China has become very significant to Australia over the last decade or so. China is now Australia’s largest trading partner, and there is not a lot of cultural understanding in our general population or even our politicians about China. This starkly contrasts with say the United States or England, with whom we have a deep level of understanding of the cultural contexts for various events and developments between our nations.

Dan Ryan is a board member of the Australia-China Council and is actively involved in public policy matters in Asia. We discussed the relationship between Australia and China, human rights, religious freedom, and the similarities between our two nations.

The modern laws that have developed in China have only really happened since 1980. There’s really too many of them at various levels, and it can be quite tricky for a lawyer to weave their way through it. The courts aren’t independent from the government like they are in the West, and are still quite politicised. At lower levels of the courts there’s not a lot of political pressure for decisions to favour one party or the other.

In Australia it’s often true that the party with the most money to fight a legal battle will win. In China, those people usually also have the right political connections to achieve a favourable outcome.

As to mainland China’s political system, there’s only one party. No opposition, no minor parties. Political battles happen within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). There are no national or state level general elections, but locals in villages can elect who their local CCP representative is, without necessarily being a party member.

Watch the interview below for some more interesting insights. In the next segment below that, we talk about The Lion Rock Institute, a free market think tank in Hong Kong (now part of China), and the remarkable contrasts between their very free market economy and the rest of the world.

Think tanks are independent of the State, self-funding and autonomous, and were first created in the United States to also be independent from the University system. Think tanks are where ideas can be advocated to the general public, usually through mainstream publications. Typically they exist to promote greater public liberty.

They’ve enjoyed a fair degree of success over the years, and subsequently Universities have tried to create their own departments and tried to “rebadge” them as think tanks. There are no really truly independent think tanks in China outside the system and sharply critical of the government.

Think tanks differ from lobby groups by having a coherent philosophy or influence which existed before the think tank. A lobby group typically exists to promote the interests of their own industry, such as real estate or the environment. A successful think tank doesn’t exist to promote any particular interest group, and tends to not have a natural constituency.

The Lion Rock Institute is a think tank based in Hong Kong committed to the continuation of the free market principles which make Hong Kong the freest, least regulated and one of the least taxed regions in the world. It stands in sharp relief against the looming specter of the world’s last great communist nation which controls the region since 1997, China.

Surprisingly, it’s Western nations and bureaucrats from them which are constantly pressuring Hong Kongers to introduce tax and labour policies like a goods and services tax and wage fixing.

Hong Kong has about 8 million people living in an area under 3,000 km², which is much less than the size of greater metropolitan Sydney. A significant portion of government revenue comes from property stamp duties. About 50% of the population lives in public housing.

Watch the interview below for some more interesting insights. In the next segment published below that tomorrow, we talk about China’s current status on human rights and religious freedoms.

In theory, the Chinese constitution offers its citizens freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and all the other freedoms we would consider beneficial. In practice, they are heavily limited. When you compare China to the rest of the world in regards to levels of freedom, they rank very low comparatively.

The daily experience living in China doesn’t feel oppressive though. It’s easier to spot what’s missing then to see freedom being actively suffocated. Things like scathingly critical opinion pieces in the media are never published, and certainly not without inviting trouble. The press is not free to relentlessly pursue government scandals or incompetence.

You may not notice the lack of freedom in China until you want to have a large family and have to seek government approval, or until you want to worship in the church of your choice, or until you want to openly criticise someone in political power.

Persecution in China is also less overt and more subtle than the days when someone would just disappear when the secret police came knocking. Now, you’re more likely to find you’re suddenly in trouble over questions regarding your tax compliance from a few years ago, or your daughter’s university application may get mysteriously declined, or your commercial interests may be attacked. It’s very effective to just make life more difficult for people pushing back against an over reaching government.

If you rock the boat or challenge the powers that be, you’ll get labelled as a “trouble maker” who’s bad for the “social harmony”. Kind of like how we use the word “bigot” and “tolerance” to silence people challenging the new totalitarianism of political correctness in the West.

China has government-controlled churches. The Communist Party has recognised the social value of religion and their social work. However the government appoints their own leaders to run their own churches and preach government-approved sermons. This gives them the desired control to make sure there’s no large groups of like-minded people in multiple regions getting carried away with independent notions of freedom and justice (a.k.a. democracy).

There’s a large and growing group of unregistered (underground) churches, but they have no property rights and have a precarious position – the government barely tolerates them. These are nevertheless extremely popular despite the risks. These people want to be true to their faith. They don’t want a government-approved message.

There’s something inherently contradictory about “regulated Truth”.

Watch the interview below for some more interesting insights. In the final segment published below that tomorrow, we talk about observable ways that Australia is similarly beginning to restrict freedoms as seen in Communist China.

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