Chinese donors have legit role in Oz politics

By Huang Xiangmo Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/30 18:48:39 Last Updated: 2016/8/30 22:18:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Mainstream media outlets in Australia have been fretting over Chinese political donations recently, warning that foreign donations could be "skewing" Australia's political decision-making process. In fact, it is groundless and racist accusations against Chinese-linked payments that could skew Australia's democracy.

Australia received a huge amount of political donations through diverse channels from 2013 to 2015. It is impossible to count the money based on the ethnic origins of the donors, and the authorities have never classified donations by the donors' ethnicity.

However, it is certain that donations from people of European descent remain in the majority and far exceed those from Chinese.

It is legal, reasonable and understandable that people donate to engage themselves in politics, which is a long-time practice by Australians of all ethnic origins, especially Europeans.

Some media outlets in Australia deliberately misinterpreted Chinese political donations and linked them to "skewing" democracy. Such an interpretation never occurs with other ethnic groups.

Australian media have blurred the boundaries between "China" and "Chinese." They confused Chinese-descended Australians with Chinese citizens who temporarily stay in Australia, and failed to distinguish among local Chinese firms, China-invested Australian companies and branches of Chinese domestic firms. Some media outlets have groundlessly linked all donations from Chinese to the Chinese government, and even made up conspiracy theories against China under the Cold War mentality.

Australia's parties receive their donations directly from individuals and enterprises, or indirectly from foundations.

In the meantime, Australian law imposes no ban on overseas or anonymous donations. Whether the law should be revised is open to discussion, but the Australian media's pointing fingers at Chinese donations is not only racist, but also snobbish.

Although Chinese have contributed a lot to Australia's development, they show little enthusiasm for local politics and are willing to keep silent on public affairs. Meanwhile, they are happy to donate to different Australian parties.

Political indifference is not in conflict with their enthusiasm for political donations. Chinese residents want to buy a sense of security with political donations. Different from other political donors, Chinese are friendly to politicians but indifferent to politics.

As a result, they are always regarded as cash machines by Australian politicians, who would care little about politically indifferent Chinese donors' interests after being elected.

With their expanding economic influence and education, Chinese Australians are increasingly enthusiastic about political affairs. Chinese have made more donations to Australian political parties and are paying increasing attention to general and local elections in recent years.

However, Chinese donors still need to learn from others about how to participate in politics, how to realize their political appeals by donations, and how to deploy the media to promote their political ideas.

Some media outlets in Australia are not used to Chinese being more engaged in politics, and expect Chinese donors to keep silent on Australian political affairs. All the above will challenge the persistence, capabilities and unity of the Chinese communities.

There is still a long way to go for Chinese to be fully engaged in Australia's politics. Anyhow, Chinese should be more confident and active in Australia's political affairs, which includes confidently donating to local politicians.

The author is chairman of Australia-China Relations institute at the University of Technology, Sydney.

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