Australia’s anti-China obsession

Sinophobia is embedded in the Australian DNA. Canberra’s Vietnam War follies were an early proof.

Our Leftwing likes to believe that Canberra was dragged into the Vietnam war by the US. The reality was the exact opposite: Canberra, with its obsessive fear of China, helped drag Washington into that war.

Indeed, Canberra was so obsessed about China that in Moscow in 1964 I got to see first hand something hard to believe – an Australian foreign minister trying to drag the Soviet leadership into the Vietnam war on the side of the West.

Myself and some others have written about the first of these events – the Waller-Renouf early 1960’s warnings to Canberra from Washington that some in the US leadership were going wobbly about the war and that a stronger Australian commitment was needed to silence them.

But not many know about how Paul Hasluck in 1964 rushed to Moscow to persuade the new, post-Khrushchev Soviet leadership to help us defeat China in Vietnam. About the Kosygin-Gromyko reaction to this piece of insanity the less said the better.

But even after the Vietnam war ended and there was clear evidence China was not involved the obsession continued.

Most see the post pingpong diplomacy honeymoon as proving a genuine pro-China mood in Australia destroyed by Xi Jinping’s current hard line. In fact the mood was only skin-deep, as the present ALP government is trying hard to prove. It was factional and uncoordinated. It was also the chance result of two accidents.

The pro-China mood was triggered by China’s sudden 1971 pingpong diplomacy. But Australia originally was not supposed to join that diplomacy; Canberra had made elaborate plans to have its table-tennis team go to Taiwan rather than China. This plan was only discovered, and thwarted, by a last minute chance in which I was closely involved – solving the reluctance of the middle-aged Australian team leader to sleep on Tokyo tatami mats.

The other accident came from the mistaken US belief that the 1970’s Sino-Soviet dispute was irreparable and that China could be drafted into Washington’s anti-Soviet crusade. As a result Mr Kissinger visited Beijing in 1971 just in time to rescue Mr Whitlam’s post-pingpong visit to China from destructive rightwing media and political criticism in Australia.

The resulting favourable publicity for that visit triggered the pro-China mood now being methodically destroyed by our immature anti-China hawks. An example has been their childish efforts to claim that suggestions by Beijing officials about how to improve relations amounted to formal demands to which Australia had to kowtow.

Canberra lacks the depth and experience needed for a sensible China policy. Beijing realises that, which is why it has chosen to sanction Australia as a warning to others.

More detail about these events in my book ‘In Fear of China’ and on the website