BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA;
BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS: DIPLOMAT, ECONOMIST, JOURNALIST AND JAPANOLOGIST;
BETWEEN FOUR LANGUAGES: ENGLISH, CHINESE, RUSSIAN AND JAPANESE
Australia's Pro-China Lobby
Arriving in Canberra in the cold light of an early spring morning, I thought for a moment I was back in Beijing.
The airport with its tiny reception area was surrounded by sheep and wheat fields.
The strict protocol in the line up of official cars there to meet us was also Chinese.
I was also to discover another Chinese-style feature of the Australian scene - the ease with which Australia's pro-China lobby can turn you into a non-person, and that your activities are non-events.
The first surprise came soon after my return to Australia.
A Chinese table tennis team was in Sydney, to reciprocate the 1971 visit by the Australian team. Fitzgerald took charge of the various celebrations.
But I was carefully side-lined.
That in itself, did not matter much. By then I was sick of table tennis people and their games.
What mattered was lack of any recognition that, but for my 1971 efforts, and good luck, that 1973 return visit would never have happened.
Fitzgerald and is friends were already making it look as if it was entirely the result of their efforts.
I was not even invited.
In their writings too it is the same.
The 285 pages of the 1985 book by Fung and Mackerras on Australia’s breakthrough in relations with China - "From Fear to Friendship" - devote only one line to our ping-pong visit, described simply as an example of Beijing's peoples diplomacy.
Page after page is devoted to Fitzgerald's alleged role.
(Colin Mackerras, I should add, had relied heavily on government funds, some controlled by Fitzgerald, for his own and his university department's field studies in China.)
My much earlier “In Fear of China” book also gets only one line, even though it seems to have contributed to the Fung-Mackerras book title.
That one line is followed by the bald and totally gratuitous statement that Fitzgerald at that time was doing more than I to make a China breakthrough!
Well, there we have it.
While I was risking much in the 1960’s to rebut Canberra’s anti-China hysteria, and Fitzgerald was keeping his nose politically clean at the ANU job that I had helped him get. While he was doing little more than prepare some innocuous research on Overseas Chinese in Asia, I was supposed to be doing nothing and he was doing all.
In fact, his main role had been to attach himself to the July 1971 Whitlam visit to Beijing, itself the direct result of the April 1971 ping-pong visit which I had been left single-handedly to organise.
True, Fitzgerald was later to do much to promote the China relationship, and deserves kudos for that. But he did it only when it was safe and very politically advantageous for him to do so.
During the ugly days of the Vietnam War, I had tried time and time again to get him to join me in public criticism of Canberra’s China policies. Almost always he would refuse.
If after 1969 I could not do much more, that was because I was in semi-exile in Japan, as result of having done a lot more than most at a time when it was not safe or very advantageous to do so.
Australia’s Dragon Club
In Japan they call it the Chrysanthemum Club — the small clique of US academics and others close to Washington and Tokyo establishments who try to dominate much of the academic interflow.
In the case of Australia and China, maybe you can call it the Dragon Club.
Many can claim credit for Australia's opening to China.
But to suggest that our ping-pong visit did little or nothing in that direction is like suggesting the Columbus had little to do with discovering America.
Yet that precisely is what the Club has tried ever since to imply. The Mackerras book provides fairly brutal confirmation.
The Club later was to make sure that I would never have the chance to reconnect with China. Nice people.
(As it so happens, Mackerras, Fitzgerald and myself have a strange and little-known connection.)
(Back in the mid-sixties we had all applied for a Myer Scholarship being offered to send someone to Hongkong for China studies.)
(Mackerras got the valuable scholarship, which in turn was to allow him to turn himself into some kind of China-watcher. But at the time he was doing no more than study Chinese music. How did he get that scholarship?)
(Later I was to get know Ken Myer quite well - his wife was Japanese and he visited Japan often. He told me that Fitzgerald and myself were rejected because we had wanted to study Chinese politics, something regarded as far too dangerous and controversial in those hysterical anti-China days.)
(Mackerras got the scholarship because he wanted to study Chinese opera, a much safer topic.)
Let’s get the record straight, once and for all.
(And this is not some kind of sour grapes, since being excluded from China meant I was to be even more deeply embedded in Japan – an existence far more rewarding and profitable than anything I could have had in hard-nosed China at the time.)
(Indeed, I could have ended up like Fitzgerald and quite a few other China-watchers at the time – bitter and twisted.)
(But for me personally it was important that I be able to spend a year or two in China if only to maintain the language I had had to learn so painfully.)
The publicity engendered by that ping-pong visit not only forced the Australian public to take much more notice of China and the Chinese people.
