Post-413: On Australia, Brisbane, Korea, and China

(This began as a country-size comparison, continued into a latitude comparison, and freely drifted into a discussion of Brisbane, Australian politics, the US-Australia alliance, China, and more. These are loosely related topics but, I hope coherent-enough thoughts. The whole amounts to 4000 words and covers the gamut of the usual fare which I put to digital-paper here.)

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I came across this Australia vs. USA size comparison. It’s a map-over-map overlay and is NOT latitude-aligned but is effective at showing the relative sizes:

Another map I find purports to align the latitudes, “flipping” the familiar shape of Australia for purpose of the latitude-matching.

In other words, if Australia were in its exact same relative position but mirrored onto the northern hemisphere and tossed above South America, it would be here:

I didn’t realize Australia was nearly the same breadth as the United States, coast to coast. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about it one way or another, though,

For practical purposes, the USA is much bigger in that most land in Australia is unusable and therefore empty. Australia’s size is impressive on a map, but measured in arable land, the continent USA has Australia beat by 4x or 5x as of today.

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Brisbane

Brisbane is the place in Australia I can claim some acquaintance with, from personal experience and indirect experience through people I’ve known.

Brisbane is half-way up the eastern coast.

They say the name (Brisbane) as BRIZ-bin, and not Briz-BANE as some might guess (and, please, no “Bry’s Bane”).

I spent three days in/around Brisbane in August 2015. My cousin (M. W.) had moved there in January 2015, stayed several years, and is now somewhere in Oregon, after a total of four or five years in Australia. I think the last year or so was somewhere other than Brisbane. I can’t remember. I haven’t seen her since the day she dropped me off at the Brisbane Airport to proceed across the Pacific.

I’m quite sure I have written elsewhere on these pages about my August 2015 return-trip to the USA, to date the most memorable such trip I’ve done. I was leaving Korea after one of my successful stays there and a visa expiration. Australia was one of my stops on the way back to the USA.

(The tickets were a true win-win, a series of one-way tickets with the cheap carriers, strung together by finesse and boldness of action. I was able to spend time on the ground in Malaysia, Australia, Fiji, a very brief visit to Christmas Island (Kirimati), Hawaii, Seattle, before arriving back at Washington. The final price of all these together was not much above a direct ticket. Given that I got all this “free” travel worked in, that was the win-win.)

(As for Kirimati, a.k.a. Christmas Island, the airport was cut out of jungle and had exactly two buildings, large shacks, one for Arrivals, one for Departures. Or so I remember it. They didn’t let thru-passengers get off the plane. The scenes I remember were of mysterious figures, carrying unusual equipment, emerging slowly and piecemeal from the “Departures” shack. These were passengers who recently completely their scuba-diving or whatever sea-based adventuring they’d been up to and were re-entering the world.)

It’s a good thing I am the controlling editor of that which gets published here, because this is already digressing two levels down, a digression within a digression. I will allow it. No complaints. You, reader of the present of future or distant future, get what you pay for. Complaints allowed only if you paid for this. Onward we go.

Given that I’ve already written about the Brisbane trip itself, I’ll add something new: Several Brisbane connections from Korea.

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Brisbane Friends

Brisbane inserted itself in my life several times in the mid-2010s.

I don’t know why or how. I did not seek it out. But I met a series of people from that one city. All met independent of one another, all in Greater Seoul. There are three I can think of now. If there were others, I didn’t know them well enough to remember their place of origin.

One was G. D., whom I met in 2014 in Bucheon, my home for two years ending in September 2013. G. D. was then unhappily toiling in the hagwon world. I was glad to be able to help a Western foreigner having trouble in Korea who felt alienated and alone. I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of this kind of assistance in my early days there, and soon G. D. was well-enough integrated into life.

Another was Martin B., whom I first encountered briefly in mid-2015 but really got to know in 2016 and thereafter. I have always gotten along with him and even admired despite his flaws.

The third is E. S., whom I met in, I think, June 2017 in Seoul, within the same general setting as Martin (ILC) but unconnected thereto except by citizenship and place of origin.

Of the three, Martin is still in Korea today but the the two are not.

Martin occasionally mass emails his thoughts to a hundred or more on his email list (seemingly always altering the list slightly). I don’t know what percentage of his mass-emails I am on, but they’re occasional. I enjoy reading them and he has a particularly unique writing style. He often drifts into territory few others would in such mass communications, relating to personal problems. Martin is now I think over 60 and has been in Korea over twenty years.

I am unclear what E. S. is doing.

