IS ASIAN COMMUNISM A THREAT TO AUSTRALIA?
Australian Institute of Political Science – 1967
* Gregory Clark is a Research Scholar in the School of Pacific Studies at the Australian National University; formerly in the Department of External Affairs, he served in Hong Kong and Moscow.
WHAT is Asian Communism? I take it we have something concrete in mind, that we do not think of it as a sort of virus like Asian ‘flu. More specifically, I assume that when we speak of the threat of Asian Communism we mean a grouping of Asian communist countries which pursues policies damaging to Australian interests. And if someone is to organize this grouping and co-ordinate its anti-Australian policies, then I assume that China is the someone we have in mind.
Fortunately, Mr Harries so far has not raised the immediate spectre of a Chinese-inspired attack on Australia. Rather, he has suggested that if Australia’s interests are to suffer, this will happen as a result of forceful measures by China to restrict and ultimately expel the Western, including the Australian, presence from Asia. Only after this has happened might our security be directly threatened.
All I can say in the brief time available is that while China would obviously prefer to see the removal of the Western and possibly even a democratic presence in Asia (just as the U.S. would prefer to see the removal of a communist and certainly a Chinese presence in Latin America), there is little evidence that China is prepared to take the initiative and act directly and forcibly to achieve these goals.
The Chinese have consistently emphasized their belief that communism will spread in Asia through the efforts of the indigenous population. The record shows they have acted on this basis. Only twice have they intervened on behalf of Asian communist movements-Laos and South Vietnam. On both occasions their intervention was less substantial than that of the Russians and was made after, and in response to, large-scale Western intervention.
In the acres of speculation traversed during the earlier discussions about Chinese motives, intentions, etc., in Asia there has been no mention whatsoever of the one and only primary source of information available to us about Chinese intentions in this area. I refer to U Thant’s recent disclosure of his and U Nu’s talks in Peking in 1954. The Chinese, according to U Thant, made it clear that they hoped the then-strong Burmese communist insurgent movement (which has existed since well before 1949) would succeed in overthrowing U Nu’s Government. They emphasized, however, that China would only provide material aid to the insurgents if the Burmese Government invited Western intervention to put down the insurgency. They were quite free to buy whatever arms and equipment they wanted from the West. The Chinese have kept to their promise, despite the success of the Burmese Government in countering the insurgents.
I believe we are supposed to be very concerned about a Thai émigré radio station in South China which broadcasts encouragement to the recently formed insurgent movement in North-East Thailand. (This, I might add, is the sum total of the Chinese response to direct U.S. involvement in Thai anti-insurgent activities.) Imagine a situation in which Castro had called in the Russians to help crush a successful guerilla uprising in the Cuban highlands. Quite apart from the blast of emigré radio stations broadcasting advice, Florida would be awash with C.I.A. types and agents trying to smuggle themselves and weapons into Cuba. It has been suggested that China’s restraint in Asia may be dictated by material weakness. This may be so. But in the case of Burma in 1954, for example, it seems unlikely that a country which had just fought the Americans to a standstill in Korea could not have smuggled a few guns and ammunition across the unguarded 1,000 miles Sino-Burmese frontier if it had wanted to do so. Perhaps the Chinese realize better than we do that outside intervention in other people’s civil wars is generally counter-productive.
Some may feel that this assessment of Chinese behaviour is contradicted by the numerous quotations which have been produced in earlier papers to prove Chinese belligerence, aggressiveness, etc. The trouble with quotations is that they are like statistics–one can prove anything one likes with them. By careful selection of quotations, I could if I wished prove that the Chinese are gentle peace-lovers and that the Russians are die-hard extremists.
The Russians, for example, have said the following:
“So long as imperialism and colonialism exist, there will be wars of liberation. These wars are not only legitimate, they are inevitable. Only through struggle, including armed struggle, can freedom and independence be won.”
“Marxist-Leninists seek peace not by begging for it from imperialism but by rallying the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist parties, by rallying the peoples struggling for freedom and independence.”
“A party is bad if it deals only with economic questions and does not bring up the working class in a revolutionary spirit and prepare it for the seizure of power.”
The Chinese, by comparison, are on record as having said the following:
“No Marxist-Leninist has ever held or will ever hold that revolution must be made through world war.”
“It was Lenin who advanced the thesis that it is possible for the socialist countries to practice peaceful co-existence with the capitalist countries.”
“The application of the policy of peaceful co-existence by the socialist countries is advantageous for achieving a peaceful international environment.”
