In yet another attack on the Turnbull government by the China Lobby today, it’s a shame Bob Carr didn’t update his usual apologetics for keeping on good terms with Beijing to take account of real-world developments.

In a screed lamenting that Australia had not worked with China to help it establish a powerful role in the Pacific, or embraced its Belt-and-Road economic imperialism (sorry, “put ourselves in the vanguard of Western nations which respect China’s global conversation about infrastructure”), Carr complained “right now New Zealand could open such a dialogue with China, or for that matter Canada or France.”

Surely a scholar like Professor Carr was aware that New Zealand won’t be establishing any dialogues with the Chinese at the moment given the Kiwis’ new defence White Paper explicitly (and correctly) identifies China and Russia as threats. Both acting PM and Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Defence Minister Ron Mark made a virtue of blunt talking in relation to China. “We’re not here to make people happy. We’re here to be a responsible international citizen,” Peters said. 

The Chinese, of course, have expressed the usual outrage, even as they’ve continued illegally militarising islands in the South China Sea. Confecting high dudgeon at the mildest criticism is a standard Beijing tactic.

Carr also peddles a particular notion that seems beloved of the China Lobby and of another top-flight Labor Sinologist, Kevin Rudd, that Malcolm Turnbull was guilty of some sort of outrageous affront to Chinese sensibility by quoting Mao Zedong about the “standing up” in late 2017. Rudd claimed that this was the equivalent of “publicly punch[ing] the Chinese in the face”; Carr — always more professional than Rudd — doesn’t go that far, and settles for calling it a “gratuitous parody”. It was Beijing itself, of course, that first confected outrage at Turnbull’s homage to the late Chinese mass murderer. It’s odd how Beijing’s talking points get echoed by the China Lobby here. And Bob Carr has been doing it for a long time indeed.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey