Chinese students studying in Australia were labelled pests by Fairfax Media international editor Peter Hartcher last month, for allegedly acting as sinister agents for the Chinese government. With geostrategic tensions between the US and China rising, it’s no coincidence that working class people are being encouraged to blame and fear Chinese people for their problems.
Sixty percent of US air and naval power is now being concentrated in the Asia-pacific region. The US aim is to defend its wealth and power from its growing rival, China. A key part of their strategy is to control the straits of Malacca, which enter the South China Sea.
This area bears a quarter of global shipping and $5 trillion of cargo annually, including vast quantities of China’s oil imports. For the same reason, China is attempting to take control of the South China Sea by making territorial claims against other countries and building military facilities on tiny, submerged islands.
In the last year there have been repeated military confrontations between the two powers at sea and in the air, as each seeks to dominate the other. Recently an international tribunal ruled against China’s territorial claims in the area. Predictably the US has hailed the decision, while China has rejected it.
Australia’s government has sided with the US in the dispute, issuing diplomatic statements against China’s military construction and warning against any declaration of military zones. But the Australian government has stopped short of following the US’s latest stunts, sailing warships through the area in so-called “freedom of navigation exercises”.
The US government has steadily increased pressure on the Australian government to follow suit. The US ambassador to Australia gave a front page interview to The Australian newspaper in September, campaigning against Chinese government-linked donations to Australian politicians.
In the same month Australian spy agencies, who work intimately with their US counterparts, were quoted in the Australian Financial Review newspaper as questioning Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s business links in China and his reliability on “national security”.
Media commentators who are trying to stir up anti-Chinese racism in this context are blaming the housing price crisis on Chinese buyers. But the truth is foreign property investment from China has relatively little influence.
A study by Dr Hans Hendrischke of Sydney University estimated that only 2% of residential property sales were to foreign Chinese buyers in 2014. Moreover, only one sixth of total foreign property investment came from China. In the two years since then, taxes have been raised on foreign buyers while the big banks have cracked down on foreign lending.
Targeting Chinese buyers in particular would make very little difference. Those who are really guilty of pushing up prices are the big four Australian banks and the governments who have facilitated and encouraged speculation in the housing market.
Agricultural land sales to Chinese investors are also reported as a problem. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce in particular has had a lot to say about this. However, figures released by the Australian Tax Office in August show that 85% of agricultural land is owned within Australia, while Chinese investors only own 0.38% and come in fifth place for foreign farm owners. Landlords from the UK and US rank number one and two respectively, owning nearly nine percent of Australia’s farmland between them. The US is also the biggest source of foreign investment overall at $860 billion.
Stopping Chinese investment in Australia will not solve the housing price crisis or any other problems afflicting the lives of workers in Australia. Unfortunately, even some trade unions have jumped on the bandwagon by trying to blame Chinese investment for all sorts of problems. This is counter-productive because it deflects the blame away from the real culprits: Australia’s own big business elite and their profit-driven system.
The anti-China campaign also helps to bolster political support for increased military spending. The US in particular are keen to ensure military spending is maintained, or even increased, but this comes at the expense of spending on welfare and social services.
Policies including ending tax breaks for housing speculators, public ownership of the construction companies and banks and democratic planning of community development are required to create jobs and end the housing crisis. Working people also need to oppose the military build-up in the region and demand that the wealth created is spent to improve the lives of the majority.
By Kirk Leonard