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Australia and China: The ‘middle man’ speaks

Those who watched the Chinese Ambassador, Xiao Qian deliver his speech to the National Press Club a week ago would have done so with mixed feelings. As a diplomat, he displayed all the characteristics of a very experienced spokesperson, quick to acknowledge that:

“… the relationship between the two countries has been ‘difficult’ in recent times, but adds a change of government has provided an ‘opportunity to reset’ relations.”

However, the day was not lacking in tension:

The Press Club address

He was, at times, chillingly authoritarian at others, a pleasurable conversationalist. He delivered his speech in excellent English from notes that said, if you want to rescue trade with us, then don’t fuck around with all this undiplomatic talk.

Use your words carefully to convey your thoughts honestly while simultaneously recognising our point of view. Don’t just be puppets of the United States.

Remember that China has always viewed Taiwan as a Province of China and is part of the one nation as acknowledged by the U.S. in the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972, which remains U.S. (and Australian) policy:

These are the words that make it so:

“The United States acknowledges that Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States does not challenge that position.”

And further:

“On August 17, 1982, U.S.-China Communique, the United States went one step further, stating that it had no intention of pursuing a policy of “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan.”

The press

Prefaced questions from some of our better-known journalists contained so much opinion that the Ambassador often had to pause and work out (or even ask) the question from the cascade of thought that seemed to me at least to lack any historical familiarity.

About trade

The Ambassador made it patently clear that, in his view, the problems started when Australia banned Huawei and ZTC from our electronics and communications networks. They took retaliatory action, which is now before the WTO.

Who can lay claim to the Island of Taiwan?

Journalists devoted much time during the Q&A session to the question of Taiwan’s independence, so whilst other factors are equally important, I will generally stick with this subject.

Looking for a simple explanation as to who could claim historical rights to the Island, I came across a BBC article by David Brown.

The Island is placed 100 miles from the coast of South East China. It is the first in a chain of territories that are friendly and crucial to U.S. foreign policy:

“Historical sources suggest that the Island first came under full Chinese control in the 17th Century when the Qing dynasty began administering it. Then, in 1895, they gave up the Island to Japan after losing the first Sino-Japanese war.

China retook the Island in 1945 after Japan lost World War Two.

But a civil war erupted in mainland China between nationalist government forces led by Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong’s Communist Party.

The communists won in 1949 and took control of Beijing.

Chiang Kai-shek and what was left of the nationalist party – known as the Kuomintang – fled to Taiwan, where they ruled for the next several decades.

China points to this history to say that Taiwan was originally a Chinese province. But the Taiwanese point to the same history to argue that they were never part of the modern Chinese state that was first formed after the revolution in 1911 – or the People’s Republic of China that was established under Mao in 1949.”

Whilst I’m not an international jurist, I think both sides have a claim to the Island, with China having the more acceptable argument. Particularly as the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972 has (to my knowledge) never been rescinded.

Re-education of the Taiwan population

The other contentious part of his speech to which our journalists took exception was the re-education of Taiwan’s population. Most of it came from Murdoch papers, which spend most of their time trying to educate us about their way of thinking.

Nancy Pelosi

While the Democrat leader was delivering her speech to the Taiwan Parliament – which was condemned by the Ambassador – Chinese warships were moving into position to commence the most extensive war exercise Beijing has ever undertaken. It went on for several days, trespassing into Taiwan’s territorial waters.

Pelosi, who should, as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, be able to travel freely, would be well advised to take some sage advice before she does so next time.

Her visit prompted an unprecedented navel exercise of the coast of Taiwan involving jets and warships firing missiles over and near Taiwan. Beijing has now eased off the large-scale military exercises.

On the one hand, China is flexing its muscle by communicating to the world how far it has progressed in the last 30 years and wants to be recognised as a nation of significance.

On the other hand, America cannot afford another trillion-dollar war (Iraq), which would guarantee a loss to either party in the subsequent U.S. Presidential election.

One advantage for China if it did take Taiwan suggests it could be freer to project power in the western Pacific region and possibly even threaten U.S. military bases as far away as Guam and Hawaii.

However, at the same time, China threatens and badgers its opponents and always insists that its intentions are purely peaceful. Pursuing a diplomatic course of action would demonstrate its maturity if that is the case. Conversely, Joe Biden should refrain from his aggressive tone and also follow a prudent path.

