Chinese President Hu Jintao (
In his first substantive paragraph, Hu states, "Back in the 1420s, the expeditionary fleets of China's Ming dynasty reached Australian shores. For centuries, the Chinese sailed across vast seas and settled down in what was called `the southern land,' or today's Australia. They brought Chinese culture here and lived harmoniously with the local people, contributing their proud share to Australia's economy, society and thriving pluralistic culture."
These statements are poor malarkey. There is not the slightest evidence that Chinese ships visited the northwest coast of Australia, let alone settled here. And the Chinese fleets, though great, had a very limited period of activity. They most certainly did not travel "for centuries."
However, what is most offensive about these statements is that China uses these voyages to claim islands far to the south of Vietnam as Chinese territory. Is China laying the basis for a future claim of Australian territory?
A few paragraphs later, Hu correctly states, "Democracy is the common pursuit of mankind, and all countries must earnestly protect the democratic rights of their people." But it is simply not true that China has "moved steadfastly to promote political restructuring and vigorously build democratic politics under socialism, while upholding and improving our systems of people's congresses, multiparty cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the Communist Party and regional ethnic autonomy." About the only true part of that statement is that China remains under the "leadership of the Communist Party."
A few paragraphs later, Hu says, "China and Australia are different in social systems. This is the result of different choices made by our people in light of their national conditions and the two countries' different historical evolution."
Again, when have the Chinese people had a "choice?" The revolution, when the Chinese people last had some choice, finished in 1949. Since then the Chinese people have had no opportunity to express their wishes about their social system or about their political leaders, local or central.
Finally, in the last substantive paragraph, Hu addresses the issue of Taiwan. He reiterates the Chinese position that "Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory." But he goes on to say, "The greatest threat to peace in the Taiwan Strait is the splittist activities by Taiwan independence forces." This is not true on two levels.
First, the only party threatening military action in the Taiwan Strait is China, which persists in refusing to renounce the use of force. Each year, China also adds 50 missiles pointed at Taiwan to its arsenal, so that now the num-ber of Chinese missiles pointed at Taiwan is around 400. On the other hand, Taiwan has not threatened China. Nor has the US, Japan or Australia.
Second, according to June polls run by the Election Study Center of National Chengchi University, less than 10 percent of Taiwan's residents identify themselves as "Chinese." Over 40 percent identify themselves as "Taiwanese," while another 40 percent describe themselves as both "Taiwanese and Chinese." Only one of six residents favor unification with China even in the future and those who favor immediate unification number less than 5 percent.
Unlike Chinese, Taiwanese do have the right to vote and decide on their future and, at least at present, they do not want to re-unify with China.
Hu's call that "The Chinese government and people look to Australia for a constructive role in China's peaceful reunification" is very strange. Up to now, China has claimed Taiwan to be an "internal matter" and told other countries to stay out of its affairs.
If Hu is asking Australia to side with China against the US on the Taiwan issue, he is mistaken. Australia has consistently (though more quietly) sided with the US in support of a peaceful resolution of the issue. This Australia-US cooperation on Taiwan started in the early 1990s as Taiwan democratized and has continued under both Labor and Liberal governments.
China's blatant attempts to control Australian democratic institutions are also offensive. The calls and e-mails of the Chinese embassy to Australian media asking that protests against Hu be ignored in reporting is an attempt to transport Chinese practices to Australia. The demand for three guests of the Greens to be removed from the public gallery -- or else Hu would refuse to speak -- is also insulting and unacceptable.
As a China specialist for 35 years, I laud the improvement in the Australia-China relationship. But improvement is a two-way street and Hu should also show respect for Australian democracy. As noted above, Hu said, "Democracy is the common pursuit of mankind, and all countries must earnestly protect the democratic rights of their people." This, of course, includes the Chinese people, who account for one-fifth of mankind.
Bruce Jacobs is professor of Asian languages and studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, where he is director of the Taiwan Research Unit.
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