Tasmanian Times

Economy

Capitalist globalisation and nationalism: when race and the ethnicity of money debases debate

What does Tasmanian Greens leader Cassy O’Connor and Australia First Party leader, Jim Saleam have in common? It’s a question that is unlikely to pop up in any trivia night, but then what they say is by no means trivial. They very nearly share a point of convergence in a vigorous, and highly questionable anti-Chinese rhetoric.

Tensions have risen on Tasmania’s quiet and sleepy East Coast with a planned tourist development (Cambria Green) to be funded, in part, by Chinese interests. No development in Tasmania can be countenanced without interminable and heated debate.

Those opposed to the Cambria Green development have claimed that it will be an exclusive Chinese enclave. Its backers have denied this, stating categorically that the envisaged development will be open to all and open for all, regardless of ethnicity. If we might leave aside the pros and cons of the proposed operation, we are left with some rather tasteless claims and statements.

Australia First and Jim Saleam is more than content to wear the racist badge. A post on their website opens with the headline “Tasmania’s ‘Cambria Green’ plans for a mega hospice for retiring Chinese to fly-in, shoot swans and die.” We need not go further into the substance of the piece. The tone has already been set.

Cassie O’Connor’s response, while subtler in form and style, still left little doubt as to how the Tasmanian Greens regard any relationship with China. “There has been an unprecedented surge in money coming in from businesses that are closely linked to the Chinese communist government … We will not be the useful idiots for the Chinese Communist Party.”

Unfortunately, debate has been brought to a rather low ebb. Saleam and O’Connor are just two voices among so many. There is a disturbing irrationality, that appears to be almost contagious, that Chinese foreign investment is inherently dangerous. It seems impossible to separate normal capitalist business from ethnicity.

Yes, China, is an authoritarian and repressive state, whose human rights record and its treatment of workers is lamentable. It is a regime that deserves no support. This is, however, less central to the arguments that have come to dominate debate. It has increasingly become simply anti-Chinese, and simply ignores the obvious truth that capitalism is capitalism, stripped bare of nationality.

Economics, whether we care to admit it or not, dominates our political and social world. We may live within national borders, but the economy does not and has not for a very long time.

We live in a world that is integrated and capitalist. There is a widely held feeling that there was once a simpler, more productive, uncomplicated way of life. If it weren’t for globalisation, then we would be living an idyllic lifestyle. While it is a pleasant image, it was probably never really the case. Booms turn to bust and boom again. Prices rise, and fall, and the population lives with the consequences. As the world economy has changed, so too have local economies.

Historically, capital quickly discovered that expansion was a necessity. You either grew or were devoured by bigger, more successful competitors. The economy began to globalise, almost from day one.

There was one, potential problem, but the state deftly overcame this. Private business and manufacturing were just that – private – but the people were encouraged to regard the economy as being ‘their’ economy, a public asset rather than a set of privately owned enterprises.

As businesses expanded and crossed borders, they began to integrate their relationships. It has become difficult to discern just who owns what. Is it a British, or American, or Australian, or Chinese company? This allows for the entry into the political arena of a re-energised nationalist reaction to the global development of the economy. Not surprisingly a state of fear of something lost is felt and this is exploited by demagogues and populists.

The call to economic nationalism, to protectionist policies, to ‘buying back the farm’, all tap into these fears. Calls to make America, or Britain, or Australia ‘great again’ have an emotional appeal but cannot stop the inevitable growth and integration of the global economy. Once it seemed conceivable that a local or national economy might survive and stand apart from an encroaching world economy. It seemed conceivable, but it never was.

Well-meaning but naïve figures such as Dick Smith tried and failed to build economic and business structures that remained entirely local, but to survive, let alone thrive in a globalised capitalist economy, it is necessary to compete and to raise the required capital to remain competitive. This ultimately means foreign investment. The rhetoric of nationalism regards this as anathema and yet there is no alternative, given the profit-driven nature of our economic system.

At last count 1318 transnational corporations accounted for 60 per cent of global wealth with the most powerful 147 of these corporations controlling 40 per cent of the total global output and wealth. Fifty-one per cent of the biggest ‘economies’ in the world are individual corporations. We increasingly work in the global economy, consume goods produced by the global economy, but live in local communities and in nation-states and have allegiances to local and national institutions. It is in this contradiction that problems arise, that demagogues emerge and find willing audiences.

