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Friday 30 Sep 2022 | 12:22 | SYDNEY

Insights and asides about China


Graeme Dobell

21 July 2010 10:09

Head to the China Update each year for big thoughts on China and to savour the off-cuts and asides generated by Ross Garnaut. The annual ANU event disproves the canard that economists can do anything in theory, it's just reality that defeats them. 

Proof one: this may be the only conference that hands over the book of the conference on the day of the conference. Talk about productivity! And here it is for you to download; nearly 400 pages of deep thoughts, pondering China trends over the next 20 years. Start with Garnaut's latest take (Chapter 2) on the idea that China is entering the turning point – now, more generally embraced as the turning period – when the world's factory shifts from being a labour-surplus to a labour-scarce economy.

All very academic, you reply, but what of the Garnaut asides at the conference itself?

You'll be upset to hear that this most august member of the Manchu Court (so dubbed by Paul Keating) made no mention of the latest Keating-Hawke spat. Not even to Keating's sulphurous letter to Hawke, which gave a passing whack to Garnaut as Hawke's 'rusted on, if one-eyed, adviser'. Hawke may talk down Keating's reform credentials, but the silver-maned one has lauded Garnaut as 'the co-architect' of his government's landmark economic achievements.

The closest the Professor got to Canberra controversies, new or old, was to outline his theory of Sandgroper dominance of Australian diplomacy. As a true son of the west, Garnaut is proud of the fact that, until Geoff Raby took over in Beijing, Western Australia was the birthplace for Australia's ambassadors to Beijing.

The driest anecdote of the conference followed a comment from one of the visiting Chinese professors that Shanghai now has a resident population of 500,000 Taiwanese. Garnaut recalled a visit he made to Taiwan when researching his 1989 report, 'Australia and the Northeast Asian Ascendancy', for the Hawke Government. (Here's an excellent piece from Peter Hartcher showing why Ascendancy is usually described as seminal for its predictions about the China-Australia relationship.)

Garnaut recalled how Taiwan's Foreign Ministry arranged for him to talk to some of the first wave of Taiwanese businessmen investing in China:

The Foreign Ministry had kindly got together a group of pioneer businessmen. This was the first couple of years of China being opened up to Taiwan investment. There'd been a bit of a rush. And to the embarrassment of the Foreign Ministry officials, the businessmen declared that one of the special attractions of moving to Shanghai was going back to the old Chinese custom of One Country, Two Families.

Photo by Flickr user Steve Webel, used under a Creative Commons license.