Letter 39: Great Journalism Made Better With a Great (International) Audience

I’m honestly not sure there is another place in the Australian media landscape where you’d find such a range of views and backgrounds all together.

The comments below are just a small sample of what came in, but their authors include a 22-year-old University of Sydney law student, several professionals from all over Australia, an 85-year-old retiree, an Aboriginal woman in Victoria, a Chinese businessman (whose comments we translated) and an American in San Francisco.

It’s proof of what I’ve known for a while now: Great journalism is made better by a great audience.

Letter 39: Great Journalism Made Better With a Great (International) Audience
Letter 39: Great Journalism Made Better With a Great (International) Audience

I honestly marvel each week at all the comments that come in from readers of this newsletter. I learn from all of you, and I hope you all learn a bit from one another other as well.

And in this case, the discussion has been even richer because it spanned languages. My newsletter last week was translated into Chinese, as was my article this week.

Both were featured on The New York Times’s Chinese-language website — which translates about a dozen of our most interesting stories every day, along with special features like Word of the Day — and as a result, this newsletter now includes several New York Times readers in Australia who prefer to respond in Chinese.

So as the year comes to an end (I’ll be on hiatus until early January), I’m turning this week’s installment over to all of you, our insightful readers, the newly arrived and the well established.

Thank you. For reading. For contributing. For subscribing.

Here are those (lightly edited) comments. And if you have tips for stories related to the Australia-China relationship, please email us:

See you next year.


‘Australia’s Dance Macabre’

They say it takes two to tango and this is Australia’s dance macabre. Our politicians are blinded by the money the Chinese pump into our economy. In their eagerness to sell the country, from iron ore to real estate, they appear to forget about those of us at home who may not be able to survive in our own country.

Then there’s the slight issue of China’s obvious expansionist ambitions.

Last but not least, could I write this response in China without disappearing into a government run re-education program?

Wake up Australia. We don’t need the Chinese with their communist version of a new age capitalism inspired by a poorly translated novel by Ayn Rand ruining our economy and government. We can do that ourselves.

— Lon Eisenweger

‘Potential +1 Moments’

If Americans or Australians approach China with a sense of fear and suspicion, the direction of things will only go one way — down.

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Think of how many people you have met and had a great relationship with, by your starting out disliking the person. Probably not many.

It is much more productive, healthier, and less stressful to focus on the China relationship as a series of potential +1 moments. Is this a good deal? Is that a good deal? Do the sum of these developments / consequences make sense?

— Peter Tsu

‘Our Gutless Politicians’

I am an Asian Australian, migrated to Australia over 35 years ago. Racism especially against non-European migrants remains raw; one does not have to scratch far for it to rear its ugly head.

The root cause is our gutless politicians who are unwilling to stand up against the racist right-wing elements in their political establishment, and to completely eradicate this social blight.

Every year for the past 30 years, Asian students have topped high school and university results. One wonders, where are these bright students represented in the nations top corporations? Where are the C-Suite Asian executives?

Surely, if true meritocracy exists, the numbers would reflect that, but in reality only a pitiful handful are represented in the top companies. The “Bamboo Ceiling” exists, similar to the “glass ceiling” for women. It says, if you are Asian you do not have a chance to advance in this country — it is this country’s hidden apartheid.

Racism and its social injustice holds back this great nation’s potential.

It’s the Sin that keeps giving. It’s the truth that is too hard to deal with.

— Alvin Long

‘China is Taking Over’

I would like to say what many ordinary hard working tax paying Aussies are thinking and quietly talking about for fear of being branded racist. And public debate on the issue is stifled for the same reason. And that is the suspicion and belief that China is taking over this Country by stealth and that in 50 years we will have been well and truly China-ised and unrecognisable as the Country we are today.

And no, I am not a racist, I belong to no political party or far left or right-wing groups; I am a hard-working health professional in my early 60s.

— Carmel O’Heir

‘Be Vigilant’

This comment has been translated.

I am Chinese, living in Australia, and through work I’ve had contact with some people related to bilateral economic and trade associations and chambers of commerce as well as Chinese companies. I believe some of them really are appointed by China to engage in political activities.

This is a fact. For the purpose and impact. First, take into account all the economic resources that are nationalized under China’s control (including some so-called private enterprises). Second, in relation to China’s political influence in Australia, whether it is to undermine Australia’s democratic system or not, it is also just to protect themselves or that regime, which also needs to be clear. In my opinion, the main purpose of the Chinese government is self-protection.

