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Friday, 12 August 2022 10:27

Australian media reaction to Chinese envoy's speech baffling Featured

Xiao Qian addressing the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday. Xiao Qian addressing the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday. Screenshot by Sam Varghese

The reaction of the Australian media to an address by the Chinese envoy at the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday is quite baffling, given that most of what he spoke about has been known for the last 50 years.

Xiao Qian's statements have been interpreted as rude, chilling, scary etc but the essence of what he said — China's stance on Taiwan — has been codified in print since the US changed its stand on relations with the mainland and switched from recognition of Taiwan in 1972.

The understanding at that time was that Taiwan was a province of China and that the US would have a one-China policy that did not afford diplomatic recognition to Taiwan. About 180-odd countries have the same stance on Taiwan and hence the almighty uproar about Xiao's remarks is extremely difficult to comprehend.

The only change on Taiwan has been in last week's statement by China, namely that, after reunification, it would extend the same policy to Taipei as it had to Hong Kong: one country, two systems.

Australian journalists are prone to paint China only as an aggressor in the region, citing its building of military assets in the South China Sea and its attitude towards its neighbours.

But they forget that China, in its 73-year history, has never invaded any other country, and built a wall to keep people out. The perspective that is never mentioned by Australian scribes is the fact that China is ringed by more than 40 American bases, some of which have nuclear missiles located about 450km from Beijing.

no pic of envoy

The ABC has its own way of belittling Xiao Qian; his picture is absent from the link on iview to Wednesday's speech. Every other NPC speech has a picture of the speaker. Screenshot by Sam Varghese

One has no doubt that if any country were to position similar weapons 450km away from Australia, then there would be an almighty roar from the politicians in Canberra. But China is expected to cop it sweet and keep quiet, an attitude that shows clearly the extent to which the colonial attitude still dominates the thinking of Australian media and politicians.

Xiao's speech was to the point, at times curt, and he took care to remind the Press Club audience of the extent to which Australia was now dependent on China for its economic well-being. It is possible that this did not go down with the journalists present, but then he was merely stating facts.

One thing he did not do, was to talk in the fawning, verbose manner in which Anglo-Saxons do; he was short and spoke to the point. That is a way of speech common to people from Asia.

David Crowe, the chief political correspondent for Nine Entertainment's The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers, described the speech as a "new and unsettling dynamic that seeks to shift debate inside Australia while the threat of war hangs over the region". Exactly what he found new is unknown.

But Crowe's interpretation was not unique; many others expressed similar sentiments, something which leads one to believe that their collective opinion will always reflect that of the government of the day – which, in turn, repeats whatever is parroted in Washington.

What I found curious was that none of these journalists, no doubt all earning six-figure salaries, simply refuse to deal with the facts: neither Australia nor China can change their geography. Additionally, Australia cannot easily find another trading partner to take up its exports in such volumes.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has, in the past, expressed what one can only call a sensible approach: deal with China on its merits because there is no getting away from it being there and being a very powerful force in the region.

But reality is a difficult concept to grasp, especially when it means essentially admitting that one has to listen to people who were once demonised. Australia has become a fawning acolyte to the US to the extent that it is unable to adopt anything like an independent foreign and defence policy.

Journalists, who love to make themselves seem important by fawning on powerful politicians, will do likewise. One should not pay them much attention; the picture they paint is far from the reality. Remember, New Zealand has no such problems with China, though it, too, is often critical of Beijing's actions. I'm still waiting for one journalist to examine why Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is able to navigate these tricky waters with ease.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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