Newsletter 338

Published May 18, 2020
Could the coronavirus be the work of the evil Fu Manchu??!

It’s an adage that governments should never waste a good crisis but what we’re seeing at present in relation to China goes beyond political opportunism. Having made a mess of his nation’s response to the cornonavirus, Donald Trump has resorted to his usual strategies of seeking a scapegoat for all of his problems and setting up a massive distraction. It rather dignifies this practice to call it a “strategy”. For this President, blame-shifting is an instinct. Instead of seeking to limit the number of coronavirus casualties he’s more concerned with avoiding responsibility.

China is the obvious candidate for his attentions. Not only does this piggyback on his disastrous trade war, it mobilises the racist attitudes that thrive in so many parts of America. To suggest the virus was made in a laboratory in Wuhan – and imply it was deliberately released on themselves by the cunning Chinese – is the grossest of conspiracy theories. With the economy in freefall he will be hammering away at China from now until election day.

What we know is that the virus most probably originated in Wuhan, and the initial Chinese response was to try and keep the news under wraps. This is an unfortunate and all-too-predictable result of a government that has let it be known it only wants to hear good reports, and will take a hard line on critics and dissidents. Create a climate of fear and no-one wants to be the first to sound the alert when there’s a bona fide problem. In this sense the Chinese are culpable, but it’s hard to imagine they had the slightest desire for the virus to spread throughout their own country and the rest of the world. Where there is no intent it’s completely counterproductive to start demanding punishments and reparations.

In Australia it was especially creepy to see Scummo calling for an international investigation into China. He obviously feels this makes him look like a tough guy and a world leader, but it’s the stupidest thing one can imagine. Australia needs China more than China needs us. Much of our economy depends on Chinese trade and investment, and the relationship is already shaky. Surely we’ve learnt by now that if one is to have any success in negotiations with China it’s best to conduct those discussions discreetly rather than bellowing in front of the news cameras. Andrew Forrest and Kerry Stokes were quick to point this out, and they’ve both had long-term business dealings with the Chinese.

Scummo’s tactics were clear. By leading the charge againts China he wants to show Donald trump that we’re his faithful lackeys. Like Trump he wants to distract attention from his domestic problems, hoping that everyone’s forgotten the bushfire debacle and the ongoing stories of corrupt and dishonest ministerial behaviour. Mention China and he’ll be demanding transparency and accountability. Mention Bridget McKenzie or Angus Taylor and he’ll say: “This is no time to play politics. We’ve got to stay focused on keeping our country safe.”

With the coronavirus he got off to a slow start but soon realised what had to be done and may feel reassured that a catastrophe has been averted. Nevertheless by attacking China he’s looking for an insurance policy in case something goes wrong at a late stage. It doesn’t seem to worry him that he’s also stirring up racist sentiment in the community. When anti-Chinese violence starts happening he’ll put on his worried face and tell us it’s unAustralian.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who wanted to throw a shoe at the TV when Scummo smirkingly announced that Australians had done so well at social isolation we deserve an “early mark”. He obviously believes one can speak to the electorate as if to a class of small children.

Enough politics. The column this week looks at more fundamental matters, namely the artist’s need for solitude, and the way this state has been portrayed in art. I’m enjoying the essay format, but every piece could be ten times longer. If I ever gave up the newspaper game I worry that I’d lose the habits of concision that the format imposes on a writer. Nevertheless, it’d be nice to have just a little more space sometimes…

Had I more space for his week’s film column I’m afraid it would only have lead to a more elaborate set of complaints about the new Netflix series, Hollywood, which seemed promising but turned out to be one of worst things I’ve seen this year. By the end of seven episodes I was groaning with exasperation. It was almost as bad as watching the nightly news.