BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA;

BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS: DIPLOMAT, ECONOMIST, JOURNALIST AND JAPANOLOGIST;

BETWEEN FOUR LANGUAGES: ENGLISH, CHINESE, RUSSIAN AND JAPANESE

Chapter 9

BACK TO CANBERRA - 1975

1. The Nara Treaty Debacle,

2. The Australia Japan Foundation

3. The ‘Vietnam Cables’ Debacle,

4. Japan and the NPT

5. Gaiatsu and Negotiating with Japan

6. CRA and Resources Policy


It is December 1974.

I leave my job with ‘The Australian’ in Japan and head back to Canberra.

I am due to take up an Assistant Secretary level position, Policy Coordination Unit (PCU), Department of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet (PMC).

The PCU Unit was set up by former mentor in The Australian, John Menadue, now the head of PMC.

PCU was supposed to provide him with policy ideas and ride herd on the bureaucracy generally.

PMC was, and remains, Canberra's top ministry. One of its two main functions was to vet submissions from ministries seeking Cabinet approval.

The other was to feed advice to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet- in this case, the 1972-5 Whitlam administration.

For just one year and two months I would be as close to the center of power and influence in a Canberra administration as I would ever be.

But what should have been an elevating experience turned out to be highly disillusioning. I have recounted many of the reasons in my Quadrant website article entitled ‘
1975’.




True, administrations have daily to face an array of issues, many of them new and important. The people at the center trying to cover them all are few, and often very far between.

On an average day someone in Menadue's position would have had to turn his mind to dozens, if not hundreds, of different questions. It is an impossible burden.

I had to admire his ability to handle the paper that crossed his desk, not to mention the endless phone-calls.

But I was less impressed by the time and effort given to trivial matters seen as crucial to the image of the Whitlam government. Meanwhile more important matters crucial to the future of that government were left to languish.

In its final years, the Whitlam administration had become a gigantic PR exercise. Its media consultant, Brian Johns, who like me had also been recruited by Menadue, seemed to do nothing else but make sure the Whitlam regime got its image right.

He would sit in on the daily briefings for the prime minister.

Meanwhile the rest of us in PCU were left to grapple, often alone and in vain, with policy issues that in the long run were much more important to the government's future than any amount of clever press relations.

I once had to go with Johns on a tour of ad agencies seeking a fat government contract for an ad campaign to boost the government's economic policies.

It was a degrading experience. Apart from anything else, no democracy should allow its governments to use official monies to boost their electoral image.

The same amount of effort devoted to getting economic policies right would have been much more effective in the long run.

Several other incidents from that frustrating year still rankle, and much more than having to help run meaningless ad campaigns.

1. The "NARA Treaty " Debacle

One of the worst was the way in which Whitlam's plan for a so-called NARA treaty with Japan was sabotaged by the spies and the anti-Whitlam bureaucrats (for the fuller details see my article ‘1975’ on this website).

By way of background I should mention that I had long been part of the NARA picture.

As correspondent in Tokyo I had been surprised by Canberra's obstinate refusal of Tokyo's request for the standard Friendship, Commerce and Navigation Treaty Japan had with most of its trading partners.

Australian manufacturers had seen such a treaty as the thin edge of a wedge that would allow Japan to deluge Australia with its goods.

Be that as it might have been, Japan's minerals importance to Australia meant it was more than entitled to an agreement regulating normal commercial relations and asking for normal MFN (most favored nation) treatment.

Articles by myself and Max Suich, the Fairfax correspondent in Tokyo, had done something to change Canberra opinion.

I had also worked on Menadue during his Japan visits.

In 1973 Whitlam announced that as proof of his new broom diplomacy and in recognition of Japan's importance to Australia he would offer something much more than the standard Commerce and Navigation treaty.

It would be called the Nippon Australia Relations Agreement - NARA. (No one had told him or his advisers that in Japanese, nara, as used in the word o-nara, means the honorable fart.)

Early in 1975 Menadue had appointed me to the Inter-Departmental Committee to consider plans for the NARA treaty, and a proposed Japanese draft.

The IDC was headed by my former colleague, Michael Cook, the highly conservative Foreign Affairs official whom I was supposed to have replaced in New York as Australian representative on the UN Disarmament Commission back in 1965.

To my amazement Cook took it on himself to make sure the treaty never came into existence.

Crucial to the sabotage operation was a piece of phony information from an incompetent ASIS spy in Tokyo desperate to impress superiors with allegedly secret information about Japan's sinister intentions over the proposed treaty.

In fact, the draft treaty proposed by Japan did not include anything that could in any way harm Australian interests, or be twisted in ways that could do harm.

True, it had made mention of something later dubbed retrospective MFN. This said that if Japan was to have full equality in its economic relations with Australia, it should be given, retrospectively, the same rights and privileges as those given the US and UK in the past.

After all, if the treaty was supposed, as Whitlam had insisted, to reflect Australia's special economic relationship with Japan, then it stood to reason that the treaty would at least allow Japan equal footing with the UK and the US.

But the Canberra bureaucrats objected strongly, and the retrospective MFN proposal was quickly withdrawn by the Japanese.

But withdrawal, it seems, was not good enough.

Thanks mainly to the 'revelations' from said Tokyo-based spy, Canberra continued to insist that Tokyo was secretly scheming to revive retrospective MFN in some form or other, even after it had been withdrawn.

