BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA;
BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS: DIPLOMAT, ECONOMIST, JOURNALIST AND JAPANOLOGIST;
BETWEEN FOUR LANGUAGES: ENGLISH, CHINESE, RUSSIAN AND JAPANESE
Introduction & Chapter 1
This is the story of an Australian boy, born in England in 1936 to the economist, Colin Clark, taken to live in wartime Queensland and then raised on a small farm outside Brisbane.
At age 16 he is accepted for Oxford, University, where he discovers the charms of Europe and the charmlessness of Britain’s class society. He then joins the Australian diplomatic service, is sent to learn Chinese in post-revolution Hongkong and ends up as First Secretary in Australia’s Moscow embassy during the Khruschev liberalization.
At age 28, and designated as Australian representative to the UN Disarmament Commission in New York, he decides that KGB attentions, Canberra’s crazy China policies and Australia’s criminal support for the Vietnam War mean he should begin to look for other things to do in life. He takes up a post-graduate scholarship in Canberra to study Japan's economy, visits Japan, discovers the beauty of its countryside, the gentleness of its people, and the strangeness of its society.
While in Canberra he also sets out to write a book trying to explain Chinese foreign policies objectively, and to oppose the Vietnam War strongly, at a time when such activities were not very welcome. As a result, he ends up as a Tokyo-based correspondent for an Australian newspaper. There he discovers the booming Japanese economy, learns more Japanese, and gets to China by organizing an Australian pingpong team.
After a wasted year in Canberra as a government policy adviser, he gets a job at a Tokyo university. There he writes another book, this time to explain Japan. As a result he spends the next 25 years as a well-known speaker and media commentator criss-crossing Japan, while raising a family, being invited to join several dozen Japanese official policy committees and ending up as president of a Japanese university.
En route he encounters KGB and ASIO skullduggery, Rupert Murdoch media deviousness, Australia’s academic and bureaucratic futility, Canberra’s evil foreign policies, ALP foolishness, Tokyo’s illogical policy-making, Japan’s inefficient education system, Australia’s economic irrationalism, and Oz-ocker parochialism.
But he also gets to know three of the world’s major civilizations – Japan, China and Russia. The challenges of understanding their languages and people, and the many opportunities given him by Japan’s remarkably open and dynamic society, more than make up for the setbacks.
Finally he is doing what he likes best – writing, farming, land development, mountain climbing, discovering a new frontier in Latin America, while developing a sizeable community in the Boso hills to the south of Tokyo and helping to establish a new international university in Akita, northern Japan.
Chapter 1 - GROWING UP – Australia, Oxford, Canberra
BIRTH, CHILDHOOD AND EDUCATION
My birth certificate says I was born May 19, 1936. It also says I was born in Cambridge, UK. That is because my father, the economist Colin Clark, was working there as an assistant for John Maynard Keynes. I am told that Keynes came to my birth party and, seeing my pink, plump arms and a hairless head, he said I looked like a ‘little pig.’ Not one of his more memorable quotes perhaps, but the only one ever aimed in my direction.
My father had originally studied chemistry. He switched to statistics, and did much to develop the idea that the size of an economy could be measured by something called GNP. He also came up with the idea that an economy could be sub-divided into the categories of primary, secondary and tertiary industry.
Later he went on to develop the concept of trying to measure economic progress, and the criteria needed for measuring that progress in non-European societies. Today these things are taken for granted, but people who were around at the time have said that they were new and revolutionary concepts. His book “Conditions of Economic Progress” was long seen as seminal, in Japan especially where his fame was later to contribute much to my Japan career.
Indeed, some still say that he should have received a Nobel Prize for that pioneering work. But others say he did not deserve that honor because later in life his rigid Catholic beliefs led him to support rightwing, pro- population expansionist views.
