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Building bridges to China

By Jieh-Yung Lo - posted Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The recent backlash in the media regarding Australia’s relations with China has caused concern among Australia’s Chinese community

As a prominent member of the Australian Chinese community, I am very alarmed with the responses of the wider Australian community to Australia’s relations with China.

Just this year in the news there has been former Minister for Defence Joel Fitzgibbon’s relationship with Chinese-born businesswoman Helen Liu; the Federal Government’s comments in the Defence White paper Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030; and most recently, the Stern Hu affair.


Recent attitudes and the language used in the media to refer to China as “threatening” and “intimidating” causes much concern to the Australian Chinese community, and it may impact severely on Australia’s relations with China - a relationship that took 37 years to build.

Since the first contributions of Chinese settlers in the 19th century, following the gold rush in Ballarat, Australia has been exposed to Chinese traditions and culture through the migration of the Chinese people. Since then, the Chinese community has played an important role in Australia’s multicultural society. I understand this because my great grandfather arrived from Guangzhou in 1850 to a new country seeking a new life and opportunities.

We are a part of Australian society. Australia’s interests are our interests and we would not want to see Australia adopting a hostile attitude towards China, with the possibility of damaging a 37-year bilateral relationship: this could easily change Australian’s perceptions of the Australian Chinese community.

Some groups and individuals observe that China’s rise would create problems for Australia. As a Chinese Australian, I do feel it’s important for greater protectionism of Australian industries and local jobs.

Speaking from concerns presented to me by the Australian Chinese community, the very notion that China could be a potential “threat” to Australia makes Australian Chinese feel “threatened”. If China is a threat to Australian interests, then does it imply that the 700,000 strong Australians of Chinese heritage, many of whom have both social and economic links with China, are a threat to Australian society as well?

The old perception of the “yellow peril” still creates much nervousness among community members. These fears could similarly apply to all new migrants and emerging communities. Being negatively perceived by the wider Australian community creates an extra barrier on top of the many others such as language, employment and settlement.


Having existed for more than 6,000 years, Chinese culture and customs are diverse and complex. It takes time to unravel the way the Chinese work and think. I dare say even Chinese people may misinterpret their own incorrectly at times. Therefore we should be taking this opportunity to learn from one another. China has a strong and positive view of Australia. Chinese culture teaches us to remember and acknowledge those who have offered their friendship and trust. There is much we can learn from one another.

Australia’s multicultural society has enabled migrant communities to share and celebrate their traditions and heritage. As the child of two hardworking Chinese migrants, I have had the opportunity to learn about my heritage and culture from my parents. I was raised in a very traditional Chinese family in Australia and my values and ethics are a convergence of the two cultures. I consider this privilege has provided me with both personal fulfilment and development.

Being a first term councillor at the City of Monash, I actually have the honour of representing two communities - first and foremost the residents of Monash and, in addition, the wider Chinese community. Since 2006, Monash has had the highest percentage of Australian Chinese in Victoria and I feel privileged to become the first Australian of Chinese descent to represent the city. This is my way of offering my thanks and appreciation to this great nation that have given so much to my family.

From the community’s standpoint, the language being used and perceptions make it hard for the Australian Chinese community to have confidence and trust in our democratically elected governments. We should be working together to create an environment that cultivates mutual understanding and prosperity for the region.

To achieve this, as nations, we must build co-operation and as communities we must build trust and friendship. As community representatives, I believe that after 37 years of bilateral stable and peaceful relations between Australia and China, the Australian Government and its people should have good reasons for confidence. So we must ask ourselves, what are we afraid of?

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About the Author

Jieh-Yung Lo is a Melbourne based writer and Associate Producer of the upcoming documentary film New Gold Mountain - Your Chinese Australia.

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