Chapter 53 – Sabotaged by Austemba Tokyo
BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA.
BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS and FOUR LANGUAGES.
1. The J.P.Keating Scholarship
2. The Surprise Scholarship Offer
3. Embassy Plots?
4. Battling the Bureaucrats
5. Bureaucracy Gone Mad
6. Ex-Vietnam Types
7. More Spies?
8. A Squalid Affair
Meanwhile my problems with the Australian official presence in Tokyo were continuing.
Apart from only two brief periods when ex-Foreign Affairs colleagues were ambassadors (Geoff Miller and Rawdon Dalrymple), I was to remain generally excluded from any Embassy contact other than the annual Australia Day event (and even that was soon to end).
The exclusion policy did not bother me too much (though as mentioned earlier, my children when young were to suffer from lack on any contact with the country of their semi-nationality).
I could reconcile it with my standard Groucho Marx rationalisation, already in danger of serious overuse, namely that if some outfit does like your existence then that proves it was a fairly undesirable outfit to begin with.
Which is fine enough as it is.
But what happens when the outfit sneaks round and bites you on your existence?
1. The J.P.Keating Scholarship
After eight years of political posturing, including wrecking any chance of an intelligent policy on Aborigines, Bob Hawke had moved on to other pastures.
He was replaced in 1991 by an alleged Labor Party whiz-kid, John Paul Keating.
I knew little directly about Keating, other than a fatuous letter he had once written to some journal of opinion, criticising my criticisms of the man who had done such damage to any hope of a resources policy towards Japan, namely former minerals and resources minister, Rex Connor.
Keating had naively seen Connor as a great Australian nationalist fighting to protect the Australian national interest from Japanese resource depredations, at a time when everything should have been done to lock Japan into Australian resource supply.
(Japan’s steel industry subsequently moved some of its supply sources to other nations, like Brazil, and would have moved more if some natural disasters had not intervened.)
As prime minister, Keating’s main claim to fame was to move in the opposite direction – to embrace open-slather, free-for-all, anti-protectionism.
Instead of the Connor-style restrictions, he now saw liberalisations as the answer to Australia’s problems.
Some of them did some good. Some of them ended up doing much damage (including ‘the recession we had to have’, and fouling up the banking system).
Even more than most others, in Australia people seem unable to think mid-road – that policies do not have to be dogmatically one-sided or the other, that some balance can usually be sought between conflicting demands.
That, for example, we can both protect our resources AND encourage foreigners to help us develop them.
Instead, we have flip-flops. Policy A is the flavour of this month. Its opposite, Policy B, becomes the rage a few months later.
From the excessive Puritanism of the fifties Australia flip-flopped to the open slather pornography of the sixties.
From White Australia exclusivity, and keeping out people of clear benefit to Australia, suddenly it became multicultural openness and opening the door to people bound to create problems.
Earlier, Keating had been known for saying that Asia was the place you flew over en route to Europe and America.
But now that Asia had become the flavor of the month, he suddenly began to take interest… especially towards Japan, then Asia’s dominant nation.
He came several times to Tokyo, and with much pomp.
I never saw him. I was still on the Embassy blacklist.
2. The Surprise Scholarship Offer
But I did get to see a lot of something called the J.P. Keating Scholarship.
To prove the importance Keating attached to Japan, the Embassy announced proudly that it was offering a generous J.P.Keating scholarship for one, and only one, bright, up-and-coming Japanese academic who would do PhD quality research at the ANU in Canberra, and later go on to serve as the foundation for the development of Japan-Australia economic studies in Japan in the future.
I was impressed. Just possibly this would lead to a breakout from the usual stable of second-rate Japanese academic hacks who together with those non-Japanese speaking Japan ‘experts’ at the ANU, had dominated academic ties with Australia.
I was soon to discover just how wrong I could be.
The Embassy official in charge of the scholarship offer was also in charge of the Australia-Japan Foundation office in Tokyo.
