BACKSTAGE In Asia

Can’t we afford diplomats in the Orient?

BLAIR FRASER January 15 1955
BACKSTAGE In Asia

Can’t we afford diplomats in the Orient?

BLAIR FRASER January 15 1955

BOMBAY

IF ASIA is really the danger zone that some people say it is, then the Canadian Department of External Affairs has shown a curious judgment in deploying its men.

In all south and southeast Asia we have no more diplomatic missions, and even fewer diplomatic personnel, than we have in the Scandinavian countries alone. There are many more Canadian missions and officers, about fifty percent more, in Central and South America than in the whole Orient from Turkey to Japan.

Even at that the situation has vastly improved just recently. For instance, we now have a new ambassador to Egypt. While Egypt was plunging into the revolution that kicked out Farouk, Canada’s sole representative in Cairo was an acting trade commissioner, an Englishman who had never been in Canada except for occasional visits. (Since Egypt was then embroiled with the British over Suez, it was the last country where Canada would be suitably represented by an Englishman.)

With Egypt and Lebanon now covered and a chargé in Israel, we are no longer totally unmanned in the Middle East. But we still have nobody in Iran, which has been a hot spot in the cold war for nearly nine years. We have nobody in Iraq, or Syria, or Jordan.

East of India, we have nobody in Burma, nobody in Thailand, and no diplomatic mission in any of the three countries of Indo-China. (We have a lot of Canadians there on the International Supervisory Commission, but that’s different.)

We still recognize Chiang Kai-shek as President of China and we never tire of lecturing the Americans on what to do about him, but we have never had an ambassador in Taipei. We’ve no civilian reporting from Korea, either.

In countries where Canada has no representative, External Affairs gets its political information from the British and the Americans. Both are amazingly generous and helpful to Canadians, even to itinerant reporters. Until quite recently Canada considered these channels of information adequate for most of the countries in the world.

But of all regions the Orient is the worst for this kind of secondhand reporting. It’s the very place where the British and the Americans most frequently and most widely disagree.

The two services are friendly enough, and get on cordially in all Eastern capitals. But they give very different appraisals of what’s going on there, and what it may portend. On everything from SEATO to Suez, you get one appreciation from the U. S. Embassy and another from the British.

Canada, presumably, has to toss coins back in Ottawa to decide which one is right.

LIKE A GOOD MANY anomalies in the government service, this one grows out of a difference of opinion between two departments. In this case, the two are External Affairs and Finance.

All finance ministers tend to regard External Affairs with suspicion. They bristle at any threats of expansion. The nine missions and staff of forty-four in Latin America are relatively old established posts, and besides they all had the backing of Trade and Commerce; but embassies in Rangoon or Bangkok would be extravagant.

External Affairs, for its part, would undoubtedly be delighted to have half a dozen new embassies in the Middle and Far East—provided, of course, that its estimates were raised enough to pay for them. External would, however, produce mountains of documents to prove how impossible it is to reduce the Latin American establishment, or to let one legation look after three countries in Scandinavia.

It would be interesting, though, to hear the government as a whole defend the present setup. Perhaps some parliamentary committee will ask both Mike Pearson and Walter Harris to explain, preferably on the same afternoon, why Canada must have an ambassador and four men in Bogota, but can’t afford anybody in Teheran.

AS IF EAST AND WEST didn’t have enough things to keep them apart, the State of Bombay has devised a new one. Of all things, it’s prohibition.

Bombay has been bone dry since 1949. The prohibition law has been amended several times to plug loopholes of one kind or another, and in its present form it effectively discourages Indians and Westerners from attending each other’s parties.

Legislators of Bombay were tolerant enough to allow for the foibles of the bibulous West. Foreigners here can get permits with which they can buy four “units” — bottles—-of liquor a month. There are even public bars in Bombay for the convenience of foreign permit holders.

But though foreigners may thus go to the devil in their own way, the law specifically forbids them to drink in the presence of an Indian. Even Indian permit holders—of which there are a few, ostensibly for reasons of health — may attend drinking parties only if they bring and drink their own liquor.

The law is not strictly observed or enforced, but it isn’t wholly ignored either—-it’s been enforced often enough to make a host uneasy. Also, official parties by the consular corps are the commonest source of free drinks in Bombay as elsewhere, and of course foreign officials must, and do, observe the law scrupulously.

Hence, when liquor is served at official parties, Indians are not invited. And when Indians are invited, on occasions like national days and that sort of thing, the foreigners know it’ll be a dry party so they stay home in droves.

PROHIBITION HERE, as in Canada, is a thorny and a phony political issue. Recently the Congress Party Government in the new State of Andhra, near Madras, was overturned by a no-confidence vote because it refused to implement a commission report urging repeal of prohibition. All the government’s enemies teamed up to vote for the return of liquor—but now that an election’s coming up the prophets say Congress will win on the issue. The Communists, by the way, are in the anti-prohibition group.

In Bombay it’s a nuisance to some but, as usual, a boon to others. Plenty of local citizens have become newly rich on it.

Traditionally, India has always drunk homemade hooch. Distilling was one “cottage industry” Mahatma Gandhi didn’t encourage, but it’s the only one that really thrives.

Now, in Bombay and its environs, the industry is thriving as never before. A bottle of home brew fetches almost as much as a bottle of real whisky would have cost in the bad old days.

As for real whisky, it sells in Bombay for as much as twelve dollars a bottle— sixty rupees. In the Portuguese colony of Goa, a little way down the coast, a bottle of the best Scotch can be bought for five rupees, or about a dollar.

Ships from Goa are plying up and down the coast all the time. Any enterprising Indian who can buy a bottle in Goa and sell it in Bombay makes a clear profit equal to a month’s pay for the average unskilled laborer.

No wonder a lot of new homes are going up on the outskirts of Bombay, handsome and even luxurious dwellings for families who before lived in palm-thatch huts.

No wonder, either, that prohibition seems to have come to stay in Bombay. It’ll be as hard to repeal here as it was in Prince Edward Island, and for the same reason. ★