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Tim Culpan

Australia Has a China Problem and a Chinese Problem

Beijing’s growing influence in domestic politics is stoking fear and xenophobia ahead of elections. Ethnicity should be distinct from the Communist Party.

The Chinese-Australian community reports regular racist abuse.

The Chinese-Australian community reports regular racist abuse.

Photographer: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

As Australians head to the polls this month, China’s role in domestic politics is becoming increasingly important. Yet many politicians, journalists and voters seem to be unable to distinguish between China the nation, the Communist Party that governs it, and people of Chinese ancestry. This is stoking fear, while also derailing attempts to make Parliament as diverse as its citizenry.

The China question comes into play across all facets of government. In economics, China is the biggest market for the resource-rich country. Environmental policy cannot ignore the fact that Australia is a major exporter of coal, though Beijing has sought to block purchases. In military and foreign affairs, a record budget this year for cybersecurity defense and a deal with the U.S. and U.K. to procure nuclear-powered submarines were announced with one threat in mind. These economic and political challenges with China, the nation, are too often conflated with Chinese identity.