“It is necessary for the socialist countries to engage in negotiations one kind or another with the imperialist countries. It is possible to reach certain agreements through these negotiations.”
And, in case it is felt that I have had to cast far and wide to find these quotations, let me state that they come entirely from two documents produced at the height of the Sino-Soviet dispute: the Chinese letter to the Russians of 14 June 1963 and the Russian statement in response of 14 July 1963.
Let me give another example: Everyone has heard of the quote from Mao Tse-tung: “all power comes out of the barrel of a gun”. I doubt, though, whether everyone has heard the following quotation:
“Wherever there exists a parliamentary platform the organizational form (of the Communist Party) is legal, and the struggle for power) is non-violent.”
Both quotations are taken from one and the same article, written by Mao in 1938 and entitled “Problems of War and Strategy”. The latter quotation occurs in the introduction to the article, after which Mao goes on to say that, since no parliamentary platform was available, conditions in China were different. The history of events in China extending from the anti-warlord campaigns of the 1910s to the war against Japan of the 1930s had demonstrated that ‘whoever had the guns had the power”. He added that failure of the communists to realize this had enabled Chiang to carry out the massacre of April 1927 in which thousands of communists who up to that moment had co-operated with Chiang’s Government were arrested and executed.
It is a pity that these extra details never seem to find their way into learned discussions of Chinese behaviour. It is a pity that the speakers who have given such detail about the conspiratorial ways of the Communists do not mention the fate of attempts by the Chinese and other Asian Communists to come to power without recourse to violence. It is a pity that when speakers refer to the Chinese Communists chopping off the heads of their opponents in the early 1950s they do not mention who started the head-chopping. When they talk of the fate of intellectuals in Communist China they do not mention the assassinations of left-wing teachers, professors and students by Chiang Kai-shek’s secret police. It is also a pity that Chinese policy statements are not read more thoroughly. We would not find ourselves chancing bold conclusions about Chinese actions being possibly less fearsome than their words. We might even find that sometimes their words are less fearsome than their actions.
The fact is that China is a powerful nation of 700 million people which is not going to disappear or change its behaviour because we dislike or misunderstand its behaviour. If we decide that aspects of China’s behaviour-its nationalism or its territorial claims-represent a potential threat, all I can say is: So what? As far as I know the Communist Chinese have produced nothing to equal the following for nationalistic fervour:
“China’s own philosophy of life . . . is superior to that of any other country in the world. The glories and scope of our ancient Chinese learning cannot be equaled in the history of any of the strong Western nations of today.”
“Not until all lost territories [territory under Chinese control 100 years previously] have been recovered can we relax our efforts to wipe out this humiliation and save ourselves from destruction.”
Both of these quotations are taken from Philip Jaffe’s edition of Chiang Kai-shek’s manifesto China’s Destiny.
I recall that my first introduction in 1959 to Communist Chinese affairs was via the reports of highly-paid Western experts who used to hold meetings in various parts of the world and sadly regret that only in Taiwan was the legitimate national pride of the Chinese people being preserved, and that on the mainland it was being sacrificed on the altar of communist internationalism. I assume they now meet to discuss the dangerous nationalism of the mainland Chinese.
I would suggest that part of what appears as the current nationalist upsurge in China is simply the undoing of rather forced attempts in the post-1949 years to broaden Chinese culture by the incorporation of European influences. If an Australian Government ever made a similar effort to incorporate Chinese influence into our culture, we might accuse it of many things. But I doubt whether we would subsequently accuse it of chauvinism and cultural arrogance.
As for Communist Chinese territorial claims on neighbouring countries, they fall far short of those put forward by Nationalist China. Indeed, we have been treated to the sight of Chiang’s Government denouncing the Communists because the latter appear willing to make extensive territorial concessions in Sino-Indian frontier negotiations.
So I would suggest that if we do not like the present Chinese regime there is no reason to believe that the one we have lined up to replace it is going to be more favourable to our interests. Moreover, if past performance is any guide, the replacement should cost us as much in foreign aid to keep it afloat as the present regime provides us through its wheat purchases. Alternatively, if we think we can organize ourselves some completely new form of Government in China, all I can say is that we will need to be a lot smarter about China than we have been in the past. And if we fail in these efforts, and if some future Chinese Communist leader decides for one purpose or another to exploit whatever latent chauvinism and irredentism Chiang Kai-shek seems to feel can be exploited, then we are at least partly to blame for having perpetuated China’s isolation.
