How Clive Hamilton regurgitates a familiar justification for racist, imperial war

March 17, 2021
Tony Abbott with Xi Jinping. Photo: Wikicommons

In his article “Why is the ‘anti-racist left’ siding with the persecutors?” Clive Hamilton accuses Gerald Roche, David Brophy and other left commentators of “race reductionism”.

But it is Hamilton who is revealed as the real “reductionist” when he reduces the West’s conflict with China to a battle between democracy and “fascism”.

This crude and shallow explanation, which is having a wide range of impacts in Australia — including a real rise in racist abuse and violence against people of Asian appearance — was given an uncontested platform by the ABC’s Four Corners program on March 2.

Four Corners showed politicians from both major parties fawning over Chinese president Xi Jinping when he visited the Australian parliament in 2014, when Tony Abbott was prime minister.

Hamilton then comments: “We were so naïve, and I put my own hand up for that as well, I was as naïve as the next parliamentarian.

“It was wishful thinking, we wanted China to be a kind of a nation more like us.”

I choked when I watched that section. Only fools would have thought that parliamentary fawn fest had anything to do with shared democratic values. It was clearly a parliamentary toast to their real shared “civilisational value” of corporate greed!

Many books and government reports had been published long before Xi Jinping’s visit that reveal the lust for profits that the word “China” has conjured for Australia’s corporate ruling class and their lackeys in the professional political class.

Exploiting China as a market for Australian mining, agriculture and education and for low-cost manufacturing has been the rich white man’s dreaming in Australia for many decades. Coalition and Labor governments alike have been prepared to sacrifice a lot to make these profits, not least the environment, manufacturing industry and our once largely public education system.

If democracy ever got a mention in these tomes, it was only as a perfunctory footnote.

It wasn’t only the Australian capitalist class that saw the economic opening up of China fundamentally through the corporate lens. Every capitalist class in the West began to look East from the 1980s because they saw in China’s industrialisation an opportunity to break out of their own economic malaise.

For decades, Western governments were not too fussed about human rights abuses by the Chinese government, as the Tibetan and Uyghur people discovered. Such human rights abuses were taking place well before Xi Jinping rose to power, though there has certainly been a rise in repression.

It is only when China’s economic development reached a point where it began to pose some competition for major Western corporate interests that the current campaign against China was started.

Intellectuals like Hamilton might imagine that it is their writings that prompted a great Western rethink on China. But that’s a sad, if characteristic, conceit of the intelligentsia.

The ramping up of Western gunboat diplomacy, signalled by then-United States President Barack Obama's 2012 “Pivot to East Asia”, also predated most of the books and speeches warning against the rise of China.

Major corporate interests own and control the Australian and other Western governments. They jump when their corporate masters tell them what’s needed to boost or protect their narrow economic interests. They deploy armies, warships, warplanes, satellite and cyber spy networks when they are called upon. Then willing intellectuals are deployed to justify the new strategies.

We saw this in the lead-up to the invasion of Afghanistan when Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations was lifted from academic obscurity to justify imperial invasions that began the permanent war in the Middle East.

The specious, if briefly popular, argument then was that “democratic” Western civilisation had to prevail, by any means, over intrinsically anti-democratic Islamic and Sinic civilisations.

This was challenged by many left-wing academics, who pointed to the real record on democracy of the US and other Western imperialist states and the real relations between dictatorships and rich “democratic” states.

Talking about the West’s record was not “whataboutism” then, and it isn’t in the China debate today.

After the invasion and obliteration of Afghanistan, followed by the invasion of Iraq, it became painfully clear that the imperial armies were not delivering the promised freedom and democracy.

Huntington and others like him, who were enlisted as ideological shock troops in the imperial war machine, did their job. They justified wars and the growth of racism that came along with it.

The same is clearly happening today as Australian and its imperialist allies beat the war drums against China.

The development of racism and capitalism are deeply entwined, not just in history, but in the current situation. Pseudo-scientific theories were developed to justify colonial plunder, the genocide of First Nations people and the slave trade of African peoples.

Many of those old arguments to justify racism might be considered ridiculous today, but there are always new arguments developed to buttress old prejudices. Theories of cultural superiority and affectations about “our” democratic values neatly slip into service to reinforce ingrained racist prejudices.

The discussion then becomes democratic “us” versus anti-democratic “them”.

All the real conflicts, power relations and contradictions within “us” — including class division and racism — are magically disappeared. This may suit the corporate ruling class, but it is the opposite of the truth.

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