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Reading the future

By Andrew Moody | China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-17 07:37

Reading the future

Michael McManus talks about his new book, Edward Heath: A Singular Life, in London.[Photo by Nick J.B. Moore/For China Daily] 

Late British prime minister Edward Heath had global vision of China even in the 1970s, his biographer Michael McManus writes. Andrew Moody reports.

Michael McManus believes Edward Heath was a pivotal figure in China's opening up to the West.

The former British prime minister - the subject of the British author's new biography - famously first met with Chairman Mao in 1974, and regularly visited the country thereafter.

"They (the Chinese) respected him probably more than anyone apart from Nixon or Kissinger. He was saying at the time (that) we need to take China seriously," he says.

Speaking at a cafe near his home in central London, McManus says Heath always had a sense of the big global picture.

"Heath understood in the 1970s that you have this obvious enemy, then the Soviet Union, and that China needed to be dealt with separately."

McManus, who was Heath's political secretary for five years up to 2000, has spared Heath no blushes in a highly revelatory biography.

At first glance, Edward Heath: A Singular Life appears a hagiography with long passages of reminiscences from people who knew him best but these often provide the best material. Some of it includes insights into his debated sexuality, dyed white hair (despite a brief dalliance with strawberry blond) and insistence that assistants carry malt whisky as "essential medicine" when traveling.

"Quite a lot of his friends and advisers have died but there are still a few around. I thought this was the last opportunity to get from them firsthand accounts."

The writer also believes the fact he knew his subject personally gave him the opportunity to produce a rounder picture of the man himself than either of Heath's most recent biographers, John Campbell or Philip Ziegler.

McManus believes Heath's 1974 China visit during which he met Mao had personal significance to his former boss. He was almost treated as head of government even though he had just lost an election and was leader of the opposition.

"It had been an otherwise awful year for him. He had lost office, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) bombed his house and his godson died in the Morning Cloud disaster (Heath's racing yacht sank)," McManus recalls. "The one positive thing was this amazing trip to China, where he met these legendary figures, Zhou Enlai and Mao, and was treated as an international statesman."

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