Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Nothing hysterical about Alexander

Quite a fascinating interview in the media yesterday with the former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer which seemed to me to endorse the quiet diplomacy approach that Australia is adopting to the imprisonment in China of Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu. There was certainly no impression from Mr Downer that he thought the current Government should have taken the advice of current Liberal Leader Malcolm Turnbull and been more direct and bluntly critical in dealing with the communist government. On the contrary the Downer verdict was that “just because something’s big in the media, doesn’t really mean anything in Australia.”

To his mind the Hu case had not changed anything in the political relationship between the two countries:

Australia has a lot of very big interests in China and China has pretty big interests in Australia, so you know to be frank with you I don’t really know enough about this case and the efforts to try and find out. I haven’t made great efforts to find out, but the company Rio hasn’t wanted to tell us, so given that they don’t tell us anything about it, we don’t really know. And there’s no reason why they should, by the way, but if they don’t want to tell us, well then there’s not much we can do. …

we’ve been dealing with state-owned enterprises for decades in China  — since the 1970s. So this is one incident that has arisen, but we have done tens of thousands of transactions with China over the years. The argument here is: has China decided to do something fundamentally different and is this an indication that they have? Are they going to start going around arresting business executives left, right and centre or is that the plan? And I think the answer to that, is that that is not likely to be the plan. So, what has happened in this case?

See, the facts are going to be the key to understanding this case and bearing in mind we don’t know what the facts are if the company doesn’t want to tell us which is fair enough. I’m not saying they should, I’m not being critical of them, but it’s hard to know whether this case is as you would say it’s sui generis. It strikes me that it is sui generis [unique in its characteristics]. It may or may not be unfair, but it does strike me as being sui generis.

As interesting to me as what Mr Downer said on this subject was where his views were published. While I might be playing what newspaper chief executives see as the normal parasitical role of an internet journalists I was not quoting from the result of hard work by some main stream media outlet but from the Business Spectatorwebsite that is related to this one. This was not some insightful reporting from the mainstream but an example of how some internet only news sites are doing a better job of reporting than the traditional newspapers.

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