Ambassador Xiao’s speech: storytelling and the invisible Chinese Communist Party
11 Aug 2022|

China’s ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, has a friendlier way of presenting the Chinese Communist Party propaganda department’s talking points than many of Beijing’s wolf warriors, but it’s the same content, just in nicer wrapping. At his National Press Club speech yesterday there was no strident shouting about Australian ‘finger-pointing’ or emotional claims that Australia had breached the UN charter.

One distinctive thing about his storytelling is the passive, almost invisible role that the CCP has played in the Australia–China relationship and in Chinese actions in the world, contrasted with the active role that the Australian government must take to ‘reset the relationship’.

As the ambassador tells it, it’s all about the emotions and reactions of a highly strung 1.4 billion Chinese people who are quick to feel anger and act on that impulse, all the while apparently feeling great personal warmth and friendship for others, including the Australian people. In this world, the CCP is not a highly controlling autocratic regime; at most it simply acts as a conduit for its people’s emotion.

So, while the Chinese customs folk have put tariffs on some Australian products, the Chinese government has apparently not put in place $20 billion worth of economic sanctions against Australian exports. No, apparently it’s just that the Chinese people had received ‘very negative messages’ from the Australian government and so ‘are not happy’ and not buying Australian products. A warm atmosphere between us—to be created by the Australian government—can change that.

There was also a continued theme from his previous public comments. He told us again that ‘China’s policy of friendship and cooperation towards Australia remains’.

He told us that both governments ‘need to adopt positive policies towards each other’. He said that ‘there has been a good start’ and assured us that the Chinese government is ready to engage with the Australian government to resolve differences.

But there’s little sign that this is the position of his seniors in Beijing, where it seems the expectation continues to be an Australian compromise first as the price for deeper engagement.

The actual content of the speech was core, boilerplate CCP messaging about mutual benefit, proper handling of differences, and China never seeking hegemony, expansion or a sphere of influence.

It had a surreal quality because of the absence of the Chinese government as a real driver of events and decisions in the world he presented, and because that government’s military aggression and expansive territorial claims in places like the South China Sea and against Japan in the East China Sea seemed not to exist.

Some coded references were still clear: Australia is a great nation, but it must not be influenced by ‘a third party’—which is the standard CCP way of telling countries that they are mere pawns of the US without minds of their own, while right-thinking nations listen to China and act in accordance with its interests—independently, of course.

But the high point of his Alice in Wonderland presentation was about Taiwan.

This surreal world was on display with the ambassador’s storytelling about the large Chinese military forces operating aggressively around Taiwan that fired a barrage of ballistic missiles into Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The ambassador distilled this into a single event: a ‘ballistic missile dropped in … an area of dispute,’ he said, and so no one had any right to complain. Indeed, the boilerplate foreign ministry material made an appearance here. China was ‘compelled’ to take ‘legitimate and justified’ ‘countermeasures’ because of the crisis of a political visit to Taiwan.

Most impressive in his rhetorical presentation was the breathtaking lack of proportion and perspective he provided between the Pelosi visit to Taiwan and the large, violent—and continuing—actions by the Chinese military to intimidate and frighten the 23 million people of Taiwan.

To the ambassador, this all makes sense because, ‘It is the US side that fired the first shot.’ Equating the visit of an 82-year-old American politician to a peaceful democratic people with the dangerous and violent military actions ordered by Xi Jinping against Taiwan and Japan isn’t sophistry and isn’t just propaganda—it’s delusion. There are real problems flowing from the limited perspectives inside Xi’s Beijing echo chamber.

And fast behind this was Xiao’s stated belief that most Taiwanese believe Taiwan is part of China and support unification. When confronted with continued polling showing that a large majority of Taiwan’s 23 million people say the opposite, the ambassador simply said, ‘The poll is misleading’.

He spoke several times about ‘the one-China policy’, which is Beijing’s view that Taiwan is a part of the motherland and Taiwan’s government is just a ‘local government’ inside China subordinate to the ‘central government’ in Beijing.

He told us that all nations needed to uphold Beijing’s one-China policy and if we did there would be peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. That could be true in some dystopian future, but not in the way the ambassador might have us believe. If Beijing attempted to conquer Taiwan and its people and succeeded there would be silence, if not peace, at least after the smoke of the invasion cleared.

Quoting the actual text of Australia’s diplomatic recognition of Beijing’s government back in 1972: ‘“The Australian Government recognises the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China [and] acknowledges the position of the Chinese Government that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China”,’ the ambassador warned us that ‘this principle … should not be misinterpreted’. And then he promptly did so, pretending that Australia acknowledging the PRC’s view was the same as Australia agreeing with it.

Once, the ambassador slipped and referred to ‘our one-China policy’ instead of ‘the one-China policy’, creating a narrative gap in which other versions of this critical policy on Taiwan might exist (as they do) and compromises might be needed. But this was a momentary lapse, quickly rectified: Beijing could not compromise on Taiwan and would not renounce force against it, just as Beijing could not compromise on any of its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The ambassador’s ability to sound urbane while presenting the unapologetically uncompromising position of his superiors back in Beijing is a display worth watching, if only to notice the gap between his words of warmth and friendship and Beijing’s actions. Welcome to the world of the CCP.