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Volume 22: Australia and Recognition of the People’s Republic of China, 1949–1972


Canberra, [12] August 1958


Australian Representation in Formosa

1. Australia recognizes the Nationalist Government of China. That Government maintains an Embassy in Canberra. The question is whether we should restore reciprocation.

Arguments in Favour:

2. (1) Our information about Formosa is poor. Occasional visitors are confined to limited paths. Access to the six million Formosans is very difficult. The information and advice of Commonwealth and U.S. missions, customary in other places, are either not available or are not be accepted without question. The U.K. has a consulate. The value of U.S. information is affected by their constant effort to justify their policy of supporting the Chiang Government. European countries are remote and relatively disinterested. Australia cannot be disinterested in crises to come–whether they arise from threats of either side to invade the other, defections to Peking, or from Formosan nationalist demands. Changes are inevitable, e.g., Formosans now outnumber the Chinese in the armed forces. A post of our own could cultivate contacts with the Formosans and Chinese and report with particular attention to Australia's own interests.

(2) Australia also needs to be able to exercise some influence on the Nationalist Government, on the American Government, and on the Formosans.

It is Australia's objective to see that Formosa remains in non–Communist hands. As and when an international settlement recognizes the reality of Communist control over the mainland of China and Peking is recognized, we must contemplate that the emergence in Formosa of a government primarily representative of the Formosan people rather than the Chinese, may be our objective. It would need to be vigorously argued in the United Nations against the proponents of transfer to Peking. It could be–though this is not imminent–that the Formosan people will set the pace. Australia's voice will not count for much unless we have an Australian representative on the spot who can discern what is happening and exercise whatever influence might be possible in events in Formosa.

(3) A renewal of Australian representation in Formosa would also be evidence to other countries in Asia and to their Chinese minorities of Australian confidence in Formosa remaining under non–Communist control (but this in particular is subject to strong countervailing arguments below).

(4) An Australian representative in Formosa would be able to handle Australian consular and trade matters (which by themselves would not justify opening a Mission).

(5) Reciprocity of a Mission already in Canberra involves no new formal act; it is the normal consequence of recognition. The reasons we gave the Chinese for not reciprocating are so thin that we should assume they believe that our real reasons lie in political policy on the China question.

Arguments against:

3. There is a body of opinion (e.g. represented in the Foreign Affairs Committee)2 which would say that the true objective should be to strengthen the morale and prestige of the Nationalist Government qua Government of China. But this proposition points to some of the arguments against re–opening a Mission:

(1) It would be regarded by many governments and people in Asia as evidence of unreality in the thinking of the Australian Government about conditions and prospects in Asia–evidence of lack of desire to work towards a modus vivendi with the Chinese Government in Peking that is and will continue to be the major power in Asia, and which looks like soon becoming a major world power. What would in truth be a diplomatic formality would probably be interpreted as a new, positive step towards supporting Chiang Kai–shek on the China issue. We would separate ourselves further from some Asian Governments, and no doubt from some minority opinion in those other Asian countries which still deny Peking and recognize the Nationalists.

(2) Many people in Australia would have the same reaction to the Asians referred to in the preceding paragraph. Already, many consider it unrealistic to continue to recognize the Nationalist Government as the Government of China. The re–opening of our embassy would be regarded as a further step away from a more realistic attitude. The extent to which this feeling should influence a government decision is a matter for Ministers to judge.

(3) The establishment of an Australian embassy in Formosa would be resented by Peking. It could create difficulties for Australian trade with Communist China (although re–opening of our embassy would be within the framework of the policy which Peking presumably already at[tributes]3 to us).

(4) We would have to withdraw our embassy again if Formosa remains a province of China and the Americans voluntarily or by necessity withdraw their recognition from the Nationalists (or Australian policy changes). Withdrawal is a simple matter–and the assumptions postulated seem unlikely in the short run.


4. The purpose is to get more information about Formosa, the better to enable us to participate in critical policy–making when present American policies become untenable.

5. The problem is to do this in a way which does not have a different effect–identify us with the belief that Chiang Kai–shek will again become the government of mainland China and separate us from those who think that this is wishful thinking.

6. We have discussed with the Trade Department the device of sending a Trade Commissioner with a political staff which would remain after he had been withdrawn. But the Trade Department considers there are difficulties.

7. It would be a mistake for Australia to send an Ambassador.

8. I would not wish a decision for or against the opening of a mission without careful deliberation. I recommend that Cabinet defer any decision until after the elections4 and that I so inform the Foreign Affairs Committee.5

[NAA: A1838, TS519/3/1, vii]

1 This paper appears to have been prepared by Tange on Casey's behalf. It was handed to Casey on 12 August.

2 Established on 27 February 1952, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs consisted of Coalition Senators and Members of Parliament–in lieu of the Australian Labor Party's refusal to join–who were empowered to discuss and make recommendations on foreign policy issues. The ALP accepted membership of the Committee in May 1967.

3 This word has been corrupted in the original; only the letters 'at' remain.

4 Federal elections took place on 22 November.

5 On 13 August, Cabinet decided, without memorandum, not to approve the recommendation of the Foreign Affairs Committee to establish a diplomatic post on Formosa.

Last Updated: 26 November 2015
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