He believed that the world had enough food and other resource potential for such growth, at a time when it was fashionable to say the opposite. Much of his career was based on challenging the conventional wisdom, and some of his progeny may have inherited the same quality. (For a truly excellent summary of my father’s life, ideas and works, see QEHWPS69 by George Peters in the Queen Elizabeth House Working Paper Series)
Though he turned fairly rightwing later in life , both Colin and my mother, Marjorie Tattersall, had begun life as leftwingers. She had studied, and helped organise a Fabian group, at the London School of Economics for a time and it was there that she had got to know my father. He had been something of a leftwing idealist: while at Cambridge in the 1930’s he had even stood, unsuccessfully, as a Labour candidate for a very conservative, rural, East Anglia electorate.
Only later did both of them become rightwing, and strongly anti-communist. Their Catholic beliefs were one reason. But they also talked about the bitter experiences they had had trying to compete with closed, well-organised pro-communist cliques in various LSE and Fabian faction fights at the time.
The Australian Connection
An invitation to be visiting lecturer, first in Western Australia and later at Melbourne University, led Colin to move with his family to Australia in 1938 – a country in which he had long had an interest in Australia since his father (my grandfather) had made one of his several fortunes shipping Australian wool to Japan’s Inland Sea in exchange for Japanese textile goods. My father was also interested in Australia’s pioneering role in electing Labour governments and introducing progressive welfare/wage legislation.
War in Europe persuaded him to stay on in Australia and in 1940 we moved to Brisbane where he had been offered a position as economic adviser to the Hanlon (Labour) government in Queensland - a government which even in his later conservative days he praised for its integrity and good sense.
Ironically, having chosen to stay in Australia to avoid the war in Europe, he soon found himself trapped in a nation at war with Japan, and in one of the few Australian cities to suffer Japanese bombardment.
Apart from the blackouts and rationing, my main memory of the war years is long summers playing in the garden of our typically sprawling, up-on-stilts Queensland house with its wide veranda and cast-iron railings, by the banks of the muddy Brisbane River at Toowong. Another memory was long parental arguments after my father decided to convert to Catholicism (he had been greatly influenced by an intelligent Jesuit priest, Father Fitzgerald, from a nearby parish.)
Eventually my mother also converted, but never as rigidly as he did. Many years later I asked him why, as an intellectual, he had embraced religion so firmly. “It is simply a matter of faith,” he said, with deep conviction.
My education began at local primary schools in Brisbane. Later I was sent to Catholic secondary schools– first Saint Lawrence’s in South Brisbane and then St. Josephs, Gregory Terrace. By this time my father had been made Treasury Under-Secretary. One of my strong memories of those days was visiting his musty office in the ornate Treasury building on the other side of Victoria Bridge as I headed home by bike or bus from St Lawrence’s. There he would talk to me seriously about the importance of agriculture for Queensland’s future.
Wartime shortages had made him very sensitive to the need for food and raw materials. Later he would go somewhat overboard in his published predictions that terms of trade would move away from the industrial nations and in favor of resource rich nations like Australia.
But he practiced what he preached, and in 1947 he bought, for 5,000 pounds, a hard-scrabble, ten acre dairy and pig farm on the banks of the Brisbane River at Kenmore on the outskirts of Brisbane. Today it is worth well over 5 million dollars.
Kenmore is a booming middle-class suburb. But in those days it was little more than a collection of run-down dairy farms.
That Kenmore farm changed our lives dramatically. I was only ten years old at the time, and already had four younger bothers. As the eldest son, and with my father often away for conferences in Canberra or abroad, much of the farm work fell on my narrow and very immature shoulders.
Mornings I would try to round up some brothers to help me milk our six cows and feed several dozen pigs. To get to school many miles away in central Brisbane we would then have to walk or push-bike several miles to the Kenmore bus station – then the focus of a few dusty paddocks and a small, Chinese-owned general store (it is now a bustling shopping center.)
Weekends were spent roaming the Kenmore hills on horseback, camping trips, rafting the muddy Brisbane river below us, and some fairly futile efforts to grow crops.
