One Nation’s China crisis is mostly imagined

One Nation sees the commies taking over.

One Nation sees the commies taking over.

Just when you thought national affairs couldn’t get any stranger, along comes news of One Nation recruiting its first Asian-born MP, Shan Ju Lin.

That’s right, the party founded upon the fear that “we’re in danger of being swamped by Asians” now distinguishes between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Asians.

pauline hanson canberra

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson rose to prominence in 1996 for saying Australia could be ‘swamped by Asians’.

Just as the Ministry of Truth routinely switched enemies in George Orwell’s novel 1984, One Nation supporters who were previously told that the problem was ‘Asians’, ‘Aborigines’ and ‘Muslims’ can now get worked up about an invasion of ‘Communist Chinese’.

Ms Lin told the ABC: “I feel the Chinese Communist Party is a great threat to Australia because they bought a lot of businesses and our harbours and properties. They will take over power of Australia. They will form their own government.”

Hmm.  Even in today’s ‘post-truth’ political climate, the view that Australia welcomes ‘good Asians’ but not wicked communist infiltrators, is going to be a hard sell come election time.

One-party state?

China’s political system has many faults, but before One Nation can compare ‘authoritarian’ China with ‘democratic’ Australia, it’s worth looking at some numbers.

While the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is no paragon of democracy, it can boast a membership of 89 million people, all of whom are entitled to attend and vote at branch meeting on key issues.

That’s a political ‘elite’ of 6.7 per cent of the population.

In Australia, voting in our occasional elections is compulsory, but the membership of the two major parties – the people who decide what to serve up to voters on polling day – is roughly 130,000, or about half of one per cent.

So in per capita terms, Australian ‘political elite’ is one-thirteenth more concentrated than in China. Crumbs.

Unconscious collective

Let the political scientists argue over that one, because the really big misconception is that the Chinese economy is still largely communist.

It most assuredly was up until the era of reform ushered in by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, which saw the dismantling of an utterly dysfunctional economy organised along collectivist lines.

china communist party

The Chinese Communist Party has made huge mistakes in its 95-year history.

Hugely inefficient agricultural collectives had failed on a horrific scale – they caused the ‘Great Famine’ that killed around 45 million people between 1958 and 1962.

And at the other end of the spectrum, China had used the collective model to supply labour to too many enormous industrial projects.

What was missing were the small and medium sized businesses to supply the bulk of economic activity between the giant steel mills and the village farming collectives.

The state took the credit

According to Ronald Coase and Ning Wang, co-authors of the book How China became capitalist, China’s big paradox is that an entrepreneurial and capitalist economy is thriving within a one-party political system.

They write: “China basically became a market economy by the end of the 90s before it joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001 … The Chinese government has understandably promulgated a state-centered account of reform, projecting itself as an omniscient designer and instigator of reform ….

“[but] with the benefit of hindsight, we know that the economic forces that were really transforming the Chinese economy … were private farming, township and village enterprises, private business in cities, and the Special Economic Zones. None of them was initiated from Beijing.”

That process was rapid, and tipped the balance back to private enterprise.

china economic growth

For a long time, China’s centralised economy focused too much on heavy industry.

The World Economic Forum notes that when the reform era began, “three quarters of the country’s industrial production was accounted for by centrally controlled, state-owned enterprises”, but “between 2010 and 2012, private sector firms produced between two-thirds and three-quarters of China’s GDP”.

Wrong target?

So One Nation appears to be making a bogey-man out of our biggest trading partner, where as much as three quarters of production is in the private sector, and where 13 times as many people get directly involved in policy making.

It might be better off forgetting about China altogether and focusing on the uneasy relationship between the private sector and the government here.

In Australia, governments of both stripes have provided the implicit guarantee and regulatory framework that helped the big four banks make six times the profit of the two biggest employers, Wesfarmers and Woolworths in 2014/15.

The latter two companies themselves have for years managed a groceries duopoly that has only recently started to endure real competition from the likes of Aldi supermarkets.

And this is all made possible by the political duopoly in Canberra, and the close clique of journalists wrapped around it in the Canberra Press Gallery.

If One Nation wants to move on from stirring the pot over ‘Asians’, ‘Aboriginals’ and ‘Muslims’, perhaps it should start there.

Disclosure: The author is a member of, and periodic visitor to, the Canberra Press Gallery.

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