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 6

INTO JAPAN – 1967-8

INTO JAPAN – 1967-8

1. The Hitotsubashi Connection

2. The Ajiken Connection

3. Organising a life in Japan

4. The China Book emerges

Annex: At the Creation of APEC


Early 1967.

I am already well into the second year of my ANU scholarship, having spent the best part of a year trying to finish my China book. It was time to get to Japan and start my PhD fieldwork.

First impressions linger. As someone once put it, the planes coming to Tokyo's Haneda airport in those days seemed to make an audible sigh as they sank into the city smog.

First night in Tokyo I set out to test my Japanese at a nearby noodle shop, only to be told that the shop was ‘yatte inai’, or not doing any business that evening.

My Canberra efforts to learn Japanese had not even progressed to the level of knowing the colloquial word for ‘to do’ - yaru. Clearly I still had some way to go.

1. The Hitotsubashi connection

Heinz Arndt, the supervisor for my thesis work at the Australian National University (ANU), had organised for me to be attached to a Professor Kiyoshi Kojima at the well-known, economics/business centered Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

Kojima specialised in international economics and spoke good English. My father also had had some connection with Hitotsubashi in the past. I hoped I would be in good hands.

And to some extent I was. Kojima introduced me to a young official in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry who out of the blue handed me a semi-confidential list (in Japanese) giving details of all Japanese direct investments abroad.

It would provide the basis for my PhD thesis. Almost overnight a major Tokyo research objective had been achieved.

But I still had to find the details of those investments. And I was still far from realizing my other goal, which was to get to know Japan and its language.

….

Like all senior Japanese professors, Kojima ran what was called a zemi (seminar) – a collection of deshi (faithful students) who studied and researched under his supervision. I was put in their care.

They were typical university research students - in other words, not a very exciting lot.

Worse, their main objective was to have me help them practice their faltering English. Since my aim was to improve and practice my faltering Japanese, it was clear we were not going to get very far with each other.

Fortunately Heinz had also given me an introduction to the Institute for Research into the Asian Economies (the Ajia Keizai Kenkyusho, or Ajiken; now known in English as the Institute for Developing Economies). Their library was well stocked. Their people were helpful and friendly.

My other problem was accommodation. Eventually I found a room in the house of a faded middle class family in the Kakinoki-zaka (Persimmon Tree Slope) district of the Toritsu-dai suburb, about ten miles to the south of Tokyo.

But it was a very long way from Hitotsubashi, on the other side of town, to the west.

Meanwhile I was beginning to realise I was also not going to get very far with Kojima himself. Soon after my arrival I went to an evening dinner party with him and Peter Drysdale, the PhD scholar from the ANU who had preceded me to Hitotsubashi.

The pair of them teamed up to lecture me strongly on the folly of my anti-Vietnam War views.

At the time Kojima was busy dreaming up the concept of a Pacific Free Trade area (PAFTA) to serve as Japan’s main trade partner.

He saw me as continuing to play Drysdale’s former role, namely help his post-graduate seminar students improve their English and help correct the English of the many draft articles he was sending to foreign journals to publicise his PAFTA ideas.

Once again, I could see my determination to learn Japanese rather than help people with their English would be a problem.

Before long I decided I really did not need the Hitotsubashi connection Arndt had kindly arranged for me. Instead I would do my research work in the well-stocked Ajiken library, much more conveniently located in central Tokyo.


2. The Ajiken Connection

The move to Ajiken was fateful, for several reasons.

As a MITI subsidiary, Ajiken had the budgets and contacts needed for serious work on the Asian, and quite a few other economies.

I would not have to waste any more time with Kojima and his deshi debating the theoretical merits of free trade (which in a world of volatile exchange rate movements and increasing returns to scale are much more complex than the theorists seem to realise).

But by moving to Ajiken I had broken the Kojima-ANU connection which Drysdale had been sent to establish before me at Hitotsubashi.

That would have disappointed Heinz Arndt, and maybe the ANU itself.

Later Drysdale would be put in charge of ANU efforts to develop a Japan-Australia economic research center, with Kojima and Hitotsubashi as its spearhead into Japan. Between them they would seek to dominate very large areas of the Japan-Australia academic relationship.

Meanwhile Kojima continued to press on with his unrealistic PAFTA project, and its subsequent mutations into what today is known as APEC.