By this time my father had developed a close relationship with B.A, Santamaria, the virulently anti-communist Melbourne Catholic intellectual who would go on to found the Democratic Labor Party. I suspect that Santamaria’s allegedly famous vision of an Australia where everyone could have ten acres and a pig owed something to my father’s enthusiasm for that Kenmore farm.
Meanwhile my mother was producing even more brothers. Eventually I was to end up with seven of them, and one sister (she was born in England). The merits of large families was another Santamaria slogan.
The damage imposed on the healthy development of Australian politics by Santamaria’s DLP is now well documented. Later as a diplomat and then as anti-Vietnam War protestor, I was to run head on into the anti-communist vitriol Santamaria had helped impose on Australian foreign policies, in particular the ads and posters showing red arrows from China headed in Australia’s direction.
But for me, in those innocent days, Santamaria was simply a nice, small, dark-complexioned man who used to visit us at Kenmore from time to time.
In 1952 my father accepted the position of head of the Institute of Agricultural Economics at Oxford University. By this time the rather corrupt Gair government was running Queensland, and I think he was glad to get away, despite his very deep involvement in Australian affairs at the time.
The Kenmore farm was handed over to a caretaker, and the family left for England, without me. I still needed several months to finish high school at Gregory Terrace, and stayed on in Brisbane with family friends.
At the time I was still only 16. I had jumped classes twice, mainly because when changing schools, twice I had arbitrarily been pushed into the class above that which I should have gone into (mainly because the lower class was already full up).
Many years later in Japan, where 18 was the rigidly fixed age for university entry (until myself and a few others forced a change in that area), I was to be regarded as some kind of genius for having finished high school so young. Despite occasional protests from my side, the fiction continued.
High school graduation over, it was assumed I would have to go to the UK to rejoin the family and enter university there. But hemisphere differences meant I still had some 10 months to fill in.
So my father arranged for me to work for a few months as a two pound a week jackeroo on the Cunnamulla (south-western Queensland) sheep station owned his close friend and political colleague, the rich pastoralist. Charlie Russell., It was called Clover Downs, a misnomer if ever there was since the place was semi-desert.
Working 12 hours a day for about three months in the mid-summer dust, drafting and marking dozens of 50 kilo lambs daily, and then driving 120 miles for weekend booze-ups at the local pub with rough, untutored station hands, was one of my more formative life experiences.
Clover Downs behind me, I set out by boat for Europe, rejoined the family at Marseilles in April 1953, spent a cold few weeks travelling the French countryside in a caravan, and ended up staying in a Paris apartment with Emmy - my French-naturalised but British-born and educated aunt who with her husband had served in the French Resistance.
They were captured after being betrayed by another Resistance member under Nazi torture. He had been executed.. She had spent three savage years in Nazi prison camps, but had re-established herself in France as a Resistance heroine, and had gone on to marry Sir Charles Henderson, a British luminary in Paris. For a young boy just arrived from the Australian bush, it was a lot to absorb in a short time.
Arriving eventually at Oxford, I had to begin to think seriously about my future. At school in Brisbane I had planned to go on to Queensland University to study medicine, engineering or ideally, veterinary science (I had always preferred math-science to arts, and the farm had made me interested in animals).
But Oxford in those days emphasised humanities. Its one concession to the outside world of practical affairs was a weak engineering department. The town of Reading some fifty miles away had a veterinary science faculty, but my parents said it was much too distant for a youngster of my age to attend.
My father then suddenly decided that I should get a job (further doubts my age maybe, or my ability to gain entry to a university college?). He introduced me to the editor of a large Catholic publishing house, The Tablot, that used his material often. .
Fortunately in my letter of application I misspelled the chief editor’s name, Byrnes (or was it Burns?),. In a polite rejection letter, the editor told me how correct spelling ability was a precondition for publishing work.