When all the tension subsides and shifts to the diplomatic arena, some sanity may prevail.

Writing for Nikkei Asia, Ryo Nakamura suggested that:

“The greatest danger to the future of the United States continues to be an erosion of conventional deterrence,” the document said. “y to resolve the issue might be Without a valid and convincing conventional deterrent, China is emboldened to take action in the region and globally to supplant U.S. interests. As the Indo-Pacific’s military balance becomes more unfavourable, the U.S. accumulates additional risk that may embolden adversaries to unilaterally attempt to change the status quo.”

Should America oppose reunification…

Taiwan’s independence – of course – is the best outcome. However, China seems intent on reunification sooner rather than later. The status quo would probably suit the US.

It would be in its best interests to attempt to bring about “reunification” by diplomatic non-military means, such as propping up economic ties between both countries.

Should America decide to defend Taiwan against China, it must consider the financial cost, its forlorn entry into past conflicts and its own research, which tells them they would cop a thumping.

Favouring Taiwan to claim independence is one thing. Declaring or even pursuing it with hundreds of Chinese missiles pointed at you is entirely different.

My thought for the day

Those agitating for major conflict should understand that they would be fighting two enemies at once, and only one will win; a changing climate.

One way to avoid conflict may be for all the leaders to stop and think of what a conflict would cost the environment, their economies and above all, their people.


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  1. ajogrady

    Believe it or not?
    A nation run by bankers will never be out of debt.
    A nation owned by weapons manufacturers will never know peace.
    A nation that allows a small segment of its citizens to write the laws will never know justice.
    And if these elements own the media, we will never know the truth.
    Fascism has come to America wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross putting the values of democracy itself under siege.
    Professor Dennis Etler*
    American political analyst who holds a doctorate in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley
    As I See It:
    “Why is it that the West is so preoccupied with China? The usual answer is that China’s economic growth is challenging Western global hegemony which has held sway for at least 250 years. The Chinese military has also reached parity with that of the West, so it is no longer subject to Western intimidation and bullying. All that is true and reason for the West to want to savage China and portray it as the root of all evil.*
    But there is one other consideration that must be taken into account. It’s not only China’s economic prowess and military might that frightens the West, it is also China’s success as a nation versus the West’s failure.
    Moreover, China has forged a society in which there is harmony between its different ethnicities in contrast to the systemic racism that characterizes Western society.
    Western ruling elites and their media mouthpieces do not want to acknowledge the fact that China has eliminated extreme poverty while more and more of their own people descend into poverty. They do not want to admit that China has constructed a 21st century infrastructure while they lag far behind. They do not want to confront the fact that the Chinese people ⁹overwhelmingly support their government while people in the West have lost confidence in their own, they do not want to accept that China beat COVIDC-19 while they haven’t, and finally they are loathe to accept the fact that a non-white nation has out performed them and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.
    In order to deflect attention away from these truths the West has concocted a series of lies and slanders that allow them to deny reality. Instead of poverty alleviation the West imagines “genocide.” Instead of the advances in HSR, EVs, alt-energy and e-commerce they focus on “IP theft,” instead of a socioeconomic system that serves the people, they accuse China of forced labor and forced sterilizations. Instead of seeing China as defending its national sovereignty in the South China Sea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, it’s called an aggressor.
    *All the China-bashing serves multiple purposes but ONE of the main reasons is to make sure that people in the West do not get to hear nor see what the real China is all about because if they did they may get ideas that the Western elites don’t want then to have, such as socialism works for the betterment of the 99% while capitalism works primarily to enrich the 1%.”

  2. Douglas Pritchard

    I came away from watching the speech with no doubts about our relationship with China.
    He spoke with authority and clearly set out that friendship with Australia was possible, and he would like to make that happen.
    While at the same time he did not try to emphasise the way in which we had been re-educated by USA.
    If we persisted with our nuisance talk of supporting Taiwan. then we could use our imagination about what is to follow.
    No ambiguity in that chat.

  3. Phil Pryor

    China’s ambassador spoke with clarity, dignity, authority, perspective, skill. Nobody at all in the recently gone (how good…) Morrison gang of fumblers and defectives had that level of ability and training. we have made fools of ourselves, a USA slutty base for post imperial dithering, dreaming onanistic hopes. We will be expended, exterminated, as forward skirmishers, as might Taiwan, Ukraine, European and U K bases, population, actual existence. USA mental masturbatory magnificence is a pox, a threat.

