The founder of the Russian Communist Party, Vladimir Ilich Lenin, is credited with the saying that "the capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them". Or, updating for contemporary Australia, the Chinese Communist Party might say that "the capitalists will sell us the iron ore with which we shackle them".
Australia has arrived at its moment of truth. It is now presented with the explicit choice between sovereignty and money. It arrived this week when the Chinese Communist Party publicly threatened Australia with trade boycotts for proposing an international inquiry into the global pandemic.
It's business as usual for Beijing to preach mutual respect and non-interference while intimidating countries to get its way.
"The economic coercion looks pretty standard, comparable to what China has done in South East Asia and Europe," observes an expert on the subject, Zack Cooper of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
What's new here is that, until now, Beijing has bullied Australian officials and ministers behind closed doors. Now it has cast aside any pretence that it's following its self-described "win-win" diplomacy. Now it's a zero-sum confrontation, starkly and publicly.
The Morrison government's proposal for an independent, international inquiry into the cause and spread of the disease was "dangerous", according to China's ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye. A pandemic that so far has infected more than 3 million people, killed nearly a quarter of a million and plunged the world into economic depression is cool apparently. But an inquiry? That's dangerous.
The proposition from Beijing is very simple. If you want to go ahead and make policies according to your own national interests, and not ours, we will cut your income. Specifically, China's official representative to Australia threatened boycotts of four Australian industries' sales to China: those of the wine, beef, tourism and education sectors.
Sovereignty or money. Simple. What's Australia's choice?
It depends on who you ask. The iron ore billionaire Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest wants Australia to take the money. This week he became the personification of the capitalists Lenin had in mind, the capitalists Beijing hopes will prevail in Australia's debate.
Forrest has the great privilege of free speech, still available in Australia though long forbidden in the People's Republic of China. And he's entitled to his views. He's also entitled to considerable respect. He is one of Australia's most successful entrepreneurs and perhaps its most impressive philanthropist.
But on this, Forrest has chosen to campaign for a foreign authoritarian political movement. He made the case for Australia to surrender. Any inquiry into the outbreak and spread of COVID-19 should be shelved until after the US elections in November, he said. Why? His stated logic was that "there's a bloke in the White House who really wants to stay there and he's pushing blame as fast as he possibly can and from anywhere else but himself. I don't think this should be politically orientated."
This may look like a compromise but it's a formula for capitulation. First, Beijing is not going to agree to an independent inquiry at any time – this year, next year or next century. To delay it today is to deny it permanently.
Second, Forrest implies that the Morrison government is just a Trump puppet. This is a clever way to discredit Morrison and the whole idea of an inquiry. This is, in fact, one of Beijing's talking points, Australia "dancing to the tune" of the US.
In truth, the proposal came from Canberra, indeed from Morrison himself, developed through the National Security Committee of the cabinet. It has since been endorsed by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and the 27 nations of the European Union. Perhaps the EU is another Trump puppet?
Third, Forrest is saying that Australia's motive is political, while China's is not. This is, of course, ridiculous. The ultimate aim of every policy of the Chinese Communist Party is the further entrenchment of the Chinese Communist Party. Says who? The party itself, at its 19th National Congress in 2017: "Party, government, military, civilian, and academic; east, west, south, north, and centre, the Party leads everything.”
But Forrest went a step further. He ambushed Australia's Health Minister, Greg Hunt, at a press conference in Melbourne this week by bringing a Chinese official, unannounced, and giving him the podium. Forrest had every right to be there. He has worked hard and effectively to help Australian governments procure essential medical equipment to meet the pandemic.
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The press conference was to announce that Forrest had used his connections in China to procure 10 million virus test kits for use in Australia. He put up the $320 million to buy them, although the Australian taxpayer is to reimburse him.
Hunt had no idea that Forrest planned to bring China's consul-general to Victoria along to make a presentation of his own. The Australian minister stayed calm in the face of the poor etiquette, but, once again, it raises the question of Forrest's interests.
It's not just Forrest, whose Fortescue Metals group counts China as its biggest customer. Another China-dependent West Australian billionaire, Kerry Stokes, chairman of Seven West Media, took a similar position this week, calling for an Australian backdown. So, too, did the national president of the Australia-China Business Council, David Olsson, whose day job is as a lawyer advising Australian companies on entering the Chinese market.
These business people are deploring the confrontation as a "blame game" or "tit for tat". Which is a way of giving Beijing equal moral standing with Australia on this.
You decide where the moral balance lies: One allowed a global pandemic to ravage the earth; the other wants an independent international inquiry. Is this a "blame game"?
One threatens the other with illegal economic coercion; the other stands its ground while its Prime Minister declines to criticise Beijing and says China's position is "a matter for China". Is this "tit for tat"?
All of which is exactly as prophesied only last week. "An Australian prime minister who ends up in conflict with China cannot expect any support or solidarity from the Australian business community," wrote Malcolm Turnbull in his new memoir, A Bigger Picture. "Overwhelmingly, they’re totally invested in the economic benefits of the relationship."
Fortunately, these craven characters do not get to decide national policy. There is more at stake than money. Australia has three big interests to protect in dealing with China. First and foremost is its sovereignty.
If Australia buckles, "Beijing will see that it can use economic threats to change behaviour and continue to use them, if anything it may accelerate its willingness to use them against Australia," suggests Zack Cooper. Capitulation is Australia's path to vassaldom. The demands would never end.
Second is social harmony. Australia has a Chinese Australian community of 1.2 million people, overwhelmingly a national asset, not a liability. It must be protected from Communist Party demands and nurtured as a source of Australian strength. "If we begin distrusting our own citizens," says Jason Yat-sen Li, "that will do more damage to Australian democracy than the Chinese Communist Party ever could."
Third is the economy. The economy is best protected not by surrendering national sovereignty. That's a false trade-off. Once sovereignty is lost, Australia's control of its economic and commercial decision-making is soon lost too.
In fact, sovereignty and the economy are complementary. Australia can only protect its economic interests by keeping a robust national independence. This is also the best way of defending social harmony. The more control we cede to Beijing, the more mischief it will wreak in demanding the loyalties of Chinese Australians.
The three core interests – sovereignty, social harmony and the economy – are an interlocked set of interests, and sovereignty is the greatest, the key to holding all three together for Australia's benefit.
It's Australia's great fortune that not only the government understands this, but federal Labor too. The Albanese opposition stands firm with the government in this confrontation with Beijing. So the demand for an inquiry into the pandemic is not merely a government position. It is a national one. This bipartisanship is a critical source of national strength.
So long as this remains, the Australian capitalists will not be allowed to sell out the national interest in pursuit of private interests.
There's a qualification to the quote attributed to Lenin about capitalists selling the communists the rope. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations, it's apocryphal. Lenin actually wrote that the capitalists would so help the communists that "they will work on the preparation of their own suicide". He couldn't have made it plainer.