Whether we like it or not, we have to live with China – Communist, Nationalist or any other variety. As with people, we have to adjust to each other and put up with each other. Mr Harries may have different ideology from me but I take the risk of sharing the same platform with him. Indeed, there is even the possibility that by debating openly with each other one or other of us will see the error of his ways and I shall have even less reason to regard Mr Harries as a potential threat to my security.
However, and this brings me to the core of the Asian Communist threat question, if I had deliberately caused some serious physical injury to Mr Harries at some time in the past I would feel much less happy about having to share the same platform with him. Particularly if the facts of geography meant that I would have to share this platform with him for many years to come.
The hostility of the Communist Chinese towards the West (which fortunately has not been translated into action) largely results from the manner in which from 1945-49 a cruel civil war was prolonged with millions of additional casualties through Western military support for Chiang Kai-shek’s transparently corrupt and incompetent government.
Today in Vietnam worse is happening. In support of a Government even more incompetent than that of Chiang Kai-shek, we have become partners in the violation of international agreements and in the savage insanity of the world’s most powerful country trying to beat into submission a country and population less than one-fifth its size-one of those weak, backward Asian countries about which we usually like to feel so paternalistic. On a population basis, the Vietnamese have suffered far greater casualties than the Chinese as a result of Western intervention. And our involvement has been carried out in a far more direct and brutal manner than was the case in China.
For example, it has become standard practice for U.S. planes to bomb villages from which guerilla sniper fire is encountered. This is happening almost every day and we only hear about it when the wrong village is bombed. Yet the world continues to condemn Nazi destruction in 1942 of a single Czech village, the village of Lidice, in retaliation for the killing of a Nazi official by Czech guerillas operating in the area.
We condemn the Germans who during the war failed to interest themselves in the fate of concentration camp prisoners. Do we take any interest in the fate of Viet Cong suspects and prisoners handed over to the forces of Air Vice-Marshal Ky? (The standard joke amongst the Saigon press corps is the story of the newly-arrived reporter who wanted to know where all the thousands of captured Viet Cong were kept.) Do we really have the right to be indignant if in the future the Vietnamese against whom we have intervened decide to treat our interests in Asia with the same consideration as we now show for their lives?
I know that many in this country are vaguely uneasy about the brutality of the Vietnam war, but accept that it was all started back in 1957-58 by a pro-communist minority resorting to assassinations of government officials. It is rarely mentioned that during 1956 the government officials were empowered by Diem with arrest and execution of all pro-communists. As for the pro-communists being a minority, I do not know where one starts to argue this. For some reason many people have decided that despite the fact of mass desertions from the South Vietnamese armies, despite the example of pre-1949 China and pre-1954 Vietnam, despite the fact that even in some of our advanced democracies Communists can poll from 20 to 30 per cent of the vote, it is inconceivable that the Vietnamese population could be pro-communist.
Professor Scalapino feels that many Western accounts of the communist victory in China are wrong in suggesting that a majority of the Chinese in 1949 preferred a Communist Government and that these accounts will need to be re-written. In which case his own Government is going to be involved in an extensive re-writing job since in August 1949 it published a White Paper which admitted, and regretted, that the Chinese Communists had won popular support away from Chiang Kai-shek’s Government.
Why this curious refusal to admit that in certain circumstances it could just happen that an Asian population forced to choose between a Communist government and an incompetent, corrupt, anti-communist government might prefer the former for all its faults, I do not know. (Once, when debating the question of support or otherwise for the Vietnamese communists, I pulled out what to me seemed the trump card in the whole debate-the fact that the only representative cross-section of Vietnamese free to state their preferences – those Vietnamese living in Thailand and New Caledonia – are observably pro-Ho Chi-Minh and have preferred repatriation to North rather than South Vietnam. My opponent in the debate claimed this proved nothing except that these Vietnamese were all communists.)
What I do know, however, is that unless we quickly recognize the fact of communist ability to win support, unless we quickly drop our sloganeering about Asian communists and the barrels of their guns, then we are going to be involved in an endless repetition of the present Vietnam slaughter from which neither our security nor our conscience will emerge unscathed.
All very good, you may say, but will our security or our conscience be further enhanced by simply handing over Vietnam to the communists? Would not this be simply the start of the domino-falling process throughout South-East Asia?
