25 April 2008 - 8:50AM
A coup for the cadres of the embassy
Jack Waterford, Canberra
The emergence, and, in their terms, effectiveness of the red Chinese army in Canberra yesterday was a stunning success for a Chinese embassy intelligence operation which has long maintained close surveillance on most of the nearly 100,000 Chinese students in Australia, and which controls most of the Chinese student associations.
Most of the expenses, and virtually all of the organisation, down to transport, accommodation, strategies, tactics, marshals, face markings and issues of Chinese flags, was arranged by the embassy, which has good reason to think that what occurred overwhelmed protests about Chinese actions in Tibet, other ethnic regions, treatment of the Falung Gung, or actions in Iran, Darfur or Zimbabwe.
By comparison with the value of international and Chinese headlines reporting basic calm, a few arrests, local shock and official distaste in Canberra for the ruthless efficiency of the operation is of little moment.
But to read from that either that the Chinese manipulated a group of brain-washed automatons, or that they blackmailed student participation by threatening repercussions at home, is probably to fundamentally misunderstand what occurred.
It was not threats, real or implicit, that mobilised the students, even if a good many of them understand perfectly well that negative reports could make life unpleasant back home, including for members of families. Nor, by and large, were the numbers gathered in the way of a traditional "spontaneous demonstration" of the sort familiar to those who watch the antics of Arab dictators such as the late Saddam Hussein or political militias in Indonesia.
It was by appealing to a sense of pride, a sense of siege from "unfair" criticism, and a strong belief by many ordinary Chinese students that the upsurge of affected interest in Tibet, or criticism of China, is itself a staged intelligence operation by China's enemies.
A read of the internet discussions focuses particularly on CNN as a supposed senior conspiricist in this propaganda.
The students were invited to rally to defend their country, to show their pride in it, and to express their pleasure and satisfaction at what China has achieved, particularly in recent times.
It was accompanied, of course, by invocations of the wicked motivations, and manipulations, of the enemies of China and the Chinese. These enemies were provoking "splittism" wanting to weaken China by encouraging separatist movements, whether of Tibetans, Uighurs or Muslims.
Canberra has a substantial population of Chinese students, but, even if all mobilised, these were bound to be overwhelmed by splittists, "scum of the Chinese nation" such as Falun Gong supporters, and others wanting to humiliate China in front of the world because Canberra was a "separatist base", full also of monks and "paid Vietnamese thugs".
The Chinese embassy circulated a letter to students hooked into Chinese Students Association networks asking for a voluntary organised and spontaneous peaceful patriotic activity ... to prevent the disruptive actions of Free Tibet campaigners and anti-Chinese elements from interfering with the Olympic torch relay.
The letter an English translation was published by Crikey.com.au told students:
"Discipline: obey orders, act collectively. Prevent all actions that can be detrimental to the image of China, including words, comments and provocative behaviour, or any use of force. When confronting provocation, you must be aware that the media will exaggerate even your most minor actions ... Maintain a smiling face to onlookers, the media and other peaceful demonstrators. Demonstrate the good behaviour of the Chinese.
"The organisers will pay costs in advance. However if any participants wish to pay for themselves, they will be most welcome."
Chinese students in Australia are great internet users, and, like students elsewhere, enthusiastic users of mobiles and other communications devices.
Pride, common purpose, and often, local language difficulties, loneliness and some alienation from Australians as well as a stronger sense of purpose, means most not only socialise with each other, but keep in touch with bulletin boards, representative groups and home.