Chapter 2

DISCOVERING CHINA – via Hong Kong, Taiwan and Sarawak, back to Canberra

The two years in Hong Kong (December 59-February 62) were to be crucial, and not just for improving my capacity to drink expensive French brandy at endless Chinese dinner parties. They taught me a lot about China and the Chinese, of course. They also made me rethink my conservative political beliefs.

I was forced to take a much closer look at the sorry record of Western colonialism and cruelty in Asia. I was forced also to reconsider my religious beliefs. I had had a typical Brisbane, Catholic upbringing, influenced also by my father’s Catholic conservatism. But if our Western religions were so universal, as they claimed, how come God had ignored the millions in China?

I also shared the crude conservatism and anti-foreigner prejudices of a 1950’s Queensland upbringing. The boat carrying me back to Australia from England in 1956 had been just two days from the Suez Canal when the October attack on Egypt by the UK, France, Israel cabal had broken out. Together with the British migrants I remember standing on the deck to cheer the broadcast of Anthony Eden’s speech justifying that attack. The fact that the fighting and some bombed-out ships closed the canal immediately, which meant that our boat had to make a two week detour around the Cape of Good Hope via Malta, did little to shake our chauvinistic pride.

It also gave me my first introduction to media mendacity (fake news). A Melbourne Argus journalist on the ship had a call to send a story from Malta where the only 'news' was a religious parade and a few US and UK troops waiting for orders.

But no matter. With a few taps on his typewriter he had invented a brawl between those Malta-based UK and US soldiers arguing over the rights and wrongs of the Suez attack (the US had opposed the attack). The brawl was broken up when angry religious paraders intervened.

The first blow to my prejudices came while working in Canberra soon after. The main justification for the October 1956 attack had been the alleged inability of those backward Egyptians to run the canal they had nationalized away from us civilized Westerners. But on my desk before me were the reluctant reports admitting that Egyptian engineers had skillfully removed the sunken ships and brought the canal back into service much more quickly than anyone had imagined.

One report even suggested that the canal was being run better than when it was under Western control.

Hong Kong hastened the collapse of those anti-foreign prejudices. Daily I was thrown into contact with Chinese a lot smarter and better informed than the average Australian.

I remember a visit by Canberra’s then Defense Minister, Alan Fairhall. As I drove with him back from the airport we were caught in queues of cars filled with middle-class families returning from weekend outings. He was looking out at them with amazement: "But they look just like your ordinary Australians coming back from a weekend on the beach." ….

Meanwhile I was also supposed to be continuing my language studies. Mornings would be spent with some British Foreign Office types taking the allegedly intensive course in Chinese language at the Hong Kong University (one of my fellow students was a fairly dour and not so bright Scot called David Wilson who ended up years later as Governor of Hong Kong).

Our ‘teachers’ were mainly refugee intellectuals from the mainland. Their idea of teaching was to have us try to listen to them rambling on nostalgically about the life and culture of the nation they had left behind.

Afternoons or evenings I would work in the Australian Commission. That too was less than inspiring. The then Commissioner, totally non-Chinese speaking of course, had just discovered that Beijing spoke of only ten percent of the population being opposed to its revolutionary policies.

In an urgent memo to Canberra he revealed that even Beijing had admitted it had 60 million counter-revolutionaries in its midst.

Later he was to warn me of the dangers of becoming a China-specialist. Early in his career he had been sent to learn Arabic. He had carefully avoided the Middle East, and the language, for the rest of his career. He was to end up as head of our External Affairs department.

But the experience taught me a good language learning technique. Beijing was threatening severe action over some Taiwan/US insult. I was called in to listen and interpret immediately Beijing's pre-warned chungyao happyio – important announcement.

As I ploughed through the recording with the help of a dictionary, I found that for years later I could remember every key word in the announcement.

Lesson: the need for strong incentives when remembering languages, and for remembering them from direct speech, not textbooks

Journalistic Spies

Contacts developed with other Western officials and journalists involved with China. Most were also rigidly anti-Peking — the Alsop brothers especially, whose writings later were to play such a poisonous role in justifying US intervention in Vietnam. Quite a few were covert intelligence operatives.

Years later, while working as a correspondent in Tokyo, I was to run constantly into calls by fellow correspondents demanding freedom of the Press, and their wails about the fate of imprisoned journalistic colleagues. I often thought of suggesting they should first do more to expose the spies in their midst. Only then should they begin to worry about the fate of colleagues in trouble.

