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  • Writer's pictureMike Lyons


We are delighted and privileged to welcome Professor Louise Edwards as our first external contributor to this site.

The following is a summary of a lecture given on 2 December 2020 by Prof Louise Edwards (Professor of Chinese Studies at UNSW) at the ANU-China in the World Annual Lecture 2020. This is the link to that talk and we highly recommend your taking the half-hour or so to hear what Louise has to say:

Professor Louise Edwards’ raw, honest, and brilliant lecture on Australia-Asia relations in China’s Century – it’s a feast for the ears and mind!


Australia’s relations with Asia are stuck in a backwards moving time machine, with an apparent inability to see Australia’s Asian population in all of its full glory of languages, religions, colours, and classes. Our policy debate appears to have returned to old-style village insularity, with our eyes wondering between London and Los Angeles. Australia’s leaders imagine that we are giving Asians the benefit of our superior learning and skills. However, the Asia of today is rich and powerful and no longer has to put up with being patronised.

Asian faces abound from every direction yet Asian students in Australia remain acutely aware of the constraints that being Asian has on their lives, careers, and prospects. These students are multitalented and globally aware. Unless they are actually heard, there is the fear that they will take their great ideas and head out of Australia, to Asia where they will be valued, rather than ignored, or regarded with suspicion. These young people in their 20s and 30s really do have fresh ideas and new perspectives but when they express critical comment they tend to be treated to an Australian “how dare you” look and abusive epithets such as “Australia, if you don’t love it, leave it”.

The Terms of Reference of a recent Australian Senate Enquiry into matters affecting diaspora communities implied that the committee would be concerned about the needs of the Australian diaspora. Instead, the Senators appeared to be interested only if the responses were useful in furthering some race-baiting political advantage or advancing the Senator’s latest foreign policy objective. If those attending expressed discontent or dissatisfaction, they were “ungrateful migrants” and their comments were regarded as “un-Australian”. Those with Chinese names were asked to give their opinion about the Chinese Communist Party but they were not there to talk about the CCP. They were there to talk about difficulties faced by Asian Australians in participating in politics, accessing services, and being heard. Some expressed their disgust at the racism. Others withdrew from the hearings in protest.

What about China’s incredible successes of which Australians have been major beneficiaries but which Australia’s leaders find so hard to publicly acknowledge. Instead, the talk is of Australia’s “over-dependence upon Chinese students” as if they are somehow illegitimate. Students from China and Taiwan are largely Covid-19 free and Australia could open a bubble and profit mightily from reliance on these students. Instead, Australia goes out on a limb with “boof head” diplomacy calling for a Covid-19 enquiry, implying that China was not to be trusted.

Governments everywhere do not like to be publicly humiliated and China is no different. But our current leaders seem intent upon doing precisely that. “Social Interactions 101” tells you that if you want to make a criticism of a big player, you should do it privately. Instead, Australia is diminishing its middle power status and becoming a smaller, nastier power each time our leaders open their mouths. We are doing this to the world’s biggest economy, a rising military power and our biggest customer. Cheap shots play to the domestic audience but jeopardise the most important relationship and strategic shifts Australia has faced since British colonialism.

We regard Asian talent and success with suspicion. Successful Year 12 results of Asian students are queried. Somehow working hard, getting extra tutoring, taking studying seriously is seen as “cheating” or “illegitimate success”. Our current leaders’ vision seems clouded by an Orientalist veil of outdated racial and cultural hierarchies. We need to see China clearly, and we need to lift the Orientalist veil, and drawback the “bamboo curtain”. Harnessing Asian Australian talent and letting these remarkable young people take a lead is an important start.

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Dec 31, 2020

Very interesting and well said!


Dec 15, 2020

interesting - sadly only preaching to the converted !

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