Fiddling While It Burns

Chinalco, Rio Tinto and “Keeping Australia Australian” | 31/03/2009

Cartoon: SMH.

Cartoon: SMH.

Well, this darn foreign ownership thing keeps running on ahead of me.  First it was going to be story about Barnaby Joyce and populism, then the story merged with Joel FitzGibbon’s woes and became about Labor’s image problem with China. Then the Chinese-owned Minmetals bid for Oz Minerals was knocked back, presumably because the political heat was now turned up far too high. (It certainly wasn’t based on any substantive issue.) And today, the whole story had vanished from front pages entirely, but took on new life as the ALP began running the line that the Coalition fears the “yellow peril”, linking them with White Australia and Cold War paranoia.

This narrative says a lot about the way national security and strategic issues are covered in today’s news media. In the whole drama, no substantive examination of the issue of foreign ownership of strategic assets took place. Economic nationalism rears its head from time to time, but is so mired in populism and racism that respectable media outlets only report the events so salient they couldn’t possibly ignore them, and much of the coverage is left to business reporters, who aren’t too good at anything but the dollar signs. Foreign investment worries a lot of people, and it deserves proper examination, if only in an explanatory sense, rather than the issue being simply assumed away as part of the capitalist hegemony.

The most important thing about this story, though, is the light it shines on the ongoing tension between Australia’s hopes and fears for our relationship with China. We hope for undreamed-of wealth on a foundation of a wealthy China buying our minerals, and new-found influence and relevance as a mediator between the world’s two superpowers. We fear getting into bed with a brutal Communist dictatorship, or waking up and finding we are owned by greedy foreigners.

These fevered imaginings, however, are almost always subtextual in news reporting, including in-depth foreign policy opinion pieces. No one story connects all the dots, but taken as a whole, reportage on Australia’s relationship with China presents a schizophrenic image of fear and dependance. This is a transitional period in the relationship between Australia and China, and China and the world, and we can expect more of this kind of thing rather than less. The reality, however, is that 1.5 billion Chinese have – and SHOULD have – a much greater voice in the world than 21 million Australians. Foreign policy is one area where there’s no point in pretending things are other than they appear.



  1. […] The Rudd government has faced criticism for its close relationship with the Chinese government from the start. Kevin Rudd’s facility with Mandarin was an important factor in making him look like a modern alternative to the Sino-phobic John Howard in the 2007 election, but in government it was clearly a double-edged sword, with the Coalition quickly implying that Labor’s loyalties might lie a little too close to Beijing. It first became an issue through Joel FitzGibbon’s foolishness, and has been potential political dynamite, particularly when it comes to state-owned Chinese companies buying Australian mines. […]

    Pingback by Painted Into a Corner « Fiddling While It Burns: terrorism and national security at the end of history — 09/07/2009 @ 1:22 am

  2. Instead of writing in the SMH as if you are the premier, I suggest you help Labor man John Thain win the Penrith by-election.
    All that needs to happen is for Penrith to fall to the Liberals and the stupid people will just keep voting Labor out every NSW seat. If the Penrith seat holds on, that will stop the rot.
    Write in the positive vein.
    1. Liberals are right-wing extremists. They don’t just look like them as to them “Climate Change is crap”.
    2. They will promise the world just like right-wing Kevin Rudd and he never delivered. He is Catholic.
    3. Concentrate on good writing. Good thinking. Good reasoning.
    4. Cut the politics for politics sake.
    5. Write in the middle of the road and write for the community for the community’s good. And don’t get run down.

    To the NSW Coalition: you’ve lost the last three elections because you made yourselves look like right-wing extremists. This time, please, no law and order auction, no promising infinite prison sentences or crucifixions in the street. Just try and look moderate and responsible, and you’re in. Then, govern moderately and responsibly for four years, and you can have a second term. It’s not as complicated as you think.

    Andrew Riddle Wollongong

    Comment by GlenWriter — 24/05/2010 @ 1:06 pm

  3. Well, GlenWriter, I don’t feel any need to support Labor. I may lean left, but NSW Labor has become a party of influence and powerbroking (and no small amount of incompetence), and needs at least eight years in the wilderness for all the vultures and parasites to get bored and detach themselves. Rather than ‘writing as the premier’, I was writing as a frustrated voter who has helped returned a government I despise twice and dreads doing it a third time.

    And I think Kevin Rudd’s failure to deliver is due entirely to his (well-founded) assumption that the left will feel obliged to vote for him to keep the other guys in office, leaving him free to offer as many inducements to the Australian Christian Lobby as he likes. He is an opportunist who would happily turn Australia into a theocracy for the sake of another term in office. If we support Labor merely on the fear of what lurks beneath the NSW Liberals’ moderate front, from a realist persepective we fully justify his behaviour.

    Comment by andrewriddle — 24/05/2010 @ 2:01 pm

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