On this basis, Menadue and Whitlam were advised to reject even the amended Japanese draft.

I tried hard to tell Menadue that the advice was mistaken. But he was not listening. He preferred to go along with what the spies and Cook were saying.

In short, there was Menadue, who was supposed to be pro-Japan, and who had been specifically appointed to his PMC job to ensure that this kind of sabotage did not occur, accepting bogus advice from people who both distrusted Japan and were keen to see the Whitlam agenda derailed.

It was a classic example of the ease with which the Canberra conservatives and spies were able to manipulate and undermine Whitlam's policies.

Worse, I had a good idea of just how the spy machine had got at Menadue and Whitlam.

Caution: Spies at Work

The election of a Labor government in 1972 had cast a shadow over Australia's entire spy apparatus.

Before 1972 the spies had worked long and hard to sabotage and isolate the ALP. ALP reprisals were very much in order, and seemingly imminent.

The spies also feared a serious retraction of their hitherto close links with the US intelligence machine, which has an instinctive and ingrained dislike of any regime that even smells of progressive or leftwing tendencies

Remember Chile's Allende? For a while there were less than charming hints that the US hawks might see Whitlam in a similar light.

At the very least, the US spies would begin to turn off the information spigots to our spies. Or so it was feared.

To keep the spigots open, the Australian spies had to move quickly and prove they could keep the Whitlam government under control, their control.

(Under the subsequent Hawke and Keating administrations the spies seem to have had no such fears since from the start it was clear the people they were dealing with were either already in the US pocket, or could be easily inserted).

The problem for the spies was how to get at Whitlam. They had no direct links into his entourage, at least as far as I know.

But they had an idea, and it was a good one.

For years the Defense Signals (DSD) operation in Melbourne had been decoding Japanese cable traffic as part of Australia's cooperation in the worldwide Echelon network (US, Britain, Canada, NZ and Australia).

True, there was some question over the level of the cable traffic DSD was decoding.

Later, and as a result of Brian Toohey raising the issue in 1975, and my raising it again in 1978 (details later), Tokyo was to insist that if there was any decoding it was restricted to business and low grade Embassy material.

Tokyo was to claim that this low-grade material was put into simple codes for convenience, and that while the Australians may have found some way to decypher the low-grade stuff, serious Embassy traffic went into codes that could not have been touched.

Maybe. But maybe too Tokyo simply did not want to believe that we foreigners could possibly penetrate their security.

The Japanese had never really shaken off the myths that had led directly to their defeat in the Pacific War, namely that we foreigners could not even read Japanese properly, let alone coded Japanese.




Here a mild diversion, relevant to this question of whether foreigners can or are entitled to read what Japanese say to each other in Japanese.

It also says something about the prickly state of Japan-Australia relations at the time.

Earlier in Tokyo when I was working as correspondent for The Australian I had discovered and reported on a book by the then Japanese ambassador to Canberra, Saito Shizuo. It was called 'Australia kara Tsushin' (Dispatches from Australia).

In it he hinted at Australians retaining White Australian attitudes to Japan.

My report to The Australian about the book and its contents had caused a stir in Canberra since ambassadors are not supposed publicly to criticise the policies of the nation to which they are accredited.

Saito was called in by Foreign Affairs for a formal rebuke, (by the covertly anti-Japan Shann as I recall.)

The Australian media feasted on the story for several weeks, particularly the bit where Saito had noted how uneducated Turks could enter Australia freely but educated Japanese were excluded. (One TV channel even sought out Turks in a Sydney Turkish bath for an informed comment.)

It is very likely that the incident put an end to what should have been a brilliant career for Saito; he had been slated for the United Nations and Gaimusho vice-minister.

And to be honest I had quite liked him. He was aristocratic and conservative, but he would come down occasionally from his heights to talk to people like myself.

Saito and some of his friends were later to complain to me about it all. My sin, they said, was reporting on a book written in Japanese for a Japanese audience.

In other words, if something was published in Japanese for Japanese that meant automatically it was not intended for non-Japanese eyes.

I had to remind them that even we foreigners are allowed to read things written in Japanese.




In any case, whatever decoded material it was that the spies put before the eyes of the Whitlam people, it seems to have done the trick.

Their doubts about those devious Japanese were confirmed.

The entire operation played directly into ALP, and Whitlam, suspicions of Japan.

From there it was only a short step to establishing a firm pipeline by which other information tidbits could be passed up to and accepted by the Whitlamites.

(How do I know these things? One or two journalists close to the Whitlam camp also got to see the material, or to at least hear about it, and told me.)

As Menadue admits in his memoirs:

'They (the spies) are, however, adept in doling out juicy bits of information that are often untested but draw one into the inner circle of people with privileged information, a twilight world of secrets and gossip. Perhaps we all read too many spy thrillers and vicariously want to be part of the action. Few are immune.'

Among the non-immune we have to include Menadue, and even Whitlam himself, at least over NARA.

NARA Denied

In the IDC debating the Japanese draft for a NARA treaty I soon found myself in a very small minority. A minority of one, to be precise.

I was shocked.

I had taken for granted that Canberra would be anti-China. But to be anti-Japan as well seemed to be taking things a bit far.