The effects of globalisation are being felt across all societies and states. We see stagnating profits, a concentration of profit into fewer hands, decreasing wages share, and social and political fragmentation that is affecting developed and developing states alike. Inequality has risen sharply. Social cohesion has weakened.

Two opposing ideas remain. On the one hand is the drive to globalisation and free trade. On the other is economic nationalism and protectionism. Free trade has provided little by way of real benefits and has given rise to greater inequality. Protectionism, too, offers little as states compete against each other and come to regard each other as potential enemies. Herein lies the dilemma. Each vision is flawed. What remains clear is that the globalisation of business, the growth and reach of transnational economic interests will continue.

Cambria Green may seem a very long way from the politics and economics of globalisation, but it is closer than we might think.

It exists as a microcosm of the ruptures that have affected economies and states across the globe. A business survives if it is profitable. Capital must be raised to achieve an outcome that will return that profit. This inevitably means foreign investment. This is a two-way process. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade figures show that 3,266.4 billion dollars of foreign investment came into Australia in 2017. Incidentally, Chinese investment was 65 billion dollars. Australia, on the other hand, invested 2,280.2 billion dollars overseas. Australian investment in China was 77.4 billion dollars. Australian businesses operate within a global system.

While capitalism exists then globalisation will continue. Any thought of reforming the system to advantage nation-based economic structures is simply a nostalgic and whimsical notion.

This is not to suggest that an integrated global economic system offers anything of substance or benefit to any of us. This promotes other debates that draw into question how a global economy might be organised to serve the needs of us all – small communities and large.

A fundamental change in the economic order of things is a fearful concept for many. What then do Jim Saleam and Cassie O’Connor have in common? It is a fear of a future that does not include nationalism and capitalism.

*Dr William Briggs has a PhD from Deakin University with special interest in the areas of International Relations, Global Political Economy and Political Theory. He is engaged with Deakin but also lives and works in Hobart.

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Stephan

    September 8, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    The playing of chess engenders a certain way of thinking. As a strategy game it’s also a great training tool for any number of other activities undertaken in the broader community, “civilised” war being just one of them.

    All of you posters and others reading (and perhaps ignoring) this post, really should become familiar with the philosophies and strategies behind the Chinese board game called Go. Then take a closer look at the global strategy currently being practiced by the Chinese oligarchy. We are being economically en-globed people, and strategically as well.

    Say Hello … and be nice to our new masters, huh?

  2. Kim Peart

    September 3, 2018 at 9:28 am

    Re #9, Peter Henning … We can be friends with China, but to do so we need to be competitive.

    The front line of being competitive is now in space, with China about to send a mission to the far side of the Moon.

    What follows at a rapid pace will be mining and industry, drawing on the Sun for power which in space is a virtually infinite energy well.

    Noting the threat of kinetic weapons, which could be mass-produced in space to threaten cities on Earth, the dynamic of the high frontier will be rather tense, and can lead to early space wars as the fear among nations will be real.

    A recent report from the Pentagon sites China’s intention to invest in kinetic weapons in space, along with laser weapons.

    What is a kinetic weapon?

    A telegraph pole sized missile of solid metal, delivered from space, has the power of a small atomic bomb upon impact, and with no radiation fallout.

    When I attend the International Astronautical Congress, 1-5 October, in Bremen, Germany, I hope to have the opportunity to explore the prospect of nations working together in peace and transparency in space, for the benefit of all Earth’s citizens.

    I will be speaking with many space industry people from China.

    Look at the recent report of the ABC News website being blocked in China straight after we blocked a Chinese company from building the 5G network.

    Don’t mention revenge.

    We are in a low level war with China now.

    The USA is fuelling this with a trade war.

    Should this trade war become a hot war, we could see the first conflict in history between nuclear armed superpowers.

    Now delve into what China’s war plan could be to win that conflict without falling into a lose-lose all-out nuclear war, and also to ensure access to Australian resources.

    That plan exists now because a nuclear level conflict would happen so fast.

    China has a deep feeling of insult from the Opium Wars, and this is a root motivation.

    Look at China’s success in taking Tibet.

    Look at China’s success in claiming the South China Sea.

    Look out for a move on Taiwan.

    Look out for a follow-up in the East China Sea.

    Our only way to secure Australia’s defences may be to get serious, really serious, about space as a place for peaceful and transparent cooperation among nations.

    We have all to gain, but if we trust old lucky country thinking we could be the biggest losers in history.

