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Australia must oppose authoritarian China on behalf of liberal democracy and humanity

By Chris Lewis - posted Friday, 23 August 2019

Australians, if they value political freedoms and their related benefits, must support efforts to counter the rise of authoritarian China.

While China is expected to become the largest economy in the world and use its resources to increase its military presence throughout the world, Australians need to look beyond the economic possibilities provided by China.

Sure, the rise of authoritarian China has delivered some social benefit beyond providing export opportunities for Australia and cheaper manufactured products for the world. As noted in 2017, Chinese life expectancy has increased by thirty years over the last fifty years, China has committed billions to United Nations efforts to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030 and has provided billions of important investment to assist African development, and China provides cheap generic drugs to the world and some vaccines for dangerous diseases at a fraction of the cost of those manufactured by the West.


Some nations may even look to China as a strategic ally to achieve domestic policy ends. For example, the Pakistan government recently courted China as part of efforts to pressure India to reverse its decision to revoke the special status of Kashmir with its Muslim majority while also considering help from the International Court of Justice and the United Nations (Ashok Sharma, 'Pakistan to ask China for support', Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Aug 2019, p. 36).

While Western influence is hardly perfect, and few liberal democracies have a perfect domestic policy record (including so-called social democratic Sweden), the rise of authoritarian China at the expense of western influence will have a negative impact upon humanity in the longer term in terms of a nation's ability to balance national and international aspirations.

Hence, the US and allies are justified to resume the important struggle between nations over the influence of certain political ideas, not just battle for vital resources or technological superiority.

If any society wishes to limit the powers of policy elites for good reason given the human trait for dominance and corruption without adequate checks and balances, an approach which encourages extensive debate across the political spectrum to help address social inequality and environmental degradation, then the virtues of individual rights and the rule of law need to be promoted extensively, even if angering authoritarian China may lead to economic repercussions for dependent nations.

Hence, Andrew Hastie (Liberal MP and chair of Parliament's intelligence and security committee) is absolutely correct when he states:

Right now our greatest vulnerability lies not in our infrastructure, but in our thinking. That intellectual failure makes us institutionally weak. If we don't understand the challenge ahead for our civil society, parliaments, universities, private enterprises, in our charities - our little platoons - then choices will be made for us. Our sovereignty, our freedoms, will be diminished (Andrew Hastie, 'We must see China with clear eyes', Sydney Morning Herald, 8 August 2019, p. 18).


The simple truth is that the Communist Party of China (CPC) was never going to liberalise its economy and society. While delivering positive outcomes for its people, enabled by the promotion of freer trade which encouraged mass domestic manufacturing production, the CPC preserves its dominance by making it much harder for non-government organisations, adopting greater censorship of its society, and continuing to adverse human rights record.

In other words, the CPC is determined to ensure China continues to develop without the same checks and balances that apply in liberal democracies where respect for individual rights and disdain for corruption is rightfully legitimised by the rule of law as a separate branch of government that also limits the power of any executive.

This is simply a situation that the West should no longer tolerate in either economic, ideological or humane terms.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis, who completed a First Class Honours degree and PhD (Commonwealth scholarship) at Monash University, has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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