Stephen FitzGerald (diplomat)

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Stephen FitzGerald AO
Stephen Arthur FitzGerald

1938 (age 80–81)
Hobart, Tasmania
Alma materUniversity of Tasmania
Australian National University
OccupationPublic servant, diplomat
Known forAmbassador to China,
Gay FitzGerald (nee Overton) (m. 1961)
ChildrenIngrid, Justine and Jack

Stephen Arthur FitzGerald AO (born 1938) is a former Australian diplomat. He was Australian Ambassador to China, its first to the People's Republic of China, between 1973 and 1976.

Life and career[edit]

Birth, education and early career[edit]

FitzGerald was born in Hobart, Tasmania in 1938.[1] He was educated at the Launceston Church Grammar School, graduating in 1956.[2] Between 1957 and 1960, FitzGerald attended the University of Tasmania.[3] One of the courses FitzGerald took, Asian History run by New Zealander George Wilson, helped him to develop an interest in Asia.[4]

FitzGerald joined the Australian Public Service in the Department of External Affairs in 1961.[5] He learnt to speak Chinese at RAAF Point Cook.[6] He arrived in Hong Kong in 1962 on official duties, which he described as the "centre of China-watching".[4] He enjoyed his time there immensely, but did feel uncomfortable with the city being still being a British colony.[4]

He resigned from the external affairs department in 1966 when he disagreed with the then government's support for the United States' military intervention during the Vietnam War and also the government's refusal to recognise the Communist government of China.[5]

FitzGerald received his PhD from the Australian National University.[5] During his studies, in 1968, he visited Quanzhou, Shanghai and several other cities on a student tour at the height of the Chinese Cultural Revolution—the streets were filled with posters, loud speakers and truck-loads of drummers broadcasting to pedestrians.[4] His thesis discussed contemporary China’s relations with overseas Chinese.[3]

In 1971, FitzGerald was appointed Fellow in Far Eastern Studies at the Australian National University.[7]

China: FitzGerald becomes advisor then ambassador[edit]

In 1971, FitzGerald, as China adviser, was a key member of a political delegation to China led by then Labor opposition leader Gough Whitlam.[8] The delegation was there to discuss diplomatic relations.[9]

While Australian Ambassador to China between 1973 and 1976, FitzGerald and his staff were sending reports back to Australia forecasting the economic transformation of China, predicting that China would become the region's dominant power and transition into a period of 10%+ growth.[5] His brief whilst ambassador was to create a relationship between Australia and China.[4] His first official ambassadorial meeting was with then Chinese Foreign Minister Ji Pengfei in April 1973.[10] In June 1976, Prime Minister Fraser visited China.[11][12]

FitzGerald was appointed Australia's first (and only) Ambassador to North Korea in 1975. He presented his credentials to North Korea's vice president on 30 May 1975.[13]

After his ambassadorial appointment[edit]

On returning to Australia in 1976, FitzGerald rejoined the Australian National University.[14][15] In 1977 he embarked on a lecture tour, giving a series of talks on China throughout Australia.

In 1980, FitzGerald established a private consultancy for Australian business dealing with government in China.[16] The consultancy continued until 2010.[17]

In 1988, FitzGerald was the Chairman of the Committee to Advise on Australia’s Immigration Policies which submitted a report, known as the FitzGerald Report.[18][19] The committee found that Australian immigration policy had become captive of migrant lobbies.[20] That year he also championed Asian studies in the context of national education policy.[21] He gave the 1990 Buntine Oration, which he titled "Asia, Education and the Australian Mind."[22]

In 2015 FitzGerald released his book Comrade Ambassador: Whitlam's Beijing Envoy.[23] Author Billy Griffiths, reviewing the book, wrote that it was thoughtful and engaging, covering a transformative period of Australian history.[24] That same year he became a Non-Executive Director of China Matters, an Australian public policy initiative.[25] In 2017 FitzGerald was invited to deliver the Whitlam Oration 2017.[26]


FitzGerald was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in January 1984 in recognition of his services to international relations.[27] In October 2015 Launceston Church Grammar School awarded FitzGerald a Distinguished Alumni Award.[2] FitzGerald was shortlisted for the 2016 National Biography Award for Comrade Ambassador: Whitlam’s Beijing Envoy.[28]


  • FitzGerald, Stephen (1977). China and the World. ANU Press.[29]
  • FitzGerald, Stephen (2015). Comrade Ambassador: Whitlam's Beijing Envoy. Melbourne University Publishing.