Didn’t Australia have any friends in Asia?

The intensity of anti-Japanese prejudice in Canberra, beginning with Cook and extending all the way down the line, appalled me.

'Slippery pigs' was how one of IDC people saw Japan. (I recall he came from Immigration.)

Worse, the IDC was determined not just to reject the Japanese draft but even to refuse to put forward a counter Australian draft.

Cook told us in all seriousness how he had read books about the Japanese, and was prepared for their devious tactics. Even to propose a rival draft would give them a chance to indulge in those tactics.

The Japanese had to be told pointblank that their draft was unacceptable, and leave it at that. That way they would be forced to realize that their plots had been exposed.

My efforts to get the IDC to see sense were fruitless. I relate them at length in my 1975 article. But inevitably the reaction, from all of them including Menadue, was that they had got it right and I had got it wrong.

Many were within the 'inner circle' Menadue had spoken about. I most definitely was not.

As one of those in the inner circle tried to put it to me at the time. 'Greg, we just happen to know things that you don't know about Japanese intentions. And if you knew what we know, you would have to agree with us.'

I should add that this inner circle personage was a young, junior, wet-behind-the-ears official who just happened to have been put on the PMC foreign affairs desk, and who by virtue of this position was cleared for access to spy materials.

Meanwhile myself, despite years of having been involved in foreign affairs, and having got it right over Vietnam (or perhaps because I DID get it right), was not cleared for access.

I had had to learn about the bogus spy material indirectly, from other sources.

Japan's Vain NARA Struggle

By chance, the chief Japanese negotiator for NARA was the Gaimusho's Hideo Kagami whom I had got to know in Moscow ten years earlier. (He was also the husband of the lady I mentioned earlier who in Moscow and later in Tokyo had given me such a charming introduction to things Japanese).

Kagami had tried bravely for weeks to battle the brick wall imposed by Cook, only to be sent away with a flea in its ear.

When he left, the IDC people gloated over their ‘success’ in forcing Japan's wily messenger to go home empty-handed.

(In fact Kagami was one of the least wily Japanese officials you could imagine. You could even call him naive - a typical product of Japan's mistaken elitism in recruiting and promoting its top diplomats.)

(His wife was a lot smarter - the daughter of a former leading Japanese politician.)

It was yet another of the many ugly experiences I have had to suffer in a long career with Canberra's brain-dead foreign affairs bureaucracy.

I should add that Menadue, who almost certainly was smart enough later to realize that he had fouled up over NARA, never had the integrity to come back to me and admit that he had been wrong and that I had been right from the start.

At the time my efforts to tell him he was wrong had created some strain on our friendship.

A China Connection

There was a curious sidebar to the abortive 1975 NARA negotiations.

Whitlam had gone out of his way in Beijing and elsewhere to tell people that his proposed NARA Treaty would do much to ease Chinese fears of revived Japanese militarism. It would guarantee Australia as a stable source of raw materials to Japan.

No longer would the Chinese have to fear that Japan would go on the war path again to secure sources of materials and fuel.

To anyone who knew Japan it was an unlikely scenario, and a quite gratuitous promise.

Apart from anything else, by 1975 Japan had quite a few other sources of raw materials imports - Canada, Brazil, Siberia, Southeast Asia.

And was Australia unlikely to cease supplying materials simply because it did not have a NARA Treaty? Apart from anything else, Japan had a raft of long-term contracts and investments guaranteeing Australian supplies until well into the 21st century.

I have reason to believe the unlikely war path scenario was fed to Whitlam by a Japan-ignorant Fitzgerald in Beijing, though it is also possible he also got something along these lines from Zhou Enlai whose view of Japan was also rather dated, and jaundiced.

Resources Diplomacy

This strange China connection owed much to Canberra's gross over-estimation of its resources importance to Japan at the time.

Canberra had convinced itself that Australian promises or otherwise of resource supplies could change the face of global politics.

From this it followed that the 'slippery' Japanese, in their desperate determination to get a hold on Australia's resources, would be up to every kind of devious trick to lure innocent Australians into a disadvantageous treaty.

Retrospective MFN was seen as a key element in that strategy. In other words, Tokyo's demand for the concessions given the Brits and the US in the old days was intended to allow them to walk away with much of Australia's resource wealth in their hungry pocket.

True, Tokyo deserves some of the blame for all this. Its over-reactive 'shigen gaiko' (resources diplomacy) slogans in the wake of the 1973 oil shock had fed directly into Canberra's resource delusions.

But, as I have discussed earlier, anyone who understood the excitable Japanese mentality could easily have realized the superficiality of it all.

But not Canberra.

It is filled with bureaucrats whose main reason for existence is to find plots, even when they do not exist, and then mount counter-measures, even when they are not needed.

The NARA Flipflop

Curiously, as soon as Whitlam was replaced by Fraser early in 1976, the bureaucracy decided that the treaty, renamed the Basic Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, was quite feasible after all.

Two of my former FA colleagues
Gary Woodard and Ashton Calvert were sent to Tokyo to renegotiate it. In a matter of weeks all problems were resolved.

(Both were later to fill me in on the inside details, some of which are recounted in the '1975' article.)

The wording of the agreed treaty was almost identical with that of the treaty draft that Menadue, Whitlam, Cook and just about everyone else had only a few months earlier declared not only to be totally unacceptable.

