National pride begets blind arrogance

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Beijing Linked To Rio Arrest Fairfax correspondent John Garnaut wrote that detained Australian businessman Stern Hu is 'widely known in China and at Rio Tinto for his integrity and quietly spoken good judgment'. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said he was 'perplexed' by Hu's arrest by officials at China's Ministry of State Security.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry official said on Thursday that authorities had the evidence needed to prove that the Rio executive stole state secrets, and that he had 'caused huge loss to China's economic interest and security'.

Unfortunately not all reaction to the arrest has been as circumspect as that of Foreign Minister Smith. In fact there's more than a touch of arrogance in much of the comment. Australians have rushed to the assumption that the arrest is payback for Rio's rejection of the Chinese Government-owned Chinalco's $A24.7 billion bailout deal, after it was no longer needed to keep the company out of financial trouble.

Soon after news of Hu's arrest, Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce issued a statement that declared: 'Chinalco's failure to buy an 18 per cent ownership of Rio would appear to have inspired Mr Hu's arrest and that of three other Rio workers.'

Pride in our nation and a desire to protect its interests can easily cloud our perceptions of other countries' legal systems. It may even cause us to assume that if one of our nationals gets caught on the wrong side of the law in a foreign country, they are innocent just because they're Australian.

We only need to remind ourselves of the widespread and confident declarations of Schapelle Corby's innocence in the face of her prosecution and sentencing for smuggling drugs into Indonesia in 2004. These have been anything but vindicated in the five years since Corby's arrest.

There are many manifestations of national pride and the arrogance and irrationality that often come with it. In the lead up to Kevin Rudd's meeting with Pope Benedict XVI last week, Shadow Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Tony Abbott was warning that it would be inappropriate for Rudd to lobby the Pope for the canonisation of Blessed Mary MacKillop. According to Abbott, he would disturb the purity of the canonisation process. It's just not done, he said. An announcement coinciding with the centenary of MacKillop's death on 8 August would indeed be a proud moment for Australia. But appropriate expressions of pride must come after a process, not before it is complete.

In the case of Stern Hu, Rudd's yielding to calls from political rivals including Malcolm Turnbull and Bob Brown to lobby China on behalf of Stern Hu could prevent Chinese justice from taking its natural course. Interest in the case from Australia should be focused by a desire to see China uphold its own laws and protocols without fear or favour. Australians' opinion about the circumstances of the arrest, and his innocence or guilt, is a separate and secondary matter that we should keep to ourselves.

There is a sense in which those who pomote the view that Hu's arrest is an act of retribution from China are doing him a disservice. They could be treating Hu as a political pawn in a manner that does little or nothing to protect his rights as a detained foreign national. The best thing that can be done for him as a person is to ensure he gets fair treatment from China's legal system (and to be fair, that is partly the object the lobbying calls). Similarly Mary MacKillop's sainthood will be more authentic if it is the result of a correctly administered canonisation process not impeded by the lobbying of a political leader bent on demonstrating the greatness of his country.


Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: michael mullins, china, detained national, rio tinto, executive, stern hu, mary mckillop, canonisation

 

 

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Stephen Smith and Michael Mullins are right! The gross lack of understanding of a different society, its law and its culture are evident in the strident efforts of various politicians to intervene in ways that may serve their political ambitions but are likely to exacerbate an already difficult situation.

Once, when I was in China, a superb Chinese academic shyly answered my question about how Chinese generally viewed Australians: 'Chinese see Westerners as uncivilised', he said apologetically. I regret instances where this belief is borne out.
Margaret Woodward | 13 July 2009


Doesn't the author realise that 'Chinese justice' is an oxymoron? It has been vividly demonstrated recently in Tibet and is still visible in Urumchi in Xinjiang. In totalitarian states a due process cannot take place because the judiciary is not independent of political control and manipulation.Lucky you! you have never had to live in a country ruled by a totalitarian regime.
Christopher Lancucki | 13 July 2009


There has been so much fevered media coverage of the case of Mr Hu, and exaggerated claims by Barnaby Joyce et al that it is refreshing to have this considered comment. We may not approve of the Chinese legal system, but companies like Rio and their employees work in that country with prior knowledge of their system. It is ridiculous to assume that the charges are groundless, and it is premature to demand that the Prime Minister get involved.
Myrna tonkinson | 13 July 2009


The assumption in Michael's article is that the Prime Minister has 'impeded' the canonisation process of Mary MacKillop. Has he really? Since the early Middle Ages many
canonisations have been the open recognition by Rome of local heroes.

Whether we like it or not, Mary's cause is being promoted not just as acknowledgement of her holiness, but also because she is Australian. People are often heard saying she is Our Saint, meaning Australia now has a saint as well. It is this nationalistic identification with Mary that would prompt the Prime Minister to act as he did, just as Renaissance princes may have had something to say to their 'friend' the Pope about their own candidate. As then, this would be regarded by politicians not as impeding the process, but expediting it. Never mind the cost!

Incidentally, Australia is and has always been populated by many holy people and local heroes, most of whom have never been heard of in Rome.
Desiderius Erasmus | 13 July 2009


Finally a comment that makes sense and enlighten. Thanks Michael.
Antonio Castillo | 13 July 2009


There has been a lot of Australian jingoism in the last ten years or so, lots of flags, footballers clutching their hearts, and so on. There has also been a stupid conflation of Australia's foreign policy priorities with her trade priorities, exemplified by the very name, 'DFAT', to the detriment of both.

Now we have an overwhelming responsibility to Stern Hu, already the meat in the sandwich, long before Turnbull and Joyce opened their mouths. He has rights, and Australians have values I suggest, even if China, typically, doesn't recognise them.

Rio and other Australian businesses may need to smarten up their act, sticking to agreements and so forth. But to employ state power for commercial ends, without court sanction, is the essence of what used to be called imperialism. (I will admit I don't want this matter sorted by deploying the Collins Class submarines.)
Brian Dethridge | 13 July 2009


There has been a lot of Australian jingoism in the last ten years or so, lots of flags, footballers clutching their hearts, and so on. There has also been a stupid conflation of Australia's foreign policy priorities with her trade priorities, exemplified by the very name, "DFAT", to the detriment of both.

Now we have an overwhelming responsibility to Stern Hu, already the meat in the sandwich, long before Turnbull and Joyce opened their mouths. He has rights, and Australians have values I suggest, even if China, typically, doesn't recognise them. Rio and other Australian businesses may need to smarten up their act, sticking to agreements and so forth. But to employ state power for commercial ends, without court sanction, is the essence of what used to be called imperialism. (I will admit I don't want this matter sorted by deploying the Collins Class submarines.)
Brian Dethridge | 13 July 2009


What a load of nonsense. I would like some sense in the arrest and a proper explanation. None is forthcoming. Nothing to do with national pride or the person is Australian. Nothing like Corby.
Rob Colquhoun | 14 July 2009


Regarding the Hu case the shock reaction of the Australian public is from their coming face to face with the chinese justice system.

Australians had not realised that China is itself a huge corrupt prison. It was not national pride but national ignorance of what dictatorships of that kind are like. Regarding Rudd Lobbying the Pope I dont think that happened but I would expect that any Australian meeting the Pope would speak of the matter and express the interest we have in the outcome. I think that is pride in Mary MacKillop being expressed. She was a rebel of the kind we admire.
Ken Fuller | 17 July 2009


hypothesis: Corby was a "fall guy".
to fill in the dots here, ask what the press were looking at before this. Corby was a ruse to throw the morons of the press off the scent.
cronos | 27 December 2009


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