Chinese students a “two-edged” sword: Australian diplomat

by Chris Zappone

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In 2008, in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics, Chinese students living in Australia were organised into “externally manufactured counter-demonstrations” against the activists who attended the torch run in support of Tibet, according to  former diplomat Stephen FitzGerald quoted in this article in The Australian. There were remarkable scenes of Chinese youth, presumably holding student visas, unfurling a huge field-sized flag of China. There must be a limit on what size foreign flag you can fly without it being a provocative act.

Of more concern was the heckling and bullying of the Tibet-supporters. I know there were modest demonstrations against the Japanese by Chinese Americans at the UN over the Senkaku-Diaoyou Island dispute. Maybe it was also a reflection in how confident the students felt in Australia. I couldn’t imagine Chinese foreign students doing the same in France or the US or even flag-waving England.

This week, former Mr FitzGerald described the sizeable presence of Chinese students in Australia as “something of a two-edged” sword. The benefit of course is the increased numbers of Chinese foreign students enrolled in Australia – for all the advantages that brings. But the other possibility is that if Chinese students can be organised or directed for this cause while living abroad “China might…again seek to use ethnic Chinese here in this or other ways in some virtuous China cause.”

“China, of course, has a right to these views, but not in a way which infringes our rights in our country,” he said.

The 2008 torch relay incident was the “biggest challenge” yet posed by Chinese “exceptionalism,” said Mr FitzGerald.

And where does that exceptionalism come from? He says, from a “moral certitude which is global in perspective.”

He says the Chinese variety is not unlike the American brand of exceptionalism which assumed “a virtuous or righteous position for themselves exclusively, in relation to other countries and social systems.”

I’d add that there is a particular purity to the Chinese worldview coming from what has been an isolated culture. The gap between a lofty understanding of oneself and the crude reality beyond the borders could inspire folly.

Photo: Courtesy Benlisquare