The journalist as diplomat

In September 1973 Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett was approached by an Indian official in Algiers and asked about his relations with the Chinese. India and China were in the midst of a border dispute and Burchett was widely known in Eastern diplomatic circles. He was asked to feel out the Chinese mood for reconciliation and even though the Chinese snubbed the offer, Burchett had this to say in his autobiography:

In disputes between states there are more than reasons of face involved in a leader’s taking the initiative in proposing a solution. There are plenty of examples for the side that takes the initiative to be considered by the other side as weakening and so the pressures should be increased to make him crack. But for either side to reply to a journalist’s well-placed questions involves neither loss of face nor a weakening of a bargaining position. Also, for a journalist to use his unique position to transmit discreetly a bit of information from one side or the other to get clogged machinery moving (without making newspaper headlines out of it) is a useful and honorable thing to do. I have no apologies for having acted as a “drop of oil” on such occasions. (At the barricades, 210)

 

Wilfred Burchett was said to be the only man who was on intimate terms with both Henry Kissinger and Ho Chi Minh.

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About Daniel Fitzsimmons

Staff writer for the Manhattan weeklies Our Town, Our Town Downtown and the West Side Spirit.
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