Thousands of pro-China supporters greeted the Olympic Torch in Canberra, Australia's capital. Carrying red Chinese flags, they tried to drown out the hundreds of activists protesting against human rights abuses in China. The Australian economy is buoyant thanks to Chinese immigrants and investment.
Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe lights cauldron, ending Canberra leg of Olympic torch relay
Australia has benefited greatly from the economic boom in China. The Australian economy is currently being buffered against the US sub-prime mortgage crisis to a certain extent because of the demand for Australian raw materials in China that is keeping the economy largely buoyant.
The unemployment rate is low at 4 percent and the Australian dollar recently hit a 24-year high against the US dollar. Interest rates are also high, caused in part by the high Chinese demand for Australian products, and the reserve bank’s attempts to keep inflation at a manageable level.
The new Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, speaks Mandarin Chinese fluently, and spent several years in China serving as a diplomat. On a recent visit to Beijing, he criticised the People's Republic's human rights record in talks, making clear the Australian government’s position. But trade was the main issue of interest to his Chinese interlocutors.
Human rights supporters
A large crowd had gathered to watch the beginning of the Canberra leg of the torch run. Public opinion in Australia tends to be critical of the Chinese position on human rights and freedom of speech as some Australians amidst the Chinese and Tibetan protesters expressed.
“At the awarding of the Olympics to China there was a lot of hope that that would improve the human rights situation in China,” said one woman. “But in fact, it’s gone in the other direction -- the Olympics have been used as an opportunity for the Chinese government to crack down on dissident groups, democracy groups, the Tibetans and on a whole range of other people.”
Another man close by explained what had made him come to the anti-China protest: “I’ve been to Lhasa and Canberra today feels like Lhasa -- it’s totally dominated by the Chinese Communist flag and the Tibetan flag is being suppressed, the Australian flag is almost missing.”
“There are echoes of Lhasa where the Tibetan people can’t raise their own flag or they’ll go to jail. We cannot, ever, turn our backs on their right to freedom, their right to religious expression, their right to self-determination. That’s why I’m here today and for the people in China who thirst for democracy.”
One well-known Australian Olympian running with the torch defended the rights of Australians and all others to protest and freedom of speech, criticising the heavy police presence. Olympic champion swimmer, Ian Thorpe, also running with the torch, expressed his support for the protesters saying some had “very valid reasons”.
Boosting the Australian economy
Over the past decade or so, there has been an influx of Chinese immigration to Australia, notably since the handover of Hong Kong by the British in 1997.
More recently, large sums of Chinese money and investment have also come into the country.
Many younger Chinese are also coming to Australia for tertiary education and training.
Economic prospects for Australia look good for the future, due to its proximity to Asia and its wealth of natural resources.