McPhail off to China

Michael McPhail in quarantine in China.

FORMER East Fremantle deputy mayor Michael McPhail has resigned to take up a scholarship at a Chinese university.

Mr McPhail, who was elected to represent Preston Point in October 2013 as a fresh-faced 20-year-old, was deputy mayor from 2015-2019.

He said he wanted to use his resignation as an opportunity to encourage others to think about running for local government.

“It’s time for new energy and new ideas, and local government elections are just around the corner,” he said, nominating urban density, the Royal George, festivals, climate change, public art, community engagement or prudent financial management as areas potential candidates could contribute to.

On the opportunity to study China’s role in global affairs through a Schwarzman Scholarship up close, Mr McPhail said there was much to appreciate in China beyond the daily headlines.

“Politically what happens in Beijing will impact Australia for he rest of my lifetime at least,” he told the Herald from hotel quarantine.

“I know much about US politics and society (I’m a US dual citizen), but know so little about China, which is kind of crazy given how economically important China is to WA.”

Mr McPhail said one of the areas he’ll be looking at is how China uses “smart city technology” and how it might be relevant to Australia.

Given China’s arrest of Australian academic Yang Hengjun and his claims of being tortured while under arrest on suspicion of espionage, Mr McPhail believes he’ll be safe as long as he keeps out of politics.

“So, after eight years on council, I’ll now be practicing the art of keeping my mouth shut.”

But he wasn’t too concerned about being fed a pro-China line on everything, saying the scholarship involved visiting professors from around the world, and industry groups including the US military.

“To be honest, I’m keen to dive deeper into Chinese viewpoints that are less familiar to me so I can better understand the ideology that shares the world view of China’s leadership.”

Showing that his time in the chamber had honed his instincts for a tricky question, when the Chook asked whether China’s conciliatory statements about the Taliban’s take-over of neighbouring Afghanistan and hints it might use that to quell its own Uyghur insurgency, his response was well-measured.

“Recent scenes from Afghanistan are heartbreaking. That said, Afghanistan is called the graveyard of empires for a reason: the UK, Soviet Empire and the US have all left after long, costly wars. I suspect this fact isn’t lost on China when they determine their policy towards Afghanistan,” he said.

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