I shall dwell briefly on the domino theory. The example I have already given of Burma should make it clear that I do not accept the notion of country A inevitably being forcibly converted to communism because it happens to border Communist country B. Where such forcible conversion has occurred- in Eastern Europe, for example -it has been the result of a conjuncture of very particular circumstances. In Asia, only a major escalation of the Vietnam War could provide a similar conjuncture.
If, however, it is argued that the existence per se of a particular ideology in Communist country B could increase the likelihood of its acceptance in nearby country A, I can only say that I agree, particularly if country B actively advertises its ideology. I emphasise could, however, because presumably country A also possesses some form of ideology and we need to know why its influence does not spread the other way to country B.
Take the example of Europe. During the postwar years the West lived in fear of communism spreading to Western Europe-not so much through armed conquest but as a result of social disorder in Western European countries and the close proximity of an alternative ideology in Eastern Europe. We now realize these fears were unfounded, largely because the Eastern European ideology was soon shown up to be a Soviet transplant. In fact, in Europe the domino theory has worked in reverse. The example of West European cultural and economic vitality has created a strong trend towards liberalization in Eastern Europe. This trend has spread first from Yugoslavia, then Poland, Hungary, leap-frogged into Rumania and now even extends its influence into the Soviet Union. The Russians complain bitterly about ideological infiltration from the West. But there is nothing they can do to stop it. Even Hungary was no more than a stop-gap measure to prevent a complete collapse of the East European dominos and it taught the Russians that they had very quickly to adapt to liberalization or else they would have many more Hungarys on their hands.
Asia today is Eastern Europe of the 1950s. The example of social reform and nationalism in the Communist states of Asia has cast a strong influence throughout much of the rest of Asia infested with conservative regimes dependent on Western backing. We complain bitterly of communist infiltration and subversion in these areas-ignoring the fact that the West for years has had an open go to infiltrate the whole area with its ideology. We engage in our little and not so little Hungarys to try to prevent any sudden erosion of the Western position. But ultimately we must learn, like the Russians, to adapt to the situation or else see Asia eventually not only pass under Communist control but do so in a way which could result in great harm to our interests.
Let me give you the example of Singapore. In 1959 the British decided to allow elections in Singapore. The Communists enjoyed strong support at the time due to widespread resentment against certain aspects of British colonial rule. A highly-intelligent Chinese, Lee Kwan Yew, realized that to win the election (from which the Communists were barred) he would have to campaign for much the same causes as the Communists, i.e., he would have to take an anti-British line and promise a range of social reforms. This he did, and was swept to power with an overwhelming majority. He has retained power ever since by use of similar tactics.
Singapore shows that the Communists need not enjoy a monopoly over social reform and nationalism in Asia, that they can also be harnessed by non-communists. Let me make it clear that by nationalism I do not mean the peasant xenophobia referred to by Professor Scalapino. Anyone who has talked to educated Asians will realise that it is not only peasants who resent the less enlightened forms of Western colonial rule or the presence in Asia of Western troops with their brothels and brawls. What I mean is the desire or some sort of national identity, independent of foreigners (particularly white-skinned foreigners), which permeates Asia today. Nor is this nationalism something artificially whipped up by the communists. To realize this one has only to hear the bitterness with which Chinese in Hong Kong and Taiwan still speak of a notice which the British are said to have placed in a park within their Shanghai concession: “No dogs or Chinese allowed”.
True, the West was fortunate that a man like Lee Kwan Yew existed in Singapore, a man who unequivocally opposed the Communists yet could still pre-empt much of their policy. It may not always be so fortunate. The Lee Kwan Yews elsewhere may prefer alliance with the Communists and the latter may prove to be the stronger partners in the alliance. A whole variety of situations could occur. The Communists may be far more powerful than any other political faction, as in Indonesia, and then make a mistake. Or they may be opposed by a non-communist government such as in Burrna, which then itself adopts Marxist policies. Or they may assume unchallenged power. We do not know and these are the risks we have to take. Ultimately the internal conditions in every country will be the deciding factor, and if we cannot accept this, then we deny the principles on which our own democracy is based. And even if some countries do go Communist, provided no outside intervention is involved, there is no reason to believe that such countries would be any more of a threat to us than Yugoslavia is to Italy. In other words, when the dominos fall, they need not fall Communist-side upwards. They could, with a little bit of help, fall progressive-nationalist, non-communist side upwards. And even if they fall Communist-side upwards, this is not the end of the world.
Unfortunately the West is not prepared to take the risk of the dominos falling at all. To demonstrate this let me go back to the example of the 1959 Singapore elections.
