Whitlam in China

22 Oct 2014

Gough Whitlam’s visit to China in 1971 was a turning point in relations between the two countries. But luck played a part in this audacious mission

The 1971 visit to China was not an exercise in political opportunism; it was a bold expression of Whitlam’s foreign policy vision, which prioritised regionalism and internationalism over ties with “great and powerful friends.” As early as 1954, Whitlam endorsed recognition of the People’s Republic of China; he was the first member of parliament to do so. His campaign had been long and consistent and it was driven by his passion for reason and his contempt of ideological distortions in international affairs. It simply did not make sense in his ordered, legalistic mind that Australia would ignore the political existence of a quarter of the world’s population. Whitlam hoped his 1971 visit would mark the end of Australian thinking about China in terms of red and yellow perils…

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Photo: Gough Whitlam speaking to journalists after his return from China in mid 1971. National Library of Australia

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