It was originally intended as a Cold War device to draw Japan away from communist Asian attachments - China especially - and have it look towards the Pacific. It has ended up as a meaningless talkfest with a cast of thousands still supposed to be debating Kojima’s out-dated free trade ideas.

Australia was supposed to go along with this, though reality was later to force its ANU co-founders to switch from anti-China to pro-China.

It has been a classic example of how the ideas of unworldly but politically minded academics, fed into maws of mindless bureaucracies, can develop a momentum of their own.

See Annex for some background.

3: Organising a Life in Japan

Thanks to Ajiken, I was able finally to do some serious research at my own time and pace. I was also able to begin to ‘discover Japan’ as the popular tourist promotion slogan put it at the time.

And the Toritsu-dai area in those days was the ideal place to start.

Tokyo is not really a city. It is a collection of ‘villages,’ each centered on one or other of the stations strung out like beads along one or other of the railway and subway lines radiating from the central district.

(Only on the outskirts do we run into those soulless Soviet-style New Towns thrown up in the immediate postwar years with their rows of identical houses or danchi condominiums.)

Each village has its separate existence and identity, complete with a full range of shops and other services, almost as if the next ‘village’ down the line did not exist.

Within its boundaries, residents can find a warmth and community, somewhat like what they would have had if they had stayed in their original farming villages.

I too was to enjoy the same feelings, in the infinity of tiny bars, eating places and shops surrounding the Toritsu-dai station near the room I was renting.

One little bar in particular was a mind-changer.

I would walk past it each evening on my way home from Ajiken. From inside I could hear the very particular rhythm of relaxed and slightly inebriated Japanese male conversation, and smell the sweet fumes of grilled chicken yakitori.

One night I decided nervously to open the door, even if only to see what went on inside. Immediately I was called inside: 'gaijin-san, haire nasai.' (come in, Mr Foreigner).

Someone moved up to give me a stool alongside the others, with the mama-san on the other side of the counter. Someone else offered to help me order. And one in particular - a salary-man he called himself - went out of his way to make me feel welcome and chat with me in the basic Japanese I could understand.

In just a few minutes I was made to feel part of this tiny community of locals - builders, writers, teachers etc - who lived nearby and relied on the mama-san each evening to feed and look after them.

I too became a regular client, with the salary-man continuing to give me special attention (later I found he was the boyfriend of the mama-san). Early spring, 1968, they got me to join their hanami - cherry blossom viewing - with the mama-san on the banks of the nearby Tama river.

Soon after, when they knew I had to leave to go back to Australia, they organised a little farewell party for me.

And these were the same Japanese who in many foreigner imaginations and textbooks were supposed to be resolutely exclusivist and anti-foreign.

As I discovered many times later, in Japan you are either inside the group or outside. From outside there is little you can do to get inside, regardless of whether you are Japanese or foreign, though sometimes the foreigner has the slight advantage of novelty value.

But if for some reason you have been placed inside the group you may be given full credentials as a member, even if you do have a big nose and blue eyes. And sometimes getting inside the group involves little more than opening the door of a bar and walking in.

That said, making friends with educated Japanese was not easy in those early days. The psychological and other gaps between Japan and the West were still wide. Among Japanese women at least, foreigners still carried some of the stigma from the Occupation days.

But a British Embassy contact introduced me to a professor of English at some university. He was said to be an expert on Shakespeare but could hardly speak the language – a typical victim of the Japanese education system.

The professor then introduced me to his deshi and they tried to look after me. That gave me my first real break into ordinary Japanese society. I will always be grateful.

I was not so fortunate with the Australian Embassy. It had me black-listed as a dangerous anti-Vietnam war protestor. Fortunately my one contact at the Embassy - a junior third secretary, Richard Broinowski, and his wife Alison - took me under their wings to some extent and invited me to the occasional party. (Richard later went on to become a senior ambassador and head of the Australian Institute of International Affairs. Ali carved out her own equally active foreign affairs role.)

That gave me some more introductions into the Japanese world.

….

But by far my most important introduction to Japan was to come from within Ajiken itself.

Her name was Yasuko Tanno. She came from Sendai to the north of Japan, and had studied English literature at Tohoku University. She worked in the Ajiken library where I was trying to pore through difficult Japanese economic texts.

We would often lunch together in the Ajiken cafeteria. Soon we were into swimming at the nearby public pool after work, evening meals at nearby yakitori shops and then on into the Tokyo night.

(Some years later we were to have two sons, Dan and Ron.)

With her I was to have many happy memories.

