Wednesday 21 Aug 2019 | 11:49 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 21 Aug 2019 | 11:49 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Understanding China Party

6 July 2012 14:05

Geoff Miller, a former Director-General of the Office of National Assessments, writes:

In his comment of 4 July, Hugh White roundly criticises Australia's efforts to understand and form a relationship of trust with China, and wonders whether we can grasp the notion of such a relationship with any countries other than the US and UK. I think he's hard on the efforts made over the years —think for example of Bob Hawke's relationship with Zhao Ziyang — and I also think that his comment overlooks something that really must affect the relationship, and that is China's political system and the role of the Communist Party as the covert power behind the overt institutions. 

One Australian who probably understands China as well as anyone is Richard McGregor, whose recent book, The Party, described in detail the way in which the Chinese Communist Party second guesses, or at least has the power to second-guess, practically any decision of significance in any sphere.

Our politics, and for that matter American and British politics, may at the moment be driving us all to distraction, but at the very least they are much more transparent and accessible than the manoeuvrings within the opaque leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, which when it comes down to it is a self-selecting clique. And, if recent events are any guide, it is a bitterly divided one, and also one with many members very ready to take advantage of the opportunities for personal gain that political position provides.

Of course China is enormously important, and we and others must make a major effort to understand it and engage with it. But in doing that we should not overlook the fact that our political and economic systems are very different, however engaging and impressive Chinese interlocutors may be.