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For the Record - Gough Whitlam's Mission to China, 1971


Graham Freudenberg AM | The Whitlam Legacy vol 3

Speaking to a conference of historians in July 2001, Gough Whitlam said “I make two pleas: Go to the documents; check the chronology”. It is in this spirit that the Whitlam Institute is publishing this collection of historical documents related to Gough Whitlam's historic mission to China in 1971.

Graham Freudenberg, a member of the 1971 Labor delegation generously contributed an introduction to this publication. As an eyewitness and participant in this historical drama, his recollections of the events of July 1971 bring these documents to life.

The publication begins with the simple two sentence telegram that began one of the most daring ventures in the history of Australian foreign policy – Whitlam's request to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai for the reception of an Australian Labor Party delegation to China to discuss the terms on which a future Whitlam Government might establish diplomatic relations with the PRC. The three articles that follow were written by Whitlam for The Australian, which in return, covered the air fares for several members of the delegation. These articles capture the sense of excitement and adventure that was felt by the delegation during its journey into what was then a remote, almost mysterious country. Whitlam makes the case forcefully, frankly and persuasively for a major reappraisal of Australia's relationship with China, and the abandonment of Cold War fears and the follies they produced. The transcript taken by AAP journalist David Barnett of the discussions between Whitlam and Zhou Enlai takes the reader directly into the room in the Great Hall of the People, where history was being made, and a new relationship was being forged. Whitlam's report to the National Press Club in Canberra sums up the significance of the mission, and Whitlam's hopes for a more cooperative, engaged relationship between Australia and its region in the future.

In faithfulness to these documents, original typographical and transcription errors have been retained in this publication, so sharp-eyed readers may detect the occasional error or inconsistency that may alter the intended meaning of some passages.

These documents are the raw materials of history. In transporting us back to the threshold of a new era in Australia-China relations, these documents remind us that what is was not also so, and that mature foreign policy requires mature leadership. We trust that in recalling this mission – one of the most bold and inspired initiatives in the history of Australian foreign policy – we will prompt readers to contemplate what might be achieved today with similar courage, ingenuity and far-sightedness in conducting Australia’s international relations.

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