About seven years ago, I made a very speculative (and ultimately spectacularly unsuccessful) investment in a venture which was seeking to close a deal to clean up some of the abundant pollution in mainland China.
As I trusted the friend who put me onto this (despite his starting to live a fantasy life approaching that of Walter Mitty), I ended up ignoring more red flags than Moscow on Mayday.
In retrospect, the utterances of the ‘director’ of this venture comprised several red flags. He regularly spoke not so much about how they were going to close one or other deals with the communists, but how he was going to spend the money he was going to make from the deal. He sounded like an Amway pitch in reverse (my exposure to Amway is limited, but I am familiar with the style of their pitch), in that he needed to convince himself, rather than others.
The shopping list included:
. a private jet
. a villa on the Amalfi coast
. a very big party at a cigar bar in Hawthorn to celebrate and share the good fortune when the deal was closed
. buying a title of nobility from the deposed Italian Royal Family.
None of this ever transpired, although, given his subsequent conduct as a director in relation to the conflict of interest between his own interests and those of his trusting investors, I get the feeling that he was 80% of a Count anyway – he just needed to buy a vowel.
But I can laugh, mostly.
One conservation with him was particularly revealing about the pragmatism of his political convictions. He said: “In Australia I am a monarchist, in America I am a Republican, and in China I am a communist.”
When we are looking at the current situation with the Pandemic and relations with the Peoples’ Republic of China, you have to perhaps wonder how many other, far more successful and decent, businesspeople share this pragmatism, and whether it is indeed in Australia’s national interest for them to have that pragmatism.
The incident engineered by iron ore magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest yesterday at a press conference involving the Australian Federal Health minister, where an official from the Chinese Embassy was able to use the press conference as a soap box to criticise Australian government policy is in the minds of most people today, and with legitimate concern.
Twiggy Forrest is one of Australia’s bunyip aristocrats, related to Sir John Forrest, one of the fathers of Federation, and a far better bunyip aristocrat than most. For many such, the idea of noblesse oblige is now one of supporting the spending of taxpayer money on the less fortunate, rather than one’s own money. Twiggy Forrest however, has pledged billions of his own fortune to support worthy causes (and unworthy ones, like Western Australia’s local Super Rugby team).
He is a very decent and generous man, who seeks to use his fortune in part at least for the benefit of his community.
However, in the incident with the Chinese Embassy official, he has brought into stark relief the conflict of interest which many of our richest people, and many of our retired politicians, continuously hope the public ignores.
That is, that due to their significant economic dependence on the Peoples’ Republic of China, their interventions in the public area in Australia are frequently tainted with the interests of Communist China, rather than those primarily of Australia.
I am not a Marxist who will claim that property is theft and that capitalists are exploiting the workers (not only is that theory a gross oversimplification of economics which ignores the evolution of high finance over four hundred years, but it also is based on an erroneous absolute theory of value). Nor am I a militant conservationist who wants to see us stop mining. Making an honest living under a democratic capitalist economic and political system allows for the greatest real good for the greatest number of people.
But what is going at the moment, and which has been troubling a growing number of people in this community since before the publication of Silent Invasion two years ago, is that there are serious attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to unduly influence our society and our democracy.
Where your company sells iron ore principally to Communist China, as do many of our mining magnates, you have a strong interest in keeping your customer happy.
Right now, many Australians are angry at that customer. Whether or not the coronavirus escaped from a Wuhan research laboratory due to poor biosecurity measures (psst.. would you want to buy an infected pig?), the communist regime still is perceived as having quite a lot to answer for in relation to the Pandemic. It is believed to have acted too secretively and mendaciously in relation to the early days of the Pandemic.
In January, before the severity of the outbreak was widely known elsewhere, companies owned by Chinese communist officials stripped the shelves of stores of sanitiser, thermometers, masks, and medical supplies and shipped them back to the PRC. The communists also tried to weaponise the virus against Taiwan, by trying to exclude Taiwan from access to information about the growing health emergency.
Now, people are angry, and many are scared – if not for themselves, then for their elderly relatives. Many people are worried about their jobs, their small businesses, their savings, and their homes, due to the economic chaos which has been unleashed worldwide.
Whilst Twiggy Forrest’s heart may be in the right place, he is understandably silent on many of the flaws of his major customer who is such a large trading partner of our nation. He talks about us sharing ‘one heart’, but he does not mention the millions of Uighurs who are locked up in ‘re-education’ camps, or the repressive Orwellian technology which now ensures the sheep like compliance of the ordinary Chinese citizen, or of the repression of Falun Gong, or the involuntary harvesting of organs for profit.
By engineering this incident, Twiggy Forrest has given his fellow citizens further cause to consider whether we allow companies owned by members of the Chinese Communist Party and their associates the social licence to operate in Australia, and whether indeed we should reassess the level of ties and trade with the Peoples’ Republic of China going forward.
In the Aeneid, Virgil wrote the famous words:
Timeo Danae Donae Ferentes
History has taught us the Trojans’ mistake. You do need to look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially now when he is wearing a mask.