My father then suggested Sandhurst, mainly because as a school cadet officer in Brisbane I had won some student platoon efficiency prize (I never told him how I had won the prize - by sneaking to the platoon tents during morning exercises to make sure the beds were neat, then the key criterion for student platoon efficiency). But the Sandhurst idea too fell by the wayside for some reason.
Later in life I was to be especially grateful for that mishap. Experience of the Vietnam War years was to make me a firm pacifist.
Eventually, and for lack of any better idea, we settled on my trying to get into my father’s Oxford college, Brasenose. That turned out to be easier than either of us had thought, partly because of the parental connection but also because they had favourable quotas for students from former colonies.
A brief interview and a simple test of French reading ability saw me accepted. I was still 16, and had to decide what I wanted to study.
My first choice was economics, mainly because that was what my father did and also because it was a bit closer to the math-science I had liked at school. . But economics in those days was tied together with politics and philosophy in the PPE course then very popular at Oxford . And my father had strong, and I now realise correct, views about people who had never earned or spent an income trying to grasp abstract economic theories.
He recommended geography as a good preparatory, general knowledge course. If I wanted to do economics I could go on to do that later, he said. I had little choice but to agree.
The next three years passed easily enough - beer and merrydown cider parties, punting on the Isis, sports (mainly rowing, with brief excursions into lacrosse and squash), rushed study for the weekly tutorials.
The first year of college residence, then compulsory for all Oxford students, did little to imbue me with the hoped-for reverence for Oxford scholasticism . I saw it more as an excuse for indulging in port wine and class snobbism.
Rowing was slightly more character forming. I ended up as stroke of the second Brasenose torpid, being chased by Wadham for six agonising days. I think I learned something about endurance as a result.
The cox for our eight was a diminutive Thai called Patta…..something. For us he was Pat. Years later at a Tokyo conference on the future of Asia, or something, I found myself sitting next to a very fat Thai professor called Patta…or something. Sure enough, it was Pat.
For the next two years I lived with the family in our typical four storey, red-brick, central Oxford (Keble Road) terrace house. An older student - Dan Cooper, a cousin of Robert Graves, the poet and writer who lived in Spain - rented the basement.
Unusually for an Oxford student, Dan was married. Later he went on to organise the first mass-transport tours for Brits keen to flaunt their pale bodies and money on the beaches and in the bars of the Spanish Costa Brava.
Dan had a strong influence on me. He lived boisterously and traveled a lot in Europe. Thanks to him and his younger brother, Roger, who was then studying Persian and who ended up in a Teheran jail many years later as a British spy, I was to discover a world much more cosmopolitan than I would normally have known as a 17 year old innocent from the colonies.
Partly because of Dan’s Robert Graves connection the family decided to take a holiday in Majorca early in 1954. I did most of the driving. As we left the cold grey winter of England and northern France in the evening, to drive all night down the Rhone valley to reach southern France early the next day, and then drive on through a gloriously warm early spring Languedoc morning to cross the border into Spain a few hours later, I began to realise the variety and attraction of Europe.
Staying in a rented Majorcan house, with the warm sun shining down on us every day and enjoying the local food and wine, I also realised just how far I was both from cold England with its stodgy food and from Australia with its casual ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitudes to eating (at Clover Downs in the lamb-marking season lunch had often been lamb testicles fried on a sheet of galvanised iron over an open fire). I began to realise there were other lifestyles to be enjoyed — a major discovery for a typically close-minded Anglosaxon.
At one of Dan’s frequent basement parties I met Diane, the attractive daughter of a rich French-Swiss family, part owners of the Chocolat Suchard empire. Like a few other European girls at Dan’s parties, she had come to Oxford to improve her English. She was slightly older than I was. We saw a lot of each other during the next two years.
At Oxford in those days, vacations were the main event, not studies. My vacations were usually spent travelling around Europe, either in the family car with other Brasenose students or hitch-hiking with D. who was tri-lingual.
