The Queen’s Chi­nese guests from hell

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

“Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she doesn’t have a lot to say,” Paul McCart­ney sang nearly a half-cen­tury ago. Now, in her 90th year, Queen El­iz­a­beth II sud­denly seems de­ter­mined to put the lie to that idea.

At a spring gar­den party on the grounds of Buck­ing­ham Palace – the most gen­teel of set­tings imag­in­able – the Bri­tish monarch re­cently laid into the en­tourage that ac­com­pa­nied Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping to Lon­don on his 2015 state visit. In a recorded con­ver­sa­tion with a Metropoli­tan po­lice com­man­der, Lucy D’Orsi, the queen called the Chi­nese of­fi­cials “very rude,” and ex­pressed sym­pa­thy for D’Orsi’s “bad luck” in hav­ing to deal with them.

For one thing, ac­cord­ing to D’Orsi, Chi­nese of­fi­cials walked out of one meet­ing in Lon­don with her and Bar­bara Wood­ward, the Bri­tish am­bas­sador to China, threat­en­ing to call off the en­tire visit. As for the queen, her joint ride down Lon­don’s Mall with Xi in a horse-drawn car­riage was ap­par­ently nearly crashed by a Chi­nese se­cu­rity of­fi­cial pos­ing as an of­fi­cial trans­la­tor.

Of course, cul­tural clashes dur­ing high­level in­ter­na­tional vis­its are not out of the or­di­nary. In 2009, when US First Lady Michelle Obama briefly placed her hand on the queen’s back dur­ing a re­cep­tion, the Bri­tish me­dia snorted that one must never touch the sov­er­eign un­less she ex­tends her hand. Ge­orge W. Bush was crit­i­cised for fol­low­ing a mis­state­ment in a 2007 speech with a wink in the queen’s di­rec­tion. (Per­haps only the emperor of Ja­pan ex­pects for­eign lead­ers to fol­low more painstak­ingly de­tailed rit­u­als.)

In any case, there are far more egre­gious ex­am­ples of bad man­ners at state func­tions. Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin no­to­ri­ously al­lowed his large black Labrador into the room to nuz­zle the fa­mously dogshy Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gel Merkel at their first meet­ing. Pho­tographs of the in­ci­dent show Putin grin­ning like a school­yard bully at this act of in­tim­i­da­tion.

The dis­cour­te­sies are not al­ways so pointed. Lord Ed­ward Hal­i­fax, the very tall Bri­tish for­eign sec­re­tary, al­most handed his top­coat to Adolf Hitler on a visit, hav­ing mis­taken the diminu­tive Führer for a ser­vant. US Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush be­came ill at a state ban­quet in Ja­pan, vom­it­ing into the lap of Prime Min­is­ter Ki­ichi Miyazawa be­fore slump­ing into a stu­por. Clearly, even when there is no ma­li­cious in­tent, bring­ing world lead­ers to­gether can court diplo­matic dis­as­ter.

Given this, hav­ing world lead­ers live un­der the same roof for an ex­tended pe­riod of time may be the most dan­ger­ous ap­proach of all, though it seemed to work for Win­ston Churchill and Franklin D. Roo­sevelt. The Amer­i­can and Bri­tish lead­ers ap­pear to have forged the clos­est of po­lit­i­cal friend­ships dur­ing Churchill’s 24-day stay in the White House in 1941.

In fact, that visit pro­vided the oc­ca­sion for one of Churchill’s most fa­mous quips. While Churchill was in one of the White House baths, Roo­sevelt sud­denly wheeled into the room to dis­cuss a semi-ur­gent mat­ter. Re­al­is­ing his mis­take, Roo­sevelt tried to get out quickly. But, be­fore he could, Churchill stood up, naked, and pro­claimed, “The prime min­is­ter of Bri­tain has noth­ing to hide from the pres­i­dent of the United States!”

Things did not go so well for those who hosted the young Tsar Peter I of Rus­sia dur­ing his fa­mous “grand em­bassy” tour of Europe at the end of the sev­en­teenth cen­tury. Not only did he and his en­tourage fail to achieve their pri­mary diplo­matic goal of build­ing al­liances to help in the fight against the Ottoman Em­pire; they also left a slew of stately homes in a state that might have made Keith Moon blush.

Some read­ers may say that the grand­daugh­ter of Nikita Khrushchev, who, it is falsely said, gavelled his shoe on a desk at the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly in 1960, should steer clear of the topic of world lead­ers’ man­ners. But there is a point to be made about the re­cent con­duct of the Chi­nese.

When it comes to diplo­matic offhand­ed­ness, the Chi­nese have long had what Bri­tish gam­blers would call “form.” On a visit to the Soviet Union, Mao Ze­dong fa­mously re­fused to use the flush toi­let ad­join­ing his room, and in­stead used a cham­ber pot he had brought from China. Per­haps he sus­pected that Stalin, as the BBC al­leged last year, was col­lect­ing and analysing his fe­ces to glean in­for­ma­tion about the Great Helms­man’s tem­per­a­ment.

Yet Chi­nese of­fi­cials’ de­port­ment in Lon­don on their lat­est visit demon­strated a par­tic­u­lar kind of ar­ro­gance, of­fer­ing in­sight into the way China’s lead­ers re­gard their coun­try’s po­si­tion in the world to­day. They seem to be­lieve that China has once again be­come the “Mid­dle King­dom,” oc­cu­py­ing a cen­tral po­si­tion in the world that de­mands global def­er­ence – and vas­salage for its im­me­di­ate neigh­bours.

China’s hi­er­ar­chi­cal con­cep­tion of world or­der has deep roots, which Yan Xue­tong, per­haps the coun­try’s lead­ing con­tem­po­rary strate­gic thinker, ex­plores in his books The Tran­si­tion of World Power and An­cient Chi­nese Thought, Modern Chi­nese Power. Ac­cord­ing to Yan, China’s ac­tions are al­ways con­sid­ered moral, be­cause they re­flect the proper “or­der” of the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem. Any­one fail­ing to recog­nise – or, worse, di­rectly chal­leng­ing – this hi­er­ar­chy is in the wrong.

That at­ti­tude can be seen in the state­ment of a for­mer Chi­nese for­eign min­is­ter, Yang Jiechi, now a mem­ber of the State Coun­cil (the cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s ex­ec­u­tive or­gan). At the ASEAN sum­mit in 2011, Yang re­buked his Viet­namese hosts and other ASEAN mem­bers for re­fus­ing to ac­cept China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, say­ing, “China is a big coun­try and other coun­tries are small coun­tries, and that’s just a fact.”

In this sense, it is no sur­prise that Chi­nese of­fi­cials in the UK did not give the queen the cour­tesy one might ex­pect. In their view, Bri­tain’s sov­er­eign re­ceived the treat­ment a sec­ond-rate power mer­its.

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