Indeed it was supposed to be so unacceptable as to be not even worth negotiating over.

In the years since, none of the Japanese plots darkly warned of by our spies and hawks, Cook especially, have even pretended to emerge.

But Cook kept his job.

He was to become a confidant not only of the Fraser regime but also of later Labor regimes. Hawke even made him ambassador to the US - a move that must have made a lot of shady people in Washington very happy.




I do not subscribe to theories that the CIA and others plotted Whitlam's November 1975 dismissal.

Whitlam brought that on himself, by his poor handling of the economy, the ludicrous attempts to get round Senate refusal of supply in late 1975, and his foolish trust in Kerr, the man he had appointed as his governor-general.

But the US hawks and spies must have been very happy to see Whitlam's foreign policies sabotaged as much as possible.

One does not have to be totally paranoiac to assume that making sure Whitlam did not get his treaty with Japan would have been one of their objectives.

True, the Whitlam hagiographers, Graham Freudenberg and Fitzgerald especially, have had no trouble telling us how Whitlam deserved full credit for this major breakthrough in relations with Japan, ie the treaty rejected by Whitlam and reached under Fraser.

Such are the ways the fables of history are made.

NARA Postscript

In 2001 our Tokyo Embassy held a splendid function to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Basic Treaty.

Academics and others were flown in from all over Australia, including even an American at an Australian university who could not conceivably have had anything to do with the Treaty.

Curiously, the list of invitees did not include this writer. This, despite the fact he was already in Japan and that he had long been involved in the realization of the treaty.

Much the same was to happen in 2006, on the 30th anniversary of the Treaty. Once again Canberra was to make a song and dance about the importance of the treaty.

And once again I was not invited to the dance.

Canberra was also to commission some alleged historians to write up the alleged history of the treaty negotiations.

With its crucial omissions, and its brazen attempts to make Cook look like a hero standing up for Australian interests, it would have embarrassed even a communist regime setting out to rewrite history.




Many years later I was to meet a young, progressive, smart, independent-minded Canberra based academic (female, of course – Canberra males could not handle this kind of brief) looking into the NARA background.

As I went though the various points about how and why Canberra had got it wrong, she jokingly gave me today’s standard Canberra response to mistakes of the past - ‘Got to move on, mate.’

I guess she was right. Even so, someone has to keep the record straight. Otherwise the fabricators just take over. And NARA is not the only example.

2. The Australia-Japan Foundation

While in Canberra I had, with Menadue, worked hard to get Cabinet approval for the establishment of an Australia-Japan Foundation.

The idea had originally been mine, when I was still with The Australian in Tokyo.

I had found it easy to sell to the ambassador, Shann, since he too concerned about getting Australians to take more interest in Japan.

Collectively we had then sold it to Menadue on one of his Japan visits.

At the time there was no mechanism by which young Australians interested in Japan could easily get involved with Japan.

I had remembered my own experience – namely, the difficulties I had had in the late sixties in getting to Japan and getting established there.

Australian universities at the time were still being criminally negligent in their bad teaching of Japanese.

They had even less interest in providing the follow-up whereby graduates could get to Japan to use the Japanese they were supposed to have been taught.

A Foundation would help overcome these problems, I hoped.

(Earlier I related the hideous experience I had suffered in 1966 when I had set out to try to learn Japanese at formal ANU classes.)

(When I wrote to Crawford from Tokyo in 1969, setting out my reasons for not meeting his six month deadline to submit a thesis, I made a strong appeal for the ANU to do something about Japanese language education, along the lines of combining Japanese with business studies that I had written about back in 1966, and which had been picked up and used so successfully for a time by the University of Western Australia.)

(I wrote that this would be a lot more useful than any number of dry academic theses by non-Japanese speakers.)

(I never got a reply. But I guess I should have expected that.)

(At the time the ANU and Crawford were congratulating themselves over having become a ‘center of academic excellence.' No doubt the idea that their 'excellent academics' should have to take a year or two out of their ‘excellent research’ to learn some miserable Asian language was too absurd even to think about.)

Menadue was able to push the Foundation idea through Cabinet. But he had foolishly let Crawford get involved.

The proposal, once approved, was quickly hijacked by Crawford, who saw it as yet another source of funds for those non-Japanese speaking ANU academics.

True, my idea of setting up schools where adults whose careers were taking them to Japan could study Japanese intensively was also taken up, with a center opened in Canberra.

But the Canberra operation was only allowed to last a year or so.

Either the ANU or the Foundation people found running a language school to be too difficult. Or else they decided there were better things to do with funds so generously being provided by the government.

The Foundation ended up as a fairly useless outfit devoted mainly to running weak publicity campaigns for Australia in Japan, and to sending Australian potters, poets etc for brief visits to Japan in exchange for taking a few second-rate Japanese academics and the occasional Japanese artist to visit Australia.

Japan politely refused the request that it should set up its own Japan Australia Foundation.




In all the years I have been in Japan, only very occasionally have I been contacted by the Foundation, or invited to any of its many functions, even when it was headed by Menadue.

This, despite my 30 year close involvement with Japanese university education. And universities were supposed to be one of the main targets of the Foundation's alleged involvement with Japan.




I once mentioned my concerns about Foundation to an old Vietnam War acquaintance, Gareth Evans, when he was Australia’s foreign affairs minister.