    The simple fact is that if China takes offence with us they will take revenge, as is indicated with the ABC News website being blocked.

    If we get bold in the South China Sea with India, the United States and Japan, what might happen next?

  3. Peter Henning

    September 3, 2018 at 1:08 am

    #7 and #8 … You say: ‘Of all the nations in the World that played a role in ending the old Chinese empire, though then British colonies, Australia could be the easiest target to exact revenge for old insults.’

    Wow, that is some long bow of justification in kicking generational fear of the Chinese down the road for another century or two.

    Your message is clear enough, namely that the Chinese have been biding their time for more than a century to wreak revenge on Australia.

    My guess is that the Chinese have more reason to exact revenge on Japan, and to be very wary of those who would seek to limit their control of their own eastern coastline.

    Given that they were subject to invasion and occupation by a brutal foreign power from the mid-1930s to 1945, and then engaged in a civil war where the loser was supported by the US, and since then have been confronted by US military forces on land and sea, from Japan and Korea, to the Philippines and to south east Asia, it is obvious that when the US started the Vietnam War, Chinese interests lay in helping North Vietnam. The last thing they wanted was to have US military control of Hanoi.

    But this was not an expression of monolithic communism. It was an expression of national self interest.

    The domino theory was a myth. After all, Vietnam was reunited after 1975 but no dominoes fell. And as I said, conflict between China and Vietnam which followed in the late 1970s demonstrated conclusively that the Vietnam War was based, tragically, on entirely false premises.

    It is probably inevitable that China will take its place as the dominant world power, for a number of reasons. It seems inevitable that the western experiment with ‘representative democracy’ is in its death throes, as it rapidly disintegrates into a values-free shell.

    And by the way, the view that ‘To stop the Japanese invasion in 1942 we had to fight’ is pure nonsense. It is true that Australians thought that the Japanese would invade, but the Japanese decided not to. Instead they sought to isolate Australia by controlling the sea lanes. They failed.

    And by the way, Australians I know who served with Australian forces in the war against Japan, especially POWs, but also army nurses, have nothing but praise for Chinese people.

  4. max

    September 2, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    # 6, Peter … ”In the last 170 years we have not fought against Chinese on the battlefield, but we have fought against a heap of other people.  Why then, is China the font of our inculcated racism?”

    The Chinese People’s Volunteers lost a total of 390,000 soldiers. These include 148,400 dead, 21,000 captured and 4,000 missing soldiers. Furthermore, the People’s Republic of China had spent more than 6.2 billion Renminbi for its war in Korea.

    Between June 1965 and March 1968, over 320,000 Chinese troops were situated in North Vietnam.

  5. Kim Peart

    September 2, 2018 at 12:24 pm

    Re: 6, Peter Henning … In the 1850s the Australian colonies were part of the British Empire, which was making war with China, and succeeded in breaking the old Empire.

    So, yes, we have been at war with China.

    Now China is reasserting it role as a superpower, and is nuclear armed, and is seeking to push Western powers away from its borders, and is forging strong ties with Russia, and is building trade roads by land and sea around the World.

    As I point out in comment #3, should war break out between the superpowers, the action will be swift, and Australia’s fate may already be settled on paper as a matter of forward defence by China.

    This side of such a war, we remain under pressure from China to fit into their world views.

    Of all the nations in the World that played a role in ending the old Chinese empire, though then British colonies, Australia could be the easiest target to exact revenge for old insults.

    As I suggest, we can hang around to see what happens, or we can invest in some forward defence of our own, with space development, helping to redirect the energy of new China away from us, and also reaping the benefits of the high frontier for our citizens.

    Do I need to spell out again how much energy, resources and space there is beyond Earth?

    Our survival calls for creative intelligence, to see what is happening, and to see ahead of the game.

    To stop the Japanese invasion in 1942, we had to fight.

    Again, we have to fight, but with creative intelligence.

  6. Peter Henning

    September 1, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    There are plenty of assumptions in much of the commentary on William Briggs’ interesting article.

    The references to China as ‘communist’ by a range of people, including Cassy O’Connor, are meaningless and misleading.

    The odd thing about Australian attitudes towards China since the 1850s, now close to 170 years ago, is that they haven’t changed much.

    Fear of the ‘Yellow Peril’ flowing down from the northern hemisphere has been at the centre of Australian ‘fear of the other’ for generations, but that ‘threat’ has never eventuated.