In the process I became addicted to the Teach Yourself books then popular for quick introductions to the various European languages. The idea that one small book could open the door to a totally new and foreign country was, and remains, exciting .
The climax to my European adventures was an extraordinary three month stay in Yugoslavia organised by Dan for some of us in the summer of 1956 immediately after our Oxford graduation exams. The then still very communist country was just opening to Western tourism.
The Yugoslav dinar was grossly over-valued. Dan had discovered that we could make a lot of money buying the currency cheaply in Trieste and smuggling it in to exchange at close to the official rate with Western tourists at various Adriatic resorts.
It was a dangerous game and I heard later that the next person to try the same caper ended up in a Yugoslav jail for three years. But we were too young and foolhardy to worry about that kind of thing. The former Italian-owned hotels along the Adriatic coastline were good and cheap – the equivalent of one US dollar a day. The food and wine were excellent. We lived like kings.
I was with D. On our currency runs in and out of Trieste we travelled the still unspoiled Slovenian and Croatian countryside on my trusty motorbike, with imported dinars in a plastic bag hidded in the petrol tank. On a solo trip by train, she was very nearly caught out by an amorous ticket collector. She had hidden the currency on her person.
A boat trip down the Adriatic coast and a weekend together in the old port town of Dubrovnik were high notes. We also made a lot of money – my share was 1,000 pounds, a small fortune in those days..
This time the Teach Yourself book was not quite as useful as it had been earlier with German, Italian or Spanish. But the bucolic living and the travel had given me a strong interest in Slav culture and people. That interest that was to stay with me for a long time and to influence my career in some very unexpected ways.
But with the autumn the tourists disappeared. We headed back north – D. to become a tutor in a remote Austrian mountain lodge, me to England and a new career.
Back to Australia
When I finished up at university, that career was far from certain.
I had decided I did not want to stay on to study economics; apart from anything else I was no great admirer of British class society, or the British climate. But degrees in geography, with side courses in ethnology, geology and surveying (where I even got a minor certificate), do not open many doors, though the surveying course did lead to two job offers – one doing aerial surveys of the Middle East and the other in the Falkland Islands, both paying about 2,000 sterling a year.
I decided I should try to find something better back in Australia.
But what? I had no contacts or relatives there, apart from three very distant elderly female cousins living together in Melbourne. A check with Australia House in London told me there were two positions I could apply for and get accepted for while still in England.
One was with the Melbourne Tramways Board. The other was with the Australian Department of External Affairs.
The choice was not as easy as it sounds. I had little interest in foreign affairs, even though I enjoyed languages and travel. Apart from anything else, the Queensland farm upbringing had given me a strong dislike for office work – a dislike that remains with me.
But a brief interview with the two senior Australian diplomats in London at the time – Keith Waller and Mick Shann - saw me accepted as a potential candidate (they seemed mainly interested in the fact I had graduated from Oxford).
And so, on a cold , damp, late autumn Oxford morning, I set out by motorbike for London to board a ten pound a head migrant ship headed for Melbourne. We crated the bike on the wharf and loaded it on the ship just an hour before departure time. For me, as for the migrants, it was to be the beginning of a very new life in a very different country.
From Melbourne the motorbike took me to Canberra. It was early summer and the Hume Highway was still only partly bitumened. The hot dusty ride through an empty countryside took two days, with one night at a wayside pub. For someone from manicured, over-crowded, sunshine-bereft England it was a rough re-introduction to Australian reality.
So too was Canberra. The Australian capital in those days was a town of sheep fields, a few scattered monumental buildings and about 30,000 people. I had been told by my new employers at the Department of External Affairs that I could stay at somewhere called Reid House – a name that gave visions of a stately mansion surrounded by lawns, and the plunk of tennis balls in the background.
The real Reid House was different - a heap of temporary fibro shacks set up for itinerant workers on the fringes of Canberra’s alleged Civic Center. It was some months before I, together with the seven others in the Department’s 1957 batch of recruits, could move to an up-market, middle-class hostel for junior public servants, Havelock House in Northbourne Avenue, then close to the Canberra outskirts.
