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The disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers should be disturbing news for those who think that flogging off the (dairy) farm to China is the hope of the side.

Disquiet and enthusiasm in equal parts, if you go by media coverage, has greeted the possible sale of our local VDL, Australia’s biggest dairy farm, to a Chinese buyer. But this might need to be viewed in a wider context than mere greed versus xenophobia. 

Recently five people connected with the dissident Hong Kong publisher, Mighty Current Media, have mysteriously disappeared. Some apparently have been spirited across the border into China. Foolishly, these people have been publishing books critical of the Chinese Government, including Chinese whispers about the sexual adventures of some members of the ruling Politburo.

Circular Head booksellers be warned! Your Chinese buyers play by different rules. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But maybe it does. 

Ever since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese governance in 1997, when the British and their colonial democracy decamped, crazy-brave Hong Kong ‘freedom people’ have refused to accept the change. Lawyers, journalists, teachers, booksellers, publishers and amazingly even some Hong Kong politicians have shown courage unknown to their untested western counterparts.

They have stood up for political freedom and civil liberties in the face of totalitarianism.

In later life Malcolm veered dramatically to the Left …

I need to go back to my own naïve and idealistic student days when I challenged the then Minister for Defence, Malcolm Fraser, about the wisdom of our military engagement in Vietnam. In later life Malcolm veered dramatically to the Left and consequently suffered total amnesia about his past. He simply forgot the role he had played in the Vietnam folly. In the same way he completely forgot how he managed to lose his trousers in Memphis. 

For those equally forgetful or just too young to remember, let me revive that delightful episode. In 1986 our former PM and one-time Defence Minister turned up semi-starkers and without explanation in the lobby of Memphis’s Admiral Benbow Inn. He was wearing a shirt and tie but nothing else. Apparently he had even forgotten his name, for he had checked in earlier as John Jones from Victoria.

Fortunately I still retain a long memory. I remember Fraser berating a public meeting in Hobart, insisting dissenting students (‘communist sympathisers’ I think we were) should remember that what we were fighting in Vietnam was the southward thrust of Chinese Communism.

“And if you don’t fight them in Vietnam you will fight them on the beaches of Australia,” he threatened.

These days of course instead of defending our coast we have been flogging off waterfront property to Chinese buyers as fast as the Foreign Investment Review Board permits, which is pretty fast. As far as I know the Chinese Government is substantially unchanged and still communist, yet billions of dollars of Chinese investment now owns Australian real estate. So much for Fraser’s ‘fighting them on the beaches’!

… Vietnam veterans, many of whose lives were ruined by forgetful politicians like Fraser …

It’s bemusing to me but it must be infuriating to Vietnam veterans, many of whose lives were ruined by forgetful politicians like Fraser. I’d like to think some of those ex-diggers bought waterfront properties with returned servicemen’s loans and late in life now find at least some financial solace, selling to the people they were supposedly fighting. But I doubt it.

How things change. These days in their yen for the Yuan some of the most politically conservative right-wingers here in Little Cuba have embraced China and completely deleted the once favoured but now inconvenient pejorative prefix ‘Communist’.

The sale of the historic VDL property in the northwest of the State is a case in point. The Neo-Conservatives now argue that since the Chinese bid is $30 million higher than the local one then clearly the proper thing is to flog off that old Tassie farm. They are also shameless enough to play an old leftie card and accuse anyone who opposes the sale of being racist.

The Cape Grim reality is that money is now the only thing that matters.

‘Patriotism’, the dyspeptic Dr. Johnson used to say ‘is the last refuge of the scoundrel’. These days patriotism seems only for Australia Day bogans. The new mantra of the scoundrel is ‘Investment and Jobs’.

The Cape Grim reality is that money is now the only thing that matters.

Little Cuba is not alone. We’ve seen some of NSW’s best agricultural land sold to Chinese Coal. Then there was the bizarre disposal of our forward strategic port in the NT to Chinese interests, to the understandable horror of our military chiefs. I have quoted it before, but let us remember Karl Marx’s dictum:

“The Capitalist is so greedy, he will sell us the rope with which we shall hang him.”

Of course we should do business with China. Prior to Gough Whitlam’s Labor victory in 1972, successive conservative governments in Australia didn’t even recognize the real China. Crazily, China to them was the tiny offshore island of Taiwan.

The real place was a huge, dark and evil entity with which we would have no dealings, known only as “Communist China.” We didn’t recognize almost a quarter of the world’s population and that was ridiculous. But was that any more ridiculous than the proposition that we should now sell our country to the highest bidder?

Surely we can trade with China without selling our nation and our principles. Of course we must recognize the positives, that Communism has raised billions of Chinese out of abject poverty and may eventually deliver a freer society.

But when we deal as a nation with the present China shouldn’t we raise, as America always does, concerns about civil liberties and human rights? Why not politely ask about the subjugation of Tibet and even about those missing Hong Kong booksellers?

If the relationship is really too fragile to contain that kind of mature and careful dialogue then maybe we should hold onto the dairy farm for now and just sell them the milk.