Thursday, 1 January 2015

China-Australia: Hawke, Tiananmen, cabinet papers 1989

I contributed to discussion at The Guardian of former Prime Minister Hawke's action in 1989 in deciding to grant resident rights to many Chinese in Australia at the time of the Tiananmen incident.

After the usual array of mainly drivel comments, a person with a Chinese name made an earnest comment to which I replied.

Most of the Chinese students here never supported the Tiananmen protest, they just used that as an excuse to get PR here. Many years later, some of those actually praise the Chinese government for the crackdown, citing the reason that the crackdown ensured the decades of prosperity to come. Many, once they got their Australian citizenship, made friends with the Chinese embassy and consulates here, actively participated in their functions and started doing business in China. They owe whatever good lives they've got here to the students massacred in Beijing, even though they never joined the protest, and they were never personally at risk of persecution.

  • 01
    I think that such developments will always be the case, Mr Lee. If you look back at the circumstances of the time, and the passionate commitment of this prime minister both to multiculturalism and to relations with China, it was an incisive step. To do nothing then? To undergo a process of examining the claims of every Chinese person here who did not want to go back, one by one? Remember that this Prime Minister, in his speech welcoming Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang to parliament house in 1985, ended with the words: "Our relations with no other country is more important than our relationship with China." I drafted the rest of that speech, he added that ending. His regard for China and for Hu was very high. You are aware, I know, as other may not know, that Hu Yaobang was subsequently removed from office by Deng Xiaoping and dinosaurs for being too open to social change and student views, and his very popular 'sankuan' campaign in 1986, advocating 'generosity, tolerance and relaxation' (good account here). As you know it was Hu's death in 1989 that led to the events in Tiananmen. You also know that Hu's successor as General Secretary, Zhao Ziyang, similarly held in high regard by Hawke, met with and struggled to find accommodation with the protesting students in 1989 and you know that after the uproar and martial law, Zhao was placed under house arrest. So it's important to understand that Hawke's judgement was informed by a deep despair at the direction of events in China, but also a determinedly strategic perspective in relation to China and in relation to multiculturalism in Australia.
    Someone earlier in this discussion suggested the Hawke decision was calculated politically, another said it was just emotional. I recommend that people study the complexity instead.
    Mr Lee, Mr Hawke went on to continue dealing with China, but he had made an important stand at a critical time. It is surely in Australia's interest that China survive as an intact nation. We have such crappy political management and lousy international international strategy and a seriously declining human rights record that we can hardly preach to anyone, though we continue to do that and in our broad culture see little of Asia other than through the prism of beer glasses in Phuket and Bali.
    We cannot point fingers constructively, though present leaders, with ten fleas under ten fingers, to use a Chinese expression, have to resort to hitting with heads and chests to maintain their sense of right to bully.
    China has no foreign example to follow in finding its political way: not the US, not Russia, not India, certainly not Australia. I am conscious of strictures on life in China. At the same time, I do wish people would recognise that what has happened in China in the period since 1978 is the greatest revolution and change in human history, unprecedented in scale and in the increase in the quality of life of people.
    And all the while, in this country, people choose to be led by fools, can't see their good fortune, grow more selfish (what an example to the Chinese middle classes) and have so little knowledge of history they approach the future rudderless.

  • My comment on Tianamen in the Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June 1989, is crudely copied here.

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