AQ&A Topic 5 Date: 1 October 2017 : China - Friend or Enemy? Neither or Both?



Both China and Australia have reinvented themselves since World War II. In 1945 Australia had a small, remote population of 7.4 million, socially adrift from its roots on the other side of the world, England, and feeling very much isolated. A Japanese invasion had just been beaten off for the moment. The rest of Asia was poor, weak and politically hopeless.

In 2017 Australia's population has tripled from 1945 to 24 million, with people from almost every country in the world. East Asia is the most economically dynamic part of the planet. Asian, especially Chinese, are the fastest growing segment of immigrants. China, with 20% of the world's population is resuming its place as the world's largest economy, and is critical for Australia's prosperity. China is also feared as politically opaque, and culturally alien to traditional Australian values. However, the United States also appears to be unstable, and prone to dangerous military adventures. The Australian political elite is clearly unsure where to place its bets for the future.

Focus questions

(feel free to add more of these) . Clearly not all of these questions can be properly covered in a meetup, but they give us a conscious choice about what to talk about while making the background context clearer.

1. What do ordinary Australians actually understand about modern China? What do ordinary people in China actually understand about Australia?

2. Large numbers of Chinese immigrants, students and temporary workers are now in Australia. How do these overseas Chinese people differ among themselves in opinions, in historical knowledge, in political loyalties to China and/or Australia, in future plans?

3. Through Chinese media in Australia, through student associations and business affiliations, business investment and directly seeking financial influence, the Chinese government actively seeks to influence and sometimes interfere in the lives of ethnically Chinese people in Australia. Any similar attempts at influence by Australians or any foreign nationals in China is not tolerated. How should the Australian government react to this kind of Chinese government interference. Is it a significant issue? [note that the United States has at times also interfered in Australian politics].

4. In a vast continent, most Australians crowd into a few cities and spend their lives competing for real estate. The cost of real estate (and the cost of credit) is therefore always a hot political issue. Now in the main cities it is a popular claim that Chinese investors are pushing the cost of housing beyond the reach of ordinary working Australians. How true is this? If it is true, what can be done about it? What rights to real estate do foreigners have in China?

5. Most countries in the world have or have had difficult political relationships with neighbouring countries. Sometimes there is a history of warfare and brutal memories. Yet in almost all cases, people to people relationships have continued in some form. Australia's geographical isolation has mostly insulated it from such experience. Now technology makes every country a neighbour and perhaps a threat. How should Australians manage relationships with countries whose governments they dislike, but whose people they share many connections with?

6. The Chinese state does not have a military force. The Communist Party of China has a military force, one of the largest in the world (though nowhere near the size of the US military). All countries have competing interest groups, and in many countries the ambitions of military interests play a large part in domestic and foreign policies. In fact military overreach, and military expenditures have destroyed most empires in history. To what extent now are Chinese military ambitions a threat to Australian interests, and how could this change in the future?

7. Internally, China itself is a divided house, with competing provinces, different cultural groupings, many languages and dialects (in the Sinitic family), and deep social conflicts. Little of this is understood outside of China. How stable will this 'Chinese empire' be over time?

8. What are the barriers which discourage Australians from living and working in China?

9. A China Daily article recently claimed that about 35 million Chinese were now living outside of mainland China, in additions to tens of millions annual Chinese travelers and tourists. Looking at future trends, how worthwhile is it for Australians to make a serious attempt to learn standard Chinese? What sort of time investment would this need by individuals?

10. Up until at least the 1970s it was common, even  normal for young Australians to spend time working in England (especially London). This influenced their ideas and values when they later developed careers back in Australia. Something similar is now becoming part of the life experience of large numbers of young Chinese men and women living, studying and working in Australia (and other Western countries). What do you think might be the long term affect of Australian experience as these young Chinese folk return to China and shape careers?


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1. All past topic questions are now listed at

 2. From another meetup I run for English learners, twenty-four sets of 10x questions (from Thor) designed for students of  English as a Second Language are online at


China - Frend or Enemy? Discussion Questions ©Thor May 2018

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