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'Shanghai Sam's' fall should alert attention to China’s rise

By Peter West - posted Tuesday, 5 December 2017


Most people will know by now the bald facts of Sam Dastyari's fall from grace. The NSW Senator has been twice sacked by ALP leader Bill Shorten over his links to China.

The latest episode, in which Dastyari warned a Chinese businessman with strong links to China's Communist Government that his phone was under surveillance by Australian intelligence, must cause concern. It indicates some deep-seated links that should worry many people concerned about foreign money and China's growing power.

Dastyari has shown a strange eagerness to seek out the spotlight. See for example the odd case in which he was harassed by a few louts and tried to use this incident to make himself a victim of racism. But there are far bigger issues at stake than the Senator's behaviour. Let's start by examining what lies beneath all the noise - the growing power of China.

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Our blindness to Chinese power

We in the west fall into a trap because of our own Eurocentric education. I studied European history with just a few scraps about Asia.

I learned French at school, of course: France was usually the first country you came to when you left England. That was very typical of my generation. When it comes to understanding Asia, many westerners still retain most of what we learned in our formative years.

We see China as backward, polluted and primitive, with appalling standards in the way the Chinese treat human beings. Reflect on the images of China that we see on TV, even on ABC TV or SBS: we see dirty skies, people being pushed out of makeshift houses or the Tianmen Square confrontation.

But the Chinese see themselves as the Central Kingdom, the centre of the world's oldest culture. Chinese see western countries - Britain, Germany, the USA - as countries which were great and produced great artistic achievements, once. But now, Chinese believe, the West is corrupt, materialistic and in fatal decline. In contrast to Western decadence and corruption, Chinese people praise the traditional Chinese virtues: respect for their elders; gratitude for favours given; a strong sense of duty; generosity; and application to learning. We will return to some of these later.

Young Chinese have attained remarkable success in Australia. In New South Wales, the hugely successful selective public schools are heavily populated by Chinese (as well as Indians and Vietnamese). It's indicative of how Chinese children are driven to work hard, study and be successful. (There have not been widespread protests about the racial composition of these schools: that would be called racist, of course.) The whole family is dedicated to this educational success, grandma and grandpa included. This might be one of the many keys to China's massive success in rising from its wrecked state in 1949 to probably what is the world's dominant power.

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China rules the waves.

We Australians are buried in our own concerns of trying to buy a house, paying for our kids' education, or worrying about sports teams. We are too slow to appreciate the importance of China's power for Australia. Britain ruled the seas once; and the USA's once-strong maritime power is weakening.

It's much truer to say now that it's China that rules the waves. Five of the top ten container ports are in mainland China; one more is in Hong Kong. More and more ports worldwide are controlled by China, and Chinese control of ports in Greece or Sri Lanka or Africa is often followed by visits by the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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