Most of our first year was spent in a fairly useless round of departmental training trips, in-house work rotation, and desperately labored hostel parties where the men outnumbered women by about five to one. In those primitive days few females were recruited for career public service work, and we had to compete for favors from secretaries. I missed D. badly.
Fortunately we also had the chance to do some courses at the local Canberra University College. Claiming to have had some experience with economics while at Oxford with my father, I was accepted for the second year classes being run by a young, vigorous professor called Heinz Arndt.
In those days, Arndt had a reputation for strongly leftwing views. I was still very conservative. But we got on well enough.
A few years later, it was the reverse. He had turned very rightwing on a range of foreign policy issues, Indonesia especially. But we still got on well enough with each other.
Arndt was a genuine intellectual, with a tolerance and breadth of interest that one does not find in Australia, or in most other Anglosaxon societies for that matter. For Arndt differences of opinions and ideas were things to be welcomed and discussed rather than ignored or put down. That was a rare quality in Canberra’s constipated intellectual climate. But then, Heinz was not Australian. He was a German Jew, exiled to Australia during the war years.
At the CUC we also had lectures on Australian politics from the resident political scientist, Fin Crisp. One day he said blandly that no one of intelligence could fail to belong to the progressive leftwing of Australian politics. I remember well our collective conservative shock.
Years later, during the Vietnam War, he was to emerge as die-hard anti-communist, totally intolerant of anyone trying to point out the insanity of that conflict. Years later I was to call it the flip-flop effect — the inability of Australian intellectuals to maintain intellectual consistency. Even Heinz was vulnerable.
Arndt’s lectures gave me a firm interest in development economics. A few years later he was to do me a favor crucial to my future career, and which I will describe later.
Ironically, he did the exact opposite for my father. He claimed to be an admirer of Colin; he was certainly familiar with all his works and many years later he wrote an excellent treatise pointing out my father’s role in the development of economic theory, economic development theory especially.
But in the early sixties he intervened to prevent my father from getting the lowly position of Statistics professor at CUC (the position went to an alcoholic Canberra bureaucrat who soon drank himself to death).
It was a bad setback for my father, who had wanted at any cost to be in Canberra to have a base for getting reinvolved in Federal economic policy. But in Canberra’s closed, tiny, academic world at the time, the fact that he was a world-famous economist was irrelevant. He was seen as a politically unacceptable conservative, and an academic rival to boot.
He ended up, fairly unhappily I suspect, at Monash University in Melbourne and later at Queensland University where he did get some recognition for past achievement.
While in Canberra I also took a one year course in Russian. Reasons were several - the Yugoslavia experience, Soviet space success, my interest in languages generally.
But above all I wanted to get back to Europe so I could meet up with D. again. She was studying somewhere in Germany. Australia’s Moscow embassy was due to reopen, having been closed for three years following the Petrov spy scandal.
Russian speakers might be needed . Hopefully, if a learned a bit of the language I would get myself posted there, and get to visit Germany.
The plan fizzled badly. The embassy did not reopen. D. married a German scientist involved with secret rocket development in the forests outside Munich. And I ended up in China.
The China connection needs some explaining. Diplomatic relations with Beijing had been cut off after the 1949 communist revolution. So too had Departmental training in the Chinese language. But in 1958 Canberra decided it was time to begin to take China and its language seriously again.
Towards the end of that year a circular landed on my desk calling for applicants to learn the language. Those chosen would have to undergo a one year intensive study course at the Point Cook military language school, with the promise of a two year posting to Hongkong to follow. .
I was only mildly interested. Like most of my colleagues at the time, I saw Europe and the US as the foci of world affairs and the areas with the choicest postings. Involvement with Asia was an invitation to be seen as a narrow specialist in things not very important to the future of the world.