I never saw much of him, even though one of his main jobs was supposed to be promoting Japan-Australia academic relationships and as president of Tama University I think I was as involved as any other Australian in the world of Japanese academia at the time. (In fact his job almost certainly was as a front for ASIS/ASIO spy activities.)
As mentioned earlier I had been closely involved in setting up the Foundation.
But lack of contact with the Foundation did not matter much since I was even busier than usual with the lecture and committee circuit.
Writing commitments were also heavy, and this was in pre-computer days when you had to type and retype everything laboriously on a typewriter.
If I had had an experienced and committed office secretary I might just have been able to hold everything together.
But such were few.…
Finding office secretaries in Japan was a pain – interviews, newspaper advertisements, more interviews…
At the time I had just managed to find a pleasant enough young lady willing to work for me. She had just finished two years getting an MA in Brisbane.
She helped get my office into some kind of order. But her main concern, as she admitted frankly, was to find herself a nice husband, preferably Australian.
Working for me might provide some contacts in that direction, she hoped.
She was to achieve that ambition, but in a way neither of us would have predicted.
Suddenly I discovered that she had been awarded the J.P.Keating scholarship.
I was astounded. Her only academic qualification was a shallow MA thesis on Japanese management from the less than heavyweight Griffith University in Queensland.
I had read it hoping to glean some information on a topic of my own interest and had found absolutely nothing of academic or research value.
During the year or so she was working for me she showed little interest in trying to develop or maintain any academic contacts in Japan, or anywhere else, or even to follow up on her original research interest.
I assumed that she simply saw the J.P.Keating Scholarship as a way she could get back to Australia, enjoy the good life there and maybe find that husband.
And that is what seems to have happened. For soon after her arrival in Australia she disappeared from the radar screen.
Certainly she has never reappeared in Japan to carry the banner for Japan-Australia academic studies.
And for this, I had to suffer the complete disruption of my office activities?
3. Embassy Plots?
I wanted to check out the background this bureaucratic disaster.
For not only had her sudden departure caused me some very serious inconvenience. What I wanted to know was how a person like her with minimal academic achievement in the past, and zero academic involvement in Japan, could possibly have been chosen for such an important scholarship.
Was it deliberate – yet another Embassy attempt to make life difficult for me in Japan? Or was it just another example of Embassy incompetence?
I confronted the Embassy man responsible.
Did he realise that references were needed for academic appointments or scholarships? And since the lady had no academic attachments in Japan how had she got any references?
How had he managed to avoid contacting probably the only person in Japan who could comment on her academic abilities, namely myself?
Worse, why had the entire exercise been carried out behind my back, with every care taken to make sure I did not know about it?
(She said she had been told by the Embassy to keep things secret from me while the selection process was underway.)
Said Embassy official seemed quite unflustered by my questions.
The Embassy had called widely for applicants, he said. She was the only responder. So she automatically qualified. No references needed.
And how had the Embassy sought applicants?
It had advertised in the media and had sent letters to universities calling for applicants.
Did he realise that universities in Japan usually ignored advertisements and letters, that personal contacts were needed and that it had long been his job as the person running the Foundation office to have such contacts?
4. Battling the Bureaucrats
I decided to try to get to the bottom of it all.
I wrote to the then ambassador, Ashton Calvert, an intelligent man with an ability very unusual for an Australian ambassador in Japan – some knowledge of Japanese, even if not very good Japanese.
I knew his reputation for the hawkish attitudes he had shown during a previous posting to Washington. But he also seemed to have some integrity; he had been one of the two officials involved in the 1976 reversal of the foolish PMC/Whitlam decision to reject a friendship treaty with Japan.
We had had some interesting and frank talks about Australian policies in general.
But now he was quite happy to abuse whatever integrity he had had in my eyes, with a reply worthy of a hack bureaucrat – that he was sure that all the correct procedures were followed, that the person selected was an excellent choice, and that he was certain she would contribute greatly to future Japan Australia academic relations etc.etc.