One was taking the train from Tokyo to the Boso Peninsula with her on a bitterly cold February evening, checking in at an inn at the tip of the peninsula a few hours away to the south, and waking the next morning to a scene of greenery and flowers.

Spring had arrived already, only 100 kilometers to the south of Tokyo. (That Boso peninsula was later to play large role in my Japan life, with mixed consequences).

We also began to discover some of the great hiking country in the hills to the west of Tokyo.

A mere one hour by train from Tokyo brought one to a world of deep forests, unspoiled villages, winding valleys, temples and shrines hidden high on the ridges plus overnight stays in mountain huts and inns.

Those experiences would do much to bring me back to Japan a year or two later.

….

In between excursions I would work on my Japanese with Yasuko's help. I would also try to keep up with my thesis work.

Heinz at the ANU was trying to encourage me as much as possible. He even got me to write something for his Indonesian economic bulletin on Japan’s investment in Indonesian resource development.

That made some of my research efforts finally look worthwhile.

......

In short, life was beginning to look up. But I still had my problems.

The news from Vietnam was a constant agony, compounded daily by more gloating reports of bombing raids and body counts coming over FEN, the US military English-language radio station in Japan.

Unbelievably, one of them proudly compared the alleged ‘bravery’ of US troops in Vietnam with the exploits of Buffalo Bill against the native Indians in North America.

As others have pointed out, the success in exterminating the American Indians provided the US military with much of the rationale for its scorched earth policies used in the occupation of the Philippines a few decades later.

Clearly the tradition had carried over to Vietnam.

In the Tokyo bars and clubs one was often coming up against crass US military types on R and R leave from that atrocity. Meanwhile, I had received the proofs of my China book from Lansdowne to correct.

The irony of having the Vietnam horror pushed daily into my face while trying laboriously to correct the proofs of a book which I had hoped would put an end to that horror was hard to ignore.

4. The China Book Emerges

The publisher had done his best. But neither he nor I had much experience with academic books.

I was forced to realise even more painfully than before the damage those nice people at the ANU and Melbourne University presses had caused me.

They had succeeded in at least one of their ambitions, namely to make sure that no serious critic of government policies would have access to whatever academic respectability they could provide.

Eventually the book emerged. Almost 400 pages of closely argued - too closely argued I was later to realise (I was still thinking like a diplomacy bureaucrat) - details and facts. My baby.

I had called it “In Fear of China,” a title I still like.

In Australia the book sold reasonably well, by Australian standards – about eight thousand copies. Ken Randall in The Australian had given it a good review, and it got into most of the libraries, where it can still be found.

But the main Sydney and Melbourne papers determined to see China as a menace over-hanging Asia managed to ignore the book altogether.


Abroad it was much the same story.

Lansdowne had got a joint publication agreement with the UK publisher, The Cresset Press. Some foreign academics got to notice it. But overall the reaction was muted.

The one place where I had hoped the book would get a proper review was the China Quarterly – then the main outlet for serious Sinologists. But it got little more than a passing comment.

The editor of the Review was David Wilson, my former classmate at the Chinese language school of Hongkong University, and later to be made governor of Hongkong.

Wilson was a UK government official and a thorough conservative. I knew it was unlikely he would like my revisionist view of China.

Even so, the fact that a UK Foreign Office official could avoid a serious review of a serious book on China critical of government policies was a major setback.

A major reason I had written a book rather than a series of articles was the hope that I could drag some attention to my revisionist view of China in the Quarterly’s much-read book review pages.

That hope quickly died, and in the worst way possible. Over a year of hard work spurned in a moment.

True, it was early 1968. The opinion-changing Tet offensive in Vietnam had yet to come. China was caught up in its Cultural Revolution madness. Few were interested in a revisionist view of Chinese foreign policies.

In the foreword to the book I had tried to explain the Cultural Revolution as a power struggle between moderates and radicals for the post-Mao succession.

As it turned out, I was right. But at the time the world preferred to see it as yet a further proof of Chinese insanity and militaristic instincts.



Another reason for choosing book form was to show that there was a consistent thread running through Beijing’s various foreign policy problems, namely contending with a rival regime in Taiwan and finding its place in the world.

Occasional hiccups were to be expected. But they were not proof of inherent aggressiveness. On the contrary, in settling frontier disputes Beijing was often quite generous - to the point of leaving itself open to attacks from the rival regime in Taiwan.