To their eternal discredit, the Australian and other Western Governments actively and publicly opposed Lee’s election on the grounds that he stood for the same things as the Communists. They threw their support (and it was rumoured later that this support had a certain material content) behind the right-wing, pro-British candidate whose supporters ended up with less than 20 per cent of the vote. Who was this strongman who we believed was needed to cope with the Communist threat in Singapore? None other than the former Malaysian High Commissioner in Canberra-Lim Yew Hock.
Assume that, as in much of Asia, there had been no elections and the West had been free to maintain Lim in power. Lacking majority support, he would have had to suppress both left-wing and Communist opposition to remain in power. Lee Kwan Yew would have had to ally with the Communists and by now a Singapore National Liberation Front would be operating out of the jungles of Southern Malaya. (One consolation in all this, I suppose, is that the Australian Government would have had the satisfaction of knowing that they were quite right to have suspected Lee as a front-runner for the Communists.)
Throughout Asia, this process has been repeated over and over again. The West has preferred to back the Lim Yew Hocks and has either actively opposed the Lee Kwan Yews or looked on passively as they were exiled, imprisoned or worse. In China, Chiang Kai-shek suppressed the middle-of-the-road Democratic Party, many of whose leaders subsequently went over to the Communists. Western military aid for Chiang continued unchecked. Diem’s suppression of left-wing non-communists in Saigon drew not even a suggestion of criticism from his Western backers. Those who escaped his suppression are now active in the N.L.F. leadership. The same story has been repeated in Laos and Thailand, and is commencing in Malaysia today. And just as the Stalinists of Eastern Europe were unable to resist indefinitely the trend to liberalization, the Lim Yew Hocks of Asia, the Chiang Kai-sheks and Ngo Dinh Diems whose only answer to Communism is suppression, conservative nationalism, and Western arms, have proven to be equally powerless to cope with the forces of change in their own societies.
As with Vietnam, I realize that many will not agree with this pessimistic analysis of Western policy in Asia. The Australian Government which takes a more optimistic view of these matters has recently described our policy of support for conservative Asian regimes as one of “progressive stability”. (I am not sure what the term implies; something like suspended animation or rather animated suspension, perhaps.) The more thoughtful of Government supporters would be more precise and argue that Asia today is not Eastern Europe of the fifties but Western Europe of the forties. What we need to do, they say, is hold the line in Asia until Japan and India have progressed sufficiently to counter the influence of China and possibly even set the domino process in reverse.
I do not deny the logic of such an approach-only its feasibility. In the first place I doubt whether the Japanese, who take a different view of the so-called Communist threat in Asia, see themselves in the role we would like them to play. We would look very silly if we woke up one morning to find that China and Japan had come to terms and agreed on a tacit division of Asia into mainland and off-shore spheres of influence. And secondly, I just hope we do not have to hold our breath waiting for the Indian domino to start to prevail against the Chinese domino.
But the main flaw in this whole approach is the concept of a line being drawn in Asia. I have already argued that there can be no stability in Asia until we are prepared to take the risk of allowing the Lee Kwan Yews to come to the surface. Unfortunately, of the two factors which led us to oppose Lee Kwan Yew in 1959, ignorance and the fear of taking risks, one remains almost unchanged and the other has greatly increased.
The apparent dangers of backing Lee Kwan Yews in Asia are now much greater than they were in 1959, largely because of Vietnam. If Lee himself feels he must for internal political reasons take a public position critical of Western policies in Vietnam how much more anti-Vietnam War will the Lee Kwan Yews struggling for power elsewhere have to be? And precisely because the West has become so involved in Vietnam, it cannot afford the risk of anti-Vietnam War governments emerging elsewhere in Asia, particularly in the two most vulnerable dominos-Laos and Thailand.
I also referred to ignorance as an important factor undermining our position in Asia. We may have finally got around to accepting the original Lee Kwan Yew, but it was only after he had made it absolutely clear that he was not as left-wing as he originally appeared. Little else has changed.
The people who made the decision in 1959 to oppose Lee without ever having communicated with him are still making the decisions in the Department of External Affairs. The Australian representative in Singapore, who even after 1959 refused to speak to Lee on the grounds that he was a dangerous leftist, continued for some years to be actively involved in the formation of our Asian policies.
On top of this is the fact that the Lee Kwan Yews of Asia today are now far more inaccessible than Lee himself ever was. In 1959 we could not summon up the courage to speak to the Cambridge educated head of a legitimate political party. Today many of the people we should be speaking to, if they are not already in prison or in the jungle, have been forced underground or into political inactivity. And in most cases they do not happen to speak the English of a Cambridge graduate.