E. S. was ambitious in mid-2017 but had never been to “Asia” before and reminded me a lot of myself when I was new. She was sent to Korea on some kind of scholarship in 2017. I was working at a low-level but prestigious academic-type job in summer 2017 in Seoul. E. S. is one of the people with whom I hoped to stay in contact, but have had limited success. I returned over the winter 2017-18 (ahead of a study trip to Japan), but E. S. had just left Korea, after completing six+ months there, and as best I can tell was back to Brisbane, air-dropping back into the usual.

E. S.’s interests at the time overlapped greatly with the world I was in, in the late 2010s, certainly in 2017, 2018, and even into 2019, but I think began fading in 2019.

One forms portrait-impressions of people and what they are up to at any given time. People with whom you fall out of touch, the portrait is faded, maybe not well sketched, but still exists. The last firm impression I have of E. S. is that she was hoping to fall comfortably into some kind of government employment. To what grander purpose, I don’t know.

What is the meaning of my having known three separate, unconnected Brisbane people, all in Korea?

Adjusting for unconnectedness and population size, Brisbane must be among the highest per-capita rates of personal origin-place for foreigners I knew above acquaintance level in Korea. Hong Kong and Singapore likely easily outrank Brisbane, but that’s almost a given.

At the height of the TEFL industry in South Korea in the late 2000s, statistics had it that there were nearly as many E-2 visa (language teaching visa) holders from Canada as from the United States. The USA of course had nearly 9x the total population. It shook out to mean Canadians were around 7x as represented, per capita, as Americans. (This was just for the E-2 people, of which I was one, and did not count the gyopos, usually meant to mean “Korean-Americans,” U.S. passport holders of Korean ancestry, but in fact for visa purposes it was for a wide net of countries).

Something about Canadians pushed them to Korea much more often. Does the same apply to Brisbane? I have no idea. My experience is probably not scalable.

If there is something special about Brisbane, what is it?

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Geography

Brisbane turns out to be at the midpoint between the 27th and 28th Parallels South. The exact midpoint of the two parallels (i.e., “27.5” degrees South) passes right through the middle of the University of Queensland campus.

The same parallel here in the northern hemisphere (27.5 North) passes through (among other places) central Florida, meeting the Gulf of Mexico at a place called Manatee Beach, a pleasant-seeming beach community at the southern end of the Tampa Bay area.

On the western coast of North America, fronting the Pacific, the 27.5 North line (the mirror-image latitude of Brisbane) passes 20 miles south of a place called Bahia Tortugas, Mexico (part of Baja California) (apparently the town is NOT “Bahia de Tortugas;” what are they doing with this sloppy Spanish?) (Bahia Tortugas has no English wiki entry and a very spare Spanish one explaining that nothing much goes on down at Turtle Bay except fishing, but tourism or eco-tourism is a natural growth market).

Brisbane is, therefore, at a latitude promising a really favorable climate. From the times I’ve occasionally checked its weather, it does not disappoint. I was there in late August, southern hemisphere winter (the equivalent period would be late February here in the northern hemisphere) and it was pleasant and summer-like.

This seems almost a stereotype of Australia fulfilled, the image of Australia as processed through millions of pairs of ears countless millions of times since the early 1980s with the “Land Down Under” song, its tone and themes:

This highly favorable climate is a mis-match with the kinds of people who settled and built it up, Europeans from mostly much higher latitudes. (I had to correct my original “more northerly climes,” which doesn’t work in the case when northward means towards the equator…!).

In E. S.’s case, some of her ancestors come from around 51 degrees North latitude in central Europe. None of those people were acclimated to the sunny climes of the Australian coast at such cheery and creamy latitudes.

Am I getting at anything here? I’m not sure. The point I think I’m approaching is, if something is special about Brisbane, the climate could have something to do with it. This sounds like amateurish armchair analysis, I know, but it’s at least something.

I took myself on another digression for ten minutes and calculated my own ancestral median, out of curiosity. In latitude terms it falls around 55 degrees North, give or take.

(And the median lat-long coordinates, a single hypothetical point denoting the geographical median of my ancestors’ birthplaces several centuries ago, falls somewhere in the western Baltic Sea, or possibly lands one of the islands of Denmark — which, conveniently, is where my paternal line traces to about two centuries ago (the island of Fyn). This high median latitude comes from my father’s side’s Norwegian ancestry; none of my mother’s ancestral lines go too far south.)

In any case, latitude and climate don’t exactly align (Europe is warmer than its latitude suggests it should be), but sunlight stays consistent across latitudes. Brisbane is getting Florida coast or Baja California sun.