    China’s Second World War lasted from the mid-1930s until 1949, and its conflict with Japan was crucial in draining Japanese strength. We forget that at the end of the Second World War, and its aftermath, the West had the opportunity to forge constructive relationships with political forces in China and elsewhere in East Asia which had assisted in the defeat of Japan, but that opportunity was lost due to the stupidity of American politicians.

    In the 1960s the ‘domino theory’ myth of the Dulles brothers, a spurious rationale for the Vietnam War and based on the fallacy that Chinese ‘communism’ controlled North Vietnam, was proof positive to Australian governments that the spectre of monolithic communism, in the form of Chinese Reds, were about to play their historically determined destiny of swamping Australia.

    Strange to be sure, that in the 1970s Vietnam was fighting China over border disputes! So much for dominoes.

    Much has changed since the 1970s, but the old canard of China as a threat to Australia remains unchanged. We have absolutely no influence on how their political system operates, and never will.

    After all, we are doing a very good job, both in Australia and the US, to convince them that we have nothing much to offer in how a political system can operate effectively and actually overcome fundamental matters of inequality and destruction of human rights.

    In the last 170 years we have not fought against Chinese on the battlefield, but we have fought against a heap of other people. Why then, is China the font of our inculcated racism?

    Oops, I forgot to mention events since 2001. But what’s the difference?

  7. Kim Peart

    August 31, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    An interesting report up in the ABC News Online at present worth looking at ~
    Secret rebels: Chinese students in Australia are cutting loose.

    Overseas students at Australian universities bring $30 billion into the nation, with a third of that being from China.

    While we see reports of the Chinese communist government seeking to maintain control over the minds of their students in Australia, the kick-back may also be with Western values, come Australian values, being taken back into China.

    Building friendship is ever a good way to build peace.

    But, if the drums of war roll onto gunfire, such as over the South China Sea, over Taiwan, over the East China Sea, or North Korea, the demands of nationalism would swiftly take charge, as happened in WW2.

    Australia has not yet asserted itself as a nation.

    Founded as a British prison colony, London looked after our foreign policy until 1942, with all our embassy staff located within British embassies. Our official national anthem was God Save the Queen until 1984. I had to double check that.

    We came to know we were firmly under the American thumb when Washington told us to butt out of West Papua in 1963 so Indonesia could take over half the lands of the Papuans.

    We are primed to slide under the thumb of the Chinese empire because we have no national vision that we would fight for.

    We have become more of an economy than a fair-minded community. We allow children to be homeless, as we allow poverty.

    We vote for politicians who play vicious power games and make our politics a laughing stock for the world to giggle at.

    We are a frontier nation that has neglected the frontier. Only two Australians have ever been into space, and then as American citizens, and we have only just founded a space agency, but with limited funding.

  8. philll Parsons

    August 30, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    Whilst it may seem an anachronism, Communist China needs to generate wealth, and so it will make investments through lending to the Princelings and others well connected to the ruling Party.

    Pressing print down at the mint has seen projects across China financed, and as that opportunity for returns runs down, overseas has been a recipient. Sometimes to supply resources to China, sometimes for diplomacy and sometimes to provide a return on that investment .. just like any bank wants to see.

    What is important is not taking any old offer, like Tasmania has done historically, but to select those projects that suit. Ralph’s Bay did not .. and rightly was rejected as white shoe brigandry.

    Be in no doubt there are white shoes in and associated with the Chinese government as the movement of wealth from China to here to squirrel it away overseas, be it in a house or a business. A modern form of stash for hard times.

    It doesn’t matter who the investor is, or what the project on offer is, it needs to be judged on appropriateness.

  9. Kim Peart

    August 29, 2018 at 7:53 am

    Having led the Bellerive Advancement Group in the 1990s, who successfully challenged unacceptable plans for Kangaroo Bay, I was keen to know what was going on at Swansea.

    When running in the Prosser election this year, one of my six community meetings was held in Swansea.

    Looking at all aspects of the problem, I would suggest more needs to be considered than simply allowing a mega development on the East Coast.

    One consideration is the housing crisis blighting Tasmania’s rising fortunes. We generate wealth with growth, but we do not have the systems in place to share that wealth fairly. The East Coast development is likely to send rents way up, along with properties values in the region, so there is a good chance of many people ending up homeless and in poverty as others make a killing. This problem of fairness needs to be addressed state-wide, and nationally. Should we ask this: is running a society about building an inclusive community, or fuelling a greed-ridden economy? Solve that problem, and development will be welcomed more often than being opposed, because the plan will be addressing basic issues of fairness and community health.