The fact is that even if we were prepared to talk with these people, we could not. The Department of External Affairs has recently made available figures for the number of its officers receiving language bounties. It appears that they have two grades of language speakers-intermediate and fluent. At this moment, of the 50-odd Australian diplomats serving in 11 countries of South and South-East Asia not one is fluent in the language of the country where he is serving.
True the Department has recently sought to launch a language training programme for its junior officers. Funds are limited, however, and the main result to date as far as the area I have mentioned is concerned is two or three intermediate-level language speakers in Indonesia and one other in Indo-China. But let me repeat-nowhere in the area does Australia have a single diplomatic representative who speaks fluently the local language.
Nor is the deficiency rectified in Canberra. Not one Asian language speaker occupies a position of any seniority in the Asian affairs sections of the Department of External Affairs. Worse, none of the top echelon of policy-makers in Canberra speaks any Asian language whatsoever. * See Appendix-Ed.
I do not want to exaggerate this language business. For one thing, interpreters are always available (though there is often a problem as to their reliability in the semi-police states of South-East Asia). As well, an effective diplomat requires many other talents apart from languages.
But can you imagine a Chinese diplomat in Canberra who did not speak a word of English trying to work out whether Mr Santamaria was a front man for Melbourne militarists? And, having arrived at the answer, setting out with his interpreter to persuade Mr Holt of the dangers of becoming too involved with the D.L.P.? This is roughly the sort of exercise in which our diplomats in Asia are engaged.
In case you feel I exaggerate let me give you an example. For years the West, including Australia, tried to persuade Sihanouk in Cambodia not to recognize or have anything to do with the Communist Chinese-dangerous people, we said. Another case is Vietnam, where Australia has actively sought to discourage any U.S. suggestions of a compromise solution with Hanoi or the N.L.F., with neither of whose leaders have we had any contact whatsoever. The idea of killing and wounding hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese whose political beliefs happen to be different from our own seems far less grotesque if one has never had to speak directly with those people-if one can avoid regarding them as human beings with views just as firmly held as we hold our own. It is much easier to preserve the fantastic notion with which our Vietnam adventure is justified publicly and privately-the notion that Hanoi and the N.L.F. are, to quote the words of some official Australian documents, “creatures of Peking”. It is much easier to think along these lines so long as we never have to set eyes on any of these so-called creatures; and we should not be surprised when even Air ViceMarshal Ky finds himself contradicting our foreign policy experts on the question of Chinese control over Hanoi.
Our mistakes in Asia are only one side of the coin. At best, or worst, we can have only a marginal influence on the course of events there. It could even be that the people we are busily antagonizing in Asia will, as the Communist Chinese have apparently done, decide to excuse us on the grounds that we are so much under American domination that we are not responsible for our behaviour. (I only hope they do not find out that we are in fact operating a very independent and nationalistic policy well to the right of the U.S.)
The other side of the coin is the harm which is being caused within this country itself. In recent years there has been a gradual hardening of opinion against those who, in my view, argue for a more understanding attitude towards Asia. It is so much easier to invoke rather than revoke the traditional “Yellow Peril” fear. This hardening of opinion has now reached the point where the Government feels justified in regarding critics of its Asian policies as either malicious or ignorant, and in either case a potential source of risk to Australian security. One result of all this was the increase by $500,000 in the allocation of funds under the last budget to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.
So far I seem to have done nothing but criticize and I therefore conclude with one positive suggestion. If this $500,000, rather than being spent on hiring 50 extra staff by A.S.I.O. for tapping telephones, etc., could be spent on establishing in Australia a centre for the efficient teaching of contemporary Asian languages combined with the study of Asian history and politics (centres the like of which do not exist here but which are now established in several U.S. universities and whose graduates and staff have helped raise the current U.S. debate on Asia to a much higher plane than could be hoped for here), it would contribute far more than those 50 extra telephone tappers could ever contribute to the well-being and ultimately the security of this country.
Languages and the Department of External Affairs
Following the Summer School two articles appeared in the newspaper The Australian. Peter Hastings, the newspaper’s Asian Affairs Writer, criticized the narrowness of the definition of linguistic capacity put forward by Gregory Clark in Part IV of the foregoing proceedings. In turn, Gregory Clark and another former officer of the Department of External Affairs, Stephen Fitzgerald, replied to the criticism. By courtesy of the Editor of The Australian, we reprint these articles below.