I was told by some locals that Queensland, Australia, is the per-capita skin cancer capital of the world. Looking at the map I see Brisbane is flanked by something called Sunshine Coast and on the other side by Gold Coast (at whose airport I arrived in 2015).

This all lends itself very much to outdoor activities, in addition to the long tradition of low-population and thus elbow-room. This combined with Northwest European cultural traditions meant Australia was always going to be something special once it got rolling, and if it had a strong enough sponsor, which ended up being so with the Britannia Rules the Waves-era UK.

This is probably getting closer now to a good explanation for why Brisbane ended up tossing so many more of its people, per capita, to a place like Korea in the 1990s-to-2010s era, than other places, but the right combination of words has not occurred to me to drive the point home in one sentence,so I’ll stop dancing around it and move on.

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Population stock

It’s so easy to look things up, but sometimes the picture you get is not quite right, and data must be interpreted with caution.

From the latest census results, it seems the Brisbane region’s population stock is around 60% White Australian today, by which I mean those descended from the pre-1970s (White) population.

Around 2% identify as Aboriginie. I remember seeing a few people who looked part-Aboriginie on a ferry heading to an island off Brisbane, but I don’t recall seeing any in the center of the city itself.

(Tangent: I remember when Australia hosted the Olympics in 2000. I remember them making a big deal about Aborigines in their opening ceremony, or so my impression was and so my memory tells me now. I remember finding it a little strange at the time. The Aborigines were there first, true, but so much attention was given that you’d think they founded the Australian state itself and its core institutions and culture and then somehow lost control to White immigrants. At my age at the time (2000), it’s not something I had any kind of fully formed opinion on one way or another, just impressions. The 2000 Olympics along with the Simpsons late-1990s Australia episode formed my early views of Australia; the Simpsons episode is delightful in how brazenly anti-Australian it was, mocking of Australia, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they quietly banned that one there.)

If White Australians + Aboriginies together form just over 60%, that leaves the rest (35-40%) as recent immigrants or descendants thereof.

Degree of personal-identity Australianization no doubt differs from person to person among this group, and there doesn’t seem to be able simplified narrative to latch onto. But it does seem the 35-40% is tilted towards actual foreign-born. The rate of personal-identity Australianization is still going to be relatively low in the 2020s for that reason alone. What the 2030s and 2040s and beyond holds is harder to say.

But no group seems particularly dominant among the 35-40% of recent origin, almost as if immigrants were selected by lottery to ensure a relatively random draw. I am sure that is not the case. And of the 35-40%, it seems something between a third and a half are White themselves, broadly speaking.

When all is said and done, the total of what Canada’s statistical agency calls Visible Minorities in the Brisbane region must have broken the 25% barrier sometime the 2010s, certainly so by the close of the decade. I would assume this would follow the US pattern, the 25% applying in the region as a whole but being higher in core areas of the city proper and lower in “suburb”/”exurb” areas. This aligns with what I recall from 2015.

We are now 15% of our way into the 2020s, though, and the number of Visible Minorities may be pushing fast towards the one-third mark, especially among the active, core-age population. This is just my reading of the data I see and maybe I’m missing something.

It seems East Asians, broadly defined (including Filipino), are still below the 10% mark and may be so for some years to come, with maybe half of that of Greater China origin. Nothing like parity between Chinese and White Australians is ahead in the near term — not in Brisbane, anyway.

Anyone who knows how Overseas Chinese operate knows they don’t need numerical majorities to start to dominate, if that’s their play. It’s a complicated matter (for one thing, there are all kinds of different Chinese on the scene, Taiwanese, Southeast Asia Chinese, Hong Kongese, and PRC-Chinese are, I assume, a minority).

This Overseas Chinese matter is subject to a bit of a taboo in our culture today, and I assume the same holds in Australia, whose system of cultural-political taboos seems to closely resemble the USA’s own. My experience working at a think tank in 2019 gave me several insights into Australia, which got me thinking about the matter, anyway. Why do think tanks exist if not to inspire thinking? I understand the taboo and respect its power — I’m not stupid, right? — but these things do deserve thought.

Both Martin and E. S. are of self-identified German ancestry. Martin speaks German fairly well but seems self-taught, by which I mean he did not inherit much/any language but learned by force of will in classes or self-study over the years.

It seems both Martin and E. S. had several generations of nativity in Australia, but retained some coherent sense of German-Lutheran ancestral identity. They fit in the “around 60% White Australian” aggregate-grouping there but even that aggregate category obscures some differences which may be important.

The third Brisbaner I knew, G. D., also fits in the 60%; G. D. never mentioned any other origin and appears likely predominantly if not wholly British Isles origin.

