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Bull in the China shop

  • 02 March 2022
  In the last few weeks the threat of a Khaki election has loomed large In Australia. The invasion of Ukraine and tensions in relations with China have focused attention on which party can best ensure national security. This question will surely be pressed during the election campaign.

The consequences of the polemic directed at China after the Prime Minister attacked the Labor leader on his alleged weakness towards China are much to be feared. Although some early indications suggested that the appeal to fear manifest in much of the rhetoric has not swayed voters, and some public servants and politicians have urged against politicising Australia’s relationships to China, the recourse to such demonising of nations should be condemned. It has nothing to do with politics in the proper sense. More important it is harmful because it fosters division between nations and leads to discrimination and abuse of people within the Australian community. Australians of Chinese origin are more vulnerable to local abuse than those of Russian origin because they are more visibly identifiable.  

Although it is common to describe this campaign as politicising issues of national policy, it is political only in a debauched sense. Politics in its origins is about ordering the affairs of a city in a rational way that enables citizens to flourish. It is essentially ethical in its conception. Early political thinkers would have described the art of stoking resentment and dividing the city, not as politics, but as demagoguery. It appealed to base emotions and not to reason. It encouraged rule by the mob and led ultimately to autocracy and kleptocracy.

In targeting other politicians for being soft on China the campaign does not contribute to necessary political debate about how to balance the complex sets of relationships between China and Australia in a time of tension. It is not an invitation to conversation but a divisive and self-serving campaign designed to deflect anger and resentment away from the failures of politicians and political parties on to China and on to all people and things Chinese. Popular disrespect for China and Chinese people is both its goal and a means to electoral success. It is not the side effect of a necessary conversation.

In Australian slang, such use of patriotic or altruistic sounding words for selfish ends is often called bullshitting. It trades in untruth and shows an unacknowledged contempt for the persons against whom and to whom it