Absent from coverage of Clive Palmer’s rant about China on The Tony Jones Democracy Hour last night was a little historical context: Clive Palmer until recently was one of the Chinese government’s biggest boosters in Australia. Far from regarding the Chinese as Communist “mongrels” and “bastards” who “shoot their own people” and want to take over Australia, Clive has traditionally been effusive about the glories of China.

Clive, after all, claims to have sat on the knee of Mao Zedong as a child, inducing a witticism from one of the twentieth century’s greatest mass murderers. And he has hitherto been enormously positive about Chinese investment in Australia. In 2008 he addressed an Asia Society Luncheon on the topic of “Match Made in Heaven: Clive Palmer and his love for China.” Far from warning that they want to “take over this country” as he did last night, in 2011 Palmer lamented that:

“The Australian government has racially discriminated against (China) and stopped them from investing in Australia. They’ve brought in things like the Foreign Investment Review Board in Australia, which is an outstandingly racist legislation designed to slow down Chinese growth, and it’s a national disgrace… China has never, ever wanted to dominate other countries or take control of what they’re doing.”

“Take over the country” or “never, ever wanted to dominate other countries” — take your pick. There’s a Clive quote for every occasion. Those 2011 remarks echoed comments from 2009, when he complained about “racist” restrictions on Chinese investment. And far from noting that “they haven’t got a justice system”, Palmer that year also urged the government to say nothing about China’s treatment of jailed Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu as it might endanger trade relations. Palmer also ostentatiously snubbed visiting US president Barack Obama, whom he accused of driving a wedge between Australia and China, in 2011. “Why do you think the likes of the head of BHP and myself didn’t go to the dinner? It’s because we aren’t that stupid,” he said at the time. “We have real interests and know how the Chinese act.”

“Clive’s transformation … has, perhaps also by pure coincidence, occurred at the same time as his falling out with Chinese investors.”

In the interval, though, more has changed than just Clive’s hair colour. There’s the small matter of his knock-down, drag-out fight with Chinese company Citic over iron ore exports, which has also been used by News Corp as part of its war on Clive (the Oz used to be fans of Clive, back when he was bankrolling the LNP; the forensic scrutiny from the likes of Hedley Lamarr only, by pure coincidence, began when he fell out with the Coalition).

Clive’s transformation from pro-China, pro-Chinese investment, anti-racist assuring us China doesn’t want to dominate anything into the populist warning of “mongrels” and “bastards” who want to take over Australia has, perhaps also by pure coincidence, occurred at the same time as his falling out with Chinese investors.

And so profound a transformation is this for Clive that Barnaby Joyce — a longtime opponent of Chinese investment in Australia who once declared himself “amazed” that we allowed China to invest here — thought Clive’s comments about China were “not helpful”. When you make Barnaby sound like the rational one, you’ve lost the plot.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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