    China is a complex question, but also simple: As China seeks great power status, we see a bold grab for the South China Sea, running too similar to the Russian moves in Ukraine. Many predict war with China, which could all too easily become West against East. Any thought of WW3 needs to reflect on the detail that we are in the nuclear age, and all-out war has never been fought between nuclear armed super-powers. Nuclear war would be rapid, playing to win, without going all the way to a nuclear winter on Earth. The speed of such a war would mean that the plan is sitting on the table now, ready to open and act with speed. In a TT article I thought through this problem, and I could see that one nuke might be used on a location like Pine Gap, along with a partial invasion of Australia, and then an offer of peace talks to negotiate a new world order. Learning from the Japanese defeat, the East may decide that the Antipodes will be in their sphere of influence. Facing the prospect of the loss of the lot in nuclear war, the West may well agree to the terms, even the ejection of the Antipodeans, so the East could move in to secure forward defence and ensure access to resources. Australia has everything to fear from China because the Antipodes is the land that the East could take, and get away with it, which could also include Antarctica, and access to the resources there.

    Australia could also examine forward defence: The new world order, without Australia, could see peaceful development in space, and the memory of what Australia could have been as a nation will disappear into the dreamtime. The simple fact is, when space is opened for serious development, an era that is fast approaching, there will be less interest in pushing the boundaries on Earth as nations will have plenty of space in space for both expansion and development. Australia could address this by working with all leading space nations, including China and Russia, to help open the high frontier. It would be far better to be partners in space, than to vanish as a nation. It would be advisable to invest far more of our national treasure in the direction of space, than we do on defence now. The beauty of a national investment in space, will see returns many times greater than the investment. That can be described as a win-win outcome.

    Conclusion: Read ‘Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia’ by Clive Hamilton, where he writes “Once Australians of all ethnic backgrounds understand the danger, we can begin to protect our freedoms from the new totalitarianism.”

  10. Christopher Eastman-Nagle

    August 29, 2018 at 2:50 am

    Whether one is pro or anti Chinese is beside the point. If one checks the map of the Chinese vision of their ‘belt and road’, all roads lead to China.

    Up until the first half of the eighteenth century, China was the largest and most sophisticated economy and society on the planet. It called itself the Middle Kingdom because it was the middle kingdom.

    After a brief interregnum lasting a mere 150 years, the Chinese are ready to re-assert their traditional hegemony, which wasn’t just military and economic, but cultural as well.

    Anyone interested in the scale of traditional Chinese international ‘diplomacy’ should acquaint themselves with the voyages of eunuch admiral Zheng He between 1405-1433. With 317 ships and 28,000 men he toured from the Arabian gulf and East Africa, India to Java, establishing and enforcing tribute/trade relationships with China as he went. The show only stopped because his Ming masters were having some bother on the Great Wall.

    Shortly, China will be the largest economy in the world and that position is likely to accelerate, particularly as Europe and the US continue to decline as centres of cultural and economic hegemony.

    Australia will at some point become a Chinese economic and demographic satellite. There will come a time when, if you want a decent education for your children, and you are rich enough, you will send them to China .. or Singapore. They will speak fluent Mandarin and better English than the gutter patois in Australia. And if they have any sense, they will marry into Chinese families with connections to ‘the mother country’.

    Australia is inevitably a reflection of the imperial politics of its day. China’s day is coming. Get used to it.

  11. Emmanuel Goldstein

    August 28, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    [i]“However, the heads of the Chinese were already turning to another spectacle. A crowd had gathered below the steps of the Shanghai Club. A group of American and British sailors had emerged through the revolving doors and stood on the top step, arguing with each other and waving drunkenly as the cruiser moored by the Bund. The Chinese watched as they formed a chorus line. Provoked by their curious but silent audience, the sailors began to jeer at the Chinese. At a signal from an older sailor, the men unbuttoned their bell-bottomed trousers and urinated down the steps.

    “Fifty feet below them, the Chinese watched without comment as the arcs of urine formed a foaming stream that ran down to the street. When it reached the pavement the Chinese stepped back, their faces expressionless. Jim glanced at the people around him, the clerks and coolies and peasant women, well aware of what they were thinking. One day China would punish the rest of the world, and take a frightening revenge.”[/i]

    (J.G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun)

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