Stalin is supposed to have prized his useful idiots - non-communist foreign leftists whose sympathy for the Soviet Union helped it achieve its malign objectives.
For Xi Jinping, the valuable people in Australia are simple provincials.
These are state and territory leaders whom Beijing can hope to use to get its way in this country, bypassing policy set in Canberra.
For a while, the outstanding example of a simple provincial was Daniel Andrews in Victoria.
Conducting his own foreign policy in 2019, Andrews signed up to Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, a program for deepening Chinese involvement in foreign economies.
Unsophisticated in international and strategic affairs, Andrews had still not worked out that China was doing its best to be loathed around the world, especially in Australia.
He should have seen that chumming up to it would not be a good look for his government as the years rolled on.
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan has become the sub-national figure who is most useful to Xi.
He's lucky that the federal government cancelled the deal this year.
Before it did, his Treasurer, Tim Pallas, refused to voluntarily give it up, complained of "vilification" of China and said farmers would suffer - implicitly, because Australia was doing something wrong.
Pallas has kept off the subject since then. Very wise.
With Andrews and Pallas no longer working against Canberra's foreign policy, Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan has become the sub-national figure who is most useful to Xi.
He demands that the federal government somehow reset relations with China.
Lack of access to the federal cabinet's national security briefings does not deter McGowan, and he seems not to be paying much attention to the South China Sea.
To his credit, he does not call for anything specific except Australia toning down its language. But, in international relations, language is substance: statements themselves amount to actions.
China would be delighted if, as McGowan seems to suggest, Australia kept its mouth shut except to murmur sweet pleasantries and occasionally propose another iron-ore contract.
In fact what Australia says needs to be said. It was right to call for an international investigation into the origins of COVID-19 and it is right to object to China's human-rights abuses.
Also, the government does need to let Australians know about the rising military risk.
It's not only proper to inform them; their support for defence preparations is needed.
Anyway, there is no prospect of a "reset" in relations with China without doing a lot more than toning down language.
Last year the Chinese embassy helpfully provided a list of 14 grievances for the government to address if it wanted "a better atmosphere."
I'm not the first person to raise this point: people who call for Australian concessions should name which of the 14 demands we should accede to.
Should we, for example, let Huawei into our telecommunications networks, so China can hoover up more data?
How about giving China freedom to manipulate our politics? Or would the right move be to suppress media coverage that China deems unfriendly? (I suppose this column would be a goner.)
Even if we ticked off all three of those, we'd still have 11 to go.
Before McGowan, Andrews and Pallas, China's obliging Australian provincials were those running the Northern Territory.
In 2015 they sold a 99-year lease on Darwin Port, a militarily sensitive asset, to the Chinese company Landbridge Group.
Then-chief minister Adam Giles and his government had some excuse, however, because simplicity in dealing with China was not confined to the states and territories in those days.
The NT ran the proposed sale past the federal government, which might have been expected to object, but actually said: "No worries, mate. Go for it."
We're still waiting for the federal government to admit the mistake and compulsorily reacquire the lease from Landbridge, which is what must happen sooner or later.
Notice that, in each case of provincial simplicity, the state or territory government is attracted to Chinese money: to finance infrastructure in Victoria, to buy Western Australian iron ore, and to pay for and improve the Darwin Port.
China has relied for decades on the power of its money to stifle opposition to its objectionable activity. In particular, it has known that foreign businesses making money from China have the ears of their governments.
For a while last decade, we did sometimes hear Australian business people pop up, much in the style of McGowan, to lament worsening relations with China and to suggest that, somehow, it was partly Australia's fault and that the federal government should fix it.
They're not taking their case public these days, even amid China's obstruction of imports from Australia.
Instead they report their problems to the government quietly, to avoid giving a public impression that they want the country to put their sales ahead of national interest.
It's good that they are briefing the government on economic damage.
Ministers need to know the consequences of policy.
A third group has been helpful to China, a group more akin to Stalin's useful idiots.
This has been the anti-American element. It has no sympathy for China but instinctively opposes the US and all its works, especially anything military. China's incessant aggression has finally quietened them.
MORE AGE OF THE DRAGON:
Maybe it was from them that we got the ludicrous debate about whether Australia should side with China or the US - as if the two could be compared, or as if the Chinese Communist Party could somehow be considered preferable to the government in Washington.
All through last decade, this question appeared time and again in the media, because journalists took it seriously. It became something of a golden oldie on the ABC.
Why? Maybe because it gave an aura of journalistic balance.
Or maybe there's some anti-Americanism in some parts of the media.
But I suppose the big problem was that journalists just didn't understand the rising military threat from China and our critical need for US help.
They're getting the picture now - more than anything, thanks to Defence Minister Peter Dutton and other officials mentioning the alarming risk of war.
That's the talk that McGowan objects to most.
- Bradley Perrett was based in Beijing as a journalist from 2004 to 2020.
- This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.