And at that the friendly contacts that we had had earlier were terminated, abruptly.
It was a disgusting affair, and not just for the reasons I have already given.
The aim of the scholarship was said to have been to promote Japan-Australia academic relations. But it had been handled in a way that not only guaranteed there would be no beneficial impact on Japan-Australia relations.
It had also managed to do great harm to the one Australian closely involved with the Japanese academic scene, namely myself, then president of Tama University and in need of a private secretary even more than usual.
Without wanting to seem too paranoiac I had to assume the whole exercise was either deliberate or bureaucracy gone mad, with those nice people at the ANU cooperating.
And sure enough those nice people at the ANU were involved – as if they had not done enough damage in the past.
I wrote to the Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) which had had final responsibility for the scholarship granting.
Back came an official letter from one Roger Peacock, First Assistant Secretary:
“The selection panel, with no vested interest in the only candidate, assessed her as suitable for the award. They were, no doubt, influenced in this decision by the Australian National University’s assessment that the candidate had a good academic record, useful practical experience and was well equipped to undertake a PhD program at that University.”
Oh yes? So well-equipped as to disappear almost from the moment of arriving in Australia?
But par for the course, coming from those nice people at the ANU who also believed you could study Japan without knowing the language.
5. Bureaucracy Gone Mad
Not just the ANU was at fault. In part I was looking at the bureaucratic nightmare Canberra had become, with individuals only interested in complying with Canberra’s bureaucratic procedures.
Provided the paperwork was all in order, the results did not matter. No one would ever get round to checking results anyway.
The Embassy people felt no embarrassment about the fact that they had had only one applicant for a scholarship that was supposed to change the entire basis of the Japan-Australia academic relationship (not to mention the fact they had messed up my office).
They had followed the correct procedures (even though those procedures were irrelevant in Japan) and that was that.
It was the same in the reporting from the Embassy (or the little I saw of it), whether on the economy, the politics, the education or what have you. Provided the writer stuck to the conventional wisdom of the moment he/she would get Canberra brownie points.
No matter if it was all proved wrong later on.
There were no prizes for original ideas or going out to seek other ideas.
That the Canberra bureaucrats, and even Calvert in Tokyo, could go along with the Keating award fiasco without any sense of guilt or remorse simply because all the procedures had been followed shows a breakdown of national common sense.
To this day no one as far as I know has asked what happened to the much ballyhooed J.P.Keating scholarship.
Total lack of interest in the result of a scheme that was supposed revolutionise the Japan-Australia academic relationship.
6. Ex-Vietnam Types
My angst also lay elsewhere – from the resurgence of my old Vietnam War traumas.
I had long known that the Embassy had become a refuge for several ex-Vietnam War intelligence types who, having failed to extract enough finger-nails to gain the information needed to win the Vietnam War, had had to be recycled somehow or other.
A number of them ended up in the Australian Embassy, Tokyo.
Clearly none of them would be enamoured with an anti-Vietnam War type like myself. And one of them happened to be the embassy person handling the J.P.Keating scholarship offer.
How was a background of intelligence activities in Vietnam supposed to qualify for academic/cultural work in Japan?
Maybe it provided a convenient slot for continued spy activity. Or maybe, since the Vietnamese had very understandably expelled these finger-nail pullers from their country, it was simply that the man had to do something else in life.
Yet another of these people had ended up as a top Embassy official allegedly handling trade matters.
He traveled widely amid rumours (which my official contacts did not deny) that he was controlling Australia’s spy network in much of Asia.
I have no idea how much trade he brought to Australia. I know he did a good job making sure I was excluded from Embassy activities.
The Embassy had long displayed a plaque praising the services of another one of these ex-Vietnam types who had ended his career working on the premises – Simpson VC.
But I guess I should not have been too surprised. Australia’s conscience over Vietnam was about as outstanding and noble as Japan’s conscience over China.
In that sense they make a good pair when it comes to foreign affairs (as I discuss in the next chapter).
