Sun, Jul 02, 2006 - Page 8 News List

China must become a democracy

By Michael Danby

Those were both correct decisions. Reform in China will not be brought about by trying to isolate China or by refusing to trade with it. China is entitled to be treated with diplomatic respect, and must be allowed to trade like any other country. Experience elsewhere shows that the more prosperous a country becomes through trade, the greater will be the pressure for further economic reform and then for political reform. China and Australia have a strong and mutually beneficial economic relationship, and that is a natural and positive development.

We must be careful, however, not to allow a desire to maintain and develop good economic relations with China to lead to a policy of appeasement. If you appease dictators, they only demand more. If you stand up to dictators on matters of principle, they retreat.

My fear is that the current Australian government has gone too far in the direction of appeasement of China, and has adopted what I call a policy of "pre-emptive kow tow." We have seen this in the repeated hints by the Foreign Minister that if there is a confrontation between the US and China in the Taiwan Straits, Australia will not come to the assistance of the US and Taiwan. We have seen it also in the refusal of the government to take a stand for persecuted Chinese dissidents, editors and writers, substituting instead a "human rights dialogue" designed to empty the issue of human rights in China of all real meaning and urgency.

Why is the Australian government behaving in this way? Apparently they believe that the best way to preserve our economic relationship with China is to go to any lengths to avoid offending its government. The current government apparently believes that if they offend China by criticizing its human rights record China will stop buying our raw materials and the huge inflow of Chinese money will dry up, with dire consequences for Australia.

This is, of course, nonsense. It is perfectly possible for democratic countries to have a "two-track" policy with China. On the one hand, a healthy economic relationship based on mutual self-interest. On the other hand, a political relationship based on courteous but frank statements of difference when this is necessary.

To suggest that China will risk damaging its own vital economic interests by seeking to withdraw from its economic relationships with Western countries and other democracies is highly unrealistic.

This is an edited version of a speech given by Australian Labor MP Michael Danby at the recent International Conference for China and Asia Democracy in Berlin.

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