26 September 2023

Red Zone: China’s Challenge and Australia’s Future

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Peter Hartcher, Black Inc., $32.99.

We hear a great deal about China’s anger these days. Sample headlines: ‘Australian foreign takeover rule changes could anger China’; ‘China angry at Australia’s warnings on Huawei’.

Or how about: ‘China’s growing fury with ‘lying’ Australia’? There has also been ‘fury’ over travel bans, and of course that call by Australia for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

So should we be quaking in our shoes at all this anger and fury directed at us by the might of Beijing? Peter Hartcher thinks not.

While the Political and International Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age admits to falling into the anger trap while reporting on China, he has had time to reflect. In his latest book, Red Zone he admits he failed to understand “the phenomenon I was witnessing”.

After quoting Australian Sinologist, Geremie Barmé that “performative outrage is a high art in China”, Hartcher goes on to paint a picture of an anxious and insecure regime sensitive to the slightest criticism.

He notes that books and movies about the loveable children’s character, Winnie the Pooh, have been outlawed by Beijing after mischievous online references to the bear’s resemblance to Chinese President, Xi Jinping.

“What sort of leader is so threatened by this sort of parody that the national internet must be purged of it?” Hartcher asks.

He believes these kinds of actions testify “not to a great power, but to great anxiety – not to great strength, but to great fragility”.

However, Hartcher says it would be unwise to ignore all the Sturm und Drang from Beijing, especially as the recent Trump Administration demonstrated the United States might not always be the steadfast ally of the past.

“Australia needs to concentrate on strengthening itself, making itself armour-plated against foreign subversion and domination, so that it can engage confidently with China and the world,” he writes.

In the question on whether we should make a choice between China and the United States, the answer should always be “Australia”. ­ — Review by Graham Cooke

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