The rule of Mao Zedong (1893–1976) was an almost unmitigated disaster. The Hundred Flowers Campaign (1956) was used to draw out the Chinese intellectual elite and morphed into the Anti Rightist Movement, which crushed them. The Great Leap Forward (1958–1962) followed. The Great Leap Forward was intended to bring China up to the level of the developed nations, such as Great Britain, in five years.
Mao knew nothing about economics and was apparently greatly surprised when this campaign failed. Peasants melted down their pots and door hinges to make steel in order to meet their quota. This backyard steel was totally useless. Farming was neglected to feed this lunacy and people starved in their millions. The Great Leap Forward was the greatest man-made famine in the history of the world. Scholars estimate some 55 million people died of starvation.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) inflicted great suffering, especially on those callow city-dwellers exiled to the country, including Deng Xiaoping. Some 2 million people are believed to have died. Visitors to China will occasionally be shown damage to historic monuments inflicted by Mao’s vanguard, the Red Guards.
The Cultural Revolution only exhausted itself when its protagonist, Mao, died and the Gang of Four were imprisoned. Jiang Qing (1914–1991), Mao’s wife, said to be the leader of the Gang of Four, when asked about Mao’s role, famously said: “I was Mao’s dog. When he said bite someone, I bit him.”
Deng Xiaoping (1904–1997), who was known as China’s “paramount leader”, is often called a pragmatist, but this is incorrect. Unlike Mao, who was a librarian, Deng had worked in a steelworks in France, where he was an industrial worker. He survived exile to the country during the Cultural Revolution, unlike Liu Xiaoqi (1898–1969), former chairman of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), whom Mao had tortured to death.
Deng knew how to motivate the Chinese people to great economic achievements. He famously said, “to get rich is glorious”, unleashing the entrepreneurial instincts of the Chinese people. Yet, he ordered the suppression of the democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 who threatened the rule of the CCP. Today, no one under 30 in China has heard of the Tiananmen massacre.
Deng manipulated China’s leadership from beyond the grave, setting in concrete a succession plan that would assure China’s leadership would be men (no women) in his image. That vision of leadership ran off the rails with the election of President Xi Jinping, who can rule in perpetuity if he so desires. Xi has purged the CCP of his enemies and also, we are told, of corrupt elements.
Thus we have the difference between the USSR and the PRC. The Chinese are disciplined, hardworking and entrepreneurial.
Hamilton appears to have a fundamental misunderstanding about the way the Chinese polity functions. The CCP is composed of some 89 million members, most of whom are members for purely careerist motives. Candidates for membership of the CCP complain bitterly of the boring and abstruse exams in communist theory they must pass to gain membership of the CCP.
To be quite clear, there is nothing resembling civil society in China, as we understand the term in Australia. China is controlled by the CCP. Of course, not all activities are carried out by the CCP – that would be impossible – but a parallel management and party structure exists in every significant organisation in China, governmental or commercial.
Take one example that Hamilton uses, that of the justice system, where he says that the justice system is “influenced” or “coerced” by the CCP. This applies a Western concept of the separation of powers to a totalitarian political system. But the Chinese justice system exists to implement the policies of the CCP. The conviction rate is 99 per cent.
The major PRC companies investing in Australia have a party structure. To believe otherwise is naive. These PRC companies also exist to make money. That is what makes them influential and effective. Unlike the Soviets, blundering along with their fellow travellers in the unions and mouthpieces like Manning Clarke, who had little impact across the board, the PRC has businessmen such as West Australian magnates Kerry Stokes and Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest supporting their case.
The extent to which Australian politicians, educators and business people have adopted the PRC’s cause as their own is shameful. No major party is immune. Money is like water: it follows the path of least resistance. Those who have benefitted most from the PRC’s largess are spread across the political spectrum, but the ALP seems to be the focus of Hamilton’s attention. Hamilton, by the way, is a former Greens parliamentary candidate. His motives for writing this book are obscure.
Hamilton tells us that former Prime Minister Paul Keating, for example, says he knows “everything about China because he talks to the top leadership” (p260). Keating chairs the International Advisory Council of the China Development Bank, “which ostensibly provides strategic guidance but mainly provides the bank with well-paid champions”.
Another former ALP Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, is a well-known “friend of China”. Hawke is renowned as a “go to” man for anyone wanting contacts in China. Hamilton writes: “By the mid-2000s he had become ‘seriously wealthy’, with a fortune of some $50 million” (p259).
Former senator for NSW Sam Dastyari overstepped the line, even for a political organisation as beholden to the PRC as the ALP’s NSW Right is. Even the ALP could no longer tolerate his egregious behaviour.
Bob Carr is surely the greatest disappointment among China’s hangers-on. Carr boasted to me that he was “the last of the old Labor men”. Paul Keating, a bitter man who feels Australia doesn’t give him his due, is motivated by “face”; Bob Hawke, who flies to China several times a month, has his financial reward. What motivates Bob Carr?
Carr, a former ALP foreign minister and senator, and premier of NSW, was recruited to run the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Notably, Carr has no academic experience but someone with his background hardly really needs it.
Hamilton quotes senior ALP sources: “Carr has been pushing an aggressive pro-China position in Labor caucuses and especially in the NSW Right faction” (pp94-95). UTS has appointed several Chinese donors as “adjunct professors”, which is a meaningless piece of flattery, apart from the fact that they use the honorific title “Professor”, a significant form of address in status-conscious China.
This is quite a retreat from Carr’s former anti-totalitarian agitation. Hamilton reminds us that following the Tiananmen Square massacre, Carr denounced government by a single Marxist-Leninist party as a “ludicrously outdated notion” and that “only a multi-party democracy in China could guarantee there would be no more bloodshed” (p94).
Australia has some 1 million residents of Chinese descent. Not all ethnic or even culturally Chinese people are from China. Many Chinese people are from Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Macao, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia and many other countries.
Chinese people have strong family bonds, which they extend to their homeland. They also often tend to employ other Chinese people in their businesses. Being culturally Chinese is important, as is maintaining connections and friendships within the community, known as “guanxi”, especially within their dialect group.
Those Chinese who take part in political activities often do so grudgingly. Overseas students are likely to join the Chinese students’ associations, and also the student association for their country of origin, for example Taiwan. On the whole, it is an excuse to have fun. Within a few generations, however, Chinese-Australians would have little more interest in China than Australians of Irish origins have in Ireland: that is, more than none but less than a consuming interest.
Australians are not as credulous as New Zealanders are when it comes to dealing with China’s “silent invasion”, but it is a threat, nonetheless. Most businessmen who act as shills for China do it out of blatant self-interest. New Zealand is a small country with a population about the same as Melbourne and an area around that of Victoria. As far as the Chinese are concerned, New Zealand is easy pickings.
Australia is a far richer prize. Australians should be ashamed at how cheaply the PRC has bought off our business people, politicians and journalists. We must be vigilant, although so far the evidence is that the PRC is a nuisance rather than an existential threat.
Clive Hamilton, ably assisted by his researcher, Alex Joske, has written a worthwhile book. He is, however, in danger of overegging the omelet. The PRC can do a lot to harass Australia, but we are not without leverage.
Regarding the incident which apparently stimulated Hamilton’s interest in the “silent invasion” – the swamping of supporters of a “free Tibet” by an organised Chinese demonstration – is evidence of the seriousness with which the PRC regards the situation in Tibet rather than a faux show of lege-majeste. Most Tibetan towns are now inhabited by Han Chinese. The PRC is likely to wait until the Dalai Lama dies and then put their placeman in as the next Dalai Lama. China will never give up control of Tibet.