Sunday 21 February 2010

China - Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

In the BBC programmes on the great offices of state at the very end of the one on the Foreign Office there were brief references to recent developments. It was about the extent of cuts and their impact. In the age of almost instant communication it is understandable that fewer paper chasers would be needed and less people on the ground around the world but just who is being lost?

It appears that the FO is being “hollowed out” of former key staff to allow more managers, political and media fixers. Few of them know much about those foreigners and even less about what they do and why they do it. So when the MI6 people want to deliver intelligence, because of the major reduction in the number of expert research analysts they are now less able to seek informed reviews or the added context necessary to understanding the implications of that intelligence.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? In the last few days China has reprimanded President Obama for talking to the Dalai Lama and the major Corus steelworks has been closed by its owners in India. So it is pertinent to ask just how much these days does our government know, understand, and can relate to the functioning and interests of these two Great Powers of The East? I suspect the answer is not much.

Our media have precious little about either in them outside sporting and celebrity activities and politically we concentrate on our own trivialities, Europe, sometimes Russia because of fuel supplies, and where the last disaster occurred. We learned a little about China in 2008 because they held an Olympic games there but it was plain that there was little idea or understanding of what was going on politically, economically, or in military terms.

In China this is The Year Of The Tiger. 2008 was the The Year Of The Rat, which might explain why do much of the world economy collapsed when all the rats tried to flee their sinking ships at the same time. Now that China is such a major player, one of the key holders of USA debt, the UK’s major supplier of goods, and is attracting more and more financial services as its real power and authority increases. Unlike the Celtic Tiger, a scrawny scavenger feeding on the scraps of Wall Street and The City of London, the Chinese Tiger has big healthy teeth, large muscles, and a huge appetite for acquisition. It has been actively buying interests in Africa, moving on from where Zheng He left off in the 15th Century.

In the USA there are a good many people trying to work out what China is, where it is going, what its politicians really intend, how it is run, and what the implications are for the West. There is a real debate and search for information. In the UK and Europe on the other hand, despite or perhaps in spite of, the long history of our own contacts, there does not seem to be the grasp or the will to come to terms with what may be happening in the immediate future.

Whilst our media is full of the idiocies and posturing of the election campaigns and the media scratch around for personal interest tales of horror and shock to liven them up out there in the mysterious East something very big and very important will be about to happen. Our government and media will be caught out, we could be in all sorts of trouble, and will know little or nothing about it. It will be no good asking the Foreign Office because the relevant staff is no longer there to inform them.

What are we to China? A bad memory for which they have little to thank us? An unreliable set of islands which for the time being allows them a favourable balance of payments because we have exported so much of our manufacturing to them as well as our pollution? If the figures no longer look good it will be a quick goodbye, we need them a lot more than they need us. Some of our finance houses are being installed there but if they think they can get away with the nonsense they did in the West they should think again. They could be about to be the next meal for The Tiger. William Blake 1757-1827 says it all in his poem The Tiger.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan the opium trade is not going to plan, so we can forget trying business as usual as in the late 1830’s and early 1840’s.

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