take care of China taught by two pandas: The Nationwide Curiosity sequence


I travelled to Beijing to take up the place of cultural counsellor on the Australian Embassy in April 1985. The Australian ambassador throughout my three years in Beijing was the good Professor Ross Garnaut. He was targeted on outcomes and inspired me to go forth and broaden Australia’s cultural engagement with the peace of mind that I had his full help — and behind him, that of the prime minister.

My temporary was expansive. Other than tradition within the creative sense, and sport, which is a dynamic a part of the Australian ethos, I used to be additionally accountable for the applications of the Australia-China Council; for educational exchanges; for science, know-how and drugs; for conservation and the setting; for legislation and accounting; for the Australian college students in China (though not the Chinese language college students simply starting to go to Australia); even for agriculture. Certainly, for something that got here to the embassy that was not politics, commerce, help or defence.


In my function as cultural counsellor, I negotiated the mortgage of two large pandas as China’s birthday current to mark the celebration of Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988. For 2 years, I met month-to-month with my counterparts from the Ministry of Forestry and Fisheries, who had accountability for making the mandatory preparations on the Chinese language facet. I used to name these “three teapot conferences”; profession diplomats would possibly name them “full and frank discussions”.

We’d cowl an immense quantity of element on issues similar to transport, safety, insurance coverage, feeding, services on the Australian zoos, quarantine and veterinary necessities, journey and residing preparations for the animals’ keepers, and, in fact, charges. The Chinese language are masterful negotiators — on this, they solely actually respect as equals the Japanese — however I discovered shortly, resisting what I thought to be over-the-top “hire a panda” phrases and commonly retreating to a different cup of tea, and speak of “friendship between our two nice leaders” and/or “two nice peoples”.

We began every assembly specializing in areas the place we might discover settlement, working via points level by level. Then, once we got here to a stumbling block and couldn’t discover frequent floor on a selected clause, we might put that concern apart, have one more cup of tea, speak about friendship, and agree to satisfy once more the next month.

And so it went, month by month, till the Melbourne and Sydney zoos, which had every invested over $1 million to construct new enclosures, develop the suitable bamboos and import large quantities of panda merchandise for his or her retailers, panicked, upon which each the ambassador and I obtained a gentle stream of Australian authorities directions to enroll.

April 18, 1983: Chinese language premier Zhao Ziyang and prime minister Bob Hawke chat at Parliament Home in Canberra.Credit score:Capix

I refused to simply accept what I believed had been unreasonable phrases, and the ambassador trusted my judgment. I attempted to reassure the Australian events that there was completely no probability that the pandas wouldn’t arrive on schedule, as a result of this had been agreed by the 2 leaders on the time —prime minister Bob Hawke and premier Zhao Ziyang — plus it had been broadly publicised, and so a severe concern of “face” was concerned.


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