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Fear of China

I mentioned just above that when I worked in the Asia policy-related think tank in 2019, I got a feel for just how much the Australian state and security apparatus fears China today. They do. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Disregard the words of any official or unofficial spokesmen for the Australian state (or security apparatus) who tells you that they don’t fear China.

Maybe Australia will “flip” at some point in the second quarter of this century and side with China (that is, against the USA). This would be an extreme move and I have a hard time imagining it, though it suggests the plot for some kind of action/spy movie.

Much more likely than “flipping” would be neutralization, what was once called Finlandization in the US-Soviet Cold War setting,

If Australia willingly neutralizes (detaches from the US without joining Team PRC-China) before 2050, it’ll be later (2040s) and not sooner (2020s, 2030s). Even then it would require an entirely new generation to come into positions of influence and would only be assured if the U.S. (Navy) undergoes some shock or other problems by which it loses the ability or will to continue its security guarantee to Australia. That combined with new people significantly less committed to the US alliance, that’s the trigger for Neutralization.

People talk about the “two aircraft carriers” threshold. I made up the term, but not the thinking, which goes like this: If China can sink just two U.S. Navy carriers, the entire strategic board is turned over and pieces go flying everywhere. The board game must be reset. Picking up the pieces, realignments can be rapid.

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Pro-America Australia

Americans hardly think about the U.S.-Australia alliance.

This is one of the many dogs that don’t bark in U.S. discourse. In global terms it’s a fairly major thing but gets zero press in U.S. media. Australia is much more likely to get coverage for wildfires or coral reef or crocodiles than for anything geopolitical or related to the US-Australia alliance.

I get the feeling that Australians cling tight to it, that they implicitly think of the ties to the U.S. as a cornerstone of their state itself. Australia voluntarily extends its their own sovereignty, partially, to let the U.S. in a bit.

I remember conversations to that effect at the think tank. A big reason no one ever thinks or talks about the U.S.-Australia relationship (in mainstream political / foreign affairs discourse, excluding certain academics or specialists) is because the Australia give the U.S. everything it wants and more — basing agreements, everything. This all sails by everyone’s awareness because there was never any controversy to get it in the news.. Don’t mistake non-coverage and non-awareness for non-importance.

On the other side, I know from sometimes watching Australian news that they pay close attention to even minor matters in U.S. affairs. I was surprised to see how much they follow U.S. news, as if Australia were a part of the USA itself. (In one case in 2019, I remember the Australian anchors repeatedly referring to Trump as “the president,” as in a rendering like “Today the president traveled to Europe in order to…” What? Which president? Why not “the American president”? Or maybe “President [Name]”?)

One can ask why Australia is so pro-America. To me it’s got to be because Australia has always viewed itself as an outpost of Western civilization in a distant part of the world and therefore in need of assistance. It didn’t matter the extent to which this became much less true with time, for the thought-pattern was set. And if there was a long respite, it really does again apply, vis-a-vis PRC-China, as we head into the mid-21st century.

When the UK abandoned its global security commitments between the 1910s and 1940s/50s, and as the U.S. inherited the same by the 1940s, the impetus for the relationship was obvious, and has been for eighty years.

There are many other similarities between the two peoples, at least traditionally.

This brings us back to the immigration question, and what it means for Australia itself and the core nature of the regime there, and therefore the US alliance. The most obvious group of interest must be the ethnic-Chinese in Australia. (This breaches the taboo, I know, but at a high enough level you are allowed to; this venue probably does not earn such an exemption, so I proceed with caution.)

I was under the impression that Chinese of various sorts, by no means all “PRC-Chinese,” were a major population element within Australia now. I know several Koreans who went to Australia, and if the image it has in Korea is anything like what it has in China, that is a major pool of potential immigrants. I am certain Australia makes it harder for PRC-Chinese to come than most of the wealthy smaller East Asian states, including South Korea.

As for Brisbane itself, to continue my amateur analysis of that city, they have some Chinese but really not that many. There must be comparatively many Chinese in the big population centers down south to balance it out.

I once calculated Australia’s Chinese-immigrant population at nearly 10x as large, per capita, as the USA’s own (not-insignificant) Chinese population. This doesn’t seem to hold for Brisbane.

It doesn’t need to be some ethnic sedition lobby at all. It may simply be a policy establishment of immigrant-stock technocrats with sundry personal-ancestral origins, who feel little need to maintain the traditional ties to a distant benefactor like the USA which in the past was tied to Australia by mutual European-colonial heritage and more.

Some of the immigrants attracted to Australia are very talented indeed, and if they pull their weight or more within a near- or medium-term technocratic, business, and policy-making elite, why wouldn’t they entertain the idea of neutralization? It seems obvious.

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Australia and the Flu Virus Panic of 2020: Why?

One thing I don’t understand. Australia seems to have run among the most authoritarian Virus Panic regimes of anywhere in the Western world.

This frankly shocked and disappointed me, and the millions who viewed Australia as a bastion of rugged individualism (or something of that sort) who might stand up against the madness, a Sweden of the Southern Hemisphere. Why did the precise opposite happen, Australia diving deep into a a dark fantasy-land of paranoid virus hysteria and dystopic policy fanaticism? I don’t have a good answer.

At one point I spent time in an international airport, March 2020. The worst-off, sad-sack, camping-out-in-airport cases were Australians, whose government’s crazy policy stranded its own people, refusing them entry into their own country, over purported fear of a flu virus.

A few of the themes of this essay suggest some possible explanations to the puzzle.

Australia’s heavy rate of immigration has got to cause them some apprehension, even if they seldom admit it to each other or even to themselves. How could it not be so? This might be one reason they started down the dark path of embracing the Panic, good and hard, rather than going about life as normal as we all should have and accepted the losses inherent to a severe flu wave.

Early on, an important narrative strand in “Covid” discourse was “shut down the borders!” to which the most common response was: “Closing borders is racist; Whatever you do, do not do that!” — these being holdover positions from a normal Right-Left dichotomy but transposed awkwardly onto the demagogue’s blank-slate that was “Covid.” If the virus’ impressive global P.R. network could gin up enough scare stories, the border-shutdown people could push through their preferred policy.

I doubt this was even a conscious thing. It could as well be unconscious, preferred policies permeating a seemingly unrelated event (the perceived need to drop everything and panic!, over a flu virus).

In the USA, Lockdownism eventually became a Blue Team vs Red Team thing. This does not apply everywhere, and in many cases right-wing governments were fanatical Lockdowners (including the likes of Hungary), whereas the hero of the whole thing, Sweden, standing out within the OECD as the only national government to refuse to demagogue on a flu virus, had a left-wing Social Democrat and Green-led government.

Australia’s policy-makers — who led their country into artificial major recession, social disruption, and a long period of bizarre, dystopian lockdown and what is set to be two full years of a travel ban — were/are Center-Right.

It also seems likely that the Fear of China arc, which was clearly ascending in the 2010s in Australia, could tie-in with the Flu Virus Panic of 2020-21. Given that the virus “came from China,” this may have tapped into a Fear of China political vein in Australia, and caused what natural opposition to Endless Lockdownism there was to stand down at first, exactly when a hard line against Lockdowns were needed.

Then there is the US-Australia alliance itself, and the apparently significant US cultural/political influence on Australia. When our big agenda-setters decided that it was to be “Lockdowns Today, Lockdowns Tomorrow, Lockdowns Forever!” — this sent a signal to the satellite states in the US orbit to get with the program and start panicking along with the cool kids.


This essay has wandered into interesting territory, reaching some 4000 words. When I commit to writing one of these, I never quite know where it’ll go.

The bad news for Australia continues, with this recent headline:

Prime Minister Scott Morrison – who faces an election next year – has announced Australia won’t re-open borders until mid-2022

That means over two full years of major disruptions, especially hitting any Australian seeking to go abroad (or even get home, in many cases) and any foreigner trying to enter.

The whole thing feels like watching a society in the midst of mass delusion. The major bastions of VIrus Panic in the USA seem to have begun falling in May and especially by June 2021 we re-entered the world of Reality and its warm and comfortable shores. Some bitter-enders will continue the disruptions even longer, but for now it seems to basically be over for most people in most situations.

Australia’s decision to demagogue on the whole thing in early 2020, and turn authoritarian, over a flu virus which we knew with certainty by relatively early on was not a major threat, simply does not fit the image I had of the country and people and the character thereof, which I had developed my limited experience in the 2010s. I am still puzzled by it, but I’m puzzled and dismayed by almost every society’s reaction to it.

As for Brisbane, the city that I ended up with multiple nodes of connection to, the news is also bad. Two news stories I find:

Brisbane restaurant cluster linked to flight attendant rises to five cases
Three new community cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Brisbane, linked to a woman who tested positive after leaving hotel … 2 days ago

Scott Morrison proposes Brisbane COVID-19 quarantine hub, rejects Wellcamp Airport proposal

Yes, they’re still doing this….

Poor Brisbane! Poor Australia! Poor all of us.

That’s all I’ve got for now.


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