Taiwan was the key problem but there were others - the Sino-Indian dispute and the Sino-Soviet dispute in particular. Pulling all that together required a book.

Maybe I should have realised that Wilson (whom we had seen as something of an establishment dropout in the Hongkong University language school) would lack the wit to realise there was important new material in the book.

Certainly his comments showed no sign of such understanding.

Ultimately, I suppose, it was also inevitable that a book by an unknown author put out by an unknown publisher in a distant part of the world would do little to change global opinion. That was part of the very large price we had to pay at the time for the hegemony of established US and UK publishers, and their authors.

The basic problem is still with us, even if the Internet has killed some of that hegemony.

The incorrect understanding of both the Sino-Soviet disputes and the 1962 Sino-Indian frontier clash was to exert enormous influence on the policy makers for decades. I had already discovered one example earlier, sitting in the Kremlin in 1964

Foolishly I had liked to think that if had put my revisionist material out for the world to see I could have had some influence on the policy makers, and maybe even on Vietnam events.

I had even sent a copy to Newsweek. No result.

One good result perhaps of being ignored by the global mainstream is that the incorrect and dominant view of Chinese behavior at the time helped prevent the US from a full-scale attack against North Vietnam. The US believed its own propaganda about Hanoi being a puppet of Beijing. It did not want a repeat of its Korean War experience.

In Australia the one serious academic review I got was from Peter King of Sydney University, who praised the analysis of the Sino-Soviet dispute.

Against that was a vicious review from J.D.B.Miller, head of the ANU International Relations Department.

While admitting that it was a serious book (earlier either he or someone in his department had told the ANU Press that my manuscript was a useless, pro-Beijing tract), he then slammed me on what he called three crucial points of fact – my claims that the CIA had been involved in the 1965 massacres of pro-communist and leftwing Indonesians, that it was India that had provoked China in 1962, and that the Taiwan problem was focus of Chinese foreign policy.

I leave it to the reader to decide who has been proved right by history.

Miller in retirement was later to admit he had got it wrong over China and Vietnam and that while some of his critics had got it right he would not include diehard left-wingers like Clark and Jim Cairns.

At the time Miller’s department was using the ANU Press to get its own literature into print, much of it anti-Beijing. Few of the tracts they produced survive in any shape or form today, even in public libraries.

Perhaps the most portentous was a book urging the Cold War idea of an Indian, Australian and Japanese joint anti-China alliance. Crawford was a firm supporter of the idea.

One of the book’s authors managed to accuse China of Han chauvinism for wanting to reunite with Taiwan. Clearly he did not know that the bulk of Taiwan’s population was in fact almost entirely Han Chinese – migrants from China’s nearby Fujian province a few centuries earlier and who still spoke the Fujian dialect of Chinese.

The ANU and Crawford were so proud of this wretched book that they had leaned on Japan’s then Foreign Minister, Miki Takeo, who was visiting Australia at the time, to join in a big book-launch ceremony.

The sight of Miki, a genuine internationalist who had opposed Japan’s militarists during the war and had long advocated better relations with China, being dragged in to endorse this Cold War, anti-China tract, the contents of which he obviously knew nothing, was less than edifying.

….

Crawford’s political position deserves some mention.

Some such as Helen Hughes, a senior ANU academic (and a good friend at the time), argued that he was a genuine liberal, mainly because he had been willing in the Cold War years to defend her from establishment attacks back in the days when she was associated with the communist party and communist Czechoslovakia.

But he clearly had a very different view of me after I had come out against the Vietnam War, despite my having no communist or any other leftwing connections.

Crawford’s position was typical of what I call the Kennedy Liberals — progressives who realised European communism deserved some kind of understanding but with only a superficial knowledge of Asian communism which allowed them to see the Asian version as some kind of Hitlerian monster.

Unfortunately for me, it was to be even stronger in Australia than in the rest of the Western world, at least until China became the flavor of the month some years later. Then we saw an ideological flipflop of dimensions worthy of Japan - another nation weak in ideological consistency and strong in sudden emotional shifts.

But by then our efforts over Vietnam and to explain China were a distant memory.


Years later I managed to get myself invited to an official Hanoi event to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Wilfred Burchett - the one Australian who did so much to tell the world about the Vietnam tragedy. I rather foolishly tried also to get some recognition for the efforts of our anti-Vietnam War movements in the West, and possibly even for myself.

