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The mutant 'Chinese question'

By Chek Ling - posted Friday, 12 June 2020

On 12 May 2020 Trent Zimmerman spoke in Parliament for a full five minutes, lauding the great character of Chinese Aussies, current and past, and repeatedly saying that he was merely confirming what Scott Morrison had said earlier in their party room.

Ah, the outbreak of the White Australia virus had to be contained: no overt racism is to be condoned, in public. And no doubt the Chinese voters and donors have to be appeased too, particularly in marginal seats like the one that Gladys Liu holds, she who raised $1M for her Party before she claimed her candidacy. Ah, how "John Chinaman" has evolved! S/he is no longer just usable, but wholesomely useful! Almost indispensable, if you think of the cash cow that is now China.

What a shemozzle!


But that, in the dreamscape of White Australia, is the Chinese. And this might explain in no small part why our politicians, our cultural custodians, our foreign editors and even some vice-chancellors have handled the mutating "Chinese question" as they have.

In Malcolm Turnbull's memoirs, he spoke highly of Scott Morrison's marketing flair, but judged that he was not particularly keen on international relations.

Perchance this explains how Morrison wandered into his "independent" inquiry into the origin of Covid-19? He had had a bit of a setback with Trump. Unlike Tony Blair, who lost his voice when meeting George W for the first time at the White House, Morrison, the seasoned marketing guru, asked Trump if he, Morrison, could bring our very own earthly-enriched Hillsong pastor to Morrison's meeting with Trump. Trump did not oblige. The press at home had a field day: Morrison failed to take his mentor to meet Trump! So, could it be that Morrison was avenging this little fiasco? To show Trump that he, Morrison, like the legendary Aussie digger, could punch above his weight? An ocker David, if you will, spitting at the Chinah Goliath. And of course, Morrison had seized the crown, apparently having masterminded a coup in which he was until the last moment the undying lieutenant of Turnbull. Out, damned spot!

During the siege Scott texted Malcolm to say that he had been praying for him. Mathias Cormann, a trusted family friend, pleaded with Malcolm to yield to the "terrorists', once, twice, and again: to resign and hand the crown to Dutton. Malcolm ultimately had to choose between a Dutton or a Shorten prime ministership of this great, free, country. He did the honourable thing for his party, and when caucus met to spill his position a second time that week, he did not nominate. Malcolm has since concluded that had Cormann been "numerate" he and his two co-conspirators could have voted against the spill and won the day for Malcolm.

To spit at China to curry favour with that all-smashing hegemon of the most powerful nation on earth might have been too tempting an opportunity to pass up: just possible. After all, Abbott had bellowed about sending troops to the Ukraine, perhaps to look into the origin of the missile that killed 38 Aussies on MH17 in 2014. And back in April 1967 Menzies announced deploying a fighting contingent to Vietnam, obsequiously endearing himself to Uncle Sam, but without first consulting the South Vietnamese President!

Yes, political leaders have to do what they have to do, in war as in peace.


But why goad a fraught China?

Scott Morrison is said to have majored in economic geography. Malcolm however has memoired that Scott, then Treasurer, was not fond of international meetings. This might have been a factor.

But there is a more basic factor at play. For decades and decades China, shorn of the clothes parlayed by the romantic dreamers for The Yellow Lady in the Orient, had been almost absent from the history taught in our schools.

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About the Author

Chek Ling arrived in Melbourne in 1962 to study engineering, under the Colombo Plan, from the then British Colony of Sarawak, now part of Malaysia. Decades later, the anti-Asian episodes fomented by Blainey and later Hanson turned him into a mature age activist.

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