He commissioned me informally to set out my own ideas on how to reform the organisation.

In particular, I wanted to push the idea of having the Foundation sponsor a full time official - ideally an old-Japan Hand with some academic background - in Tokyo to help young people who had studied Japan and Japanese in Australia and wanted to find work or study slots in Japan.

It would operate rather like the Stanford University Center in Tokyo which had done just that, and so effectively, for so many young Americans over the years.

I sent off my report to Gareth. But I never got a reply, let alone action.

And sure enough, when the Foundation, for which I had done so much to help have established, had its 25th birthday celebrations in Japan, once again I was left off the lavish guest list.




There is something very ephemeral about Australian attitudes. History is yesterday's newspaper headline.

The idea that others in the past may have contributed greatly to what you are doing today is irrelevant.

I compare it with Japan.

The Japanese too have some severe memory blanks, especially when it comes to their militaristic history.

But when it comes to remembering the people who have provided help in the past for their organisation, the feelings of obligation run deep, sometimes too deep.

Get involved, even slightly, and they will invite you back time and time again, sometimes for years after.

Write just once for a Japanese publication, and they will faithfully mail you copies of each edition, for years after.

Australians and Japanese have similar person-centered values.

But as I argue later, the Japanese have refined and expanded them to the point where they can create a viable society.

With Australians the personalism is confined to immediate mates.

When they try to move beyond that to create a society they have to resort to the worst kind of bureaucaticism.

Language Problems

The extraordinary inability – no, refusal – of the Australian bureaucracy to understand the need for Japanese speakers in its Tokyo embassy is part of this immature personalism.

The Japanese are bad enough, sometimes sending non-language speakers to head overseas missions.

But Australians are far worse.

It is personalism gone wild. One’s concern focuses almost entirely on one’s own particular group – the ‘mates’..

Those outside that group – in this case the ‘Japs’ - are secondary, at best.

Australians who speak Japanese well are, or at least were, viewed with suspicion. Their membership of the mateship group has become doubtful.

(I once heard a senior Australia trade official in Tokyo refer to the Japanese-speaking underlings handling day-to-day work for him, as ‘my Jappies.’)

True, and perhaps partly as a result of my journalistic efforts to raise the language issue, Canberra in 1973 commissioned a heavily publicized report by Fitzgerald recommending that Australian schools should all be obliged to teach Asian languages.

But the report was almost as half-baked as the attitudes that went before it.

It owed much to the conventional wisdom prevalent in mono-lingual societies, Australia included, that only young children can learn foreign languages properly.

In fact, resources concentrated on teaching motivated adults (which is what I had hoped from the abortive Australia-Japan Foundation effort) will produce far greater results than scattershot teaching in schools, especially when the schools do not have proper Asian language courses or teachers in place.

For a while we had the absurd situation where teachers of French were supposed to be retreaded into becoming teachers of Japanese.

The theory was that since teaching a foreign language was a kind of science, anyone with a foreign language teaching qualification could teach any language, even if they did not know it themselves!

True, things have improved since, and have helped contribute to the large numbers of young Australians now able to live and work in Japan.

But for the people at the top they continue to be regarded as ‘Jappies.’

Unlike the many young Americans with good Japanese, few of their Australian equivalents have yet to make it to top.

3. The "Vietnam Cables" Debacle

The NARA debacle was bad enough.

But an even lower 1975 moment came from my efforts to rescue Whitlam from the Vietnam Cables trap into which he had been led, foolishly and probably deliberately, by the same Foreign Affairs conservatives as those who had wrecked his NARA initiative.

Michael Cook in particular, as head of the Asia division, has to bear the major responsibility for this particular piece of idiocy
sending cables to Saigon and Hanoi on the eve of Saigon's 1975 fall, calling for both sides to desist from hostilities.

It was typical Canberra. The fact that it knew nothing about Vietnam (it did not have a single Vietnamese speaker in any position of responsibility) and in the past had been criminally wrong over Vietnam, was irrelevant.

With one brilliant master-stroke it would put itself in the center of the global diplomatic stage, seeking single-handedly to put an end to a war that had been going on for three decades (if we include the French) and which had seen two great Western powers defeated and well over three million Vietnamese killed.

Well done, Canberra!

There were of course a few difficulties. One was the fact that the Saigon government was collapsing. It never even got to receive Canberra’s ‘desist fighting’ cable.

As for Hanoi, its reaction to this piece of impertinence, from a government that used to label it as a Peking puppet and had sent troops to kill and maim many hundreds of its compatriots, can be imagined.

A former colleague in Tokyo and mission head in Hanoi, the rather conservative Graeme Lewis, had had to deliver the cabled message. He reported back that for some reason, not only was Hanoi not very interested in Canberra's brilliant proposal, but - surprise,surprise - it was even rather indignant.

(See my
1975 article for fuller details)

Enter The Peacock

The Vietnam Cables affair began with the then opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs, Andrew Peacock, on a world trip somehow getting hold of a copy of the abortive cable to Saigon.

Peacock arrived back in Australia to announce loudly that he had the firm documentary evidence of how Whitlam had tried to force Saigon into having to cease military resistance to its North Vietnamese enemy.

A stab in the back for our brave Saigon ally in its moment of travail. Final proof of Whitlam's incompetence and evil.

