All of this stuff about, you know, softly softly and you’ve got to be quiet, and even some people I think who are just craven and cowardly, there are people out there particularly in the media, some journalists saying “oh we shouldn’t raise anything with the Chinese because it will affect our economic relationship.”

Well, what price human rights? What price Stern Hu’s human rights? I mean, the reality is, the Chinese respect people who stand up for their rights… there is no point knuckling down to people who reject human rights, there is no point, there is no point being cowardly. Just remember this, if you want earn the respect of people, you’ve got to stand up for what you believe in.

In 1949, when Chairman Mao succeeded in his Revolution and he got to the top of Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, in Beijing, right there in the centre of the capital, his first words were, “the Chinese people have stood up,” that’s what he said, “the Chinese people have stood up.”

Strong stuff. Which human rights activist was that? Well, that was Malcolm Turnbull quoting Chairman Mao, yesterday, talking to the ABC.

Turnbull has clearly changed his attitude since 16 June, when the Greens moved a motion in the Senate on human rights in China. Senate motions don’t do much for anyone beyond and this motion wasn’t even particularly controversial.

That the Senate:

(a) remembers the thousands of people who were killed 20 years ago on 4 June 1989 in the Tiananmen Square massacre;

(b) supports the pro-democracy and pro-human rights principles outlined in Charter 08, which has been written by prominent Chinese academics and activists; and

(c) condemns the detention and interrogation of signatories to the Charter 08 by Chinese authorities, including the continued detention of acclaimed author Liu Xiaobo.

The Government was cowardly, and declined to support the motion. Joe Ludwig rose and said “the Australian government would like again to place on the record its objection to dealing with complex international matters such as the one before us by means of formal motions. Such motions are a blunt instrument. They force parties into black and white choices to support or oppose. They do not lend themselves to the nuances which are so necessary in this area of policy. In addition, they can be and are too often easily misinterpreted by some audiences as statements of policy by the national government.”

Did the Coalition stand up for human rights, and not knuckle down to those who reject them? Did it stand up for what they believe in? Liberal Senator Stephen Parry rose after Ludwig and replied on behalf of the Coalition.

“Like the government, we believe that complex foreign affairs matters should not be the subject of a brief notice of motion in this chamber. They need full and thorough analysis, and consideration needs to be given on many fronts in relation to this. In that regard, we support the comments of the government.”

Full and thorough analysis. Blunt instruments. Black and white choices. Nuances.

No point in being cowardly, right?

“The fear of Beijing and the over-riding interest of the Australian corporate sector put human and political rights on the shelf,” Bob Brown told Crikey this morning. “They are not only selling iron ore and coal, but they are selling out human and political interests at the same time. There hasn’t been a squeak out of Mr Rudd or Mr Turnbull on the international rights under the ICCPR of people like Stern Hu and so many others in China – rights to a fair trial and access to justice.”

At the other end of the sanity spectrum was Barnaby Joyce this morning railing at the Government for permitting a Chinese coal mining company, Shenhua Watermark, to purchase land in north-west NSW. “Do you want the Communist government of China enmeshed in the New England area?” Joyce demanded.

The Chinese, admittedly, are not exactly subtle in their attitude to investment in Australia.

“China’s coal enterprises are taking good opportunities of bottom fishing in Australia,” declared one Chinese energy company about Shenhua Watermark last December. The fall in the Australian dollar had made it “favourable for Chinese coal enterprises with good financial status to look for bottom fishing opportunities in Australia.”

It’s also clear that a lot of Chinese entrepreneurs, whether they are directly connected with the Chinese Government or not, think large donations to political parties — and particularly those in government — will make life easier for them. Our politicians, and particularly the ALP, have not exactly rushed to disabuse them of that notion, although Labor’s proposed ban on foreign donations remains stymied by the Coalition and Steve Fielding in the Senate.

Joyce — who voted against a ban on foreign donations — continues to insist that because China restricts foreign investment, we should, too. Which is the same as saying because other countries raise protectionist barriers, so should we. Joyce also directly linked approval of the Shenhua transaction to the Stern Hu case, as though we should stop considering foreign investment applications on their merits and adopt the sort of arbitrary approach favoured by the Chinese.

Joyce’s vehemence is reminiscent of the xenophobic attitude toward Japanese investment in the 1970s and 1980s, which we managed to grow out of. Cases like that of Stern Hu help ramp up the hostility toward the Chinese Government into overt racism.

It’s worth repeating that we have a process for assessing whether any foreign investment – whether from the “Communist Government of China” or those nice, friendly, Anglophone multinationals like BP or Coca-Cola — is in Australia’s national interest. The Rudd Government has also codified its approach to applications by entities backed by foreign governments. The assessment is undertaken at arm’s length from Government, but the final decision is made by the Treasurer. The problem lies in the lack of transparency of the process — both in the consideration by FIRB and in the Treasurer’s consideration.

The best way to handle the Sinophobic hostility being whipped up by the likes of Joyce is to provide greater transparency in our foreign investment review process so that we can see the national interest test at work. And to ban political donations from foreign sources.