The case of Andrea Yu, the Australian journalist apparently tapped by the Chinese government to ask softball questions, presents some almost mind-bending implications for how China’s eventual power will assert itself in the world. And by power, I don’t mean Beijing’s ability to stage manage a press conference. (Even George W Bush could do that – for a while). What’s disturbing about her willingness to impersonate a “journalist” for the benefit of the Chinese politburo is the fact that in Australia today more business leaders and even politicians insist that if Australia wants to benefit from China’s wealth and power, Australians should think more like the Chinese and embrace their perspective on history. Perhaps Ms Yu was only following the guidance of Australian mining magnate Clive Palmer, in adopting a pro-Beijing line. Or of former prime minister Paul Keating. This idea that Australians should align their loyalty with the economic, rather than political interests is a key feature of Chinese business culture. It’s expected.
It’s significant that Ms Yu is Australian. China is an ancient culture with aspirations to put its stamp on the modern world. Chinese figures routinely suggest Australia make greater shows of fealty in gratitude for its business. China is Australia’s top trade partner. The more the expectation becomes ingrained in Australia – that is, if Australians really become Asia literate, as the government intends – the more the legitimacy of law, a free media and all those other Western ideas will be tested.
I don’t suspect Australia will give up its fundamental values. But the question is, how far will Australia, or a nation like Australia, go to accommodate the vastly un-Western expectations China places it on? Here there is a parallel to the historical Cold War:
China will promote a value system that competes with the West’s. And while the struggle won’t be as ideological as it might have been between the East and West during the Cold War, it may be much better financed. Hiring reporters from countries with a direct economic interest in China to deliver Beijing’s message may just be the most obvious sign. Chinese TV is expanding to English broadcasting in the US.