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An undiplomatic diplomat

In what can only be described as blunt diplomatic language, Australia’s top ranking diplomat, the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson, warned students at the Confucius Institute in Adelaide against what she termed the untoward influence that China wields in the county’s education circles and encouraged respectful engagement without blind condemnation or, most especially, silent withdrawal.
“We have seen attempts at untoward influence and interference,” Adamson stressed, in encouraging students to hold steadfast to their values, and remain secure and resilient in their identity.
It is no secret that over the past seven or eight years Beijing has embraced the idea that China’s special national culture and value system needs to be spread more widely abroad and, as Liu Yunshan, the former director of the Central Propaganda Bureau in Beijing, said some years ago, “Those who gain advanced communication skills, powerful communication capabilities and whose culture and values are more widely spread, are able to effectively influence the world.”
While there is nothing unusual or illegitimate about a foreign country engaging in another land, Stephen Fitzgerald, a former ambassador to China, says that because it is an undemocratic nation, China is promoting a clash between its own and Australian national interests.
So legitimate, but concerning. But Adamson called it squashing free speech, touting her preferred response as championing security in self-identity, as well as faith in our own value systems. “Remain immune from intolerance, as the founders of the University of Adelaide envisaged,” she told the students.
Fitzgerald has warned previously about a spreading Chinese influence through the directing of its student associations and threatening Australian-based dissidents, as well as academic manipulation through financial threats, media control and political donations.
The parliament in Canberra has been informed that this is happening on an unprecedented scale and is being used to sell projects of particular value to China.
The political and business stratospheres have been a prime target for investment in Beijing’s One Belt One Road project, but Adamson counselled caution, citing experiences from neighbouring lands.
The treasurer, Chris Bowen, has pointed out that these countries know it is not all beer and skittles. What began as a bit of military aid to Sri Lanka has been cranked up over a decade to embrace projects like Hambantota Harbour and a new financial city, with oil refineries, ship maintenance yards and free trade zones on the planning board.
The promise of jobs can sell most projects in any area suffering from unemployment and China promised lots of them—around 80,000 were strongly mooted. But except for a few labouring positions, technical and management staff, as well as ownership and income have all stayed with the donor.
Much of the material has been imported from China, boosting its own domestic industry. In addition, it has come out in the wash that a high percentage of what was described as aid actually came as a loan and has to be repaid.
When a nation’s top diplomat addresses international students in such a manner at a high profile gathering, they are expecting more than a domestic audience, and while Adamson may be spoiling for some kind of showdown with Beijing, she is also counselling students to remain strongly independent in deciding what they are prepared to sell for a bowl of porridge. JiM