My own causal estimate says that almost all the British and Australian journalists working in Asia have their backgrounds screened for recruitment by UK and Australian spy agencies. Half are approached, sometimes without their knowing (a favorite sounding-out technique is being invited by the spy representative in the local embassy to provide paid reports on local conditions and personalities). Half of those selected then collaborate, either actively or otherwise.

And not necessarily for money. Fed with information tidbits and contacts from their spy handlers, they can often score their scoops against less favored but more honest journalists trying hard to get established. Before long they come to dominate the scene as alleged experts on their area of operation, despite their lack of language or any other conspicuous ability. Australian journalists are especially vulnerable.

One such operative in Hong Kong was the Australian journalist Richard Hughes. When he died suddenly in 1983 he was found to be carrying a large sum of money. Few tried hard to deny that for most his career he had been in the pay of UK and Australian intelligence services. But for much of that career he was regarded as the doyen of the Hong Kong press corps, an expert on China, and a ‘must’ for visiting Western journalists and others who wanted to be briefed about China.

I had some run-ins with him, years later, when I had come out against the Vietnam War and was trying to get established as a writer (he was virulently anti-China, anti-communist). It was not a nice feeling – my taxes going to pay the spy fees that allowed him to try to shoot me down.

Chinese Reality

For my own briefings on China all I had to do was listen to what most of my refugee friends and contacts in Hong Kong were saying - namely, that while they themselves would have suffered under communism, by 1949 the emergence of a communist regime to replace the corrupt, incompetent Nationalist regime of Chiang Kai-shek was inevitable. Many welcomed it.

My apartment maid had a typical story. Married to a Shanghai shop-keeper who had fled the country in 1949 fearing bourgeois charges, they had left their five children behind.

Under the Communist regime she had fled, all her children had all gone to university and were employed as doctors, engineers. etc. If they had come to Hong Kong they probably would have ended up assembling plastic flowers for a pittance by the side of a squalid street.

But the egalitarian enthusiasm and progress in the early years of the Communist revolution were soon to be ended by a piece of Maoist insanity called the Great Leap Forward. Reliable reports of thousands dying of hunger and even cannibalism began to trickle out to our Hong Kong office. Making sense of it all was not easy, though later in the Cultural Revolution years I began to understand how China's tradition of strong central control could be abused by an entrenched leadership.

Coping with the Language

Meanwhile I was still trying to learn Chinese. After a year of Hong Kong University study, I still could not speak much. I was a typical victim of the textbook approach to language learning. Chinese, I was discovering, does not fall into the Teach Yourself variety of language.

Fortunately I fell in with two boozy British military intelligence types who seemed to speak the language brilliantly. In fact their Chinese was far from perfect. But when one is struggling to learn a difficult language, even less than fluent speakers seem to have some super-human ability.

They let me join their weekly dinner parties with their Chinese friends and contacts. There I would strain to catch the tones and sounds of rapid dinner table conversation. Gradually I began to understand occasional sentences and stammer a few remarks. Finally I was embarked on the very long and distant journey that anyone who wants to learn a difficult foreign language must follow.

I was beginning to realize that language is sounds coming from the mouths of human beings, not printed words coming out of textbooks.

Chinese is not quite as difficult as many think. Certainly it is not as hard as say Japanese or Korean. The word order is fairly close to English. And the grammar is fairly simple.

True, the tones are a problem (four in Mandarin Chinese). At first they seem to be a totally unnatural way to speak a language. But with practice they begin to make sense. They can be seen as an exaggerated version of the stresses and intonations that most other languages use much more subtly to differentiate meanings. But for someone raised in mono-tonal Australia, having one’s ear accustom to tonal differences takes time, a lot of it.

Another problem was simply finding people to talk to. I had come to realize the need to use the language in everyday situations, to live the language. But Mandarin speakers were rare those days in Hong Kong.

The local Hong Kong population, both then and now, preferred to speak Cantonese. Mandarin-speakers were almost entirely refugees from the mainland or visitors from Taiwan. Meeting and making friends with them was not easy.

On the Star Ferry crossing between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon one would occasionally catch the lilting voices of Mandarin speakers nearby. I would rapidly change seats just to get closer and catch a few words.

Ironically, it was not till I got back to Canberra in 1962 that I finally began to live the language. I got to know C. at the Taiwan Embassy there. Thanks to her I was speaking the language daily and in everyday situations. Finally I could begin to bury the language deep in the sub-conscious, where ultimately it has to go if one wants to learn any language.

