It should be the dream relationship, but when one side is calling the other “bastards” and “mongrels”, you can be forgiven for thinking that, well, even dream couples have their moments.
Australia and China have got very rich by trading with each other over the last 20 years. Australia’s seemingly endless natural resources, especially its coal and iron ore, have helped to build China’s cities and factories, while China’s money has raised Australian living standards to level never seen before. Total trade between the two has doubled in the last five years alone to over $150 billion.
But a foul-mouthed rant by one of Australia’s richest men Monday night gave an insight into some of the tensions that that relationship creates.
Clive Palmer, a mining tycoon-turned-politician, has done better out of the China trade than most Australians. He now has enough money to plan on building a replica of the Titanic. But that didn’t stop him turning the air blue on national TV, when the topic turned to his dispute with former business partner Citic Pacific, whom he described as “Chinese mongrels.”
“They’re communists, they shoot their own people, they haven’t got a justice system and they want to take over this country,” Palmer said, warming to his theme.
Palmer is suing Citic Pacific in the Supreme Court over the royalties dispute, but used the issue to back into what appeared to be more general grievances about China’s use of its economic muscle.
“It won’t stop the fact that the Chinese government wants to bring workers over here and destroy our wage system, it won’t stop the fact that they want to take over our ports and get our resources for free,” he said. “And I don’t mind standing up to the Chinese bastards and stopping them doing it.”
No-one at Citic Pacific was reachable for comment Tuesday. However. the Chinese embassy in Canberra countered that: “The words of Mr Clive Palmer MP are absurd and irresponsible…full of ignorance and prejudice,” according to the Australian Associated Press.
The crass insult has been an integral part of Australian political debate for years. Paul Keating, a 1990s Prime Minister famous for–among other things–patting Queen Elizabeth’s behind during one of her state visits, routinely described his political opponents as “scumbags”, “dullards” and “pansies,” even when speaking in parliament.
And a certain–how shall we say–air of superiority has also tended to color Australian views of China through the years. In 1992, when the last British Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, lost his dog, Foreign Minister Gareth Evans joked that it had probably ended up on the plate of then-President Deng Xiao Ping. “The governor’s dog is probably a supreme delicacy,” Evans said.
All the same, there was a communal sharp intake of breath at Palmer’s outburst, with government officials among the first to distance themselves from such a broad swipe at the country’s largest trading partner.
Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said Palmer’s comments were “offensive, unnecessary and unacceptable for a member of parliament to make” and that it was not appropriate to “vent his bitterness” over a business deal on national TV.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten, meanwhile, told Guardian Australia that ““China is one of our most important relationships and unwarranted sprays like this are not helpful at all…We’ve come a long way as a proud multicultural nation and these comments are unacceptable.”