The response? ‘Yes, we in Vietnam were aware of what you anti-war people in the West were doing. But while you were writing and talking we were suffering and dying every day in our efforts to stop that war. And ultimately it was only through those efforts and sacrifices on the ground that the war did in fact end.

The one Australian who was on the ground with us and suffering with us was Burchett, which is why we respect him so much.’

I should add that precisely for those reasons he was despised by the pro-war people in Australia. Burchett’s barbaric treatment over the years at the hands of Australia’s generally conservative media and officialdom was a major reason I decided I had no future in that country.

A Japanese Reaction

Fortunately it was in Japan, a nation where China was treated seriously, that my book got to be treated seriously.

Matsumoto Shigekazu, the Ajiken researcher on Chinese affairs, was determined to translate the book into Japanese and have it published by Ajiken.

The Japanese version appeared in 1969 under the title of Kokusai Seiji to Chugoku – International Politics and China. The translation was less than perfect. But it put me on the map in Japan and was later to be fairly crucial in my deciding on Japan rather than China for a career.

One of Japan’s top scholars on China, Nakajima Mineo, was later to tell me how my theory about the 1958 Taiwan Straits crisis underlying the Sino-Soviet dispute of the early 1960’s provided a major breakthough in his own thinking about China. (Unfortunately few other alleged China experts have passed the same message to me.)

Nakajima was somewhat anti-Beijing, and like quite a few rightwing Japanese scholars he was a frequent visitor to the ANU. But unlike our ANU conservatives he managed to retain some sense of academic curiosity and objectivity.

Later, in 2002, he would invite me to help him set up an international university in Akita, in northern Japan – a university that in just ten years would come to be seen on a par with most of Japan's top universities.

But once again I am getting ahead of my story.

Annex:

The APEC Creation

In the 1960’s the Japanese rightwing, Kojima included, had a problem.

The leftwing was arguing strongly that Japan’s postwar economy badly needed access to the markets and raw materials of China, North Korea and the Soviet Union if it was to survive (in prewar years it had depended heavily on China and the Korean peninsula for both).

This meant that Japan could not afford to go along with the US-inspired, Cold War strategies that said these nations were enemies.

Kojima’s concept was in effect an attempt to answer this leftwing argument.

The concept said that Japan’s economy did not have to rely on these communist nations to the west. It could and should rely on the much more reliable capitalist nations to the east, in the Pacific – specifically the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The key to all this would be a Pacific Free Trade Area - PAFTA.

......

Even for me, a fledgling economist at the time, it was obvious that PAFTA had flaws, and not just because of its unpleasant Cold War bias.

A free trade area with nations like the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand would automatically see demands for the dismantling of Japan’s agricultural protectionism. Japan's farming lobby would be violently opposed.

Kojima’s answer seemed to be that the US and the others would overlook the problem. They would realise the Cold War merits of encouraging Japan to look to the Pacific rather than to Asia. They would be willing to give Japan a free ride.

Another flaw was the fact that multilateral free trade schemes between nations with different levels of economic levels progress inevitably cause problems. It is one reason why the WTO is in such a mess, and why the EU has found it so hard for so long to get off the economic ground.

If freer trade is seen as desirable, then the bilateral FTA’s which we see today make more sense.

A further flaw was that the US, even then, had global ambitions. It was not going to tie its economy to one area of the globe just for the sake of Japan.

Already it was trying to link up in some way with the emerging EU.

Years later while insisting it was an active APEC member it was working to create NAFTA and other Latin American trade blocs clearly aimed to protect Latin American markets from Asian trade inroads.

The US seemed to want to dominate all global economic activity, regardless of contradictions.

Finally, there was the fact that PAFTA, in turning its back on communist Asia, also had to exclude non-communist Asia.

True, at the time non-communist Asia did not amount to very much. But could Japan really afford to ignore the nations on its doorstep?

PAFTA becomes PAFTAD

For these and other reasons, PAFTA died an early and well-deserved death. But Kojima was not about to give up.

He repackaged the idea as some kind of Pacific Vision for the new Japan and sold it to enough politicians and bureaucrats to keep it alive.

For many Japanese, including even some progressives, including the liberal Prime Minister, Ohira Masayoshi, the idea of a postwar Japan making a fresh start looking out towards the advanced Westernized nations of the Pacific, was attractive.

It was a postwar version of Fukuzawa Yukichi’s Meiji era concept of datsuA, nyuO (leave Asia, enter Europe).

