Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Why would Hu (and possibly DFAT) NOT be into graft and spying?

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-07-18

It’s worth taking a step back on the Hu affair (the Australian Rio-Tinto representative behind bars in China for bribery and espionage) to look at some of the larger issues influencing the current melodrama.

Compare China’s means of helping to acquire cheaper essential resources (ore) with the US under Bush (oil).  One country arrests a few people (possibly without appropriate evidence), one invades another country and kills lots of people.  Even if the Chinese are lying, it’s a lot less evil than the lies told to the UN security council by the US.

Does Australia have form for bribery?  Yes – even if Australian government involvement (if only through DFAT) may have dropped significantly since the Howard years with the scandals about the Australian Wheat Board, and a commercial subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of Australia.

Just as China has recognized that securing cheap resources is critical for them, so too does Australia recognize that selling the same resources is essential for us.  The difference is that China has other suppliers, we have few other customers, and few other significant ways of getting a cashflow.

In such a high-stakes game, it is almost inconceivable that there are not covert operations by the two governments to discover and influence as much as they can.  What could once be considered a breach of commercial confidence is now critical to the national interest (more so for Australia), so why wouldn’t our government be giving as much assistance as they can to give companies selling our dirt some advantage over competitors and customers?

It’s also worth noting that China is now one of the few nation-states that is actually more powerful than the transnationals.  Most countries have responded to the (inevitable) market failures by massive largesse to transnationals (not just banks, but car manufacturers, etc, etc).  China isn’t doing that, in constraint to Australia, which is most blatantly sacrificing the nation’s, indeed our species’, best interests to appease transnational mining companies: just look at the unnecessary concessions granted as part of the Carbon Polluter Rewards Scheme now before Parliament.

So, my guess is that the Chinese government is not lying, and is guilty of little more than selective enforcement of laws, a selectivity obviously geared to international economic conditions.

It’s also worth noting that bribing foreign officials is an offence under Australian law – although I doubt that the Federal Police would let the Chinese know about Australian spies/bribers in the same way that they tipped off the Indonesians about Australian druggies.

If the collapse of the Soviet empire was celebrated by most capitalists and their co-operating captives (whether politicians or pundits) as proof of the superiority of capitalism over Stalinism, I wonder if those free-market fans will change tune with the rising power of a near-command economy and state ownership over an uncontrolled economic system with state ownership sold for a song over recent decades.

Indeed, the Chinese government governs.  The Australian government has little chance of being more than a lobby group, attempting (sometimes) to explain the interests of Australian citizens to the big end of town, in the hope of some concessions.

If I’m to criticize China in this matter, it’s merely because China doesn’t get as tough with all transgressors of the same offences, but merely selectively as a deterrent to others.  But then, that’s one of the key reasons why states impose punishment of one kind or another.  It’s a shame other nation states aren’t as tough (apart from the use of the death sentence by the Chinese, of course).

If I was a wargamer for the Chinese government, here is what I’d say:

  • Assemble all the evidence while Hu is in custody.
  • Hand the evidence to the Australian Ambassador, and offer to NOT sentence him to death if he serves some time in China, then is rendered to Australian Law for prosecution under our laws against bribing foreign officials.
  • Release all the evidence into the public domain, especially if there are hints that there was DFAT involvement with Hu.
  • Make sure that in any Australian trial of Hu, that Hu’s legal defence team has everything they need (including anonymous underwriting of the defence efforts) to suggest that Hu was at least in part a pawn of the Australian government.

That approach is more importantly good for Hu, which is what the Australian proles seem to be most vocal about.  It’s important for Hu because, at the moment, he could be facing, or more correctly looking away from, a bullet in the back of his head.

If I was a wargamer for the Australian government, and I knew or strongly suspected that there was some involvement by Australian agencies, then I’d say:

  • There’s only one thing we can do… bend over an take it in a way that lets us save some face.  Disown Hu, and perhaps see if there is a way to conveniently remove him before he goes to trial in China – even if we don’t get him out alive.  Any Chinese prison cooks we can bribe?  Any way we can expedite the the next sale of an Australian company to China?

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