Gosh what a tizz the Chinese Government has us all in.

China is run by a murderous clique of kleptocrats, with a human rights record that makes Robert Mugabe look benign. And that’s just the national government, never mind the provincial governments. They are rivalled only by Russia for out-and-out corruption.

But then, you get that with dictatorships. Governments that don’t understand or accept the need for the rule of law only regard corruption as a problem when the wrong people get paid.

That’s why — as Greg Sheridan correctly observed today — discussion about minutiae like the identity of the Chinese state and its corporate interests, and whether what we understand as commercial negotiations could be interpreted as espionage by the Chinese, is moot. It’s like asking a Mafiosi to be crystal clear about exactly the reason why you’re being whacked. The Chinese don’t do the whole rule of law and due process thing.

Western corporations are happy to overlook all that, or more correctly budget for it, in the hope of tapping that vast market. Western Governments are happy to overlook all that for the same reason. Increasingly, the latter have little choice, given China’s economic importance. And if China is effective in shifting its growth base to domestic demand rather than exports, that will complete the deal.

Kevin Rudd suddenly finds himself in the firing line for failing to meet Australians’ expectations about how we should be treated overseas. We may now laughingly recall the early days of the Rudd Government when there was much nudging, winking and eyebrow-arching over how Rudd was too close to the Chinese, too much the Sinophile. In fact Rudd’s stance toward China if anything has been more aggressive than his predecessors. He literally lectured them — in Mandarin — in Beijing on Tibet. He laid down guidelines for assessing foreign investment bids by state-owned entities. The Defence White Paper squarely addresses China’s military capability and its potential threat.

But at the same time, Rudd has been vigorous in promoting a greater role for China in world financial institutions. Sinophile, Sinophobe — either way, Rudd’s calls on each of those issues has been based on policy principles, and has been correct. The Opposition keeps trying to cast Rudd as a Sinophile — it’s only a couple of months ago that Peter Costello was referring to “our Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister” who would tick off Chinalco’s Rio bid — but Rudd’s decisions have made it hard for them. Indeed, Malcolm Turnbull looked rather peculiar as a Liberal leader complaining that the White Paper targeted the threat of China too much.

Criticism of Rudd’s “failure” to somehow rescue Stern Hu from durance vile isn’t simple point-scoring by the Opposition, or isn’t only that. There’s a collective element of self-delusion in the criticism of the Government. The fact is, there’s nothing any Government could do, and that’s the awful truth that we don’t want to face. The Chinese are vastly more powerful than us, and, worse, we are now economically dependent on them. It matters very little whether we have a good or bad relationship, or a Prime Minister who speaks Mandarin. The Chinese will do as they please. Australia has extensive resource assets on which China depends, and the Chinese Government clearly resents paying market rates for access.

Thus, the Chinese will behave this way more and more often until we give them what they want, in the manner of an African country that is happy to take Chinese cash while they take the minerals. There’s much “inscrutable Chinese” nonsense at the heart of the coverage of the Hu case, as if Beijing’s intentions can only be divined by some white-bearded scholar transcribing ancient texts and considering animal entrails. The Chinese are merely pursuing their interest in identifying low-cost sources of fuel for their remarkable economic growth. Get in their way and they’ll hurt you.

The Left might argue that, given our traditional allies the Brits and the Americans have long acted in exactly this manner toward small and medium-sized countries, there’s an element of justice in Australia discovering what it’s like to incur the wrath of an imperial power. But at least there were independent courts and some slight human rights protections even at the height of Anglophone imperialism. And China’s critics don’t offer much of a solution either. Having finally worked out just what monsters have run Communist China for the past 60 years — more or less coinciding with the conversion of Communist leaders to capitalism — the Left can offer the purity of disengagement and criticism, for which quite a few thousand unemployed Australians won’t thank them. And it won’t help any Tibetans or Uyghurs either

Australia can’t control what the Chinese do. We are only responsible for our own actions. The Government has to pursue the national interest in dealing with arbitrary-minded Government not averse to butchering its own people. Stern Hu is showing the price of pursuing the national interest, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Don’t like it? Ah well, that’s too bad.