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The benefits of proceeding with caution

World Affairs Editor Lavinia Thompson reviews the complexities of international diplomacy

I think it was Rupert Murdoch who likened his dealings with Tony Blair to the approach of two porcupines towards making love (‘very carefully’) – and this was before the recent media speculation about rumours of ‘closeness’ between his ex-wife Wendy and Mr Blair.

This week the public has been presented with extensive coverage of Prime Minister David Cameron’s ’s visit to China. On this expedition, he has been supported by a group of thirty or more businessmen and women, sometimes referred to as ‘Cameron’s Cronies’, who appear to be along for the ride either as part of a fact-finding mission and/or are seeking to develop business opportunities in a country whose economy, within a decade, will become the largest in the world.

The British government has been at pains to trumpet about new business deals worth billions of pounds that have been, or are being, negotiated in the wake of this carefully-staged public relations exercise.

No doubt the bulk of them were done months ago – such is the way of diplomacy – with their announcements carefully held back to be released, drip-feed fashion, day by day, ‘on tour’. This, of course, is designed to promote the image that the Prime Minister’s valiant efforts in wooing the Chinese leadership are not only improving international relations between our two countries but somehow unlocking Britain’s access to untold amounts of future commercial success and prosperity.

One of the ironies of international relations in the modern ‘global village’ is just how many of the growing new world powers of the 21st Century – whom established democracies of the west so desperately need to develop ties with in order to maintain their collective lifestyles – come to the table with the unfortunate ‘baggage’ of cultural or political attitudes that we supposedly find backward and/or abhorrent.

workersWhether we’re talking attitudes towards women … gays … the disabled … capital punishment … human rights … even democracy itself, what’s a pragmatic western politician or statesman to do?

Should you ignore the mass of advice from campaigning groups and simply go visit anyway?

Should you refuse to go visit?

Or should you go visit, but whilst out there perhaps lecture some vast, proud, developing nation coming up behind – and about to overtake – yours that they’ve got it all wrong … or perhaps that, whilst some of their cultural attitudes are ‘acceptable’, others are not?

Whilst any self-respecting European politician is weighing up the pros and cons – e.g. future business developments and possibly inward investment, versus the danger of hacking off a new world superpower who might resent being patronised by a struggling but now flabby and complacent former world-leading nation – it is all too easy to understand how time-honoured western democratic principles might sometimes be cast to the wind.

Am I the only person in Britain who brought together in his/her mind the media coverage of the Prime Minister’s visit to China with the news that the UK is sliding down the league table of Pisa educational results?

chinesekidsAccording to these (by 2012) the UK was now 23rd for reading, 26th for maths and 20th for science … with Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong right at the top.

Media coverage of the findings seemed to explain the reasons how and why this is the case.

On the one hand, the children of the emerging powerhouse Far Eastern nations are infused with a collective driven cultural sense of purpose to ‘get on’ and improve themselves by working between 15 and 18 hours per day at their academic studies, pausing only for food and comfort breaks.

TVOn the other, our fat, lazy, brain-dead kids are barely challenged in the classroom.

Instead, they are let out at 3.30pm every afternoon to terrorise the streets, gobble down fast food, go on Facebook and other social media, ‘sext’ each other and then, when they finally get home, watch endless hours of celebrity-based reality television … before sleeping in until noon the following day.

For years I have been regularly informed by my Canadian pals that America is already owned by, or completely in hock to, China.

Now David Cameron is out there, actively encouraging Chinese investment in everything British, from manufacturing businesses to nuclear power stations and HS2.

One thing that has been puzzling me is why on earth the hard-nosed, astute and far-thinking Chinese should bother?

Why would they invest in, and/or prop up, a stereotypical example of decadent western democracy, with its population that tends to work as little as it can get away with, pays itself far too much, fritters away its spare time on irrelevant frivolities and wallows in a complacent, not to say misguided, sense of material self-entitlement?

I do hope that the widely-reported comment in the Chinese newspaper The Global Times on Tuesday (‘… Britain is no longer any kind of ‘big country’, but merely a country of old Europe suitable for tourism and overseas study, with a few decent football teams …’) isn’t a sign – as far as the Chinese are concerned – that we’ve already been rumbled.

It’s not even as if our football teams are doing that well at the moment.

 

 

 

About Lavinia Thompson

A university lecturer for many years, both at home and abroad, Lavinia Thompson retired in 2008 and has since taken up freelance journalism. She is currently studying for a distant learning degree in geo-political science and lives in Norwich with her partner. More Posts