Melbourne is well known for its Victorian style buildings and homes. They are in landmarks such as the Flinders Street Central Station or tall, solid stone buildings lining up the Swanston and Collins streets. The colonial past and ubiquitous links with the British Empire can be easily seen in this lovely city.
One prime example is the Hotel of Windsor, Melbourne's oldest five star hotel at the heart of central Melbourne, right opposite the State Parliament House in one direction and the Princess Theatre in the other. It was the place to stay during many royal and VIP visits in the 20th century. In contrast to many new gleaming hotels in Melbourne, this old style hotel represents a deep sense of nostalgia and reminiscence.
I have certain special attachment to this grand hotel for another reason. Sometime in 1986, I had a chance to venture into it with my wife to meet her boss at the time. That visiting Chinese official was a nice person to be with and very friendly and caring to her subordinates. We took a few pictures, with him standing behind us while we sat in armchairs for the pose. He handed over something in package, which he carried all the way to Australia on behalf of my wife's other colleagues. This was a routine run for someone to send stuff to overseas friends through members of official delegations. Fifteen years after that casual meeting, the official concerned took the position of the President of the People's Republic of China. His name is Hu Jintao, a central figure of the Chinese leadership in the 21st century.
That meeting at the Hotel of Windsor was an occasion made possible by his official visit to Australia in that particular year. You have to admit that someone in the Australian government, under the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke, had the foresight to, first, initiate a brilliant exchange programme named "future leaders of China", and, second, select Mr. Hu among others. Hu was invited to visit Australia in his capacity as the governor of Guizhou province, the poorest province in China. It still is, and the main purpose of this practice of transferring officials from central government posts to poor regions is testing their perseverance and capability before granting them eventual rises in ranks and leadership positions. The other person of this two men delegation was a son of a revolution veteran and a department head in Beijing. Apparently, he failed the test and has since stayed in relative obscurity in following years. Hu, on the other hand, has shone brightly ever since in his political career to his most recent attainment of the supreme position of all.
Judging by this eventuality, the selection by some Australian government officials 15 years back was super brilliantly made. This also signals an early intention on the part of consecutive Australian governments from the mid 1970s to get in touch with leaders of East Asian economies and form closer relations in the region. This has proved a crucial move for Australia to stand on firm ground for its sustainable development and for future security.
Since the invitation to Hu was formally issued by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, that delegation was not an official one with definite state missions. Hu was able to tour the country of Australia and meet people of various backgrounds, in an unofficial and even casual way. That was why we had the chance to chat with him privately in a room at the Hotel of Window. I am quite sure that Hu met Mr. John Howard at some functions, perhaps one with parliamentary figures. Howard was at the time the leader of the opposition Liberal Party, very much overshadowed by the energetic and intelligent partnership of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating of the Labour government. I wonder if at several official meetings between President Hu and Prime Minister Howard in recent years, they could recall anything of their first meeting in 1986. Someone in the current federal Liberal government ought to dig out the files and unearth those precious photos of these two political figures trading pleasantries informally in a year of insignificance, long before they emerged as national leaders of two great countries.