Mistrust of Chinese ‘risks Australia’s diaspora advantage’

Alienation of Chinese students and graduates risks encouraging a monoculture of the ‘male, pale and stale’, senate told

February 14, 2020
Chinese students at university
Source: iStock

An emerging mistrust of Chinese students risks depriving Australia of one of its most strategically advantageous cadres of human capital, a Canberra forum has heard.

Former University of Hong Kong arts dean Kam Louie said portrayals of Chinese students as “anti-democratic spies” could rob Australia of its “diaspora advantage”. He said many of these students were more supportive of democracy than their Australian counterparts.

“Some of them would be against the Australian system, but most actually see Australia as home,” Professor Louie told a public hearing conducted as part of a senate inquiry into nationhood, national identity and democracy.

“The students are not citizens in the legal sense, but they are civic citizens in the sense that many probably will settle here. More and more students that we see at universities are second generation.

“The real problem for Australia is [that] these people say, ‘if we’re not appreciated here, we go somewhere [else] – America, Singapore, Hong Kong, whatever’.”

He said this risked triggering a domino effect where more young people of Chinese heritage left, because they felt out of place in workplaces dominated by people who were “male, pale and stale”.

Professor Louie, who was president of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities, has also served as professor of Chinese at the University of Queensland and Australian National University. He co-chaired an expert group that authored a 2016 report entitled Australia’s Diaspora Advantage: Realising the potential for building transnational business networks with Asia.

He said there was a clear advantage in hosting a Chinese diaspora. “They know many languages. They have some idea of Chinese culture even [if] they’ve spent their whole lives here.

“These people have a really good sense of where the world is going. The idea of citizenship and modernity is changing all the time. Almost by definition, their view is much more [a] worldview than the narrow citizenship kind.

“That advantage is extremely important for Australia, and that advantage is often wasted. You’re losing the best people.”


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