Peacock then proceeded to whet media appetite by selectively revealing parts of the cable's text over the next few days.

He was helped by Whitlam's initial denial of the cable's existence (the fact that Whitlam did not know about the cable was good proof that it had been composed and sent out in Whitlam's name by those nice people in Foreign Affairs.)

The result was a typical media frenzy, with the Fairfax media calling almost daily for Whitlam's resignation.

'He has lied to the House. He has betrayed our Saigon ally.'

At the time, Foreign Affairs needed only to reveal the existence of the cable to Hanoi to put an end to the hubbub. (Some explanation of how those idiotic cables got to be sent in the first place might also have helped.)

The anti-Whitlam fuss would have been killed overnight.

But Renouf, who owed his job entirely to Whitlam, refused to do anything.

He was quite happy to see Whitlam sink deeper and deeper into the mess that his, Renouf's, own ministry had created, and which had been triggered by the treachery of the Foreign Affairs official who had fed the Saigon cable to Peacock.

As for the gullibility of the Australian media – thinking that a cable from Whiltam to Saigon could somehow have a bearing on the outcome of the Vietnam War – the less said the better.

The ‘Rescue Whitlam' Operation

At this point I decided it was part of my brief to try to do something to help rescue Whitlam, even if I had never met the man during my year in Canberra and had little reason to like him.

No one else in the large bureaucracy that was supposed to looking after him was interested in doing anything. They were all happy to see him stew in a juice of theirs and other's making.

Using my very limited contacts in Foreign Affairs, I was able to confirm the existence of the cable to Hanoi.

I then got Menadue's permission to release the Hanoi cable to the media (Menadue and Whitlam were abroad at the time).

Once the cable to Hanoi was released, the crisis was immediately defused. Even the blinkered, rightwing media had to admit that if a similar cable had gone to Hanoi, then the exercise could hardly be labeled as anti-Saigon.

But all I got for these efforts was Whitlam in Parliament a few days later in effect denouncing me for having disclosed the cable that virtually saved his political life.

In front of the PMC assembled ranks, Menadue then went through the motions of transmitting the Whitlam condemnation of the ‘senior official' who was said to have leaked the Hanoi cable that had in fact saved Whitlam's bacon.

All eyes looked in my direction.

From that moment I had to realize that I was living and working in a bureaucratic nightmare, and in a society quite unable to muster basic commonsense when it came to foreign policies.

As well, I had lost all role and effectiveness within PMC.

It was time for me to be thinking of out.

Deep Injustice

The injustice of it all rankled deeply.

As with NARA, I had done everything I could to rescue Whitlam from the stupidity or even treachery of his underlings.

All I got in return was a slap in the face.

That injustice was to gnaw at me for a long time to come, maybe too long.

In retrospect, some of that agony could have been avoided if Brian Johns, whose job it was to represent Whitlam to the media, had not run away when the heat was on.

It was he, not me, who should have briefed the journalists about the existence of the Hanoi cable. But when I asked him to do that I got a very blunt refusal.

If he had done what he was supposed to do, I would not have suffered the bitchy attack by the one journalist who had missed out on the story.

But like the rest of them, Johns was not prepared to risk his personal security to rescue the prime minister he was supposed to be working for. It was left to me to do everything.

In retrospect, I should have just leaked the cable information to one person, to someone like Creighton Burns of The Age, and let him run with it.

He had taken the lead in the lambasting of Whitlam over the Saigon cable.

He would have had enough scoop hunger to run with the Hanoi cable, even if it did completely contradict his earlier anti-Whitlam posturing.

Instead, I decided to do everything openly, passing on the information to any and every journalist who happened to be available, and who was interested.

Inevitably someone was going to get the story late or wrong, and that someone happened to be Gay Davidson of the Canberra Times (former wife of Ken Davidson).

She tried to make up for her mistake by turning in a story about Foreign Affairs (ie Renouf) being seriously concerned over a senior PMC official leaking secret information.

(That in turn led to questions being asked in the House, and Whitlam’s condemnation of the person who had saved his skin. )

Secret? When it had already been in the hands of a communist government for some months? When the Saigon cable had earlier been leaked to Peacock by an unpunished Foreign Affairs official in a bid to stab Whitlam in the back?

Never in a long life involved with politics and bureaucracy have I seen such a blatant example of white turned into black and black into white.

4. Japan and the NPT

My Quadrant 1975 story omits a few other policy events in which I was involved.

One concerns Japan and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

A walk in Gorky Park

I had long had a special interest in the treaty. I had been in Moscow in 1963 when Averill Harriman (died 1986) arrived in a strong bid to gain a Soviet signature.

That was shortly after the Cuban missile crisis. Western conventional wisdom said that Khruschev's Moscow would oppose the treaty.

Walking in Gorky Park one day I had overheard a speaker sent by a Moscow current affairs institute, Znaniye, telling a crowd that the USSR favored the treaty. I was able to pass on the news to Canberra, and score a minor diplomatic scoop since at the time the Soviet position had not formally been announced.

It was yet another move by Khruschev to develop detente with the West - moves which if acted on by the West would have changed the entire course of the Cold War.

(Incidentally, the Znaniye talks were regular features of Moscow life, and a good example of the efforts by the regime to keep people reasonably informed of its policies.)