But the Canberra existence was beginning to pall. Most of my colleagues in the 1957 entry cohort had been posted (they were all older, some much older, than I was) . I was left kicking heels in the Department’s economic aid section, helping to arrange funds for Asian projects bound to fail through corruption or to be bombed by anti-government rebels. Being sent to learn Chinese would at least get me out of Canberra.
So I wrote in my name on the circular, mainly to keep my options open (keeping options open was to be a guiding philosophy for much of the rest of my career). I would decide later whether I really wanted to learn Chinese.
But the options never opened. Out of the several hundred diplomats then employed by the Department, I was the only one to sign on. I was it, so to speak.
Two months later I was bundled off to stay in more cheap fibro sheds, this time at the bleak, windswept Point Cook airforce base facing Port Phillip bay south of Melbourne. It was to be my home for nearly a year.
The eight hours a day, five days a week, Point Cook course in Chinese would never win prizes for teaching efficiency. Days were spent stumbling over numbing sentence patterns, memorizing grammar and trying to remember basic ideographs. Evenings were spent in the officers mess, drinking beer, playing billiards and listening to rambo stories about the bombing missions over North Korea little more than a decade earlier.
“We strafed everything that moved, even the cows. And when we ran out of cows, we strafed the haystacks” was one comment that burned into the memory box. Later, in Korea, I began to realise the true horror of those boasts.
My fellow students were very average military types. They had little or no experience of learning even a simple foreign language, let alone something like Chinese. God only knows what they did with the language in their future careers. Presumably they were supposed to end up as fingernail removers in any future war with China. Failing that they would be retreaded into some other language to pull fingernails in some other Asian war.
I applied and was allowed to take the final exam some months ahead of them, and return to the relative civilization of Canberra. After a brief spell in the Department’s East Asia section, I set off for Hongkong via Singapore, Malaya, Thailand, Cambodia and South Vietnam.
Into Hong Kong
En route I began to discover a few Asian realities. . In Singapore, I saw how the squalor and poverty of the native population lapped at the feet of the aloof former colonialists in their luxury mansions and gardens. The British there had run the society and economy into the ground. Their sole aim was to have the grandiose Far Eastern naval base which they soon had to abandon anyway.
Later, when the Singaporeans themselves had pushed their economy and per capita GNP to a level well above that of the UK, I would recall how our political masters at the time had claimed they had to remain in that part of the world because the natives were unable to run their own affairs.
Australians there were part of the same arrogant picture. An intelligent, progressive Chinese called Lee Kwan Yew had just won a fiercely fought election to become prime minister of the former colony. But Canberra’s pudgy head-of-mission in the newly born nation – David McNicol, a man who was later to go on to dictate much of Australia’s hard-line China policy - had decreed that Australia should avoid any contact with Lee.
Why? Because in his election campaign Lee had used promises of drastic reform and anti-colonialist rhetoric to appeal to the masses. He was seen as a dangerous crypto-communist. The idea that he was one of the few activist politicians of intelligence who could steer Singapore away from communism never even crossed their rock-ribbed conservative minds. . It was my first brush with the blind stupidity of Western policies in Asia those days.
From Singapore I headed north by rail through Malaya to Thailand, and then onto Cambodia (Angkor Wat) where Milton Osborne, then a third secretary like myself and later an academic expert on Indochina, and his then wife offered kind hospitality.
After Phonm Penh I decided to go on to Saigon by bus rather than by plane. I had been told that, while we were going through territory subject to occasional guerrilla attack, the trip would be quite safe.. As it turned out, my bus was the last to make that trip.
Vietcong guerrillas were already in control in large areas of the Mekong Delta as early as 1959, even as our Western experts were insisting they were no more than a bunch of bandits largely confined to distant mountains.
After a day in a still French-heavy Saigon I took the brief flight to Hong Kong. On my first day in Hong Kong, at the Star Ferry wharf, the crowds walked past nonchalantly as a dead body bobbed quietly in the ocean alongside. Welcome to China, December 1959.