I missed her badly when I left for my next posting. And for a while things did not turn out well for her. But I will always be grateful to her, both as a close friend and teacher, even if she never gets to learn of that gratitude.

My other Hong Kong problem was being unable to get to the country whose language I was supposed to be learning. In those Cold War days Australian diplomats were not even allowed to set foot in China. Canberra feared it might imply recognition of the dreaded Communist regime there.

But my British colleagues could go, to postings in their Beijing embassy. That they ended up with better Chinese and a more balanced view of China made little impression on our Canberra masters.

Into Taiwan

But I could go to Taiwan. There, far more than many realized, Mandarin had become not just the official but also the everyday language. Some visits there helped the language confidence somewhat. But the island was still mired in poverty, stagnation and corruption. The one thing that did flourish was anti-communist propaganda.

The regime liked to set up posters warning darkly how women in Communist China were forced to become common sexual property under alleged communist free love doctrines. The truth, of course, was the exact opposite. At the time China was passing through an intensely puritanical phase where for a foreigner even to touch a woman was seen as semi-rape. Meanwhile Taiwan had become a sea of female prostitution, where even the young ladies giving you haircuts in the barbers shops were expected to provide extra services.

The Taiwan visits also involved vague requests from Canberra to look into Taiwanese resistance to the Nationalist Chinese regime of Chiang Kai-shek embedded there (only a decade or so earlier some tens of thousands of better-educated Taiwanese suspected of opposing the Nationalists had been massacred-a detail our Cold War propagandists were trying hard to ignore. In those days atrocities were supposed to be the monopoly of the mainland Communist Chinese regime). I was able to track down one or two and listen to their story.

For my pains I was constantly monitored by Taiwanese government agents. And Canberra never showed any reaction to my reports anyway. I should have saved my breath and joined the contingent of US pro-Taiwan journalistic hacks in Taipei on their eating and womanizing expeditions.

Years later, when working as a journalist, I found myself banned by the Nationalist government from making any further Taiwan visits. At the same time I was also being denied visas to China, visas still reserved for ardent worshippers of the regime there.

Rejection by both sides was something suffered by quite a few other China-watchers who had spent years learning the language and who tried to view both sides impartially.

Hospitality, KMT-Style

Late in 1961, I had to accompany John Gorton, then External Affairs Minister, and his wife on an official visit to the island. Taiwan’s Nationalist officialdom went overboard to welcome and impress him.

In those days a favorite gambit with top Western visitors was to invite them to view some expensive display of Chinese artifacts. If they lingered for more than a few seconds to admire something in the display they would find themselves presented with a copy of the same artifact before leaving, carefully wrapped and with an inscription.

This kind of unctuous hospitality did wonders in persuading naïve Westerners that Taiwan really was the true China, deserving of full support. The Gorton’s received the same treatment, though I suspect that Gorton himself (whom later I came to respect as an honest politician despite his hardline anti-communism) was less impressed.

We were sitting on top of a cliff with the Nationalist President, Chiang Kai-shek, watching airborne troops being parachuted into the Taiwan Straits with heavy packs. The troops were then supposed to swim ashore in a simulated version of the planned invasion against the Chinese mainland.

The senior External Affairs official with us, Keith Brennan, tried to tell Gorton that it was not official Australian policy to approve of this phony belligerency. He went on to warn that Chiang’s regime was also not renowned for honesty or gentleness, Gorton’s reply: "I know they are gangsters. But these gangsters are on our side. The ones over there (pointing to China) are not."

Of the various justifications for insane Cold War confrontation at the time, this one made a bit more sense than most.

(Years later I got someone to ask in Parliament whether External Affairs would protest this planned Chinese Nationalist 'aggression' in the same way as it protested Hanoi's 'aggression' against Saigon.)

(EA came back saying it was unaware of the events we had witnessed.)

Gently Into Japan

I also got to discover Japan.

I had been invited to Korea by a colleague, Richard Gates, then with UNCURK and the Australian Embassy in Seoul.

If the poverty of Hong Kong and Taiwan had been bad, what I saw in Korea was just horrible - hordes of unemployed men wandering the streets of Seoul and Pusan desperate for work, any kind of work. But a week traveling in an UNCURK jeep along the east coast to Pusan in the late autumn also showed me the natural beauty of that harsh and uncompromising country.

From Pusan I took the tiny, once-a- week ferry to Fukuoka, then the only way for travelers to get to Japan (today large hydroplanes and jet sea-craft make the trip several times a day). Landing at Hakata port I began to realize I was completely alone in a totally foreign country, and that the Teach Yourself book could do little to help me.