OUR MEN IN ASIA: THE FACTS ON LANGUAGES
by Peter Hastings
The charge, made at the weekend by Mr Gregory Clark, that none of Australia’s 50 diplomats serving in Asia could fluently speak the language of the country where he was stationed, is narrowly technical and misleading.
Mr Clark, a former External Affairs officer and now a research student with the Australian National University in Canberra, spoke at the Institute of Political Science summer school on communism in Asia.
There are several important factors to examine if we are to talk about fluency in any realistic terms.
The External Affairs Department’s rating of language proficiency is based on that of the British Foreign Office. Languages are grouped in categories in a rather arbritrary way.
The most difficult group is Chinese and Japanese, in which there are three levels of proficiency-grades A, B and C.
Grade A in either Chinese or Japanese is rated a high level by scholars. However, the Foreign Office recognises an advanced level beyond A, which calls for the ability to read the Chinese or Japanese equivalent of Chaucer.
Mr Clark, who studied Chinese at the University of Hong Kong at External Affairs’ expense, had an A rating. Mr Jameson, the Australian counsellor in Tokyo, has an A rating in Japanese.
In this group, the three ratings carry yearly additional skill payments of $500, $240, and $150 respectively while in a post where the languages are needed professionally.
On return to Canberra, these sums are halved, subject to passing proficiency examinations.
A second group of languages comprises Arabic and Korean. There are also three ratings but no skill payment for grade C.
A third group of languages, curiously and arbitrarily composed, comprises Annamese, Burmese, Cambodian, Hindi, Indonesian, Laotian, Malay, Russian, Swahili, Thai, Urdu and Vietnamese.
These carry the usual three ratings, but the skill payments for grades A and B are only $400 and $200. There is no payment for grade C.
A fourth group of languages comprises all European tongues, for which the grade A skill payment is $150. Grades B and C are not paid.
The department believes that when they graduate, students of Indonesian from External Affairs should have a rating of B-plus. After a year in Djakarta, they are A grade-the same as Mr Clark in Chinese.
A senior British diplomat in Djakarta once told me he was impressed by the number of Australian officers speaking fluent Indonesian, and wished he could get young British diplomats with similar fluency.
This is to say nothing of Indonesian admiration for any Australian who speaks fluent Indonesian.
However, some officers in the department who are fluent in Asian languages have never been rated because they have never sat for an official examination. This includes a former ambassador.
Six months ago, the Djakarta embassy would have had at least six political officers whose Bahasa Indonesian was fluent-if fluency means the capacity to talk with any Bahasa-speaking Indonesian; to attend and understand any of the political rallies, including the President’s Independence Day speeches; and to read with reasonable proficiency Indonesian documents and newspapers.
At least three of those officers are still serving in Djakarta. All have completed a year’s course at the RAAF school of languages at Point Cook, Victoria.
However, these three have only grade B ratings from Point Cook -simply because the External Affairs rating system is tied to that of the Foreign Office, which has no proper evaluation system for Indonesian.
Fluency can be rated by examination-but it is also the result of familiarity with the country of posting and the degree of need to use the local language.
Mr Clark should also remember that, for diplomats in the early postwar years, there were few facilities for learning languages while in posts such as Delhi or Karachi. English was an official language, just as French was for Indo-China.
The number of Australian diplomats listing themselves with language proficiency ranging from merely basic to fluent is quite large.
They include Afrikaans 6, Burmese 3, Cambodian 2, Hindi 2, Indonesian 40, Korean 3, Swahili 6, Urdu 6, Tagalog 1, Lao 1, Dutch 15, Russian 29, Japanese 19, Chinese (Mandarin) 15, Thai 5.
Some fluent French speakers are also now serving in Indochinese posts.
Now that the Point Cook school is firmly established, there will be a steady stream of young officers with Asian language proficiency ratings who will possibly serve in the same posts several times during their careers.
WE MUST BE ABLE TO TALK ON LEVEL TERMS WITH ASIA
by Stephen Fitzgerald and Gregory Clark
The controversy which has arisen over Asian language speakers in the Department of External Affairs has demonstrated, first, the sensitivity of the Department of External Affairs on the subject and, second, a general unawareness in this country of what is involved in the learning of Asian languages.