  4. leefe

    Can we concen trate a little less on which government has the greater right to the island of Taiwan, and much more on what the Taiwanese people themselves want? It is their lives we are talking about, not some faceless impersonal institution.

  5. A Commentator

    The lack of thought and general knowledge amazed me…
    “China has forged a society in which there is harmony between its different ethnicities…”
    Tell Tibet, the Uyghurs and Muslims in Xinjiang, for a start

  6. Canguro

    AC’s comments are generally accurate: China is an autocratic society and has been, in one form or another, for millennia. The dominant Han ethnic majority under the aegis of the CCP have no doubt been seeded into minority communities over the last fifty or more years as a form of dilution of the locals as a means to ameliorate opposition to autocratic centralised control, despite the official recognition of autonomous regions.

    As the 1989 Tiannamen Square protests demonstrated, the CCP don’t do tolerance of opposition in a kindly manner. Hence the crackdown on Uighur & Tibetan dissenters. If the ethnic inhabitants of regions like Tibet and Xinjiang didn’t object or continue to kick up a fuss, I doubt that the CCP would be as ruthless in their efforts to control these regions. A background story to the dissent in these regions is that they have benefited, along with most regions of China, from the vast programs of infrastructural and social development; health & education, transport facilities, economic programs. Whether they are grateful is another question, but no doubt many of these regions were poor, the general populace living in relative poverty with little opportunity for improvement.

    Those in western countries who criticise China’s behaviour would do well to look into their own backyards: America’s history of relation with the blacks transported, shanghaied, stolen, from their native lands to work under extraordinary conditions of sufferance and cruelty in the cotton fields of the southern states and thus enrich the slave owners is a permanent stain on that country whose legacy continues to bleed integrity and credibility to this day, given the racial strife that is an ever-present aspect of modern America.

    The same applies to Britain, again, an active participant in slavery of black people, a vigorous coloniser and exploiter of other people’s lands and wealth; European countries too… Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal… it was quite the thing to be a coloniser and exploiter. Indigenous societies in north, south & central America, all destroyed. Africa, southern Asia, India… all ripe for the pickings of the destroyers.

    And who can put out of their mind’s eye the images of our Aboriginal people rounded up and walked into captivity bound in heavy neck chains, different tribes and language groups herded together like cattle into feedlots, to suffer and die, uncared for, disrespected, just looked at as a problem to be solved and the quicker the better. Even as recently as 1984, the father of Australia’s wealthiest woman proselytised the benefits of sterilising the indigenous folk, a committed eugenicist to the end.

    We ought to be very aware of our own actions before passing judgement on those of other countries.

  7. Douglas Pritchard

    My good friend google tells me that:-
    The United States leads the world in total number of people incarcerated, with 2.3 million prisoners nationwide (per data released in October 2021 by World Prison Brief).
    Thats 2.8% of the population being re-educated to fit in with their society.
    Sounds like China has competition?

  8. A Commentator

    I agree.
    My comment was entirely about the statement – “China has forged a society in which there is harmony between its different ethnicities…”
    I find it difficult to understand that anyone would express that opinion in public, given all the facts to the contrary

  9. ajogrady

    The lack of thought and general knowledge amazed me…

    2016 study commissioned by the US government noted that, from 2012 to 2014, domestic attacks in China “apparently became more frequent, more geographically dispersed, and more indiscriminately targeted”. The perpetrators, in many cases, were radicalised members of the Uygur ethnic group.
    organisation that often claimed responsibility for the attacks, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), was described in a Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder as “a Muslim separatist group founded by militant Uygurs”.
    The backgrounder further noted: “The group and its ties to Muslim fundamentalism have compounded Chinese concerns about the rising threat of terrorism within the country as its restive Western regions faced a spate of terrorist attacks in 2014 … ETIM has been listed by the State Department as one of the more extreme separatist groups. It seeks an independent state called East Turkestan that would cover an area including parts of Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region”.
    In 2002, the US and the United Nations both declared ETIM a terrorist group, with the UN Security Council noting the group’s association with al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the Taliban.
    The Uygur fighters battled with US forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere, with many being wounded, killed or captured. For years, the US held 22 Uygurs at Guantanamo Bay. As recently as July 2020, the UN identified thousands of Uygur Islamic State fighters in Syria and Afghanistan.
    Much like the post-September 11 war on terror – one in which the US, ironically, had considered China to be a partner – China has been waging its own counterterrorism offensive in Xinjiang. The extremists operate across China’s porous borders and train alongside the Taliban and Islamic State.
    China has been ostracised in the global public square. Deepening conflicts with the West have increasingly soured relationships. Yet in all of these areas, the debate is far from black and white. The big lesson of the past four years is that facts matter.
    That is very much the case with China’s policies in Xinjiang. The Chinese leadership needs to do a much better job of explaining its anti-terror campaign. And the West needs to take a careful look in the mirror at its own struggles with the same problem