  1. ^ National Portrait Gallery, Professor Stephen FitzGerald AO b. 1938, Australian Government, retrieved 26 January 2016
  2. ^ a b Brady, James (15 October 2015). "FitzGerald honoured by Grammar award". The Examiner. Archived from the original on 19 October 2015.
  3. ^ a b Fitzgerald, Ross (5 September 2015). "Stephen FitzGerald, our first ambassador to China, blazed a trail". The Australian. News Corp.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Conversations with Richard Fidler - Stephen FitzGerald: Australia's vital relationship with China". Australian Broadcasting Commission. 28 September 2015. Archived from the original on 26 January 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d Clark, Andrew (29 December 2015). "How a lone, young diplomat, Stephen FitzGerald, turned around policy on China". The Australian Financial Review. Fairfax Media.
  6. ^ Broinowski, Richard (16 October 2015). "Comrade Ambassador - Whitlam's Beijing Envoy review: Capturing a seismic shift". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Archived from the original on 26 January 2016.
  7. ^ Jacobs, Michael (8 January 1973). "China accepts Ambassador". The Canberra Times. ACT. p. 3.
  8. ^ 'The Coup That Laid the Fear of China' by Stephen FitzGerald, Western Sydney University, archived from the original on 30 September 2015
  9. ^ FitzGerald, Stephen (5 October 2012). "Whitlam's China masterstroke". The Australian Financial Review. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 27 January 2016. (subscription required)
  10. ^ "Dr Fitzgerald meets Chinese Minister". The Canberra Times. ACT. 24 April 1973. p. 7.
  11. ^ "'Very broad' agreement with Chinese: Fraser". The Canberra Times. ACT. 25 June 1976. p. 6.
  12. ^ Fitzgerald, John (2 August 2007), Australia–China relations 1976: looking forward, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Canberra, ACT, retrieved 28 January 2016
  13. ^ "Credentials". The Canberra Times. ACT. 2 June 1975. p. 3.
  14. ^ "New Ambassador to China announced". The Canberra Times. ACT. 23 October 1976. p. 1.
  15. ^ "China-Japan rapport". The Canberra Times. ACT. 14 April 1977. p. 13.
  16. ^ Stephen FitzGerald – Comrade Ambassador, Chinese Studies Association of Australia, 2015, archived from the original on 30 November 2015
  17. ^ Stephen FitzGerald, China Matters, archived from the original on 26 January 2016
  18. ^ Committee to Advise on Australia’s Immigration Policies (1988), Immigration: A Commitment to Australia (PDF), Canberra, ACT: Australian Government, archived from the original (PDF) on 17 March 2012
  19. ^ "How to cut back on Asians: FitzGerald". The Canberra Times. ACT. 5 December 1988. p. 1.
  20. ^ FitzGerald quoted in McDonald, Hamish (19 September 2015). "Q&A with Stephen FitzGerald, Australia's first China ambassador". The Saturday Paper.
  21. ^ FitzGerald, Stephen (1988), "Chapter 1. National Educational Policy and Asian Studies", in McKay, Elaine M. (ed.), Towards an Asia-Literate Society (PDF), Asian Studies Association of Australia, pp. 9–16, ISBN 0 908 055 07 2, archived from the original (PDF) on 26 January 2016
  22. ^ "The Buntine Oration: A Short History". Australian College of Educators. 2004. Archived from the original on 18 January 2017. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  23. ^ Stephen FitzGerald, Comrade Ambassador, Australian National University, 2015, archived from the original on 26 January 2016
  24. ^ Griffith, Billy (November 2015), "From Gough to thought bubbles", Australian Book Review, 376 (19)
  25. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  26. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  27. ^ "Search Australian Honours: FITZGERALD, Stephen Arthur, Officer of the Order of Australia",, Australian Government, archived from the original on 26 January 2016
  28. ^ "2016 - National Biography Award". State Library of New South Wales. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
  29. ^ Rappolt, Patricia (31 December 1977). "A book for China watchers". The Canberra Times. ACT. p. 9.
Diplomatic posts
Title last held by
Keith Officer
Australian Ambassador to China
Succeeded by
Garry Woodard
New title
Position established
Australian Ambassador to North Korea
Diplomatic relations ceased