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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Bafetibis Gomis of Swansea City is stretchered off at White Hart Lane
football
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
people
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Life and Style
love + sex
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant - ACCA, ACA or ACMA - Construction Sector

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Accountant (ACCA, ...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - PR and Broadcast - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has an exciting op...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor - Shifts

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This European market leader for security...

Recruitment Genius: Freelance AutoCAD Technician

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Freelance AutoCAD Technician is required to ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot