Cameron’s foreign failings

In the six months since the election, David Cameron has proved  pretty poor at domestic policy. Following purely ideological wishes to shrink the state, he’s making massive cuts to the economy, creating a rise in unemployment, and getting rid of essential services, with absolutely no plan for growth beyond saying private sector entrepreneurs will generate it.

Even some of his big policy announcements fail to stand up to anything more than the most cursory of examinations. The cut in child benefit to middle-class families turned out to be unenforceable. The defence review is leaving us with aircraft carriers with no aircraft. And the workfare scheme looks like nothing more than a symbolic sop to his party’s right.

After watching this display of Tory management of the domestic agenda, I thought that perhaps we had a Prime Minister whose strength lay in foreign policy. So it was with eager interest that I watched coverage of David Cameron’s visit to China. How do I think he did?

I want you to try to imagine something for me. Take a few deep breaths and picture Angela Merkel on a state visit to Britain with a few of her German ministers. Georg Ausborn and Vincenz Kableiz possibly. Anyway, picture them visiting the east end of London or the docks of Portsmouth on their tour. Picturing it clearly? The ministers, the local dignitaries, the journalists. All clear as day in your mind? Good.

Now picture Merkel and her kameraden all wearing swastikas on their lapels. Suddenly, it turns into a very different picture doesn’t it? Suddenly Angela is in the east end of London or the docks of Portsmouth, some of the worst hit targets during the blitz, offending the descendents of people who suffered through war and death. That would be pretty poor diplomacy and statesmanship on Merkel’s part, right?

Well now change the image to David Cameron and his cronies standing in Beijing or on the Great Wall of China with poppies in their lapels. ‘Doesn’t seem bad to me’, I hear you thinking. How about when you remember that Britain fought a series of wars with the Chinese where they brutally murdered peasant farmers. And then remember that the reason for those wars was the poppy. Or at least the opium that comes from the poppy. Given the long memory of China and the enormous value they put on respect and courtesy, it was a pretty amazing diplomatic blunder.

Cameron then compounded the silliness by standing there as the leader of a country that has made use of rendition, and made use of intelligence gained from waterboarding, and telling China to sort out their human rights. Only the arrogance of an old Etonian, Bullingdon alumnus could lead to someone making that speech without at least making a nod toward our own problems.

At this same lecture, Cameron went on to suggest China should change its whole economy and revalue the Yuan to help Britain out during this recession. Here’s another little test for your imagination. Try to picture a leader of a Pacific rim nation, or an African member of the Commonwealth,coming to the UK and giving a speech in which they suggest Cameron should revalue the pound and wipe out what’s left of British industry and small business to help that country through a tough economic time. Do you think Cameron would comply or do you think he’d say leave it to the market forces? Would Cameron ever take notice of such a leader? Of course he wouldn’t.

So why does he think Hu Jintao will listen to him now?



  1. I have to disagree with most of this article I’m afraid.

    Firstly, comparing the wearing of a poppy to the wearing of a swastika is a horrid analogy, and a poor one at that. The purpose of wearing the poppy is not to commemorate the opium war, and it’s origins (regardless of it’s purpose) is not linked to the opium wars and instead to fields in Belgium around World War I.

    Cameron may not have been right to wear the poppy, though I think it is a much more complex issue than the media has made it out to be. Getting Cameron to submit to priggish demands would have been a show of considerable power by the Chinese. If he had done so he would have been lambasted in Britain from the right anyway, so in a domestic sense he was going to lose either way.

    With regard to human rights, I don’t think there’s any arrogance on our part that we are perfect, but we are significantly better than the Chinese and we therefore can lecture them on the subject. We haven’t locked up Nick Clegg for suggesting democratic reforms, for instance.

    With what was said on the economy, I think we are right to harass China over their currency. If they want to take part in a free trade global market they have to play by the rules set by the market. Over the years they have been given a lot of leeway over the rules to allow them to develop, but now that they are a bigger player, it’s only fair that they start operating on a level playing field.

    The problem is not that market forces are keeping the Chinese currency weak but the opposite – market forces would strengthen their currency significantly and therefore they are artificially keeping it weak. Again your analogy doesn’t stack up.

    Cameron has made many foreign policy gaffes, but the ones you mention above aren’t among them.

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