James Paterson and Andrew Hastie

Australian politicians James Paterson and Andrew Hastie are unapologetic after being banned from China for criticizing the government’s policies. Liam Glen writes on why this should be a model in future attempts at censorship.

As the Chinese Communist Party’s intolerance of dissent reaches beyond its own borders, it has become a domestic issue in many other countries.

This was seen recently when two Australia politicians – Senator James Paterson and MP Andrew Hastie – were denied entry into China for a study tour due to their criticism of the government. When offered the chance to repent, they firmly refused.

While it was a simple act, it is a refreshing break from stories of capitulation on the part of various companies and public figures. And it should serve as a model for anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation. 

Tolerating Intolerance

All things considered, Paterson and Hastie’s refusal to apologize was not particularly impressive. As prominent conservative politicians who had staked their reputations on the issue, they had much more to lose from the humiliation of a public apology than they had to benefit from attending the tour. If anything, the resulting publicity has been one of the greatest boons of their careers.

Though, they did go further than most. In response to the controversy, Labor MP Linda Burney lazily described the differences between Australia and China as “We have a different value system, different political systems.”

This type of euphemism is common in discussions over human rights. Abstract talk of political and cultural distinctions evokes meaningless distinctions like having a parliamentary versus a presidential system, or driving on the right versus left side of the road. It makes it easier to ignore concrete realities like placing ethnic minorities in internment camps or assaulting protestors in Hong Kong.

One has a clearer conscious when speaking of China as a homogenous entity whose differences with the West can be solved by tolerance and understanding. In such a case, one can refuse to acknowledge the difference between the Chinese regime and its citizenry, the former of whose existence is only tenable so long as it keeps its jackboot planted firmly on the latter’s face.

Thankfully, politicians and commentators in democracies have every incentive to stand against the dictatorship. The same, however, cannot be said about private companies who continue to surrender to the Communist Party’s demands.

Money at the Mouth

Controlling the world’s second-largest economy and over a billion potential consumers, the Chinese government is a powerful player in the global marketplace, and it takes every step to ensure a friendly atmosphere for itself.

Companies will go to comical extremes to avoid even the appearance of something that could displease the gatekeepers in Beijing. In the upcoming sequel to the movie Top Gun, for instance, the Japanese and Taiwanese flags have been removed from protagonist’s leather jacket, apparently due to the countries’ rivalry with the Chinese state.

Traditionally, such compromises have met with eye-rolling, but no serious backlash. As the abuses of the Chinese government – namely regarding the Hong Kong protests – gain more publicity, however, it is becoming increasingly difficult to play both sides.

The NBA was put in a tough spot in October when Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey sent out a tweet supporting the protesters. This time, its attempts to bend over backwards sparked a reaction from the other side.

The NBA’s melodramatic apology to the Chinese government, bemoaning how “deeply offended” state officials must feel after Morey’s comments, met with widespread mockery. The same reaction accompanied LeBron James’s declaration that individuals should not use their free speech to criticize dictatorships because “so many people could have been harmed, not only financially, but physically. Emotionally. Spiritually.”

Similar backlash forced the video game Blizzard to undo its recension of prize money to an e-sports player after he publicly supported the Hong Kong protests.

The private sector – notably the entertainment industry – has a great deal of influence over what ideas enter the public discourse. When an entity like the Chinese Communist Party can interfere in this, nothing good will come of it.

Despite the growing trend of “corporate wokeness,” most companies will not take a public stance unless it affects their bottom line. For this reason, the only solution to corporations bowing to dictatorships’ demands is to create a culture that refuses to accept it.

Liam Glen

Liam Glen is Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. He is studying Political Science with minors in Sustainability Studies and Conflict Management at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill....