Wednesday, 30 August 2023

Not doing as we do

It says a lot about the current state of the Conservative Party that the living, breathing refutation of the concept of nominative determinism is rising through the ranks of those considered possible next leaders, with the party’s internal league table showing only two ministers ahead of him: one who is obviously mad and another who is leaving parliament at the next election. As if being appointed to his current job was not adequate proof, in itself, of the dearth of talent in the party.

He's taken himself off to China this week to ask the country’s leaders very politely if they will please be a little nicer in their relationships with the rest of the world, stop being quite so friendly with Russia, and perhaps think about respecting the human rights of Chinese citizens. The last part of that is something where he feels himself to be under some sort of obligation to say he’s raised the issue, but it may actually be more akin to a study trip, to enable him to make a better contribution to the next cabinet discussion on restricting the rights of UK citizens. Indeed, I wonder how long it will be before leaders of other countries visiting the UK will be obliged to excuse their visits by saying that they’ve raised the issue of human rights abuses with UK ministers. Perhaps they already have; but it isn’t the sort of thing we should expect to be reported here, just as the People’s Daily is unlikely to report that particular part of Cleverly’s discussions with the Chinese government. Whatever he himself might learn from the trip, he’ll probably be hoping that those travelling with him will not be studying the way in which the Chinese government can make Foreign Ministers disappear, whatever hopes some of us might harbour.

In a move which will surely help Cleverly in his attempts to influence China, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons chose today to publish a highly critical report on China, including a statement which implies recognition of the independence of Taiwan, although whether it will influence China in the desired direction is open to debate. The Chair of that committee said it was crucial that Cleverly communicated during his meetings that “we will not stand for transnational repression or drift towards authoritarianism”. As a statement of the UK’s position, it’s only a half-truth – the sub-clause, “unless it’s in or by the UK”, seems to be missing. That omission helps to underline, however, that the whole basis for the visit is the deranged belief that a middling size state actively isolating itself offshore from the most integrated continent on the planet can seriously hope to influence a country rapidly becoming the world’s biggest and strongest economy by appealing to a set of values which it itself is busily abandoning. It’s a classic piece of English exceptionalism in action.

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