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In China politics is always about business

By Dan Ryan - posted Thursday, 24 April 2014

In order to promote mutual understanding, I am always searching for ways of better explaining China to an Australian audience.

Fortunately, from time to time, the news here at home throws up useful parallels.

One useful way of thinking about the Party in power in Beijing, for example, is to consider it akin to some of Australia's more controversial unions, say, the CFMEU or HSU.


Craig Thomson, Michael Williamson, Ian MacDonald are now household names in Australia. The Chinese Communist Party is filled with hundreds of thousands of similar individuals.

It is uncanny how often newspaper headlines in both countries are remarkably similar: "Leader promises party reform, crack-down on corruption"

It is not just that corruption exists in China – although if there were ever the equivalent of a Royal Commission in to the Chinese Communist Party (and one day there will be) the scale of venality revealed would make Eddy Obeid blush.

The key point is that the political character of the Party has echoes of what we are used to in Australia.

There is the same bogus mythology that officials are selflessly acting in the interests of workers, the same enrichment by shakedown or co-opting private companies, the same cynicism and cronyism, the same ruthlessness if their interests are genuinely threatened.

Yes, many Party officials in China will happily recite Deng Xiaoping's words that "to get rich is glorious" and many a clueless Western businessperson will excitedly exclaim: "Wow, Chinese leaders really get capitalism!"


But being interested in amassing lucre is not the same thing as believing in free and open markets, is it?

Similarly there are limits to how politically liberal you will become simply by becoming more wealthy – which should be an obvious point but stands in contrast to the usual way people talk about the "inevitable" political liberalization of China.

I'm not sure many senior Australian business leaders, or indeed many political leaders on the center-right, fully appreciate that when they sit across the table from officials in China they are often dealing with people that are in many ways very politically familiar.

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This article was first published in the Australian Financial Review.

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About the Author

Dan Ryan is managing director of Serica Legal, a law firm focused on Asia-related transactions and disputes. He is a director of the Australian Institute for Progress.

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