Silent Invasion: China’s influence in Australia by Clive Hamilton

Should we be worried?

I recently read this book, against the background of China’s increasing trade war with Australia.  Is Mr Hamilton right, I wondered?  How concerned should we be?

As I read, I am conscious of concerns about foreign ownership of assets within Australia, about the extent of Chinese influence and about political donations.  But is China the enemy?  Or should Australia be re-evaluating foreign ownership rules and tightening political donation rules more generally?

I’m torn.  Many point to human rights abuses in China. True.  But if they were consistent, they would also identify human rights abuses in other countries including Australia and the USA.  There are times when the various forms of representative democracy practiced across the western world seem just as flawed as many claim that the Chinese government is. 

While I think this book is worth reading and I share some of Mr Hamilton’s concerns, I don’t agree that China is Australia’s enemy.  I also feel frustrated when people point to China’s influence in our region.  Many of the countries China is aiding are countries that we would once have provided more aid to.  Should China be condemned for meeting a need that we have ignored?  Sigh.

Yes, I am sure that not all Chinese influence is benign, any more than I am convinced that American influence is.  I am concerned though that much of the reaction against Chinese influence is a reaction against a world which (for the first time in our lifetimes) is looking beyond Europe and the USA to Asia as a source of growing economic power and influence.  I think that many of us find this unsettling.

We need to engage more with China, not less.  And, in all our foreign relationships, we need to be less naïve. Not all interests are benign, common, or shared, but neither are they all exclusive or malign. Yes, I see shades of grey.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith