A veteran government backbencher has warned of parallels between modern day China and the rise of Nazi Germany.
Beijing is set to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games amid a growing outcry over its treatment of its Uyghur population, and crackdowns on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
“The similarities with the 1936 Olympics and the emerging 2022 (Winter) Olympics are too big (to ignore),” conservative Liberal Senator Eric Abetz told NCA NewsWire.
“People were very happy with Germany rebuilding their economy, and as a result turned a blind eye to ‘alleged’ concentration camps and persecutions.”
Jewish athletes were barred from competing when Germany hosted the 1936 Olympics under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. The international community’s refusal to boycott the Games was widely seen as giving credibility to the Nazi regime.
Independent Senator Rex Patrick is calling on Australia to boycott the games to avoid repeating that mistake.
“We should not repeat the experience of 1936 the Olympics, which showcased a totalitarian regime already on the path of territorial aggression. Our athletes, and our Australian flag, should not be used as stage props for a regime that in the shadow of the Olympic stadium commits genocide,” he told NCA NewsWire.
“It would be morally wrong for Australia to participate in an event that will be used to legitimise the Chinese Government’s gross violations of human rights,” he said.
Last August, Liberal MP Andrew Hastie compared the international community’s attitude towards China with France’s failure to counter the rise of Nazi Germany. Beijing labelled the comments indicative of a “Cold War mentality and ideological bias”. Mr Hastie was subsequently banned from entering China.
Beijing launched the latest salvo in its trade stoush with Canberra on Thursday, banning Victorian timber. It follows restrictions or bans on Australian barley, lobster and coal in the past six months.
Two Australian citizens facing national security charges in China are also “being held as political prisoners”, according to Senator Patrick.
The measures are widely seen as retaliation for Australia’s role in calling for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.
Senator Abetz accuses China of “seeking to tell the rest of the world: you stand up to our brutality, you expose our human rights breaches, and we will make you pay economically”.
He insists he will continue to speak out on human rights issues in China, with “one million Uyghurs screaming, pleading for liberty”.
“Truth telling sometimes means setting diplomacy aside, whatever diplomacy means. You have to be upfront and call these things out,” he said.
If an international coalition was formed to counter China, it “would have nowhere to go”, Senator Abetz argues.
But Sam Roggeveen from the Lowy Institute says “China is so big and important to the global community that it is almost impossible to see any kind of global coalition coming together to contain it”.
“But China doesn’t have ambitions for global conquest. And in any case, nuclear weapons would always constrain such ambitions,” he said.
Senator Abetz’s comments lay bare a schism in both major parties over the correct approach to China. Both frontbenches have been wary of publicly antagonising Beijing, but relations have frayed after interventions from backbenchers.
A bipartisan group of MPs nicknamed “the Wolverines” has been formed to speak out against Chinese expansion.
“Episodes like this will become more frequent because both our major parties are split on the China question,” Mr Roggeveen said.
“Even though China is a much bigger problem for Australia than the USSR ever was, there seems to be no prospect of a party-political realignment to match the new conditions of world politics.
“We’re stuck with a Cold War-era party division that has no real relationship to the new era we are entering.”
The comments come as both Australia and China signed on to the world’s biggest free trade deal on Sunday, along with eight other nations.
NCA NewsWire has reached out to Foreign Minister Marise Payne for comment.