It was on a crisp, chilly Saturday in August when Australia and New Zealand stopped for one of the essential rituals embedded in the psyche of the trans-Tasman sports rivals. The Bledisloe Cup final played out in Eden Park in Auckland! Dressed in all blacks, I watched the game over a few beers with my Kiwi mates in a Sydney pub when New Zealand’s mighty All Blacks thrashed the Wallabies with a score of 36-0. It was a great evening with a few All-Black supporters like me in a sea of Australian yellow and gold colour wearing Wallabies supporters. We never miss the haka, the ancient Māori war dance traditionally used on the battlefield that All Blacks perform before the start of every rugby game they play.

The pub customers represented the cultural diversity of Australia, and I always enjoyed the interactions of immigrants like me from different parts of the world, integrating with the spirit of sports that define Australia. Politicians in Australia know the critical importance of winning the “pub test” for the success of any policy implementation in the country. On the Blodisole Cup finals evening, while I met so many migrant communities in the pub from Sweden to Tonga, I noticed the absence of  Chinese migrant community in the pub. However, China has been one of the top five migrant sources of Australia in the last two decades.

In September last year, students in Australian universities organised sympathy rallies in support of the student protests in Hong Kong.  Students in Hong Kong were in the front lines demanding China meet its obligations under “One Country, Two Systems” agreed under the Sino–British Joint Declaration between China and Britain before Hong Kong came under the control of China in 1997.  There were violent disruptions of student rallies by Chinese Nationalists  who live in Australia but support the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The Economist reported that the University of Queensland “tried to squelch protests that might upset China, a charge it (University) firmly denies.” It is one of the thirteen campuses in Australia to host a Confucius Institute, a language school and cultural centre funded by the Chinese government and students worry about the university’s cosy ties with China. Peter Hoj, UQ’s vice-chancellor, had worked as a consultant to the Chinese state agency responsible for Confucius Institutes and the  university appointed a Chinese diplomat to Australia, Xu Jie, to the position of visiting professor. Many Australians were outraged when Prof Xu praised the “spontaneous patriotic behaviour of the Chinese (Nationalist) students who instigated the scuffle.”

Andrew Hastie, former captain of the Australian Special Air Service (SAS) regiment and now Federal Member of Parliament on the government benches and head of Parliament’s Intelligence committee, had earlier called out China’s military expansion plans in the pacific and urged Australians to think differently about the economically liberated nondemocratic Chinese government. Hastie wrote “our greatest vulnerability lies not in our infrastructure but our thinking. That intellectual failure makes us institutionally weak.” In response to Hasties’s op-ed, the Chinese embassy in Australia issued a statement that said “We strongly deplore the Australian federal MP Andrew Hastie’s rhetoric on ‘China threat’ which lays bare his Cold War mentality and ideological bias.”

China is Australia’s largest trading partner and accounts for around AUD 235 billion of the total AUD 892 billion of the total export-import trade of Australia. India, the other emerging Asian giant – and a democracy – is there in the sixth place after Japan, USA, South Korea and Singapore. All other major trading partners of Australia except China are mature democracies. China followed by India is also Australia’s most significant source of international fees paying students. But when it comes to business migration, China accounted for 80% of wealthy migrants to Australia in the last two decades. Last year, after details of a media investigation became public, the Australian federal government ordered an inquiry into the Chinese money laundering mafia in the biggest casinos of southern hemisphere located in Sydney and Melbourne.

Why can’t Australia checkmate the CCP and start building better bridges with the other major trading partners? They are mature democracies and share a common interest with Australia in safeguarding the democratic values and cultural diversities.

Rajeev Sunu
Rajeev Sunu is a visiting faculty to the Institute of Management in Christ University, Bangalore and Asian Institute of Technology Bangkok. Earlier, he worked for Utilux Australia, Trust Power New Zealand, Vodafone Australia, France Telecom and Tata group of companies.