By John Gooding, Digital Editor at the Lowy Institute and Associate Editor at The Interpreter.
This week Labor’s superstar senator Sam Dastyari stepped down from the shadow frontbench following revelations he received several personal payments from Chinese-linked companies and extensive criticism from the Coalition (though he is no longer manager of opposition business in the Senate, Dastyari remains a member of the Senate's foreign affairs, defence and trade committee). Prior to stepping down, Dastyari gave one of the most excruciating press conferences of recent times:
Dastyari, Greg Earl wrote, lived by the media and died by it:
For a smart politician who consciously attached himself to China’s rising soft power, he seems to have misunderstood a key element: the explosion of Chinese media reporting in and out of Australia. Vote harvesting politicians quietly make promises to splinter ethnic groups all the time. But Dastyari seemed to think he could deviate from the party line and not be noticed amid all the election campaign noise until Primrose Riordan revealed the Chinese media reports. There are still some uncertainties about exactly what Dastyari said standing alongside political donor Huang Xiangmo on 17 June, but there is no doubting the influence of the online Chinese news outlet Sydney Today which reported him.
Dastyari’s demise was part of a broader debate this week over China-Australia relations and the role of Chinese soft power in Australian democracy. After planned concerts in Sydney and Melbourne commemorating Mao were cancelled last week, Mei-Fen Kuo examined the historical position of Chinese communities in Australia’s biggest cities:
Both cities have a proud history of inspiring and fostering strong, engaged and democratic Chinese communities. Rather than distancing themselves from disputes such as those caused by the planned Mao concerts, they should continue to engage with Chinese communities and demonstrate the kind of democratic, civic processes that have inspired Chinese Australian communities for more than a century.
In China, the Communist Party is treading a fine line between relegating and venerating the legacy of Mao, argued Simone van Nieuwenhuizen:
More than ever, the CCP is fighting for control over its historical narrative. This struggle is perhaps manifested most acutely in the treatment of Mao; the CCP continues to walk a tightrope of being unable to refute Mao’s legacy (given Mao’s role in legitimising the CCP), yet wanting to prevent the resurrection of his cult of personality status.
John Lee argued that Australia could not afford to spurn its Chinese diaspora in its efforts to combat Chinese state influence in Australian politics:
If some Australians of Chinese background or Chinese citizens in this country express support for Beijing’s policies, or legally give money to politicians, that is their right under our constitutional system. Whether it’s a security problem due to links between such persons and the Chinese state is a matter for security agencies and government. It should not reflect on the wider ethnic Chinese population, who face enough problems already with invisible discrimination.
This week's G20 meeting was big on spectacle but short on substance, wrote Tristram Sainsbury:
China’s first G20 Summit was, as promised, a big show. But, right down to the unanticipated delay in releasing a communique for several hours, it will not go down as a smooth one. For many, the event will also cement the G20’s reputation as a modern-day talk shop, and a forum unable to address the challenges posed by rising anti-globalisation sentiment.
China’s emphasis on domestic innovation clearly filtered through to the G20 agenda. Kerry Brown:
To achieve better quality, more inclusive investment and trade relations by outside economies into China, to partner China in doing better at creating sustainable growth domestically, there is a clear demand by Chinese leaders that something needs to be given back – knowledge, expertise and innovation. China clearly wants partnerships to crack its innovation challenges in return for access to its domestic market. That is the deal on offer. This is why strong support for a global innovation strategy featured in the G20 communique.
While in a bilateral meeting at the G20, Chinese President Xi Jinping quoted a Lowy Institute Poll showing that 80% of Australians had a positive view of China to Malcolm Turnbull. Unfortunately for Xi, this poll result does not exist:
On the last point, however, the acuity of Xi’s awareness (or, probably more accurately, that of his advisers) is up for debate, as this year's Lowy Institute Poll does not show that 80% of Australians had a positive view of China. In fact, the Poll does not even ask such a question.
That wasn’t the only correction we issued this week. Tristram Sainsbury:
It would have normally been great to discover earlier this week there was an article published in the China Daily titled 'Agenda of Positive Change', complete with my photo and a by-line at the end. After all, this was the busiest day of the summit, and important real estate in the paper.
There was only one problem: I didn't write the piece.
This week also saw ASEAN hosted in Laos, where world leaders did everything they could to talk around, allude to, and generally ignore the landmark South China Sea decision from earlier this year, wrote Erin Cook:
The South China Sea remains the central issue to ASEAN and to the bloc's relations with other powers, but the region remains dogged by the 'centrality and unity' identity crisis. This will lead to an interesting if blindingly frustrating 50th anniversary next year.
At the meeting Malcolm Turnbull pledged to host the ASEAN leaders in Australia in 2018. Patrick Ingle catalogued what needs to be done before this takes place:
The 2018 meeting needs to be preceded by a solid plan to lift our strategic ties with ASEAN and its member states. Australia must devote serious attention to Southeast Asia's strategic and political architecture in the forthcoming foreign and trade white paper. Keeping a new White House constructively engaged should also a top priority.
The Chinese government has overtaken New Zealand and Japan and is also on the verge of overtaking the United States in terms of total aid delivered to the region since 2006. This means China will soon be the second largest aid donor, behind Australia, to the Pacific Islands.
Last Sunday’s elections in Hong Kong represent a significant challenge to China’s immutability in the city, argued Merriden Varrall:
Unless Beijing quickly and radically changes its approach to winning over Hong Kong hearts and minds, it will be an enormous challenge for the government to convince the population that its interests are best served by being part of China, while at the same time demonstrating to the world that it is a responsible global actor. It will require the kind of sophisticated understanding of how others think that the Chinese government has so far rarely demonstrated.
In the US, these elections are Donald Trump's to lose, argued Crispin Rovere:
Exactly two months out from the election, it's time to examine the state of play. Despite the avalanche of media reports to the contrary, the fundamentals do not augur well for a Clinton presidency.
Finally, Robert Kelly noted one Donald Trump idea that deserves serious discussion; the nuclearisation of Northeast Asia:
One of Trump’s most interesting ‘proposals’ (if a slap-dash interview remark can be called that) is allowing Japan and South Korea to acquire nuclear weapons. Of course he did not follow up on this (because he has no idea what he is talking about), and the Washington consensus against this idea is pretty strong. The last thing he wants to do is the hard intellectual work to actually argue the point.
But the issue is hardly so black-and-white.