INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Ian H. McDougallNews Weekly
Heavy-handed China shows its true colours
, August 22, 2009
Australians are very naïve about China. Because we think of China in terms of the nice people in our local Chinese restaurant, we think they represent China. They do not. Business for China is a form of warfare.
In Western business education courses, students are indoctrinated with the notion of the "win-win deal". In other words, in any satisfactory business deal, both sides must gain something. There must be two winners, not a winner and a loser.
However, in business negotiations, Chinese work on the principle of "I make a dollar, you lose a dollar", or, in management speak, a "win-lose deal".
The principle initial aim of Chinese business negotiators is to make the other party fear them. In the case of giant Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto, whose chief iron ore negotiator Stern Hu has been locked up without charges for a month, China's bid to inspire fear in its negotiating partner seems to be working.
In China, business is not just business. Business is tied up with feelings of national pride and resentment. Get into a contract dispute with a Chinese businessman and soon he is likely to be talking about the Opium Wars and "unequal treaties".
The colonial era before the establishment of "New China" in 1949 is a source of great resentment and shame for China.
Professor David Kelly, a respected China-based Australian scholar from the University of Technology, Sydney, made an important point on Australia's relationship with the Middle Kingdom in a recent interview with ABC Radio's PM
The Communist Party of China and the government of China, he said, are "not seeking to be cute" and "not seeking to make people like them", Prof. Kelly said.
"China's overall dominant motivation in all its international relations is to be accepted as a major power, to have the status of a major power who is listened to. And there's a point up to which this is only right and proper, but it can shade into petulance and petty ways and in a frame of mind that ... says 'we are big and important; now we've arrived, we don't have to put up with annoyance anymore'." (ABC PM
program, August 3, 2009).
China's leaders, despite their bravado, are fearful. The border areas have only recently been consolidated into the Chinese empire. This year marks the 50th anniversary of China's invasion of Tibet, where the Han Chinese flooding into this restive border region are resented, even hated, by the native Tibetans.
Border tensions with India persist, with the Chinese recently reviving claims to Indian territory. In the southwest, the warlike Hmong hill people occupy sensitive areas near the border with China's ancient enemy, Vietnam.
China's junkyard dog, North Korea, can be employed usefully to menace South Korea and its ally the United States; but like all vicious animals, it is not totally under control and the fear persists that one day the Kim regime will collapse and China will share a border with a united Korea, still allied to the US.
But the most pressing current worry is the western Chinese border area of Xinjiang, recently rocked by riots of the native Uighurs against the Han Chinese colonists. The Uighurs are Turkic people and not Chinese in any sense that we would understand the term. The speak Chinese very badly, if at all; they are Muslims; and they resent the domination the Han Chinese colonists have over commerce, education and government. Xinjiang is a powder-keg waiting for a spark to set it off.
So, the decision by the Melbourne Film Festival to screen a film about Rebiya Kadeer, exiled leader of the Uighur resistance movement, set off a furious reaction. China's fear is that Kadeer will become another Dalai Lama, a focus for international attention and protest.
Australia's policy failure is to treat China as a normal country. China sees Australia as a testing ground for the "rise of China". As a Mandarin-speaking foreign leader, Kevin Rudd is famous and instantly recognisable on China's television sets.
But Beijing is grievously disappointed with Rudd and Australia. We have failed to recognise China as a superior power and have relied on the trade relationship to set the tone of our interaction.
Prof. Kelly observed: "The idea that the economic relationship sets our compass is a faulty idea. It would appear to be a good objective and unemotional thing; but in fact for China, the economy is very political and very emotional. So if you pin everything on the economic relationship, it will swing occasionally into dangerous political waters, which we're seeing. So relationships between nations have to be built on more than economic interest."
The bottom line is that China needs Australia's resources and Australia needs China as a customer. But, as Kelly says, "there is a point at which we will run into trouble with China whether we like it or not, so I say, the economic relationship cannot be relied on to give us a non-political relationship."