It also had a direct impact on Australia’s politics.
It was to lead indirectly to Whitlam’s 1972 election as prime minister. It was greatly to increase pressure on Canberra to recognise Beijing.
But thanks to Fitzgerald and the group around him, many dependent on his goodwill for cultural and study funds involving China, all this has become irrelevant.
Our 1971 ping-pong visit has become a non-event.
Even Mick Young's crucial role in persuading an initially hesitant Whitlam to make the July 1971 visit is played down.
The efforts by that group to erase these facts from the history of Australia-China relations rank up there with Stalin’s efforts to prove that he single-handedly organized the 1917 Russian revolution.
(Fitzgerald was later to do some strange things. After returning from being ambassador China he went to the ANU which by this time had about-faced on China and was welcoming people with China background.)
(Then after leaving academia, and going into business consulting, he suddenly seemed to decide that China was evil and that we should all embrace Taiwan. No doubt he had suffered some bad deals at the hands of the then exclusivist Chinese.)
(He also got involved in a bizarre campaign to encourage Australian firms to invest in North Korea of all places.)
Some have assumed that I must have held some grudge against Whitlam, and by implication Fitzgerald, because of his 1973 appointment of Fitzgerald as ambassador to China.
After all, Fitzgerald was younger than I. He had been junior to me in Foreign Affairs.
I had much broader experience than he.
Normally I should have been first choice if Whitlam was to send anyone to China.
But there were several good reasons why this did not happen.
One was that while I was in Japan, Fitzgerald had been able to use his ANU position, and his not un-affable personality, to get close to key ALP people in Canberra.
They, Whitlam and the media had come to see him as Australia’s main expert on China, which is understandable. He was in Canberra and very available.
Also, by 1973 I was thoroughly embedded in Japan. I had a family on the way.
A move to China would have caused personal problems.
Besides, and as I will reveal later, Whitlam was very much aware of my existence, and there were already hints that he wanted to get me some kind of senior diplomatic position in Japan.
I had always got on reasonably well with him, despite my inability in the 1960’s to influence him over Vietnam.
So if I have any resentments against Whitlam (and if they are in any way relevant to world affairs, I should add) they stem directly from later events, in particular the Vietnam Cables affair which I will relate later.
This determination to ignore the role of the ping-pong diplomacy has had another unfortunate result - namely the failure of researchers into Australia’s diplomatic history to realise that Canberra was to the right even of the US in its fear and hostility to China.
The attempt to prevent a table tennis team from going to China matched what I had discovered earlier over Vietnam, namely that Canberra was also to the right of the US on the question of military intervention in Indochina.
And it matched to some extent what I discovered later in Beijing, namely Canberra’s blind refusal to allow any form of contact with the Sihanouk government.
Canberra’s determination to prevent the ping-pong opening to China even though Washington was in favor should have been a topic for serious academic research.
Indeed, for students of Australian foreign policies during this period I can think of little that was more important than Canberra’s extraordinary willingness to be to the right of the US in Asia.
These details are also important in countering leftwing claims that Canberra was dragged into its Asian policies – Vietnam especially - by its US master.
In fact, Canberra at the time had its own very independent foreign policies - designed almost entirely to keep the mythical Chinese threat at bay.
Dragging the US even further into the Indochina morass was a key part of that effort.
Canberra’s efforts to kill ping-pong diplomacy were another, and highly Canutian, push in the same direction.
One or two foreign policy scholars have picked up my argument about Vietnam policy. But over the ping-pong visit, and Canberra’s extraordinary behavior, there has been complete silence.
Well done, the Dragon Club.
Years later the Dragon Club Stalinists were to strike again.
Still in Tokyo, I began to feel it was time for me to be re-involved with China, even if only for a year or so. I needed to do something to keep up my language and previous interest before it was too late.
I had applied for the lowly post of trade commissioner being advertised for Australia’s Beijing embassy
A three-person committee to choose the appointee included Fitzgerald. It rejected my application, in favor of a lady with strong Dragon Club credentials.
Fitzgerald had played a key role in that decision.
That I should have to suffer this kind of knockback at the hands of someone whose own China career had depended entirely on my 1965 generosity was humiliating.
(If at the time I was seen as lacking needed qualifications I would note that in addition to my background both in Chinese language, and economics/business, I was also involved in some official committees and elsewhere dealing with Japan’s overseas trade relations.)
Soon after I also had rejected a very humble request to the Australia-China Council, another Dragon Club establishment, for a temporary unpaid academic slot in Beijing.
The words of Machiavelli are relevant: “Whoever lets go of his own convenience, for the convenience of others, only loses his own and gets no thanks from them.”