Stephen Fitzgerald on Australia’s Recognition of China in 1972

COMPELLING VIEW: Friend of the AIIA NSW and the first Australian Ambassador to China after opening of relations in 1972, Stephen Fitzgerald, was interviewed on Geraldine Doogue’s Saturday Extra (Radio National) this weekend. The interview focuses on Dr Fitzgerald’s new essay for the Whitlam Institute to mark the 40th anniversary of opening relations with the Peoples Republic of China. During the interview, Dr Fitzgerald is direct on Australia’s current geo-strategic positioning vis-a-vis the US and China: we need not choose between the US and China.

We have entered into a new arrangement with the United States, which is essentially a military alliance – a reinvigoration of the military alliance – and it is directed at China. We have done that without any public debate from the Government, without announcement of what the Government is committing us to… and we have effectively taken sides in what is a contest between the US and China and no one can deny that there is this contest between the two… and in my view it is unwise to be taking sides in such a rivalry with two countries that are so important to us… what we need to do is have an independent foreign policy, to be a client of neither, but a friend of both.

Dr Fitzgerald’s essay reflects on history and on strong and formative political leadership on tough issues, which provokes interesting comparisons of the politics of 1971 with the politics of today.

What makes a watershed between the Whitlam approach to asia and the conservatives’ is that in that china visit he not only challenged the policy, he took on the fear, head on, by an act of personal leadership: the fear of China, the fear of Vietnam, the fear of Asia that underlay the White Australia policy, but also the fear of being independent, of offending the US, of taking issue with it on foreign policy. He didn’t exactly articulate the visit up-front in this way, but he believed that to change the relationship with Asia in substance there had to be a change in the way Australians thought and felt about it, from negative to positive.

You can stream the interview audio here:

And the essay is available in full here:

This compelling read was recommended by the AIIA NSW’s Business Manager, Jennifer Sayle, with the text above prepared by Councillor Shannon Barnes.


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