CHINESE-AUSTRALIANS should be as proud of their heritage as any others and from one perspective the call from Beijing for them and other members of the diaspora to support better links with China should not be viewed with alarm.
After all, Australians of Italian descent voted with enthusiasm in Italy’s elections last year, re-electing two Melbourne candidates to the Chamber of Deputies and to the Senate. Dublin hands out Irish passports to people who can find an Irish grandparent. Some countries demand youngsters of their migrated families return for military service. Even Australia is starting to network its own diaspora for trade and other purposes.
Yet when the call comes from a Communist Party politburo member, one formerly in charge of the party’s United Front Department like Wang Zhaoguo, and is couched in overtly racial forms like ‘‘blood lineage’’, and demands loyalty not just to China but specifically to the party itself, it must create some unease. After all, United Front work in communist parlance refers to temporary alliances with other parties or Lenin’s ‘‘useful idiots’’ who can be dumped or purged when no longer useful.
Behind the appeal to patriotism and racial pride as sons of the founding Yellow Emperor are the more prosaic mechanisms of incentive and penalty, through means such as business permits and visas which regimes like China’s or the former East Germany’s don’t hesitate to use.
Wang’s call comes a year after Chinese diplomatic missions here and elsewhere mobilised local people of Chinese descent into noisy claques confronting equally noisy protesters during the Olympic torch parades. It comes as the Melbourne Film Festival grapples with hacking attacks on its website by nationalists in China incensed at the festival organisers’ refusal to remove a documentary about the exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer. The defector diplomat Chen Yonglin has given his account of how immense efforts are made to marshal Chinese migrants against the regime’s enemies, such as Falun Gong.
The appeal to blood, transcending citizenship, will hurt the interests of Chinese-descended people in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, who’ve only recently started overcoming decades of cultural repression on suspicion as being fifth columnists of Beijing. Here it may taint interventions by Chinese-Australians. Nonetheless, we can only hope they keep speaking their mind, both to the rest of us and to the Beijing propagandists trying to manipulate them.