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Former Australian diplomat recalls her China story

Updated: 2022-07-11 07:51 ( XINHUA )
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CANBERRA-Fifty years ago, when Jocelyn Chey was among a group of Australians who sent their government a telegram congratulating it for establishing diplomatic relations with China, her life was changed.

Speaking fluent Mandarin, she later became the first cultural counselor at the Australian embassy in China, and worked as a senior diplomat in the country three times. She spent nearly 20 years in both the mainland and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, during which period she met her Chinese-Australian husband.

If she could travel back in time to meet her younger self, Chey says, she would use a very Australian expression, "hang in there", as encouragement.

"It means that, even when things are not always going smoothly, never give up," she says. "There are so many things you can't predict in life, but don't give up hope."

Her connection with China started more or less by coincidence.

"I sat down with my friend and looked at all the courses I could do at the University of Sydney. We noticed it was the first time they offered enrollment in Chinese Studies," she recalls, beaming.

At that time, she knew nothing about China, neither its culture nor the history, but she made the bold decision because she always felt that, compared with learning a European language, it was more important for Australia to understand Asia.

She and her friend both enrolled for the first Chinese class that the university offered. At the end of the year, her friend gave up, saying the language was too difficult. But for Chey, if something is difficult, she will try harder.

She did so well that her professor later encouraged her to apply for a scholarship. So, she went to the University of Hong Kong. It was at this time that she met her husband.

Chey stayed in Hong Kong for six years, before going back to work in Sydney.

In 1972, an opportunity arose when she was on her first tour to the Chinese mainland. She was in a university delegation looking at education in China, and they spent three weeks in China between November and December.

Then she heard the news that a Labor government had been elected. Several days later, she was told that Gough Whitlam, the then prime minister, had established diplomatic ties with China.

The excited Chey, in Beijing at that time, went to the telegraph office with her friends and sent a telegram to their government. "We said, 'we'd like to congratulate you,' and we signed the message as 'the Australians in China'."

She had previously written to the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Overseas Trade, saying, "If you recognize China, you're going to need more people who know something about it, so maybe you would like to offer me a job."

She got replies from both departments, and thus moved to Canberra. She then became the person responsible for trade relations with China, with her first task being to negotiate a trade agreement.

She accompanied the Minister for Overseas Trade at the time, Jim Cairns, on a visit to China.

In the following years, Chey was posted to work as a diplomat to China three times: twice in the mainland and once in Hong Kong. In comparison, she said she enjoyed the second posting in the 1980s to the mainland more than the first.

It was just after the reform and opening-up, when China started to grow quickly. Restrictions that foreigners once had were lifted.

She made a lot of friends, and traveled to different parts of the country, from the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in the northwest to Hainan province in the south, to Heilongjiang province in the northeast.

In fact, compared with being a diplomat, she enjoyed a job she had with the International Wool Secretariat more, because her responsibility at that time was to work for a common goal that was good for both Australia and China: It meant more demand for Australian wool and more demand for Chinese wool products.

"We both had the same project and the same goal in mind," she says. "I have to say that's the time that I enjoyed more than working for the government."

In relation to China, Chey says her husband influenced her a lot. He was a collector, so their house was full of Chinese artifacts. He got on well with different people, so she had many Chinese friends, including artist Huang Yongyu, whose hometown, the township of Fenghuang in Central China's Hunan province, provided the Australian woman with her best traveling memory.

Talking about her husband, Chey says, "I wouldn't have made so many good friends in China without him also being involved".

Over the decades, she also witnessed drastic changes in China. "It's like a different country compared with 50 years ago," she says.

In 2019, she went to Beijing with her son and grandson. Her grandson had never been to China before and her son hadn't been there for about 25 years. They not only marveled at the city's physical change, but also felt changes in the people.

According to Chey, one thing they would always do in Beijing in the past was to take a bus. In the past, they used to see passengers being pushed onto the bus, but then she saw people getting on in a more orderly way.

Talking about the relationship between Australia and China, the former senior diplomat suggests that the two countries could cooperate more.

"I go back to what I said about the time that I really enjoyed the most, that was working with friends in China, when you're working on the same project, both as a part of a team," she says.

In retrospect, she notes that her past experience opened a window for her into a completely new world. "Learning another language, learning about another culture, broadens your mind and allows you to realize the world is much bigger and much richer."

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Australia. Chey, who witnessed the relationship from the very beginning, believes that it is an opportunity to "look back and see how far we've come".

Using the metaphor of mountain climbing, she says philosophically: "It's like … you turn round and look, and say, 'I've climbed up so high', but then you look in front of you and you can see that it is not the top of the mountain. You've still got a long way to go. Let's just have a cup of tea and admire the view, and that will give us more strength to go on climbing."

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The news conference of the 2022 China International Travel Mart, Kunming, Yunnan province. [Photo/Chinaculture.org]

The 2022 China International Travel Mart was launched in Kunming, Yunnan province today. The three-day event opened at the Kunming Dianchi Lake International Convention and Exhibition Centre, with a theme focusing on smart innovation and high-quality tourism industry aspects.

The news conference was held in the city on Thursday. Zhang Xilong, first class inspector of the Bureau of the International Communication and Cooperation of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China and Lou Kewei, deputy-director of the Department of Culture and Tourism of Yunnan province presented the meeting along with academy and entrepreneur representatives.

The conference introduced the preparations and relevant activities of the mart, such as a forum on smart tourism and innovation, a symposium on international travel communication and cooperation in the framework of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and a workshop on the China-Laos railway’s contribution to building an Asian community with a shared future.

According to the news meeting, the 2022 travel mart covers about 80,000 square meters, with about 4,200 standard booths. 71 countries and regions attended the event both online and offline, and 31 domestic provinces, cities and autonomous regions and 261 independent exhibition teams.

Online services will be provided to the overseas buyers and sellers in the light of time zones. They could also have a face-to-face negotiation at the mart as well.

The mart also has diverse displays to show culture and tourism, physical education and tourism, as well as overseas tourism and museums.

The National Cultural Heritage Administration, the Palace Museum and museums from other provinces will attend the travel mart.

At the event, Yunnan province will have 2,000 standard booths in four separate sections; each will show culture tourism, healthy lifestyles, physical education tourism and culture tourism consumption.

The travel mart will also stick to the rules of pandemic prevention and control while having the activities go on smoothly.

The news conference of the 2022 China International Travel Mart, Kunming, Yunnan province. [Photo/Chinaculture.org]
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