What we really think about Stern Hu
While the Australian media is working itself into a frenzy over the jailing of Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu, the public seems to be forming a more pragmatic view of our relationship with China.
The Federal Opposition’s attempts to whip up a new round of dog whistling over the arrest have fallen on deaf ears as the public accepts there are things that are outside the power of even a Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister.
But the failure of the Hu jailing to bite with the public may speak to a broader maturing in out attitude towards the emerging superpower to which our fortunes are so closely tied.
The latest Essential Report asks a series of questions about the Hu case that has dominated national headlines in recent weeks.
The results show we are less than outraged by Mr Hu’s incarceration:
- 63 per cent believe that Australian companies that do business in other countries should accept the laws of those countries, even if they are very different from their own.
- just 26 per cent believe that the Australian Government should intervene even if someone is unfairly treated.
- 58 per cent of people think the Prime Minister Rudd’s knowledge and experience of China will make no difference to how the Chinese Government handles the Stern case.
- And just 21 per cent of people are critical of the Government’s softly-softly approach (with 47 per cent not having a view one way or the other).
These findings can clearly be read a number of ways.
One interpretation is that unlike our Schapelle, Stern Hu is a dual citizen and not really one of ‘us’. Another is that we don’t really care about what happens to executives of big corporations.
But another, perhaps more optimistic reading, is that we are starting to accept the contradictions inherent in our relationship with China.
Here are just a few of those contradictions that stump me every time:
- Trade – China’s demands for our resources is keeping our economy afloat, but we live in constant fear of exporting jobs to China
- Security – we look East for economic security, but identify China as our main emerging military threat in the latest Defence White Paper
- Climate Change – the development of China is seen as blowing carbon emissions through the roof, yet it remains our best hope of driving renewable technologies on a commercial scale.
- Asset Sales – the Chinese Sovereign Fund exerts massive purchasing power around the globe, to the extent that it is the key bidder for local state assets like electricity. (ie we sell our assets to another government)
- Citizens – an emerging and vibrant middle class seeks prosperity, but turns a blind eye against the indefensible suppression of minorities in Tibet, the Uyghurs, the prison camps and the memory of Tiananmen.
For mine, China is something way too big and too important to be either pro or anti.
In fact, the idea of China as a nation is a big pill to swallow. I can accept New Zealand as a nation, Great Britain as a nation, even the USA, but more than one billion people emerging from a closed agrarian economy is way to big an idea to be confined to a flag.
Some of the most interesting thinking about China accepts this. China is not simple nation – it is an economic force that will change the world. The official ‘State’ of China is part of the equation, but more important is the way its emerging middle class, or ‘New China’ relates to the rest of the world.
American writers like Niall Ferguson have accepted this in coining the term ‘Chin-merica’ – the focus moves from the State to the relationship between American capital and Chinese markets.
Likewise, a notion of Chin-stralia, helps resolve a lot of these contradictions by getting the past the idea of a nation ‘over there’ and starting to focus on the ways the relationship with China affects us over here.
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