Article written 2017 and regarded too controversial for the public

Article written 2017 and regarded too controversial for the public Pearls and Irritations blog run by ex Australian Ambassador to Japan, John Menadue. Menadue now decries the pernicious influence of ASIO on Australian foreign policy:

I have spent almost my entire adult as an Australian involved closely with Asia – a span of sixty years. I have had to be fluent in the languages of China, Russia and Japan. I have been closely involved with these societies – politics, foreign policy, business, economics, education – and have been keen to share those experiences with Australian colleagues. But with one or two exceptions – notably a recent invitation to talk to the Australian Institute of International Affairs – I have met with studied disinterest, or worse. For all the brave words, Australia is either not interested in or afraid of Asia.

I begin with Japan, where I have spent close to 40 years. Apart from the few occasions where former friends or colleagues were posted to the Embassy there, I have never had any serious contact from the Australian presence there. This, despite being appointed to over 30 official committees, some handling major trade or economic policy decisions, and having personal contacts with several foreign ministers and prime ministers (one, Morihiro Hosokawa, 1993-4, even had me on his action committee).

I have had zero contact with Australia-Japan Foundation which, together with John Menadue, I helped establish to promote educational contacts with Japan. This despite having been a professor at Sophia University, president of Tama University, and vice-president/co-founder of the very successful Akita International Liberal Arts University now rated with Tokyo University for difficulty of entrance. Nor were they interested in my being appointed to several Education Ministry and Cabinet committees/commissions on education reform.

I have published six books on Japan in Japan, one with sales of 170,000, seeking to explain the Japanese to themselves. I have been asked to give more than 2,000 lectures across Japan and invited to contribute to virtually every newspaper and magazine of note in Japan. But I barely see the people on the Australian side supposed to be handling media, cultural or other relations with Japan. Often we do not get to know who they are.

Such contacts as there are have often been part of ugly ASIO stunts, notably the botched Paul Keating scholarship scheme for alleged post-graduate research at the Australian National University (details at Chapter 19a, Life Story, which includes details of my being also set up for an ugly article in The Australian denigrating my Japan activities and which required legal action to get corrections). Such are the rewards for being an Australian trying to make it alone in Japan.

Over China it has not been much easier. I was the first Australian foreign service official to be trained in Chinese and was later able, when working in Tokyo, to persuade an Australian table tennis team to ignore Canberra’s objections and join the 1971 pingpong diplomacy in China, a move that arguably set the stage for Whitlam’s election victory in 1972 and the breakthrough in relations with China. My reward? Total subsequent exclusion from anything to do with China, and denial of even a minor post at the Embassy there which I had sought to revive China contacts, language and interests.

Earlier I had with enormous difficulty managed in 1968, as an ex-China-desk diplomat, to write and have published a book on China’s foreign policy and Australia’s foolish intervention in Vietnam. Named ‘In Fear of China’, it was perhaps the only book in Australia from that era of first anti-China hysteria, and then adulation, that could be republished today without change. All it earned me was a panning by ANU ‘experts’, total refusal of reviews by main media, and a ASIO black-listing for appointments to several Australian universities. Fortunately the translation of that book into Japanese, and in Japan where it was appreciated, was greatly to help my later career in Japan.

Over Russia I cannot complain of being ignored following my two years there in the Khrushchev era since I was not able to detect any Australian outfit seriously interested in that part of the world. Apart, that is, from ASIO which once had me debriefed by their top Soviet expert who decided I was a Soviet agent because I had identified the KGB headquarters in Odessa (said expert did not know that the KGB advertised its building presence in the USSR with a big brass plate reading Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti). They also tried to use a telephone plant against me who gave himself way by using pre-revolutionary Russia (uezd instead of raiyon, for district). All that, I should add, was my sum result, in Australia, from years of painfully self-taught Russian and extensive Soviet experience. Needless to say, no job offers.

My being able to report firsthand the extraordinary Hasluck Kremlin attempt in 1964 to persuade the Soviet leadership to join the West in Vietnam to block the Chinese ‘aggression’ there – a detail of immense historical importance – met yawns from Australian ‘experts’ but great interest in North America.

What saddens me most is that my painful 1960’s efforts to research and publish the real origins of the Sino-Soviet dispute – now accepted as a major Sovietology breakthrough – made no impression on the Canberra ideologues determined to believe the dispute proved Chinese aggressive intentions and therefore the need to intervene in the Vietnam war. The only positive reaction was from a Chinese scholar in Canberra, Lo Hui-min. Nor have any of those ideologues posing as scholars shown interest in the remarkable invitation to me in 2015 for fact-finding interviews with bureau heads in the Russian foreign ministry followed by a visit to Crimea.

Several factors create these problems. One is intense factionalism. Those with expertise on one nation create their cliques which then seek to expel possible rivals. The main China clique is particularly guilty. The Japan clique too, but it is comatose.

This combines with intellectual narrowness. The China expert will have little interest in Japan, and vice versa. Ditto for Russia. Indeed breadth of interest can well be an excuse for clique exclusion, which means that these narrow-interest people are easily excluded from policy decisions. In the many Japanese conference halls devoted to policy debates – Amagi Kaigi for example – I have met every kind of European and US expert. I have never, repeat never, met an Australian.

Hierarchy is another factor. I have met many young Australians who, thanks mainly to exchange programs, can speak good Japanese.

But in the organisations needing Japanese speakers their superiors make sure they rarely get ahead. One leading official here used to refer to them as his ‘Jappies’ – fit for translation and interpreting work and nothing else. The time and effort those ‘Jappies’ have put into learning Japanese properly leaves them far behind in the race to hack out bureaucratic or academic careers.

Finally we now have the dead, and ignorant, hand of Australian bureaucracy. Embassy people abroad now spend much of their time filing reports to Canberra, and are promoted on that basis. Few get out into the societies they are supposed to understand, unlike in the immediate postwar pre-bureaucracy days when some went on to become genuine country experts. The bureaucratic embrace of the useless APEC organisation is Canberra’s excuse for ignoring Asian reality.

Many of the top people involved with Asia, whether in bureaucracy or academia, do not themselves speak any Asian language. That hardly any of our ambassadors to the four countries I have been involved with over the years could speak the language of the nation to which they were accredited says it all. Sending people with political experience makes sense. But not superannuated bureaucrats.

Finally there is the pernicious ASIO/ASIS presence that distorts almost every serious effort at Asian involvement by people who do not toe the Canberra line, or even by some who do and are seduced into cooperation.