Brief: Polls, LGBTQ accounts, Data regulation, Olympics boycotts

13 July 2021

1. Opinion polls

Opinion polls about China in Australia have proliferated. First, there is the Lowy Poll, which has been running since 2005. As China becomes more important, more questions are asked on the topic.

Just in the last month, there are also the ACRI/BIDA poll and SMH/Age/Resolve Strategic Poll. These two polls ask a broad range of questions on Australia-China relationships. There is also a more niche poll conducted by the Australia Institute on “Should Australia go to war with China in defence of Taiwan?”

The results of Lowy, ACRI, or SMH/Age polls were unsurprising. But I was surprised by the Australia Institute poll, which found that “A similar number of Australians think China will launch an armed attack on Australia (42%) as on Taiwan (49%)”.

This is astounding… How can Australians believe that the chance of China attacking Australia is on par with China attacking Taiwan?

Interpretations and Cautions

How polls are interpreted and their policy implications usually depend on your pre-existing views. With regards to China, there are two common interpretations. One, the government is responding/acting on valid community anxiety or concerns about China. Two, the government has successfully drummed up anxiety and concerns about China in the community.

In any case, it’s worth remembering that the war in Iraq was never popular in Australia and more actions for climate change is popular in Australia. So the Government often does not implement policies based on public opinions.

Murray Goot wrote an extensive critique of the SMH/Age poll, with a section on China. The critique can be applied to other polls about China. First, Goot observed that large numbers of respondents would have had little or no basis on which to answer. Second, and more interestingly, he believes that the “question format lends itself to acquiescence”. 

Having been told that these were all actions that “Australia” had taken — “Australia” being a cue, for most respondents, likely to carry a high positive affect — and knowing little or nothing about the substance of the actions, a substantial number of respondents are likely to have gone down the list, ticking “strongly support” or “support,” one after the other.

Role of race

We must also be mindful of how race and racism shape public opinions. Medenica and Ebner found that for the US:

White Americans who hold racist beliefs are significantly more likely to endorse aggressive military interventions over diplomacy or economic strategies in foreign countries at odds with the United States, if the residents of those countries are perceived as nonwhite.

This is particularly true when it comes to China.

On racism in Australia, 82% of people believed “foreign buyers from China” were “driving up Australian housing prices”, even though foreign property investment has fallen to record lows. What’s the chance that some of these people see East Asians at an auction and immediately think “foreign buyers from China”?

2. LGBT WeChat accounts

Seemingly out of nowhere, WeChat shut down many university students-run LGBTQ accounts last week. Vague violations of regulations were given as an explanation by WeChat. Whether the latest crackdown is directed by the Government is still unclear, although it’s quite likely.

As we have noted previously, the Chinese Government has intensified the promotion of “traditional family values” and gender norms. Just a few months ago, Weibo and Douban censored feminist accounts. Feminists and LGBTQ activists are generally opposed to strict adherence to gender norms.

While the younger generation has become more accepting of different gender expressions and sexuality, China’s legal system and regulations are still socially conservative. Contents depicting same-sex relationships are banned in mass entertainment (so all the Danmei/Boy Love dramas are depicted as “brotherly love”).

Online, ultra-nationalists have accused LGBTQ activists of “colluding with foreign forces”. Unfortunately, the idea that homosexuality is imported from the West is a common misconception. But it ignores the long recorded history of same-sex love (at least among men) in China (cut sleeve and bitten peaches). On the contrary, it can be argued that homophobia was “imported” along with other Western ideas in the late 19th Century.

As many people (old and young) find information and support online, shutting down these accounts will have detrimental effects on the health and wellbeing of many people in China.

It is a sad state of affairs that the Chinese Government and companies are actively cracking down on feminists and LGBTQ activists while letting ultra-nationalists spread misinformation and harass others freely on the Internet.

3. Data regulation

The Cyberspace Administration of China has released new rules on data security for consultation. The proposed regulation requires companies holding data on more than 1 million users to seek approval before listing overseas.

The proposal lists seven factors that the Cyberspace Administration would consider when granting approval. Among them include:

  • Risks of supply disruptions due to political, diplomatic, and trade factors.

  • Risks of theft, leaking, destruction and illegal use and export of core data, important data or large volume of personal data.

  • Risks of critical infrastructure, core data, important data or large volume of personal data being influenced, controlled, or maliciously used by foreign governments.

Countries around the world are paying much more attention to data security. The national security concerns usually centre on how other countries can access the big data or personal data of domestic residents and use it for malicious purposes. 

The Chinese Government’s data security requirements appear similar to practices in many other jurisdictions. The US Government is also doing work on protecting US data, particularly from “jurisdiction of a foreign adversary, including the People’s Republic of China”.

To ensure data security, many countries, including the EU, are considering data localisation requirements for different types of data. Even when I was working in Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board around four years ago, we were already imposing data localisation conditions.

However, there is a trade-off with data localisation, particularly for small countries. With data localisation, big countries still have a large volume of data they can work with and develop algorithms and services based on big data. Smaller countries do not have the same privilege.

4. Winter Olympics boycott

The European Parliament has called for a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, due to “human rights situation in Hong Kong, the Xinjiang Uyghur Region, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in China”. This is a part of a broader (and non-binding) resolution on Hong Kong. However, before the resolution, the Prime Minister of Greece has already accepted an invitation to attend the Olympics.

There are also pushes for boycotts in other (mostly western) countries, including the US, the UK, Canada and Australia.

I’m not a big sports fan, but separating politics from sports is not easy. International sports is inherently political, starting with which jurisdictions can send participants and who can represent which country.

In any case, a diplomatic boycott is not the same as a sporting boycott. Athletes can still compete even with a diplomatic boycott.