But I had one thing to help me. The Chinese ideographs used by the Japanese – the kanji - have much the same meaning as in Chinese. Place and shop names are often written in kanji. So I could usually know where I was, and how to find food.

A tape recording of useful words and expressions kindly prepared for me by a Japanese colleague in Hong Kong, Onoue Etsuzo of Ajia Keizai Kenkyusho (it now calls itself IDE – Institute of Developing Economies - in English), also gave me some help.

From Fukuoka I had planned to catch a train to Nagasaki and then go on to Tokyo. Somehow I got the platform announcements wrong and ended up on a train to Nagoya. One result was an unplanned night stop en route in Hiroshima.

That first impression of that real Japan is still fresh in the memory. The town had been nuclear bombed only 16 years earlier. Yet the dozens of small stalls around the Hiroshima railway station were a bustle of activity and excitement. There was no hint then of the national self-pity that Hiroshima was later to epitomize.

Because of the Nagasaki mix up I was well ahead of my schedule to arrive in Tokyo. So from Nagoya I decided to take the longer and more mountainous Chuo line to Tokyo. It was a good decision.

Like most Australians who had been through the war years, and like most Westerners mixing with Chinese in Hong Kong in those days, I had my share of anti-Japan prejudices. But the unbelievable beauty of the late autumn countryside lining the Chuo route - densely wooded slopes running for ever along the railway tracks, the neat stacks of timber waiting for delivery under the rain in the station yards, the charm of the villages, the kindness of the people on the trains, the shy girl preparing my room at the local inn - all combined to make me realize that these were not an evil people living in an evil nation.

There was the station master who found me an inn to stay overnight in his village. He came the next morning to make sure I could handle payments, which was unnecessary since the inn owners had decided to let this stray foreigner stay for free anyway. He also wanted to make sure that I caught the right train for the next leg of my journey. Where else in the world could one find that kind of service?

Arriving eventually in Tokyo the good impressions continued. One felt the raw energy of a nation struggling to emerge from defeat and destruction. Already I could feel that this was a country I would want to know better.

From Tokyo I decided to spend more time traveling around Japan by train. By this time I was busy learning the kana (phonetic script the Japanese also use). That plus the kanji let me handle the very detailed train time-tables.

More impressions impacted - the deep green of the Tohoku (northern Honshu) countryside, the young Kyoto girl keen to practice her English while showing me around the temples (also without payment), a woman running a small yatai (eating stall) near Beppu Station and who generously took me in for the night, a random hike through the early winter frost along the Kirishima peaks of southern Kyushu, the boat trip through volcanic islands to Okinawa. By then I was certain that somehow, some time, I would come back to this unusual nation.

Back to Canberra, and blind Sinophobia

By the time I got back to Hong Kong my two year posting was running out. I headed back to Canberra, this time traveling via Northern Borneo and Sarawak.

Both territories were in dispute because of the plan to force them into an artificial state called Malaysia. I got to meet some Overseas Chinese in Sarawak. With much sincerity they told me about the discrimination they had suffered under the colonial British regime, and their fears that they would suffer even more in a Malay dominated state.

Some of the more idealistic and younger Chinese had gone off into the mountains bordering Indonesian Borneo to join an armed resistance movement. Most were eventually wiped out in the uneven fight with better armed and well-paid British, and Australian, troops.

Back in Canberra I discovered that those resisters were not seen as people with a cause. Rather, they were seen as Beijing’s puppets, as clear proof of Beijing’s belligerence and determination to move south into Asia. Why? Because they were mainly Chinese, and everyone knew that the Overseas Chinese were beholden to Beijing.

Nor was the fact that Beijing had done absolutely nothing to help the rebels with arms or funds seen as relevant. In the rock-filled minds of our Canberra ‘experts’, the rebels were members of an Overseas Chinese Third Column (their word, not mine) being prepared by Beijing for its planned South-east Asian takeover.

It was my first encounter with something that would puzzle me for the rest of my career. Here were intelligent, well-educated people put in charge of foreign policy, but who had almost no interest in the reality of the disputes over which they were supposed to create policies. How could they do that and remain at ease with their consciences?

In Sarawak only a few hundred young Chinese were to die as a result of this bias. In Vietnam the numbers would be in the millions.

The China Desk

Back in Canberra, I was put into the Department’s East Asia section while waiting my next posting. There I discovered a lot more about Canberra’s anti-China phobias. The basic premise was simple: Peking (as it was called in those days) was the enemy. Any and every move it made had to be seen with suspicion. There could be no contact of any kind with such a source of deep evil...