But in the end, democracy and a totalitarian regime cannot coexist. Australia really should be vigilant.

— Michael Zhang

‘How do you Govern Billions’

When I was in China at the World Women’s Conference in 1995 I asked myself: ”How do you govern billions of people?”

I decided that it was not for me to be criticizing plans that have brought so many out of extreme poverty. The population numbers are bewildering. My promise to myself stands, but is more ambivalent.

Since then I’ve watched documentaries showing life for workers in giant Chinese factories improving slightly. Contrastingly, I see homes demolished in cities in the name of development and their owners driven back to the countryside.

I admire the advance in solar energy and transport. I am saddened by the treatment of artists and lawyers for human rights. I see conflicting approaches to pollution control.

I don’t like any Government setting up a military USA-v-China conflict where we in Oz take sides. Both countries are my friends (culturally for China’s rich ancient history; the best of New World for the USA) and both are my enemies (cruel customs and brutal controls in China; Pine Gap and mistaken global interventions by the USA).

— Julanne Sweeney

‘Mature Debate’

As a 22-year-old Australian “millennial,” I consider the question of the Sino-Australian relationship to be one of great import.

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I worry that a mature debate about legitimate concerns regarding our relationship with China and Chinese influence is being drowned out on the left by cries of xenophobia and racism, and on the right by ignorance and protectionism.

At the end of the day, the United States is the guarantor of Australian security and prosperity. Those who would argue otherwise are either ignorant of history, the politics of international relations or willfully blind.

Whilst we cannot ignore China, we should not seek investment at any cost, and the domestic Australian-Chinese community is a valuable resource that we should mobilise to help the Chinese government understand our values and our red lines.

To simply “stand down” would be a grave error. The government must again convince the Australian public of the importance of the United States to our freedom, and I am sure that the institutional momentum of the US state department and military will respond in kind, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

— Lachlan Blair

‘We Cannot Neglect Either’

For Australia (as it should be for other countries as well) relations with China are not a simplistic choice of “friend or foe.” All foreign countries present both threats and opportunities for one’s own country.

China, because of its size, culture and generally effective policies — as well as its menacing hyper-nationalism and belief that might is right — looms very large on both scores. We cannot neglect either.

For Australia (for all other countries as well), bilateral relations with individual countries are important but so is the global international system which is so important in determining our fate.

China is every year becoming more important a player in shaping that system.

The problem for Australia in coping with this is made much more difficult by the fact that Trump’s America is out to lunch on this topic.

Australia (like other counties) does need a good America on this front: the system was badly damaged by Bush Jr.; what we — and the U.S. itself — need is a dynamic and sustained effort at reconstruction.

— Ron Walker

‘Our First People Need to Decide’

This raises serious issues for me as an Aboriginal woman in Victoria!

Why is one immigrant race enabled to increase numbers over all others? Why is this one race enabled to buy up huge tracts of land in Australia? Why such an attachment to Chinese government money in the agriculture industry and real estate?

Why are our politicians enabled to travel as part of Chinese junkets that then result in real estate development across our cities?

So why is one ethnic group given more status or more rights (is it because of their $$$) than our First Peoples?

Our First People need to be help decide who comes who stays and who can leave! As our country is impacted environmentally (my research area) to the extreme to the detriment of our native flora and fauna by immigrants who are not refugees.

I hear no concern for how far we are straining our environmental security!

— Janet Turpie-Johnstone

‘Unbelievable Tripe’

Chinese gold miners were active in parts of Australia even before the arrival of the British, who brought their military and several thousand British prisoners to Australia, having overloaded their own country with convicted criminals after the post-Napoleonic wars.

Today Australia has thousands of Chinese or part-Chinese still living in this country and they have always maintained friendships with Australians and with refugees of various European birth who arrived in more thousands after World War II.

I have lived in Australia all my life. My earlier relations came by sea to Australia in 1850 with my great-great grandfather who arrived with our family when he was only eight years old.

I was born here in 1932 and I am 85 years old as I write this. I have known people from many other nations and I can say with absolute certainty that I have enjoyed friendships with people of all races, including Australian Aboriginals and many Chinese people with whom I have always enjoyed very many friendships.

The current political concerns about Australians and China is nothing more than a lot of unbelievable tripe.

— Rodney E. Lever

Damien Cave is the new Australia bureau chief for The New York Times. He’s covered more than a dozen countries for The Times, including Mexico, Cuba, Iraq and Lebanon. Follow him on Twitter: @damiencave.

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