7. More Spies?
With heavy heart I set about the business of finding another secretary – more advertisements, more days wasted in fruitless interviews etc.
Then just as I was about to give up I had a call from someone with seemingly excellent credentials – fluent English, office experience, fast and accurate typing, young, alert.
Even better, she had UK Embassy experience, and recommendations.
But from the start she was strangely picky, checking my work carefully and querying payments.
She disappeared, but only after a thorough study of all I was doing.
I had long had problems with the Brits in Tokyo.
When working as a correspondent in the early seventies, a UK Embassy press secretary had rung me to say the Embassy was very impressed by my reporting.
Would I like also to make reports for them on the Japan scene, with payment of course?
I knew this was a technique that both MI 6 and the KGB liked to use. Inevitably the report writer would then be drawn into a web of deeper intelligence activities.
I knew also that the Western spy agencies had long targeted journalists in Tokyo.
I could happily say no.
But things did not end there.
For some reason I was being bothered by second-rate Australian academics and various journalists also claiming to be very interested in my Tokyo work.
They would contact me, asking if they could interview me in depth for some article, thesis or book they were writing.
They too would waste a lot of my time, inquiring deeply into my research, my activities and so on. But invariably there would be no article, thesis or book, not even a follow-up note to say thanks.
One of them – an Australian journalist struggling for existence when I first arrived in Tokyo on my 1968 research project – later had the honesty to admit that he had been acting on behalf of his Embassy contacts.
His pretext then to come and check out my office was a claimed interest to learn more about Japanese investment overseas – a topic about which he had never written before and has never written since.
(He later went on to be a leading light in the Australian media community, as did one or two others in the early generation of Australian journalists in Tokyo.
(In those days our hyper-active intelligence agencies had few others to focus on. Non-Japanese speaking Australian journalists desperate for sources and information were easy recruitment meat.)
(Which meant, of course, that those of us who did have sources and information were seen as semi-hostile outsiders.
Journalist groups cry freedom of the Press whenever some foreign government imprisons one of their colleagues.
That is all very fine. But I suggest they should first make sure their ranks have not been infiltrated by people whom some governments might have good reason to want to imprison.
And they can begin with quite a few of the British, American and Australian journalists roaming the globe.
8. A Squalid Affair
Taken together, and with some setbacks in trying to get involved with Australian economic policy (which I relate later), I was beginning to realise that my efforts to get re-involved with Australia were not going to succeed greatly.
But worse had yet to come.
Pride and Treachery
It began with my former employer, The Australian, sending one Richard McGregor to Japan as its Tokyo correspondent.
McGregor was unusual in that he had learned some Chinese in Taiwan (how that happened I am not sure) and was trying to learn Japanese.
He wanted to be friendly and I was very happy to reciprocate. Here finally, I thought, was someone on my own wavelength.
Not only would he be able to follow up on my own efforts to introduce Japan to the newspaper’s readers.
With his Chinese interest he would also understand some of the problems I had had with the China lobby back in Australia.
We would meet occasionally and I would try to push him in the direction of good Japan stories.
I also talked about my opposition to Canberra’s China policies and my previous Vietnam War activities.
He made as if to agree with me, which made me feel good. Praises from a fellow Australian for my ideas on policy were rare.
Later he turned out later to be yet another typically immature Australian hawk and ended up with that great recruiter of immature hawks, the UK Financial Times.
But my problem with him was to be more immediate.
He came to me saying he wanted to write up my lecture circuit activities. He saw me as the successor to a 19th century Australian who had been popular in Japan for his rakugo (joke talking) performances.
I was not too impressed by the rakugo connection but said yes.
Deep down I was keen to have someone reporting back to Australia about what I was doing in Japan.
I could help me greatly in my efforts to reconnect, I thought, foolishly.
A Trip To Osaka
So that he could see I was into something more serious than rakugo I invited him to come to Osaka with me and watch a speech I was due to give there to some company’s employees.