Even an innocent visit to Sydney by an Chinese dance troupe had to handled with great caution. And this, I should add, was a China which by 1962 had shaken off its Great Leap Forward madness and was trying to consolidate under the leadership of moderates like Chou En-lai and Deng Hsiao-ping (as their names were then spelled).

I tried to suggest that Beijing’s hands-off policies towards the ugly Sarawak situation proved how China was an unusually inward-looking nation with little interest in what happened beyond its frontiers. I could not imagine, for example, Canberra or Washington showing such restraint in a similar situation.

That idea did not get very far. I then put forward a submission saying that we should encourage Taiwan-China contacts since the Taiwanese example would do much to steer Beijing away from some of its obsessive Marxist beliefs. That idea did not even get to court, let alone get laughed out of it. (Researchers poring through old External Affairs files are invited to look for that submission, and the reaction to it.)

I discovered some of the background to the 1959 ban on any contact with Lee Kwan Yew I had seen three years earlier in Singapore.

It seems that in the 1959 election that brought Lee to power, Canberra. London and Washington had covertly poured large funds into the pockets of Lee’s main opponent - the ineffectual but pro-British Lim Yew Hock. Lee won anyway, and got his revenge several years later by sending Lim as ambassador to Canberra.

There Lim was to be even more ineffectual. He disappeared from his embassy for a week and after a frantic search was found in the care of a Sydney stripper called Sandra Nelson. And this was the man whom the Western powers had chosen to stop the feared Communist thrust into Southeast Asia!

During the Vietnam War years I tried often at conferences and debates on Asian affairs to use this story to prove the folly of Western policies in Asia. After all, if the West could not realize the importance of a Lee Kwan Yew rather than a Lim Yew Hock in providing the leadership needed to steer Asia away from Communism, the chances of success among the sundry collection of incompetent dictators it was backing in the rest of Asia, Vietnam especially, were slim.

As far as I know, Australia’s foreign policy elite is still quite uninterested in this crucial detail. It used to fuss endlessly over the role of such trimmings as ANZUS or SEATO. Yet they did not want to know the much more important fact that they had seen the one man who could oppose Communism effectively, Lee Kwan Yew, as a crypto-communist and had tried undemocratically to prevent him from coming to power. I cannot think of a more damning indictment of Western, including Australian, policies in Asia at the time.

But the only response I ever got was a rebuke for harming Lim Yew Hock’s privacy by mentioning the Sandra Nelson affair.

I once raised all this in a Singapore speech, with much media publicity and even a comment by Lee himself. At least the Singaporeans knew what was important in Asia, and what was not.

This strange Australian ability to ignore facts and details that contradict current orthodoxies still puzzles me. Not once while working in the East Asia section did I see any mention of such important details as the fact that in 1949 the US had actually written Chiang Kai-shek off as a Chinese leader, and had admitted that the China-Taiwan confrontation was an extension of the pre-1949 civil war in which the US had no intention to intervene. (Washington had only changed its mind after the outbreak of the Korean War, despite the fact that the North Korean attack on the South had been backed by Moscow. Beijing, if anything, had opposed the attack.)

By the time I arrived in Canberra, not just naïve politicians but allegedly informed foreign policy bureaucrats were quite convinced of the rightness of support for Taiwan and Chiang Kai- shek as the true representatives of the Chinese people in the UN and elsewhere. Progressives like Keith Brennan, who had tried to warn Gorton about Chiang’s deviousness, were seen as a soft-headed, small-L liberals quite unaware of Asia’s realities.

My immediate superior, and mentor, in the East Asia section was Hugh Dunn. Sensitive and serious, and with some background in Chinese studies - something very rare in the Department (though he too could not speak the language) - I assumed that he at least had some idea of what was going on around China. But he too was caught up in the myths of Chinese aggressiveness. Years later, with the disclosure of some secret Vietnam War cables, his name turned up in various strange places suggesting that he was even more hawkish and more involved in hammering out Canberra’s ugly policies than I had realized.

The Korean War Factor

Dunn had previously served in Korea, and his hawkishness, like that of James Plimsoll, Department head for much of the sixties, and several other senior diplomats at the time, seemed to have been forged very much in the fact of the 1950-53 Korean War (Dunn, like Plimsoll, had served in Seoul. His wife was Korean). It was a strangely personalist approach to foreign affairs. They could identify closely with the sufferings and motivations of the people they knew on our side. They could not extrapolate, to grasp the sufferings and motivations of the people they did not know on the other side.