  10. A Commentator

    I see, so is all that indicative and supportive of the following -?
    “China has forged a society in which there is harmony between its different ethnicities…”
    People should be careful to read before responding, rather than seeking to assign opinions to others

  11. ajogrady

    The current situation with Russia is such a depressing contrast to the high hopes for a cordial bilateral relationship and the emergence of a stable, peaceful, and cooperative Europe that marked the demise of the Soviet Union three decades ago. Most Americans blame Moscow, but the United States and its NATO allies are largely responsible for the onset of the current, dangerous confrontation. Tensions have intensified gradually over the past three decades, although some episodes stand out as especially important. George W. Bush’s successful push to expand NATO to include the Baltic republics, and his even more brazen (albeit unsuccessful) effort to gain membership for Georgia and Ukraine, greatly antagonized Russia.
    Barack Obama’s administration topped that provocation by assisting demonstrators to overthrow Ukraine’s elected, pro‐​Russian president in 2014. Vladimir Putin’s government responded to that gross intrusion into Russia’s security zone by annexing Crimea, thereby guaranteeing continued access to his country’s vital naval base at Sevastopol. Washington’s ongoing campaign to make Ukraine a U.S. military pawn and Moscow’s efforts to thwart that maneuver have brought the renewed East‐​West animosity to a climax.
    However, one party that has not received sufficient blame for this ugly situation is Bill Clinton’s administration. The arrogant, menacing policies that the Clinton foreign policy team pursued started the tragic descent to a new cold war. The 1990s could have become the decade in which an enlightened US policy facilitated Russia’s political and economic integration into the democratic West. It also could have been the decade in which NATO was given the retirement party it had earned, Western Europe finally took responsibility for its own defense through a new “Europeans only” security organization, and Central and Eastern Europe became a neutral zone that respected Russia’s economic and military interests. Instead, the Clinton administration insisted on not only perpetuating a U.S‑dominated NATO, but pushing the Alliance to expand toward Russia. The latter action violated verbal promises that George H. W. Bush’s administration gave Moscow during the Soviet Union’s final months that NATO would not move beyond the eastern border of a united Germany. Clinton administration officials showed contempt for Russia’s interests in a variety of other ways. Washington not only meddled in the Balkans, but did so in a manner that undermined Russia’s longstanding political and religious client, Serbia. Indeed, the ostentatious U.S.-NATO military interventions seemed calculated to underscore that Moscow had lost the Cold War and, therefore, had to quietly endure whatever humiliations the Western
    powers decided to inflict.
    Both the Clinton administration and the larger US foreign policy establishment displayed astonishing arrogance in their approach to world affairs generally and relations with Russia in particular. They relished what Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer termed a “unipolar moment” in the international system. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright epitomized the prevailing attitude when she boasted that America was “the indispensable nation,” because we “stand tall and see further than other countries into the future.” The governing elite of the sole remaining superpower, embracing such narcissism, was not about to respect the interests of a weakened Russia, or even show a modicum of respect in its dealings with Moscow.
    Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, found Putin’s support after 9/11 simply “amazing… He even ordered Russian generals to brief their American counterparts on their experiences during their Afghanistan invasion in the 1980s… I appreciated his willingness to move beyond the suspicions of the past.”
    On both sides, however, those suspicions never entirely went away. The Warsaw Pact had been dissolved and the Soviet Union no longer existed. “But NATO still exists,” Putin complained. “What for?” From the Kremlin’s standpoint, it was a fair question. “We all say,” he went on, “that we don’t want Europe to be divided, we don’t want new borders and barriers, new ‘Berlin Walls’ dividing the continent. But when NATO expands, the border doesn’t go away. It simply moves closer to Russia.”

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