En route, there and back, I could also give him some background on how I found myself in the lecture circuit business, thinking this would help his story.
I also found time to expand confidentially on some of the things we had discussed briefly at earlier in Tokyo meetings – about my problems with the Whitlam regime, with the China lobby, the ANU etc.
He was, after all, a colleague (I too was still doing some writing for The Australian). I saw it as a chance to fill him in on some of my background.
It never occurred to me that he would abuse these confidences. Apart from anything else, he was not taking notes or recordings – something you are supposed to do if an interview is in process.
Some months later I got the ugly result.
Splashed as the lead item in The Australian’s weekend magazine was a piece that said very little about my lecture circuit life.
But it did say a great deal about the confidential details I had given him about other things, both during the Osaka trip and before.
If he had quoted me accurately and in context I could have lived with the result. But that was not to be.
He had distorted whatever he could to make it look as if I was a bitter and twisted refugee from Australia, demonized by Vietnam.
I had, he said, been run out of Foreign Affairs in 1965 for opposing Vietnam policy.
(In fact, as mentioned earlier, I had in 1964 at the very young age of 29 been asked to become Australian representative on the UN Disarmament Commission in New York, and had turned this down in order to resign, partly over Vietnam, with Foreign Affairs hoping I would return after my university studies.)
I was, he said, employed as a teacher of Japanese at Sophia University.
(In fact, as mentioned earlier, I was a professor of economics and comparative culture who also ran a very successful course in Japanese economic readings. I had told him how pleased I was with the way the course had encouraged students to self-learn. He had twisted this to make it look as if I was employed by the university solely to teach Japanese.)
And so on.
Worse was the way he had made some of my very personal remarks about various people and events look as if I had given them to him in a formal interview.
It was journalism at its Murdoch, irresponsible, gutter-press worst.
In my friendly confidential talk with him I had for example referred to someone as a ‘little shit.’
He had then quoted me as if I was saying this in a formal interview.
(Media friends were to share my distress that this obvious breaking of journalistic standards had even been published.)
(But unfortunately, this Murdoch ‘little shit’ was to come close in realising his objective, which presumably was to harm me as a possible rival for space in the Australian media.
(Subsequent requests from Australia to write or comment were few.
(He went on to get a job with the rightwing Lowy Institute.)
A friendly Sydney lawyer (yes, they do exist) was also distressed by the article. He offered to take action on my behalf.
But he advised against seeking damages. He knew how the Murdoch people operated in the law courts.
He offered to provide the needed lawyer’s letter, with a demand the errors of fact corrected in print, which was done.
Even editors at The Australian had been forced to realise some atrocity had occurred.
But as always with these things, the damage had been done.
Later I discovered that my dear friends in the Australian Embassy had been feeding McGregor with anti-Clark material and encouraging him to write.
The Empire had struck back, and with a vengeance.
It was typical of something I look at in detail in the next chapter – the Australian ‘tribal’ need to denigrate fellow Australians who have been able to survive by their own efforts abroad.
‘You’re not one of our mob, mate’ is the mentality.
Starting from their own inability to relate to Japan, they feel tribally impelled to conclude that there is something either sick or sad with any Australian who can relate – who can live in Japan, learn the language, raise a family and make a career there.
Yet it was not always like this. The educated Australians I had known in the past had been more normal.
Something has happened in the past two decades, to the point where the ‘tribal’ mores of the general population have begun to affect the educated classes who should know better, and who in the past did know better.
It is an important topic, and not just because of what it has done to complicate my life in Japan.
Ultimately it poisons Australia’s relations with Japan and some other Asian nations.
Unable to relate normally to normal Asians, official Australia falls easily into the arms of those who go out of their way to relate to them.
In the case of Japan that is mainly a few hangers-on, anti-China fanatics, inveterate anti-communists, plus the Japanese military.
At the last Embassy reception to which I was invited almost half the guests seemed to be wearing military uniforms.
The move to embrace the only available nation in Asia, regardless, was underway.