As for the reality of the Korean War — that it was a civil war intended to end the arbitrary division of the Korean peninsula, in which the North had just as much right to attack its rival in the South as the South had to attack the North and which the South was threatening to do anyway – such thoughts never even crossed their minds, at least not on the papers that I saw.

Without massive US intervention, the North could easily have won that civil war. Normally, in the absence of elections, victory in a civil war without foreign intervention is usually seen as an expression of national will (certainly that was the case in with the US civil war almost a century earlier). Yet for some reason that principle was not supposed to apply in Korea.

Nor could the parochial Canberra minds even begin to cope with such details as the reason why the North might have had the balance of national support – namely that pro-communists had been the only effective anti-Japanese force in pre-1945 years. Or the fact that the dreadful pre-1950 roundups and executions of progressive elements in the South, the 1948 Cheju Island massacre especially, gave North Korea’s attack on the South a moral legitimacy also.

Even more relevant was the US statement to the UN in August 1950 when the US thought it could unite Korea on its own anti-communist terms. In June 1950 the US and Canberra had claimed as the basis for their intervention the fact that North Korea had committed ‘aggression’ across an internationally recognized boundary. But in August 1950, just two months later and as its troops were moving northwards to the Chinese border, the US was able formally to deny that there was ‘any historical or legal basis for the division of the peninsula.’

Not once did I find any mention of this statement, let alone its implications. For our policy makers, the North Korean attack and the later Chinese intervention to prevent the US advance north to the Chinese border were all proof of an aggressive Asian communism threatening Australia.

I was to run into just the same personalist phenomenon a few years later over Vietnam, where once again the cruel sufferings imposed on the other side and its right to wage civil war were quite beyond the grasp of my Canberra colleagues. Once again, the only thing that mattered were the views and sufferings of our anti- communist friends in Saigon.

The fact that the Geneva Agreements of 1954 specifically denied any legal basis for the division of Vietnam, and had called for unification elections, was never allowed to trouble the minds of our hawks.

This personalist approach to foreign affairs is curious. Even well educated Australians find it hand to stand back and view events objectively. They rely mainly on personal experience. And since the only direct personal experience they have, by definition, is with the side that Australian foreign policy happens to support then these become the good boys and the other side is evil.

It's as naïve and simple as that.

I was to find the same particularistic and emotional one-sidedness also in Japan – another highly parochial nation. The inability of even educated Japanese to grasp the reality of the horrors their nation imposed on China, Korea and much of Southeast Asian during the war years was an unforgivable blot on the reputation of a people I later came to like and even to admire in some ways.

The Sino-Indian Dispute

But it was the Sino-Indian frontier war of October 1962 that more than anything else made me despair of seeing any sense or integrity in Canberra's foreign policies.

As China desk officer I had been following closely the buildup of frontier disputes throughout that year. Nehru was pushing a dangerously forward policy. China was on the defensive, trying repeatedly to warn New Delhi of the dangers of escalation, and to appeal to world opinion to stop the Indian push.

When the fighting broke out one needed only to look at maps to realize that Indian troops had moved north of even the most ambitious Indian claim line, and that this had sparked a Chinese retaliatory attack. But few were interested in such details. It was much easier to brand China as the aggressor and peaceful, democratic India as the innocent victim. A chapter in my In Fear of China book at the top of this website gives details.

For years after I left the Department in 1965 I tried vainly to get the correct version of events into circulation. Later, when I discovered how the biased Western view of that Sino-Indian dispute had provided legitimacy for the dreadful interventions in Indochina, the frustration turned into anger.

Even people as astute and informed as Henry Kissinger took it for granted that the 1962 events had proved Chinese aggressiveness and determination to move south. The very significant fact that China, after teaching India a well-deserved lesson, had subsequently moved its troops back to above not just the Chinese claimed frontier but even the Indian claimed frontier was never recognized as the proof of Chinese border restraint that it was.

If anything, it was seen as a retreat in the face of Western determined support for India!

Later I was to see time and time again the childish ease with which the West could convince itself that conciliatory moves by the other side were in fact concessions and withdrawals forced by Western anti-communist firmness. This in turn was to lead inexorably to the arrogance and aggressiveness of Western policies in the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East today.

But those discoveries are another story. Soon I would be spending two years in the belly of ‘Enemy Number One’ in those paranoiac Cold War days - the USSR.