Inside File: China launches a diplomatic spring offensive

CHINESE diplomacy is at a frenzied pitch at the moment: in Singapore, the first formal talks with Taiwan; in Peking, the opening of a new round of negotiations with Britain on Hong Kong; in Washington, the lobbying to stop a congressional bill imposing human rights conditions on China's most-favoured- nation trade status; in Geneva, attempts to re-enter Gatt. And the Chinese Foreign Minister is touring the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy and Germany, proving that a Tiananmen-era politician can now be welcomed in liberal European capitals.

The Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, is one of the chief architects of China's post-Tiananmen, come-in-from-the-cold strategy. Tackle Asian neighbours first, then the West. An Asian ambassador to London says privately: 'The Chinese make great efforts to keep their fellow Asian missions in London informed about Peking's position on Hong Kong. Yet in my time, the British Foreign Office had not once offered Asian embassies here unsolicited briefings about Britain's position.' This at a time when the Hong Kong Governor, Chris Patten, has been raising eyebrows by his confrontational approach towards the Chinese - a practice which is frowned upon not only by the FCO's old Sinologists, but also by some Asian diplomats with long experience of negotiating with Peking. 'It is important,' said one such envoy, 'to distinguish between manner and content in dealing with the Chinese.'

One nation that says it does receive wholly adequate briefings from the Foreign Office is mighty Japan. A member of the Group of Seven, the world's richest democracies, Japan is also the biggest investor in Hong Kong after Britain and China. To safeguard their position in both camps, Japanese diplomats also seek to act as a conduit between China and the West. This entails private briefings to their Chinese counterparts about the deliberations going on in G7 corridors on any matter affecting China, usually coupled with a bit of advice.

'They don't usually appear very appreciative, but I think they probably act on it,' said one Japanese official.

But back to the Chinese 'great effort' to keep their fellow Asians informed: not all Asian diplomats agree that Peking is doing better than London in the PR stakes. The latest Chinese strategy, it emerges, is to distribute position leaflets to Asian embassies. The leaflets are in Mandarin, handed round by hapless Chinese diplomats who are forced to ask: 'Is there possibly a Chinese expert in your embassy?'

A faxed statement arrives from the ambassador of Saudi Arabia, Ghazi Algosaibi, to announce he is taking 'legal advice' before 'determining his move' over a 1,500-word 'personal attack' by Bernard Levin in the Times on Tuesday. Mr Algosaibi, said to be 'boiling', has in fact apparently already resolved to sue over the article, which questions his suitability for his job.

What Mr Levin's tirade failed to note was that it was published on the first anniversary - to the day - of the ambassador's appointment to London, hailed at the time as part of Saudi Arabia's 'opening-up' movement to take its information policy into the 20th century. Mr Algosaibi, poet and former minister of industry - with an MA in International Relations from the University of Southern California and a PhD in political science from the University of London - had until this week been positively disposed towards the British press, and views his role in part as seeking to bridge seemingly unbridgeable cultures. His recent book, The Gulf Crisis, is subtitled An Attempt to Understand.

Mr Algosaibi spent yesterday talking to his London-based lawyers. This is seen as a personal, rather than diplomatic, matter. But while the ambassador is free to sue people, people are probably not free to sue the ambassador. If a diplomat can demonstrate that he is acting in the service of his country, he is as immune from civil lawsuits as he is from criminal proceedings. Whether the incident will affect the billions in UK exports to Saudi Arabia, or the fate of a British subject provisionally sentenced to public lashings in Riyadh over an alcohol offence, remains to be seen.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all