January 21, 2018

Should Australia Treat China as Friend or Foe?

Should Australia Treat China as Friend or Foe?


This, of course, is what Australia is trying to figure out.

Legislation targeting foreign interference that was introduced last week by the prime minister is both a reflection of that struggle and a trigger for more debate — all of which I’ll explore in detail in a coming article.

But in this week’s Australia Letter, I figured I’d share some of the conversations I’ve been having about why Australia’s China discussion suddenly seems so heated.

Part of it, yes, is simply politics — especially the focus on Senator Sam Dastyari, the Labour senator who resigned this week after months of trying to fend off accusations that he pushed China’s foreign policy interests after taking money from Chinese-born political donors.

But there other more global and historical reasons as well. Hugh White, the prominent defense analyst who recently wrote a lengthy essay laying out Australia’s challenging present and future with China, provided some useful context.

With China, he told me, Australia is facing “something that is new in our national experience.”

“Australia has for so long lived in a region — and to a certain extent a whole world — shaped by our great and powerful allies, Britain and America, but we’re very not used to dealing with powerful states that are not our allies,” he said. “One of the things you’re seeing I think is a certain surprise and bewilderment and dismay that we find ourselves dealing with a country like China in this way.”

Anthony Bubalo, deputy director of the Lowy Institute, agreed.

“In the past, our major trading partners were our allies,” he said. “Business and national security didn’t really intersect. Now they do.”

That creates a need for new habits, for dialogue among stakeholders with very different perspectives, Mr. Bubalo said. And it’s not happening yet, as the separate Australian articles suggest.

“There is a lack of real conversation between the Australian business and national security communities,” he said. “Neither side is really talking to each other, they’re really talking across each other. Neither side really understands each other’s concerns.”

There are other stakeholders in this debate as well, from nonprofits, advocacy groups and universities to the roughly one million ethnic Chinese residents of Australia whose voices are rarely heard in Australian politics and news media.

In interviews this week, many people in that community told me they are also watching this debate closely.

Their views on the interference law range widely, from strong support to concern about whether the law will increase racism (an issue the Chinese government is also emphasizing, as I wrote this week).

But there seems to be consensus on one issue: Many Chinese-Australians say Australia’s politicians need to spend more time mingling in their neighborhoods with residents who are not necessarily donors.

“I think they should respect Chinese culture more, and maybe attend more Chinese functions and requests,” said Helen Sham-Ho, the first Chinese-Australian to be elected to an Australian parliament, spending 15 years in the New South Wales government. “The Chinese love to get close to politics and prime ministers.”

That proximity is part of what has suddenly become suspect, but Ms. Sham-Ho warned that it would be a mistake to insist that interaction translates to a desire to interfere.

“There is a misunderstanding of culture,” she said. “Just because the Chinese want to be close to power doesn’t mean they want to influence or change the policy.”

History, again, can be instructive. Access to politicians of any kind, Ms. Sham-Ho explained, is still a novelty for those who compare Australian democracy to China’s past.

“The traditional Chinese had an emperor, and they could never get close to the emperor,” she said. “Only in their dreams.”

What do you think Australia’s politicians need to understand about the relationship with China and this country’s ethnic Chinese community that they might be overlooking? What would you like to see Canberra prioritize in the relationship?

Tell me by email: nytaustralia@nytimes.com. We’ll round up a few responses in next week’s newsletter.

Now here are this week’s New York Times reads, contributed by our bureau’s Isabella Kwai, followed by a recommendation to come say hi to me, our European Culture editor and a bunch of artists in Melbourne this weekend.

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Trump And Alabama

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Voters went to the polls at Midland City Voting Hall in Alabama on Tuesday.

Credit
Audra Melton for The New York Times

After a brutal, nail-biting campaign in Alabama, the Democrat Doug Jones won a seat in the United States Senate, defeating Roy Moore, a Republican whose campaign had been consumed by allegations of his sexual misconduct with teenage girls.

President Trump had enthusiastically supported Mr. Moore’s candidacy, and Mr. Moore’s defeat was widely interpreted as rejection of Mr. Trump’s brand of politics. Here’s what people had to say to our reporters on the ground.

Also, ever wondered how many hours of TV Mr. Trump watches? This extensive profile, featuring over 60 sources, has the answer to that and more.

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An Attack In New York

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Emergency vehicles near the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan on Monday.

Credit
Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

A bomb detonated in Manhattan’s busiest subway corridor on Monday morning, with only the attacker seriously injured in the blast.

New Yorkers, a resilient lot, didn’t let the episode stop them from getting on with their lives. “Does it look like people are staying out of the subway?” one subway rider told our reporter on a crowded train.

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Cats? No, Sex.

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The writer Kristen Roupenian’s recent fiction piece in The New Yorker, “Cat Person,” drew widespread interest online.

Credit
Elisa Roupenian Toha

Did a story called “Cat Person” float into your feed this week?

This short story from The New Yorker became a viral sensation as many women stepped forward to say they could relate to the tale, which recounts a charged and awkward dating encounter. One of our reporters in New York caught up with the writer, Kristen Roupenien, who explained what inspired her to write it — and her feelings on cats.

A reader in our New York Times Australia Facebook group said that he, too, could identify with the story, but from a different perspective:

“As a young gay man, I’ve been ‘Her’, too, on a ‘date’ with an older man, more than once, and once or twice finding myself changing my mind (whether they were ‘somewhat older’ or not) and exploring in my head at high speed in the heat of the moment what were the ways out of this uncomfortable situation, one in which the other guy had done absolutely nothing wrong. And of the rapid turn of face the other man made when confronted with my sudden inexplicable-to-him change of heart.”

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Australia This Week

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A refugee last month at a detention center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.

Credit
Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

Some of the refugees on Manus Island are hopeful, though uncertain, after being called to meet with American authorities this week.

Last week, the government introduced legislation to curb foreign influence. This week, Sam Dastayari, a Labor Party senator, said he would resign after months of scrutiny over his involvement with Chinese-born donors.

And we’re excited to bring you the second edition of our Australia Diary where you, dear reader, can contribute an anecdote, poem or photograph that captures Australia.

This one shows that public transport brings us together in unexpected ways, in one case, with the tale of a runaway onion. Don’t you hate when that happens?

If you’ve got a concise and telling anecdote for Australia Diary, send it over: nytaustralia@nytimes.com

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Opinion | Selections

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Members of the Australian Parliament celebrate the passing of same-sex marriage legislation.

Credit
Mick Tsikas/Australian Associated Press, via Associated Press

• Is Australian conservatism facing a conundrum? The same-sex marriage vote revealed that Australian attitudes no longer fit neatly into the conservative/progressive divide, writes Waleed Aly.

• What does closure look like 40 years after the Vietnam War? One athlete rode the Ho Chi Minh Trail to find the place her father died.

• Can texting save lives? A short documentary explores whether a crisis texting line can help young people experiencing mental distress.

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… And We Recommend

This Saturday (Dec. 16) and Sunday (Dec. 17) in Melbourne, we’d love to see you at the opening weekend of the Triennial exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Our new European culture editor, Matt Anderson, has flown back to Australia — where he spent his teen and university years in Adelaide — for the ambitious show, which features more than 100 artists from 32 countries over four floors of the gallery.

He and I will alternate hosting interviews and conversations with local and international NGV Triennial artists from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day in the Great Hall.

The exhibition and these events are free. We hope to catch you there, and come say hello if you make it. Here’s how find more on the Saturday and Sunday programs.





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