So New Yorkers can’t understand why we keep electing John Howard. Frankly, neither can millions of Australians. The US, of course, has a history of sticking its nose into foreign countries, and there seems to be some kind of feedback loop at work between government and citizenry there.
I was interested, though, to see what the general mood was here in Hong Kong, and over the border in China a country which, despite the odd bout of irredentism, has a history of keeping its nose out of foreign countries. Good or bad, if they can trade with you, they will.
So what do Hong Kongers think of the Australian election? Well, people here have a reputation for being pretty apolitical it’s a bit of a ‘show me the money’ city. Most of the locals I know are educated professionals, though, whom I thought would know something about a reasonably close neighbour’s politics.
One, for instance, studied International Relations at Monash University, but has ignored the upcoming poll. ‘A lot of [Asian] people don’t consider Australia part of Asia,’ she told me. Fair enough neither do we, really. Others were vaguely aware of the event but, as one said, ‘There hasn’t been much about it in the South China Morning Post.’ True.
In fact, only one person I talked to, who lived in Australia for some years and holds citizenship, knew when the election was but is planning to ask her daughter, a resident of Sydney, who to vote for, as she hasn’t been following the news.
As for the Chinese, searches of official statements, the Foreign Ministry’s website and speeches by the Chinese Ambassador to Australia turned up bland statements about ‘natural partners,‘ while official and quasi-official news reports spoke of the election announcement, giving the date and a few lines from Johnny and Kev. Ho hum.
I asked a local academic who has written on Chinese politics for his views. His response:
Australia and China have always been friendly to each other. The only potential problem between the two nations is Taiwan, or more precisely, what the Australian Government might decide to do, should tensions build up between Taipei and Beijing. So, if for any reason Chinese leaders believe that Mr Rudd will be less of a hawk, they may prefer to deal with him.
Most ordinary Chinese, like myself, do not know much about Australian politics. Some of them, however, particularly the more nationalistic ones, might have wishful thoughts about Mr Rudd, simply because he speaks Mandarin.
Some of them might have wishful thoughts about Mr Rudd? I could say the same about a lot of Australians.
This indifference is, of course, a reflection not only of China’s traditional inscrutability in this regard, but of the candidates themselves. Conflict over Taiwan? Australia’s One China Policy (that the Peoples Republic of China, not Taiwan, is China) was set in 1972, and has been adhered to by all Australian Governments since. Howard has met the Dalai Lama, and Australian Ministers have visited Taiwan, unofficially, of course and these events have caused some rumblings in Beijing.
But the two countries are too valuable to each other Australia for minerals and China for manufacturing to strain the relationship in a meaningful way. If anything, as the academic suggested, Rudd’s record suggests he could be slightly preferred.
So what does the apathy of another country tell us? The two major candidates do not differ significantly on policy, and one may be preferred but with no real enthusiasm. I think I’ve read that somewhere recently