Kojima moved quickly to have PAFTA replaced by PAFTAD – a talkfest operation where academics could discuss endlessly something called Pacific Trade and Development, even if their governments were reluctant to talk about pie-in-the-sky PAFTA free trade area plans.

PAFTAD was soon supplemented by PBCC (an equivalent talkfest operation for businessmen) and the quasi-official PECC (Pacific Economic Cooperation Council) where both the academics and the businessmen could come together for more discussions, this time with bureaucratic and political endorsement.

Meanwhile Japan’s Gaimusho was toying with various schemes that would see the non-communist Asian nations brought together in some vague way – ASPAC, MEDSEA.

In the event, they all foundered on vagueness and Asian suspicion of Japanese leadership intentions.

At this point official Japan, with the indefatigable Kojima still at the helm, began to push for something that would allow the wreckage of ASPAC and MEDSEA, together with the floundering PAFTAD, PBCC and PECC, all to be amalgamated into some entity enjoying full government backing.

It was to be called APEC. And that would be in 1989.

The Birth of APEC

Kojima’s fingerprints were heavy on the original APEC design.

To retain his original Pacific Basin concept, APEC had to include a bunch of Latin Americans – Mexico, Chile, Peru - whose relevance to Asian trade and development at the time was minimal. If anything Asian manufacturing interests were, and remain, antagonistic to Latin American interests – as the Peruvians were to discover when cheap Chinese imports put a virtual end to their fledging textile and garment industry.

(If APEC could have made its large staff bureaucracy
look at this kind of problem instead of just reciting free trade slogans it might have been of some use to the world.)

Even now, the Latinos have to be dragged all the way across the Pacific for meetings which are of little relevance to them. And APEC has occasionally had to drag itself all the way in reverse, simply to maintain the original Kojima dream of a pan-Pacific economic unit.

Meanwhile, the Asian communist nations close to Japan had to be kept on the sidelines for as long as possible, even as the distant Latinos had to be included.

And with Taiwan favoured over China at the start, the anti-communist agenda also managed to survive for a while, even if today APEC has finally had to bow to realities, with not just China but Russia also included.

Australia to the Rescue

There remained the problem of APEC sponsorship.

Tokyo was anxious not to repeat its ASPAC experience where Asian suspicions of Japan had caused so much trouble. It did not want to appear to be too pushy with the alternative APEC scheme.

So it turned to Australia to take the lead.

The then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, never reluctant to seek global headlines, was easily persuaded to be the front-runner.

The ANU people, with Drysdale largely in charge, were more than happy to see Kojima’s baby finally come of age at Australia’s alleged initiative.

Meanwhile, the Canberra bureaucrats were delighted to discover a paper link with the Asian economies - without themselves having to go out and do the hard work needed to build real economic bridges into Asia.

(This curious Australian reluctance physically to get involved with Asia, despite the constant talk about Australia being a part of Asia, remains curious.)

(For example, at time of writing the Europeans send hundreds of young people to Japan each year to be trained so they can work at the grassroots of the Europe-Japan relationship. Ireland alone used to send several dozen.

(Australia sends none, and does little to help young Australians trying to get into Japan.

(The Scandanavians have worked hard to help mediate Asian conflicts, from Sri Lanka to Aceh. Australia did, and continues to do, nothing.)

Yet this strange reluctance to go out and talk to Asians and to learn Asian languages did little to stop our businessmen and academics from lining up to tell us the glorious opportunities we would gain from APEC.

Ironically, they were to get those opportunities...but from the China that Australia was still going out of is way to antagonise, and that APEC had originally been intended to exclude.

APEC has limped along for a decade and a half now, doing little more than provide jobs for an army of academics and bureaucrats.

At its annual summit meetings it also manages to force the political leaders of the various nations to assemble and waste time repeating the same free trade platitudes, and to wear funny clothes, with occasional US leaders having the sense to skip the meetings, or leave early.

(If it is true that the year 2000 APEC summit in Okinawa pulled US President Clinton away from one crucial day in the Israeli-Palestinian talks at Camp David, and so caused them to fail, as Clinton himself has claimed, then APEC has a lot to answer for.)

True, APEC has collected many member nations, including even a Kremlin that cannot claim great Asian-Pacific relevance. But this simply reflects the way governments will always jump at the chance to join any international grouping for fear of being left out.

Hopefully the rise of China and the growing clout of ASEAN will eventually put this hybrid outfit out of its misery.