(The same was true in China, where bulletins giving reasonably impartial news about the West and China's policies were in regular circulation.)

(Meanwhile our hawks were telling the world about the news blackouts imposed on the victims of communist regimes.)

(In fact the average well-educated Moscovite in some ways probably knew more about world events than did his Western equivalent, mainly because he did not have to wade though the mountains of false or irrelevant information provided by Western media.)

(Communist media information could be equally false at times. But one could always tell easily what was false and what was real.)

(And what was real was usually very much to the point.)

(Information overkill in the West does much more damage than people realize.)

Canberra's Reluctance to Respond.

By 1975 the Whitlam administration had developed a strong interest in having Japan ratify the treaty.

Tokyo had signed the treaty. But the Japanese hard-liners, led by Nakasone Yasuhiro, strongly opposed ratification.

They wanted for Japan to be able to retain a nuclear option.

Fortunately, the then prime minister, the dovish Takeo Miki, favored ratification. Unfortunately, in Japan's consensus society, prime ministers do not always have the power to push through the policies they want.

A typical Japanese policy deadlock had ensued.

To break the deadlock, I had proposed from my PCU cell that Canberra should make a statement calling on Japan to ratify.

I knew from previous experience in Tokyo how the Japanese can welcome foreign intervention to break these kinds of policy deadlocks.

The Japanese call it gaiatsu, or outside pressure.

It is a neat way of allowing the consensus to be swung in the direction of one side or another in a deadlocked policy debate.

Arguing the rights and wrongs of the policy itself, or seeking a binding policy vote in the Cabinet, is not enough.

Somehow one has to create the consensus in one’s favor.

One easy way used to be to tell your domestic opponents how the foreigners were angry about their blind opposition to your policies. They (the opponents) were damaging Japan's international image, you would say.

If necessary, you would go out and find foreigners to say what you wanted said.

(This sensitivity to foreign opinion at times can easily go haywire. An example I savor is the wartime appeal by the Japanese military command to Japanese soldiers in the battle of Guadacanal. It called on them to fight bravely. Otherwise, it said, the world would be laughing at them...)

Gaiatsu is yet another good example of Japan's shame rather than guilt society in action, this time at the national level.

Instead of arguing the merits of a policy, you argue how the rest of the world will see that policy.

Gaiatsu to the Rescue

I put my NPT gaiatsu proposal to Menadue. But he felt we should first seek the opinion of our Tokyo Embassy, still being run by Shann.

Shann came back immediately advising strongly against any statement. He repeated the conventional Western wisdom about how it would be seen as unjustified intervention in Japan's domestic policies.

Ironically, a day or two later Shann was to send us another message.

This time he admitted, rather sheepishly, how at some function the night before he had been approached by someone important in the Miki faction begging Australia to make a statement in favor of ratification.

Canberra obliged.

The Miki people then came back, asking for a further statement.

Soon after, Tokyo ratified the NPT treaty.

It was a classic example of gaiatsu in action, though I doubt whether Canberra ever realized how or why it was achieved, and how.

5. Gaiatsu and Negotiating with Japan

Sugar Gaiatsu

At the time, Japan's susceptibility to gaiatsu was not very well known in the outside world.

Like Shann, most of the officials and academics involved with Japan saw the Japanese as an inherently nationalistic people.

It was assumed automatically that they would resent foreigners trying to influence their domestic debates.

If I knew differently, that was mainly due to having as a journalist covered closely CSR's 1974 sugar dispute with Japan.

The company had faced a messy price dispute with Japan, with Tokyo declaring arbitrarily that it would take no more of the sugar it had contracted to buy from CSR back in 1973.

(Typically, the panicky Japanese had contracted at the absurdly high sugar prices then current in the wake of the oil shock, and were trying wriggle out after prices had collapsed badly.)

But CSR insisted it had an obligation to honor its contract with Japan. It would continue to send cargoes in the Soviet-owned vessels it had already chartered for making deliveries.

If the ships were refused entry to Japan, they (the ships) would lower anchor in Yokohama harbor and wait till the ban on CSR sugar was lifted.

As expected, Japan refused entry and the ships lowered anchor.

Soon there was long line of Soviet sugar ships waiting patiently outside Yokohama harbor.

Then as the dispute moved into its second month, CSR began to circulate stories to the scandal-hungry Japanese commercial media about how the Russian crews were growing homesick. Worse, the boats filled with sugar might explode in the summer heat of Yokohama harbor.

The image of exploding sugar ships riveted the media.CSR was having little trouble getting its version of the dispute accepted.

The final shove was CSR warning how it would take Japan to something called the World Sugar Court, an entity that was little more than a nameplate on a door somewhere in London.

Here the shame factor was working overtime. Japan would be disgraced before the world trade community.

Faced by these and other psychological pressures, Tokyo and Japan's sugar industry backed down.

It was one of the first, if not the first, successful example of gaiatsu in action.

Meat Gaiatsu

Back in Canberra I became involved in another gaiatsu affair - Australia's meat dispute with Japan.

Some background is needed.

One of the first moves under Tanaka's 1973 shigen gaiko (resources diplomacy) had been a request to Canberra to increase exports of beef to Japan.

Prices in Japan were sky-rocketing. Cheap imports would help curb inflation.

