Last week, the Chinese government moved to remove term limits for its President, Xi Jinping, effectively allowing him to stay in power forever.
This isn’t that surprising when you examine China’s government, which is led by the Chinese Communist Party. There is officially no opposition party. There are smaller, more independent parties, but the Chinese Communist Party (or CCP) is in complete control, moving swiftly to eliminate any opposition.
If this is even possible, Xi Jinping seems to have less of a sense of humour about himself than Trump does. (Trump likes Xi Jinping, praising his grab for power and suggesting that maybe the US should try for longer term limits one day.) In the days after President Jinping’s announcement, the Chinese government issued an enormous list of newly banned words from the popular microblogging site Weibo. (Many social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are blocked inside Twitter – they use Weibo instead, which is incredibly obedient to the Chinese government’s wishes.)
The banned terms include “my emperor” and “lifelong control”, along with any references to George Orwell’s dystopian novels Animal Farm and 1984. 
This form of censorship is just one example of how the Chinese government uses the internet to manipulate its citizens. China is the world-leader on this front, also washing social media in positive news stories to attempt to drown out any bad stories. Their methods are being replicated in countries such as North Korea and Russia.
But China differs from its ideological siblings in several ways. For one, it’s an economic powerhouse, holding a huge amount of sway in the Asia-Pacific region. It’s made important compromises to its vision of Communism to allow itself to become a world player. This means that international rhetoric around China can be complex and sensitive. Before Turnbull went to the US last week, he said China was not a threat to Australia. In fact, he said China’s new rise to glory was an opportunity. But as recently as December, Turnbull had to defend himself as not ‘anti-Chinese’ while also suggesting that Chinese interference in Australian politics was a poisonous possibility.
So what’s the deal with Xi Jinping?
In a whopping three and half hour speech to the Chinese congress last year, Xi outlined his vision for China. Here are the hi-lights:
  • He heralded a “new era”, and boasted China becoming a “great power” in the world again. (Excruciatingly close to “Make America Great Again”, just without the baseball caps).
  • He committed to the Chinese hybrid system of Communism and capitalism – no hope of Western-style democracy any time soon.
  • He celebrated China’s increasing control of the volatile South China Sea, and called for the military to increase its power. He described the country that didn’t want to start fights, but needed to defend its interests.
  • He wants to crack down on any signs of dissent, and suffocate NGOs with crippling government regulations.
Indeed, China’s humanitarian rights abuses are renownAmnesty International is awash with campaigns to help jailed lawyers, activists and intellectuals. Xi Jinping has jailed and humiliated many of his opponents. Methods include secret torture prisons, kidnapping and more. There are fears that matters will only get worse in the next few years. Few international neighbours feel empowered to speak up in the face of China’s escalating economic power.
But there are apparent good sides to Xi Jinping’s rule. He’s instituting radical measures to help the rural poor. By 2020, Beijing hopes to have helped 30 million people rise about the poverty line.
Should Australia be concerned? 
Probably. But just how concerned is up for debate.
Generally speaking, there’s a lot of fear around China’s consummate skill in suppressing those who speak against them. This has most recently been felt in the academic world. Take the work of New Zealand academic Professor Anne-Marie Brady, whose paper taking apart Xi Jinping’s leadership has become a touchstone in international politics. Brady’s office was broken into, she’s received anonymous threatening letters, her home has been burgled. An investigation is ongoing.
Further, there have been reports that Chinese Australian university students have been intimidated by patriotic counterparts who warn them against voicing dissent against Xi Jinping.
Professor Clive Hamilton’s book: Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia, was famously rejected by publisher Allen & Unwin last year for fear of retribution from Beijing. The book’s gone on to be published anyway.
However, there are many who criticise the rise of sensationalism in the public debate on our relationship with China. Reviewing Hamilton’s book in the Australian Book Review, David Brophy absolutely slams Hamilton’s quasi-racist commentary. Brophy joins the Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane in cautioning against hysteria. To quote Brophy: “To be sure, Beijing has its lobbyists, its front groups, its propaganda; but to depict China’s activities as in any way unique in this respect strains credulity.” Indeed, you don’t have to wander very far online before you run into violent propaganda from any number of countries. Hell, just post something on Twitter about Trump, North Korea, ISIS…or even Turnbull…and see what kind of response you get.
Last week, Kevin Rudd took to the Australian to criticise Turnbull’s approach to China (because he felt someone asked for his opinion, apparently), comparing it to McCarthyism – that is, a kind of witch hunt, painting all Chinese political matters as universally bad. The analogy to McCarthyism isn’t that crash hot for a heap number of reasons – but the essence holds an important warning that is agreed upon by many. Australia’s reputation with China isn’t great. The White Australia Policy was a historic point of national shame for Australia in the early part of the twentieth century, fuelled by anti-Chinese sentiment, and was the key to one of the largest economic downturns in our modern history. And of course, it’s barely been twenty years since Pauline Hanson warned us all that Australia was in danger of being ‘swamped by Asians’. Australia has a shameful past of xenophobia against China.
The Bottom Line
China is becoming more forceful at the awkward dinner party that is international politics. We (Australia) don’t like the way they run things – indefinite presidencies, human rights abuses, censoring the internet – but we also benefit from a large of amount of trade. When our politicians, like Turnbull, speak out they’re often cited as being too sensationalist, potentially racist, or dangerous to our economic prospects. The only possible way forward is to ensure that global public discussion about China is handled with great delicacy. Lucky for everyone, the head of the international diplomacy dinner table is one of the most eloquent leaders the world has ever known – Donald Trump. At the other end of the table is President-for-Life Xi Jinping.

Dessert anyone?

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