External Affairs’ sensitivity has been shown by its attempts to refute the statement that no Australian diplomat in South and South-East Asia is fluent in the local language. This statement is true, and not only in the technical sense that no Australian diplomat in the area receives an A-grade bounty for language proficiency. Even if they had qualified for these bounties it is doubtful whether they could be rated as fluent.
Language-proficiency bounties are paid to those who pass various levels of language examinations based on exams set by the British Government. Having ourselves had some experience of the standard required for the A-grade bounty in Chinese when it was set at the level of the U.K. Advanced Exam, we can affirm that even this level was little more than a test of language competence. Fluency, in the sense of being able to conduct free conversation on a wide range of topics with educated speakers of the language, would have required as a minimum a further two years of constant practice. We have reason to believe that the same applies to other difficult languages.
In Chinese and Japanese, the A-grade bounty is now paid for passing a lower level of exam. This has been justified by External Affairs on the grounds that the advanced exam required a knowledge of the language well above fluency level and equivalent to a knowledge of Chaucerian English. From our own experience this is simply not true. Anyone who took the trouble to check the matter would find that the advanced exam is based entirely on material in everyday use.
This attitude of self-deception extends further. The department claims to provide full-time training in a wide range of Asian languages such as Thai, Burmese and Vietnamese, whereas in fact it usually provides no more than a three to four-month ad hoc course prior to posting. It claims to have some 29 Russian speakers ranging from basic to fluent whereas no more than two or three have ever qualified for the B-grade bounty, let alone the A-grade bounty.
The same applies to claims about 40 Indonesian speakers, 19 Japanese speakers, 15 Chinese speakers etc. These figures, which are regularly produced in reply to questions in Parliament and elsewhere, are based on lists which include all who claim to have now or have had in the past any knowledge, even the most elementary, of the language concerned. As for the claim that 12 of the 15 Chinese speakers have a knowledge above elementary level, we can state categorically that this is untrue.
We suggest that the lists of those who have qualified for language bounties are a more accurate guide. On this basis, the department has six B-grade Indonesian speakers, in Japanese three A-grade and one B-grade speaker, two A-grade Chinese speakers and one B-grade Thai speaker. And, as we have already suggested, even an A-grade qualification is open to wide interpretation.
(The claim by External Affairs that A-grade bounties cannot be paid in Indonesian because there is no British examination to serve as a basis is typical of the general apathy towards Asian languages. Examinations set and taken in Australia have been accepted by the Public Service Board for language-bounty payments. Why should it be impossible for us to set our own exams in Indonesian without reference to British standards?)
External Affairs’ anxiety to convince the public that it has the Asian language problem well under control is not only deceptive; it is counter-productive. The unwillingness of the Public Service Board and Treasury to provide sufficient funds for language training is understandable when at the same time External Affairs claims publicity to have such large numbers of language speakers. And to the extent that External Affairs believes its own claims the situation is worsened.
What is needed is a completely new approach to the question of Asian language. We need to break from the typical Anglo-Saxon view that Asians are quite happy to communicate in English and are overjoyed if they find a foreigner who knows a smattering of their own language. We need to stop congratulating ourselves on our believed ability to get on with Asians better than other Westerners, despite our language deficiencies.
Most countries with training programmes in Asian languages for their diplomats-Japan in particular, the United States, Britain, and Canada to some extent-make their language trainees live among the people for two to three years in the country free from full-time Embassy duties.
Australia is only now beginning to send its diplomats to Asia for on-the-spot training. Three have been sent to Hong Kong for Chinese (two of whom have since resigned), two to Japan (one of whom has resigned), one to India and one to Ceylon. Only those studying Chinese receive adequate basic training in Australia.
It Australia is to catch up even with other Western countries (there seems little possibility that we will ever be able to compete with the Japanese), a rapid improvement in language-training facilities is needed. At present there are only the RAAF language school at Point Cook and the Asian-language departments of the universities.
What is needed is a centre providing intensive 12 to 18 month courses in the main Asian languages and open to all. The centre, preferably, should be attached to a university so that students could combine language studies with degree courses in Asian history, politics, literature, philology, etc., provided at or in association with the centre. In addition there should be opportunities for follow-up training in Asia. The establishment of a centre for Asian languages and studies would provide graduates for External Affairs and other Government departments with interests in Asia. In addition, the departments could use the facilities of the centre to train their own people before posting them to Asia. In the case of External Affairs, follow-up training would ideally consist of sending junior officers to Asian posts as language attaches, spending most of their time on further study and work involving use of the language. In this way a body of competent, perhaps even fluent, Asian language speakers would gradually accumulate.