Wednesday, 21 October 2020
Billy Sing, Victor Chang, Terence Tao, Alec Fong Lim, Bing Lee, Melissa Wu, Kylie Kwong and Jenny Kee are just some of the thousands of Chinese Australians who've given so much to this country. Yet last week we saw a spectacle which should never have appeared in this place. Prior to a parliamentary committee hearing Yun Jiang, one of the witnesses, put forward a written statement in which she talked about the toxic environment faced by Chinese Australians who engage in public debates. 'Some Chinese Australians are choosing to remain silent,' she said, 'because they don't want their loyalties to be questioned in the public arena.' She wrote:
It is not fair their loyalty be questioned for having a certain political view. And it is not fair to force them to take positions of political action, such as critiquing Beijing, when similar requests are not made to other Australians.
That made it all the more extraordinary that when Yun Jiang and other Chinese Australian witnesses gave evidence they were asked by Senator Eric Abetz to 'unconditionally condemn the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship'. Senator Abetz did not subject other witnesses to that question, just the Chinese Australian witnesses. Yun Jiang doesn't need to be asked questions of this kind by Senator Abetz. She's spoken extensively on China's human rights record. She wrote at one point that 'China is one of the top violators of human rights in the world.' A question of this kind is simply McCarthyist. It is as improper as it would be to suggest that Senator Abetz is not a loyal Australian because he was born in Germany. It is the kind of question that Senator Abetz would never expect a journalist would ask the Prime Minister in public. It is not the sort of question he would ask our top diplomatic officials in Senate estimates. Osmond Chiu similarly was giving evidence to the committee about the underrepresentation of multicultural communities in Australian politics, pointing out that our parliament is less representative of diversity than Canada's, Britain's or New Zealand's. Yet he was subject to the same inquisition by Senator Abetz.
Let's be clear: there's plenty to be concerned about in our relationship with China—the expulsion of the last two Australian journalists in China, Bill Birtles and Mike Smith, the fact that government ministers can't get their counterparts on the phone, the human rights abuses in Xinjiang and the crackdown in Hong Kong, and the Pew surveys that show that attitudes towards China are hardening across the world. But, as Allan Behm has pointed out, the 'overinvestment in emotion usually masks an underinvestment in thinking'. There's a reason it's called diplomacy. Fear, division and anger are poor substitutes for courage, justice and wisdom.