China’s conduct in HK comes under cautious scrutiny on Q&A

14-Aug-2019 Intellasia | The Guardian | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Panellists debate whether Australia is ‘turning a blind eye’ to China’s rising power

As demonstrators shut down Hong Kong’s airport on Monday in protest against police brutality, a Chinese official said “terrorism” was emerging in the city.

Meanwhile, on the ABC’s Q&A programme, the “people’s panellist” guest suggested he shared China’s view, prompting one of the more cautious political discussions ever held on the show.

It began with the first question, from Drew Pavlou, a University of Queensland student, who said he helped organise pro-Hong Kong protests, and alleged he was assaulted and received death threats. Pavlou asked why no Australian parliamentarian had commented on the violence.

“Is this response a product of the fact that Chinese Communist party has systematically bought the loyalty of key government and non-government institutions in this country?”

No one really answered the question, but Li Shee Su, a semi-retired IT executive, was the first to respond.

Li said there was a bias in media reporting.

“I will give you a quick example. In Australia, when we catch people with bombs in the garages at homes, what do we call them? Terrorists. Correct. In Hong Kong, when you catch them with bombs and bomb-making material, what do we call them? Pro-democracy protesters.”

He later accused “another player” foreign intelligence agencies of organising the Hong Kong student protesters.

The two federal politicians on the panel spoke carefully. Labour’s Terri Butler and the Coalition’s Alan Tudge were at pains to say that Australia had a strong tradition of peaceful protest and it also had strong relationship with China.


Butler said when violence was conducted in a political context, it could have broader ramifications. Tudge said he was “reticent” to agree with philosopher and author AC Grayling that Chinese intelligence were planted among the UQ protest crowd.

Noting last week’s controversial column by Coalition backbencher Andrew Hastie, the second question also asked about China, specifically if Australia was “turning a blind eye” to China’s actions and increasing international power.

Tudge defended Hastie’s right to write a column, which had sparked division among the Coalition with its analogy about the appeasement of Nazi Germany.

“The main message from us as government representatives he’s a backbencher entitled to put his view there is we have a strong relationship with China still,” said Tudge.

“China’s growth has absolutely been in our interests… and we want to see the continued peaceful rise of China.”

Tudge said millions of people had been brought out of poverty as a result of China’s economic growth and Australia had also benefited, but China was still an authoritarian regime with different values on some issues.

Butler agreed Australia had a strong relationship with China, but that didn’t mean Australia had to be reluctant to speak up about problems in the way China conducted its affairs.

Butler asked why the prime minister wasn’t being stronger on the issue of Hastie’s column which she had not read and “stepping up and dealing with this”.

Australia’s strong relationship with China was mentioned a few more times by the parliamentarians before Grayling said it couldn’t be passed over that China is one of the worst human rights violators in the world today.

“They are already a regional hegemony and they want to be a world superpower. You might say fair enough, that that’s OK, but look at their record, look at Tibet. They are oppressive. Their human rights record is appalling.

“This isn’t something that can be passed over in saying, well, we have an important relationship with them, we have to stand up and say we don’t like what they are doing, but frankly that isn’t enough. It isn’t fluff to say it.”

The conversation moved on to the safer topics of the general worth of democracy, Donald Trump, and finally, whether Australia could still be described as a modern liberal democracy since the government was so intent on shutting down transparency, access to information and press freedom, and had no bill of rights.

“To be honest… that’s a ridiculous question. To suggest that Australia is an authoritarian state is just frankly wrong,” said Tudge.

“We’ve got to put things in perspective here because Australia is still a magnificent democracy,” he said.

Butler said while it was hyperbolic to say Australia was an authoritarian state, “you must accept that hand in hand with concerns about democratic legitimacy are concerns about incursions of civil liberties”.

Historian and broadcaster Clare Wright suggested Tudge read the book by former human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs about the erosion of civil liberties. Tudge responded by stating the importance of “national security”.

“I think Australian citizens would be terrified if they actually realised how many of their rights have been eroded in the name of our freedom,” said Wright.

Tudge urged people to focus on “how great this country is”, noting Australia was a very popular holiday and migrant destination.


Category: China

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