No room for fear, greed in Sino-Australian ties

By Callum Smith Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/11 23:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

During last Friday's exclusive Australian live broadcast of the Rio 2016 Olympics opening ceremony, Channel 7 managed to offend Chinese nationals across the globe in what has been described as a series of systematic attempts to sabotage the Chinese Olympic effort. In a case of inept judgment characteristic of the broadcaster, the anticipated entrance of the Chinese team clad in vibrant red-and-yellow attire was abruptly interrupted by an advertisement for the similarly tinged McDonalds - unimpressed Chinese viewers were not "loving it." Channel 7 super-sized tensions with another segment later in the broadcast, confusing the Chinese and Chilean flags in a medal tally.

Most recently, the Australian swimmer Mack Horton caused outrage after referring to his Chinese competitor Sun Yang as a "drug cheat" just hours before the race, and was hailed in media at home as a representative of "the good guys," refusing to apologize for his unsportsmanlike comments.

Recently, tensions in the Sino-Australian relationship have been unusually apparent. Having ratified a free trade agreement with China less than a year ago, the relationship has seen positive and mutually beneficial development in areas of trade, tourism and education. As the benefits of this cooperative relationship continue to be realized economically, however, the official response of the Australian government to Hague's mid-July ruling and its ongoing intervention in the South China Sea disputes have evoked a widespread sentiment of aversion and sensitivity to the independent nation's actions.

It is not altogether surprising, then, that the ongoing Olympic debacle has been perceived in China as an affront to its honor and evidence of a prevalent "anti-Chinese" sentiment in Australia.

What does Australia have to gain from falling out with China? There are of course considerations of alliance behind the official stance adopted by the Australian government over South China Sea disputes. As bilateral territorial disputes, however, Australia has little place in these negotiations.

As has been previously pointed out by former foreign minister Bob Carr, Australia would be wise to consider whether it wants to be seen as an aggressive "deputy sheriff" in a dispute outside its jurisdiction concerning its largest trading partner. The fact of the matter is that The Hague ruling does not have international jurisdiction, nor are there realistic means for resolution other than negotiations between the directly concerned parties.

The recent conflicts in the Sino-Australian relationship are largely attributable to misinformation and misunderstanding, promulgated by media beat-ups and increasingly xenophobic discourse. Two-faced politicians trumpet the benefits of foreign investment and trade, while at the same time indulge the fallacious association of complex domestic issues, such as unemployment and inflation in the housing market, to the growth of China's economic presence in the country.

With the rise of ultra-nationalist politicians such as Jacqui Lambie and Pauline Hansen, xenophobic and racist views are increasingly justified as diversification of opinion and protection of national interests, on the grounds of freedom of speech. There is, however, as an International Olympic Committee spokesperson stressed this week, a line between freedom of expression and outright disrespect, which many onlookers believe Horton has crossed.

Unlike Channel 7, which has apologized for what it describes as a "mistake," Horton has proudly admitted that the smear campaign was an intimidation strategy appropriated from his mentor John Bertrand, and ruled out an apology. Horton ignores the fact that the positive testing he refers to was ruled to be unwitting and attributable to medication.

Channel 7's "mistake" has proven it to be an unprofessional broadcaster, unable to even recognize the flag of one of the world's sporting powerhouses. Horton's aggressive statements have been similarly detrimental to his international reputation as a sportsmanlike Olympian.

Domestic tabloids, which have labeled the Chinese response as jingoistic, have fuelled the ongoing controversy with bombastic front-page headlines such as "Champ versus Cheat." In a nation that parades good sportsmanship as an imperative virtue, the widespread support for tactically motivated verbal abuse is astonishing.

The Australian paragon of xenophobia and former prime minister Toby Abbott once characterized the nation's relationship with China as being driven by a mixture of "fear and greed."

It is time for Australia to do away with this unsustainable foreign policy, to be independent and China-literate in its actions, and put an end to unnecessary tensions with its largest trading partner.

The author is a scholar with the Australian National University. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

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