Op-ed by Yan Xia, the chief editor of Vision China Times, an independent Chinese language media outlet in Australia
Since the Australian government’s efforts to prevent foreign interference began, two arguments have been deliberately exaggerated when it comes to discussions about the Australian-Chinese community: racial discrimination and McCarthyism.
Subscribe to our Newsletter!
Receive selected content straight into your inbox.
At a hearing in October last year, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz publicly asked three Chinese-Australian citizens: “Are you willing to unconditionally condemn the Chinese Communist Party’s dictatorship?” The three participants not only refused to answer, but said that such a question arouses suspicion of “racism” against the Chinese, which is a replica of “McCarthyism” in Australia. Their response has won the support of some leftists, causing endless turmoil, and a barrage of various public opinions.
Australia is known historically for having the “White Australia Policy,” which aimed to prevent the immigration of people of non-European ethnic origin into the country in the early 1900s. It is understandable that Chinese often use “racism” as a warning. However, the accusations of “McCarthyism” have only appeared in recent years and have mainly been used by several former Australian politicians.
In 2016, Labor Senator Sam Dastyari was involved in a scandal involving Huang Xiangmo’s political donations that ended his political career. In response to this, the former Foreign Minister and the then Director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, Bob Carr, publicly called the Australian media’s criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) a revival of “McCarthyism.”
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has also jumped on the bandwagon as the strategic tension between Australia and China intensifies, repeatedly criticizing the Liberal government for responding to China with “McCarthyism.” Of note, he once strongly criticized Liberal Minister Andrew Hastie’s accusation of the CCP’s conduct, saying that Australia may fall into an era of McCarthyism.
What’s interesting is that when Australian scholars or former politicians crackdown on voices criticizing the CCP by saying they want to prevent McCarthyism in Australia, the Xinhua News Agency and other Party mouthpieces will praise it and spread it widely.
What is McCarthyism?
The media’s description of “McCarthyism” is almost inconclusive and vague. So what kind of “devil” is “McCarthyism”?
To understand that period of history, we must go back to the years of the Chinese Civil War between the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and the Communist Party.
After Japan surrendered, with the support of the Soviet Red Army, the CCP launched a civil war with the intention of overthrowing the Nationalist Party government, an ally of the United States. People have always thought that the left-leaning Truman administration at that time was on the side of the Chinese Nationalist government, but that was not the case. Due to the misjudgment of the China situation by the U.S. government, it held onto some illusions and did not pay attention to the rise of the CCP. This resulted in the U.S. government agencies and troops stationed in China remaining on the sidelines during the Kuomintang-Communist Civil War, and requests for assistance from the Chinese Nationalist Government were basically ignored. As a result, China “changed color.”
After the CCP seized power, the Korean War broke out, and the United States had no choice but to join the fight against the CCP regime at a high cost. Only then did the U.S. government realize that intelligence agents from the Soviet Communist Party and the Chinese Communist Party were very prevalent in the United States, to the point of almost affecting the government’s judgment.
At this time, a U.S. Republican senator named Joseph McCarthy came into the spotlight. In a speech in February 1950, McCarthy severely criticized the communists’ infiltration and destruction, especially the infiltration of the U.S. State Department and the military. He accused the U.S. authorities of ignoring the harmfulness of communist espionage, causing the United States to “lose China” and eventually having to fight against China.
McCarthy pointed the finger at the four “China hands” who directly influenced the U.S.-China policy. The first to bear the brunt was John King Fairbank, a leader in the field of Chinese studies in the United States. McCarthy started calling them the “four Johns” responsible for the “loss of China,” since it just so happened that all four were named “John.” Leveling the accusation of communist espionage against heavyweights in the U.S. was one of the reasons for McCarthy’s ultimate failure.
McCarthy’s criticism of the government attracted great attention throughout the country and made him the most well-known political figure in the United States. His appeal awakened many Americans who saw clearly the true nature of communism; it also made countless Communist Party members entrenched in various fields to be extremely ashamed. Of course, he also angered U.S. leftists, pro-Communists, as well as top-level influencers in the U.S. military.
