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Hysteria on China must be rejected

February 8, 2011

I remember former President Bill Clinton, visiting Australia in September 2001, saying to an Australian-Chinese citizen in my hearing, “You’ve got to understand that some people in my country think America should always have enemies.” He was referring to the then-campaign by American neo-cons and ultra nationalists to whip up war fever over the Taiwan Strait. Within 48 hours that campaign had to stop because of the September 11 attack, and America’ realisation that it had real, not imaginary enemies, and they weren’t in China.

Some Australians have been infected by the kneejerk anti-China drumbeat. Only I never thought it would get this ridiculous. In The Weekend Australian, Greg Sheridan reported and endorsed a paper by Ross Babbage that urged Australia to acquire 12 nuclear attack submarines and aim “to do serious damage to the Chinese leadership’s primary interests” and develop “the capability to stir serious internal disruptions and even revolts in the event that the Chinese leadership threatened Australia’s vital interests.”

At times like these you think you’ve been sucked into an alternative universe.

Just remember this about China. First, in the words of former foreign minister Gareth Evans, “Great powers do what great powers do.” In other words as China slowly pulls even with the United States in economic strength it will acquire increased military capacity. Second, China has been a status quo, not an expansionist or empire-building power. America, since the Spanish American War of 1898 has been a darn sight more expansionist and interventionist than China since 1949. Third, Australia’s interests very largely overlap and coincide with China’s.

By the way, nothing would stir Chinse hostility to Australia more than this lunatic talk of stirring up internal disruptions and revolt. The Chinese are very focussed on their territorial sovereignty and integrity. This is a monstrously stupid rhetorical assault on understandable and natural Chinese sensitivity. Heartening then to see Paul Dibb and Geoffrey Barker in The Australian (February 8 ) take vehement issue with what they describe as concerns “that verge on hysteria”, ill defined and not costed and counter productive, even downright dangerous.

They call for ministers Rudd and Smith to repudiate this “panicky and extremist” agenda.

They are right and Ross Babbage and Greg Sheridan are pursuing a line profoundly inimical to Australia’s national interests.

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