As well, beef - along with oil, coal, aluminium etc - had come to be seen by panicky Japan as yet another rare resource product subject to perpetual future shortages.

(The fact that cows could reproduce themselves had been ignored.)

Guarantees of longterm supplies had to be secured, even if only to help stabilize Japan's domestic prices.

Canberra had responded, even though Australia too was being hit by inflation and large beef price increases. It responded fairly willingly because it saw a rare chance to penetrate longterm the previously closed Japanese market.

But two years later as imports flooded into Japan and meat prices collapsed, Japan's domestic beef producers began to make a media fuss.

Part of the fuss saw the media playing up tragically the story about a veal calf producer in Hokkaido who had been driven to suicide because of the price collapse.

Tokyo moved swiftly to impose an immediate ban on all meat imports.

This was fine, except that many Australian farmers had already switched production to the fatty, grain-fed beef needed to meet Japanese tastes and demands. They were threatened with bankruptcy if they could not export.

Queensland especially was annoyed. It was the main producer of this meat. It threatened a ban on coal exports to Japan in retaliation.

Canberra, which had the last word on coal export policy, was dithering.

It accepted that Japan had behaved atrociously. But it did not want to antagonise an important customer.

How Not to Negotiate with Japan

So how would Canberra set about persuading recalcitrant Japan to abandon its evil ways?

It would start writing letters.

The first went to the Japanese foreign minister, begging him for the sake of better relations with Australia, to withdraw the ban on meat imports.

That letter was ignored, predictably.

The Foreign Ministry has nothing to do with meat.

Next move was to send a letter to the Prime Minister. That too was ignored.

Few Japanese officials take letters seriously. If there is a problem, they expect direct personal contacts.

In any case, even the Prime Minister had little direct say in meat import policy.

That was the domain of the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry - just another aspect of Japan's cellular administation.

From my cell in PMC, I was able to predict that the letters would have no effect.

I was also able to predict that a ban on coal exports to Japan would also be fairly useless. That was because coal imports were handled by the MITI - the large government agency in charge of overall economic policies but not directly in charge of meat import policy.

Japan in those days was seen as a nationalistic whole, with the prime minister and the foreign ministry firmly in control of the national interest.

In fact, the various ministries operated independently. They had little concern for the vague, nebulous concept of the national interest.

They were far more concerned with preserving and expanding their own power.

They could happily ignore the demands of others, even when the demands come from the Cabinet or the prime minister.

It was all very different from the top-down Australian system, which, incidentally, we in PMC were supposed to be administering.

Fish Gaiatsu

Realising that a ban on coal exports was a non-starter, I suggested a ban on Japanese fishing boats, mainly tuna fishing boats, entering our ports. That would be less traumatic than banning coal exports.

More importantly, fish policy in Japan was also handled by the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry (it was later to add Fisheries to its name).

What's more, the electorate of the ministry's political master, Suzuki Zenko, included the very fishing port -Miyako - that was sending the tuna ships to Australian waters.

My superiors agreed. A plan to impose a ban on the tuna ships was announced. Japan's meat import ban was quickly lifted.

Problem solved, even if I was only peripherally involved.

After it was all over, we were quietly thanked by the Japanese Foreign Ministry for our skillful action against the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry protectionists.

Any further proof of Japan's cellular bureaucracy needed?

Years later, the US and the Europeans in their trade wars with Japan were also to begin to see how easily Tokyo could be pressured by trade threats that embarrassed one or other of Tokyo's protectionist factions.

We began to hear a lot about this great new discovery - gaiatsu.

In fact we Australians had discovered it quite a few years earlier.

6. CRA, and Resources Policy

I mention these various details for what they were worth. In the overall scheme of things, however, they were fairly insignificant.

Menadue was already moving to ignore us think-tank types on PCU. He had discovered he could do his own deals directly with the bureaucracy, which was as afraid of him and he had been of them.

Increasingly we in PCU were relegated to odd jobs which no one else could handle.

One task I was allowed get my teeth into was the planned Australianisation of CRA - one of Whitlam's signature policies. Together with Harvey Jacka of PMC we drew up various plans for reducing UK equity in the company and its subsidiaries down to below the 50 percent mark.

Rod Carnegie, the ever-affable Australian head of the company, made approving noises. But deep down he was still beholden to his UK masters.

He was able to string things out till Whitlam's demise. Today Rio Tinto's Australian subsidiary does not even pretend to be Australian, even in name.

Another bone Menadue threw my way was membership of the Cabinet Resources Committee, set up to rein in some of Rex Connor's wilder ambitions.

We did something to put an end to his mad scheme to prohibit Northwest Shelf gas exports, in favor of piping everything to Perth and the east coast.

Connor did not realise that with these big projects, first you have to get them off the ground and create a cash flow. After that you can do whatever you like to satisfy nationalistic ambitions.

Maybe he was still wedded to the crazy idea that Khemlani money would solve the problem.

The Downhill Path

Meanwhile more important things were developing on other fronts - Vietnam and East Timor especially


Once again I was to run headfirst into Canberra’s bureaucratic brickwall.

This time the wall also had an ideological tinge. I was back to the bad old days of the Vietnam War, except that this time there was supposed to be a Labor government in power and I was supposed to be working for it.

There was only one escape - return to Japan.

Next