Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Chinese investment in Australia: will future interests conflict?


It ill behoves me to draw attention to statements by a former economic adviser to George W. Bush.  But here you are, Networkers.

I am not one to get nervous or up-tight about foreign investment in Australia.  We whitefellas took over lock, stock, and economic barrel and didn't go away - so howzat for foreign investment!  

However, we Anglo-Celts and those who don't mind living with us dominate.  Some of us would like to keep our autonomy and self-determination (yeah, I know, we are not good at allowing the same processes to the First Nations but I'm fighting for that, too).  

Trouble is that I don't have a lot of confidence in Australian assertiveness in foreign relations.  We like to big note ourselves as tilters at authority - but we are not, you know. 

Someone once wrote - it might have been Sol Encel who did a lot of good stuff on Australians and authority - that in Australia anyone in a blue hat can direct the traffic.  Ever noticed that?  If there is need and someone just gets out and starts directing people, we follow.  

As a nation, we are great forelock tuggers.  First of all, we tugged it to England and Empire. And many still do.  For the past sixty years or so we have been tugging it to the USA and have become part of its Empire. I think if a referendum was held to-morrow for Australia to become the 51st state of the USA instead of just a colony, the proposal would get up.  

But now China is the emerging imperial power - and it is buying into Australia, just as England and the USA have done in the past.  But times they are a'changing.  China has a lot of mouths to feed.  China is not a democracy.  With England and the USA, we had distinct ethnic and language ties.  Except for the increasing number of Chinese Australians who are still a minority and a long intertwining of history , we don't have the same common heritage.

My concern is how assertive Australian governments and corporations are prepared to be on behalf of their own people, their own nation. 

For instance, in the matter of Food Security:  

Food Security, because of population growth and global warming, is set to become an issue even in a prosperous country like Australia.  There is considerable Chinese investment in agricultural holdings in Australia.  If we have need in this country and China has need in its country, will China still be allowed to export its Australian-grown and manufactured food to its homeland from Australia?  This is what bothers me.  

Are we able to withstand the blandishment of the renminbi.  For example, take the ritual courting movements of Rio Tinto and China in the last year or two - and it managed to continue while Rio's executives were languishing in prison on corruption charges!

On the Liverpool Plains in NSW, where landowners in one of Australia's richest foodbowls have been doing battle against miners, the intruders have not only been our own BHP Billiton but Shenhua.  These resource buccaneers claim they are only exploring - but this is not true.  These titans are very sure they will hit pay-dirt and then more of our beautiful food-producing landscape will succumb to the unsightliness and horribleness of the open-cut pit mine.

In this post-election period, there has been much discussion on the topic of transparency.  I would like to see transparency in the matter of our foreign relations - both from our government but also from business. I want to see government and business taking their roles as Australians seriously.  I want to know that Australian governments and corporations are not on sale to the highest bidder.  I want to know that Australians come first with them - even above the almighty dollar and yuan.  I want to know that the needs of this nation and its people will be given the highest priority by its government and its corporations.

In short, I don't want to see kow-towing and obsequity.

Further reading:

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