Engagement and trade are the ways to foster democracy

Share

Now there are only three countries with which Britain does not have diplomatic relations: Yugoslavia (relations are expected to be resumed soon), Iraq and Bhutan. In all three cases, the lack of relations was their decision, not ours. North Korea was the only country with which Britain refused to have diplomatic relations. The ending of that peculiar form of national disapproval, announced by the Foreign Secretary yesterday, is a welcome and long-overdue step. It was bound to be criticised by the moral purists who had been encouraged by Robin Cook's former ambition of an ethical foreign policy. The unfortunate implication was that any form of engagement with unsavoury regimes was undesirable.

Now there are only three countries with which Britain does not have diplomatic relations: Yugoslavia (relations are expected to be resumed soon), Iraq and Bhutan. In all three cases, the lack of relations was their decision, not ours. North Korea was the only country with which Britain refused to have diplomatic relations. The ending of that peculiar form of national disapproval, announced by the Foreign Secretary yesterday, is a welcome and long-overdue step. It was bound to be criticised by the moral purists who had been encouraged by Robin Cook's former ambition of an ethical foreign policy. The unfortunate implication was that any form of engagement with unsavoury regimes was undesirable.

That was never sustainable, and was never Mr Cook's intention. Generally speaking, Britain ought to be engaged with regimes with bad records on human rights, such as China, Indonesia and Burma. Dialogue offers the hope of changing minds: with states as with people, refusal to talk is a childish act. Refusing diplomatic recognition was always a pretty meaningless form of sanction in any case. The important issue that needs to be decided, case by case, is whether or not military or economic embargoes should be applied. Full economic sanctions should be used sparingly and with the support of democratic forces in the countries concerned. Burma is probably the most pressing candidate for sanctions, and Mr Cook should be commended for his work to this end. Indeed, this newspaper has argued that the sanctions against Iraq are counter-productive and that Saddam Hussein's tyranny is more likely to be weakened by non-military trade.

This argument also applies to North Korea. The totalitarian regime there rests on an economy that has been sliding backwards almost as fast as the South Korean economy has been growing. As a result, its grip has been undermined, and will be weakened further if the economy and society is opened up to the world. The shedding of ancient ideological hang-ups about Communism should act as a goad, too, to the United States' policy not only towards North Korea, but also toward Cuba - another example of an undemocratic state where the prospect of democracy would only be enhanced by engagement and trade.

The British Government's decision yesterday is the right one. It improves the chances of a prosperous, united, democratic Korea. It also raises the pressure slightly for an end to US hypocrisy on Cuba. It is this kind of pragmatism that truly deserves to be called an ethical foreign policy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Liberal Democrats leader says efforts need to be focused on cracking down on the criminal gangs  

Nick Clegg: We should to go to war on drugs, not on addicts

Nick Clegg
East German border guards stand on a section of the Berlin wall in front of the Brandenburg gate on November 11, 1989  

Twenty-five years after the Berlin Wall fell, Hungary’s PM thinks it is Western capitalism that is in its death throes

Peter Popham
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"