Queensland, Australia, Sen. Matthew Canavan joined hosts Rebecca Mansour and John Hayward on Thursday’s edition of Breitbart News Tonight to discuss a remarkable incident on Wednesday in which billionaire philanthropist Andrew Forrest invited a Chinese Communist Party official to make a surprise appearance at a press conference he was holding with Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Canavan noted Forrest is the owner of an iron ore company, and therefore a key figure in Australia’s most important export industry, which happens to count China as its top customer.
“Andrew is a great businessman. He’s done a lot of philanthropy. He’s a good bloke, normally,” said Canavan. “But he does have a blind spot here when it comes to China, because his business is reliant on the strength of the Chinese economy and the relationship he’s got with that country.”
“Yesterday, here in Australia, he had a press conference with the Australian government where he was announcing the purchase of a million test kits from China for the coronavirus,” Canavan said. “There was an announcement saying that was good for our country. And without warning, without letting the Australian government know, Mr. Forrest invited the consul-general for the Chinese consulate in Melbourne, Australia, up to say a few words, a bit of Chinese propaganda.”
“This was a press conference conducted at the Commonwealth parliamentary offices in Melbourne, in front of that coat of arms, and it provided a platform for the Chinese Communist government to provide their views to the world about what a great jot they’re doing at the moment, in regards to the coronavirus,” he pointed out.
“It gobsmacked a lot of people here in this country,” Canavan said. “In some respects, though, it’s helped highlight this issue. The reaction here in Australia has been, ‘Well, this is ridiculous. We cannot have our nation’s foreign policy, and our nation’s business leaders, kowtow to another country in this way.’”
Canavan said Minister Hunt told him he was alerted to the presence of the surprise Chinese guest at his press conference “as he walked into the room, with the cameras already on.”
“It was a PR stunt, organized to try to help the messaging of the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.
“I’m very hopeful about where we’ll end up on these issues, though, as Western countries — along with our friends, with you in America,” he added. “Because a lot of this propaganda is amateur hour, and people see through it. We’ve got very good — we call them B.S. detectors here in Australia, very good detectors of when people are trying to say something that’s not right.”
“What yesterday did was just highlight that the Chinese Communist is full of it,” he said. “They’re full of it, and they’re trying to put out this message to the world that they’re somehow the messiahs and saviors and helping everybody respond to it. It came from their country. At best, it was simply mismanaged and covered up by their country. We’re still trying to establish exactly what happened. And now they’re trying to pull the wool over the whole world’s eyes and present themselves as heroes.”
“It’s not going to fly. People are not that gullible. Yesterday’s kind of stunts just highlight the duplicity of the Chinese administration, and we’re all going to stand up against it,” he predicted.
Canavan stressed that Forest and other pro-China business leaders in Australia are not malevolent or unpatriotic.
“In some respects I understand the situation they’re in,” he said. “Yes, if we’re to seek to reduce our reliance on China — and our economy is quite reliant on China — that will come at a cost. It will come at an economic cost. It potentially comes at a cost to businesses.”
“But the key question before us as a country is: Should our foreign policy, our government’s policy settings, be dictated to by other nations? Should the economic costs of setting our own policy and our own independent policies, be a factor in those policy settings?” he asked.
“As soon as you express that question, as soon as you put it in those bold terms to almost every Australian in this country, it’s like: ‘Absolutely not. No way.’ We’re a very independent sovereign country. We’re proud. We’re very good friends with you, but we’re our own country, and we decide our own policies and positions on issues, on our own terms,” Canavan said.
“If a situation has arisen where the cost of taking an independent stance on issues is too high, then we’ve got a problem,” he cautioned. “And I think that problem is starting to emerge in your country too, where you see Hollywood and major media outlets try and factor in, or respond, to how it might be looked at or perceived in another country, in China.”
“So I think we’ve got a problem, and we’d better work at ways of reducing the world’s reliance on just one country, on just one authoritarian regime, because it’s not healthy. It’s a bad position to be in when you lose your own freedom and independence,” he said.
Canavan said it was important to consider the true cost of doing business with a government like Communist China.
“It’s tempting to say, well, the big-screen TVs are cheap, and the 5G networks can be built at the lowest cost by China. But if part of the deal, if part of the trade is, ‘Well, we get the cheap infrastructure, you get a bit of money — and also here, we’re giving you the right to decide our own policy and run our own country,’ well, there’s no price that’s worth that. It doesn’t matter how low the price is, if you’re giving away your own security and independence,” he said.
“As the old saying goes, you’re only haggling about the price. You’ve already established who you are, and on what terms you operate,” he observed, alluding to a famous bit of sarcasm attributed to various witty interlocutors over the years.
Canavan noted that political conservatives in Australia, such as himself, are particularly worried about the temptation to “want to promote business, and want to promote economic growth” through such initiatives as a low-cost 5G wireless network, while not taking all of the necessary precautions to safeguard the nation’s independence.
“One reason that I am supportive of a prosperous economy and strong business sector is so that generates the wealth and prosperity that gives you freedom,” he said. “If you can pay your bills in life, you’ve got the freedom, and you’ve got choices of doing things. But if you’re trading that freedom out to get the money, well then you’ve just defeated the purpose of establishing a wealthy and prosperous country. That’s what we’ve got to ward against.”
“Business sometimes gets clouded about that, because they’re so focused on the sound of their business,” he observed. “There’s a broader interest here involved. Australia was the first country, I think, in the world to say no to Huawei, to say no, we’re not going to have their 5G network built by a state-owned, Communist-run telecommunications company. That’s come at some cost to us. The Chinese government clearly are not happy about our decision, but it was clearly the right decision, and we’ve seen since we made that decision many more countries coming to the same viewpoint.”
Canavan recalled the “useful idiots” of the Cold War, who helped the Soviet Union’s propaganda efforts but “often didn’t even realize they were being used by a malevolent dictatorial authoritarian regime.” He said he was not pessimistic about the same situation occurring with the same scale today because more people “actually can see through what’s happening” with Communist China.
“There is still a certain amount of naivete about the Chinese propaganda machine,” he allowed. “We should not be scared about it.”
Canavan said China’s propaganda efforts are even more widely mocked and satirized than the Soviet Union’s were, to the point where the Chinese consulate has been writing letters of complaint to Australian newspapers to complain about how frequently they are lampooned.
“Ultimately, communism loses because people can see that it is clownish. It is comedic,” he said. “One of the ways we won the Cold War — you won the Cold War — was that Ronald Reagan was just so good at lampooning them. He just totally made fun of them.”
On the other hand, Canavan noted the Chinese Communist Party does not have a sense of humor about the kind of public-relations stunt it pulled in Melbourne.
“Can you imagine if a Chinese businessman had invited the Australian ambassador to a press conference in China, on official government territory?” he asked. “That businessman might not be around for much longer.”
“That’s not how we operate. Mr. Forrest is welcome to his views,” Canavan declared. “We’re a democracy. We have freedom. We’ve got to be careful we don’t become the enemy here, and the enemy are those authoritarian regimes who just do not brook dissent.”
“Whenever someone looks like they’re kowtowing, they get absolutely pureed in the public domain. I take heart at that, and I take heart at the reaction of the Australian people in the last few days,” he said.
“But we’re not going to lock them up,” he added of those who share Forrest’s views on China. “I hope he keeps expressing his views. Good luck to him. Good sense will win.”
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