Is there any hope for Australia-China relations? I have spent most of a 60 year career on the periphery of those relations – in Canberra, Hong Kong, Moscow and Japan, with some time in China mainly during the crucial Cultural Revolution period.
I was the first Australian official postwar to be trained in Chinese. I have seen a generation of China-watchers grow in my wake. And I have watched with admiration how some of those people have tried to use logic, their experience, and commonsense to put the relationship on the rails.
But ultimately it ain’t gonna happen.
Buried deep in the Australian DNA is an incorrigible distrust, fear, and even hatred of China. I have seen it closeup many times over the years and it is not going to go away.
There was a brief period in the early seventies when the Kissinger-inspired, US rapprochement with China, combined with Zhou Enlai’s pingpong diplomacy, seemed about to drag Canberra out of its anti-China hatreds. But that was short-lived.
The Kissinger initiative was premised on the Sino-Soviet dispute and as I have written elsewhere (in my 1968 book In Fear of China) that dispute was based on shaky premises and would not last forever.
And as I have also written elsewhere, the pingpong diplomacy and Kissinger moves would probably have been put aside by an incurably anti-Beijing Canberra, but for an incredible series of coincidences revolving around an Australian pingpong leader refusing to sleep on tatami mats.
So from the start, the pro-China moves we saw from the early seventies had a weak basis. They would collapse soon under pressures from anti-China elements, including anti-China coalition governments.
My first hint of Canberra’s innate anti-China bias came back in 1962, with the blatant and cold-blooded decision to join up with London and the US to blame Beijing, and not New Delhi, for the first 1962 Himalayan frontier war, which I had been monitoring on Canberra’s China desk.
Then came my chance to see the stupidity of Paul Hasluck in Moscow in November 1964 trying persuade top Soviet leaders, Kosygin and Gromyko, to join us in Vietnam to stop the alleged downward Chinese thrust using ‘in the first instance’ its puppets in Hanoi.
Even among the media people sent to welcome pingpong China in the early 1970’s I saw closeup their deep-seated distrust and dislike of China.
Then came the media distortions of the 1989 Tiananmen and Xinjiang reporting, the factionalism of Australia’s nascent pro-China movement, and the ease with which it could all be swept aside by power-hungry security organs ignorant of China.
The result is the mess we see today – a Labor Party government (repeat, an ALP government) embracing a Tokyo keen to piggy-back on US (and Australian) military strength for a repeat of its past attacks on China, and Quad member Japan whose former leader Abe Shinzo has managed single-handedly for two decades to keep North Korea in a state of economic misery and nuclear determination to defend itself.
And we welcome these people as supporters of our security?
Why? Because it is in the DNA.
Part goes back to18th-19th century fears of China. Part, I suspect, is a sublimated fear of China as somehow responsible for the Vietnam War defeat.
And part is a deep foreign affairs immaturity plus sheer ignorance of the world around us.