As a large number of pro-Communists were suspected of being Communist Party members or communist spies, they were cast aside by society, with some losing their jobs, and some leftist organizations were also investigated. As a result, the powerful leftist forces in the United States and high-level military officials believed that the anti-communist wave had gone too far. They accused McCarthy of “making a fuss out of nothing,” creating a “human rights crisis,” and causing “social unrest,” and called this phenomenon of the far-right “McCarthyism.”
In 1953, after General Dwight D. Eisenhower became the President of the United States, the conflict between McCarthy and the U.S. Army intensified. In the end, McCarthy’s accusation of “mass infiltration of the United States by Communists” was censured by the Senate.
Since then, the disgracefully controversial argument for the U.S. government — why there was a “loss of China” — was no longer discussed. “Combating McCarthyism” has become ideological political correctness. Nonetheless, from Truman to Eisenhower, the U.S. government made patchwork attempts to formulate a series of bills to weaken the Communist Party’s penetration and influence in the United States.
However, as for McCarthy himself, history is still inconclusive. According to some reports, after the Soviet archives were declassified, it was discovered that from the 1940s to the 1950s, Soviet spies did indeed operate vigorously in the United States. This exceeded many academics’ expectations. To a certain extent, McCarthy was quite accurate in those who were identified as Communists back then.
Although there have been many people defending John Fairbank and his students are still influential in academia, many researchers continue to draw the following conclusions based on Fairbank’s literature: “[He] spread rumors to discredit the Nationalist Party and attacked the credibility of the Nationalist government; contributed to U.S. policy favoring the CCP which impacted the defeat of the Nationalist government on the mainland. He is undoubtedly a hero in the eyes of the CCP.”
Therefore, the emergence of “McCarthyism” came from a special time in history and McCarthy’s own merit or lack thereof in American history varies widely depending on who you ask. However, it is unquestionable that the much-contested Fairbank and others were touted as heroes by the CCP and were key elements involved in their seizure of power.
At a forum at the end of February, I took the opportunity to consult several Australian scholars and parliamentarians about “McCarthyism.” Although their comments about it were different, they all agreed that there is no “McCarthyism” in Australia. Those who clamor against “McCarthyism” are doing nothing more than suppressing the criticism of the CCP.
Clive Hamilton, a well-known left-wing academic in Australia, believes that historical accusations of “McCarthyism” are inaccurate. “McCarthyism” sought to exclude communists from various institutions such as the U.S. Congress, Hollywood, and trade unions but instead devolved into a “witch hunt” in the United States.
George Christensen, a right-wing member of the Liberal Party of the House of Representatives in Australia, said that the criticism of “McCarthyism” in the past was due to the fact that there were attacks on imaginary enemies with a lack of proof. But in Australia, there is no lack of proof. It is a fact that the CCP influences and undermines Australian values. Targets that the Australian Federal Police lock in on are those confirmed by our intelligence agency.
Professor Feng Chongyi of the University of Technology Sydney, who studies Chinese history, believes that although “McCarthyism” had unsatisfactory flaws, the warnings issued by McCarthy back then are very valuable because he prompted people to reflect on safeguards against communism. He said that some people in Australia today have deliberately maintained the thinking of more than 60 years ago, believing that investigating people who advance the CCP’s interests violates human rights.
In this regard, I believe that irresponsible public opinion often misleads society. In fact, McCarthy is not a “monster,” but one of the rare people to awaken to the truth. The current attitude of Australia toward China is completely unrelated to “McCarthyism.”
Due to Australia’s sound legal system and successful multicultural society, even if the CCP’s penetration into Australia far exceeds that of the United States in the 1950s, there has never been a McCarthy in Australian politics, let alone “McCarthyism.” On the contrary, there are an endless number of Fairbanks.
The original Chinese version of this article can be found here.