FUTURE BRITISH DIPLOMACY AND MILITARY STRATEGY
ROUND THE DIPLOMATS' BAR
We are living at a time when diplomats hardly can afford a drink though roam a much more complex chess board. An intelligent country strengthens its diplomatic service at such moments. Britain is not. The government slashed the diplomats' budget by a quarter, carries Labour's policies of closing overseas posts while refusing to raise the Diplomatic Service budget to cover the sinking pound. William Hague makes speeches about restoration of Britain's global influence - and makes himself look ridiculous. For the diplomats it's very demoralising work, representing a country that has given up striving for improvement, working for a population that no longer believes in itself and where large numbers owe their allegiance to other countries. Add to this Wiki leaks and small wonder Britain's diplomats sometimes need a stiff drink.
New centres of power already make their presence felt and the most dynamic is China. Another is India and Brazil may prove a third. Climate change threatens the very existence of both small and large countries. Populations explode and humanity confronts the real possibility of conflict over water, energy, raw materials and food. A violent sect of Islam fears the advance modern liberal societies with equal rights for women and deploys terror and hatred as its main weapons in a bitter retreat. Corporate greed and individual gambling almost collapsed the capitalist banking structure. China is now the United States' largest creditor. The United States could implode the Chinese economy almost overnight. We embark upon a dangerous ocean, a period of history that eventually may resemble the eighteenth century when groups of nations fought a series of conflicts for control of the world's resources. At the next general election - although they may not realise - British voters will choose whether they become helpless spectators or masters of their fate.
CROWN PRINCE OF PYONGYANG
North Korea is ruled by the World's first communist dynasty. Some twenty years ago I forecast in a novel - The Tiger Pit - that North Korea would become northern Asia's lone region of famine yet a nuclear armed state. Moreover, that its lunatic leadership already were a menace, without atomic bombs.
These opinions were formed during three years at the British Embassy in Korea at the time of the Seoul Olympic Games. The Foreign Office very quietly ditched the UK - Korea military assistance treaty back in 1992 which is why no fuss was made about my novel. As Sam Goldwyn said, there's no such thing as bad publicity, just publicity. Until that time the British platoon in the UN Honour Guard - tiny rump of the Commonwealth Division - provided living proof of our open-ended commitment to South Korea. Lord Alan West, however, may have a point. What if the US President asked for support from other UN members? America's commander in South Korea is the United Nations Commander-in-Chief and his forces under command include all those of South Korea.
The heir apparent in Pyongyang is a chubby youth educated at an obscure international school beside the railway tracks in Gumligen on the outskirts of Bern, the Swiss capital. An inkling of the boy's academic prowess is that the North Korean Embassy - an odd house and complex spoiling a garden in the most affluent village outside Bern - passed off their future leader as the son of the ambassador's chauffeur.
Whoever directs the present outrages from Pyongyang, one rather doubts whether the crown prince has much influence, rather as during the Middle Ages in Europe, when the king dies there's a bloody court coup, when rival nobles lose their heads. All this would be hilarious save that the price is starvation and terror for 18 million North Koreans and a constant shadow hanging over nearly 50 million South Koreans.
The obvious solution to the miseries suffered by North Koreans is for the South to buy the northern half of the country. Some form of osmosis is going to happen anyway as with Germany. The main brake on a peaceful end to the Korean War - there's still an armed truce, not peace along the 38th parallel - remains guess, China's communist regime who fear a booming democratic country and high technology economy of 70 million Koreans living right next door. Now that really might give the young of China some ideas.
ONE HERMIT KINGDOM?
Some thirty years ago South Korea was ruled a government of generals in suits who took the same political and economic route as China follows today. South Korea's first president, Singman Rhee, resigned in 1960. A year later General Park Chung Hee seized power and ruled until 1980 - when his own security chief shot Park across the dining table in the Presidential Blue House. Park was soon replaced by another general, whom I had first met in Vietnam when he commanded the South Korean airborne brigade. Little did I think that a quarter of a century later the traffic in downtown Seoul would stop for Chun Doo Hwan's motorcade - one short airborne colonel had turned into an oriental Caesar. South Korea's military government under Park industrialised, holding down wages through political suppression while selling cheap manufactures to the United States and Europe. Import restrictions kept out most foreign manufactures. British exports included vast amounts of hides and skins. For all the more spectacular contracts such as the Seoul Subway built by GEC our economy provided the ' hewers of water and cutters of wood ' for South Koreans to add value and make the real money. The South Korean chaebols - family owned, huge conglomerates similar to those formed by the oligarchs in Russia - became highly successful. Commercial rivals were unable to compete against their low production costs.
Shortly after the coup led by Chun Doo Hwan, peaceful rebellion broke out in the south-western city of Kwangju. Chun ruthlessly crushed the student protest and caused much loss of life among the demonstrators. The political opposition was largely gagged, Kim Dae Jung their leader under house arrest and the press almost entirely controlled by the government. Chun's junta kept control for some years. The murder of a student in a police station basement proved the turning point. The Roman Catholic Church in South Korea revived the protest movement. Before long, the students took over the streets, and unlike their Chinese counter-parts two decades later, South Korea's students had the imagination and courage to fight, lead the way towards democracy.
South Korea's junta had bid for the 1986 Asian Games and consequently secured the 1988 Olympics. As the government claimed, they had opened their shop window, now they waited for the world to come through their door. A great deal was riding on the Olympics, not least a calculation - which proved accurate - that GDP would double over the next five years. North Korea tried to grab part of the Games for Pyonyang then threatened invasion. After three US aircraft carriers took up station around the Korean Peninsular we heard no more from the Dear Leader. Meanwhile, cleverly, the students employed the 1988 Olympic Games as a political hostage - playing on the generals' increasing fear that the Games might be moved somewhere else because of international media cover of riots and tear gas throughout the country though particularly in Seoul.
The students went onto the streets with a sound plan and step by step forced the government to give political ground, introduce democracy. Those of us who opened paths then watched their backs have every reason to feel pride. Of all the risks I took as a diplomat helping South Korea win democracy remains the most worthwhile delivering the most spectacular reward. The struggle reached its height during the summer of 1987 as gradually the middle classes swung behind the students. By autumn that year the government faltered, the President stepped down, and democracy won. South Korea's exploited work force demanded proper wages - until that time people worked long hours for $ 100 a month - and although there followed a period of inflation, the economy coped. This inflation also created a trade climate where manufactures from mature economies no longer were priced out of the South Korean market. Britain's exports doubled over the three years 1986 - 1989 when I was running the embassy commercial and media team, apart from my varied Olympic duties! Nor did I wait long to see Kim Dae Jung win a Presidential election.
China's students attempted to eclipse the South Koreans during the spring of 1989 but this ended with the summer massacres around Tiananmen Square in Beijing. One can argue that Tiananmen Square was their Kwangju. However, even if it was, no further campaign exploited the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Perhaps the regime succeeded in cowing the opposition and putting across two messages - particularly to the educated - you leave us in charge and we'll make life more comfortable, you make our job difficult and we'll make yours impossible. That pact requires the educated allow their government to walk rough-shod over the toiling masses. Without draconian powers the regime in China and its local committees would not have the power to damn rivers, drown fertile land, smother the countryside with pollution, evict whole quarters from their small old houses to make building sites for skyscrapers in big cities like Shanghai. The educated raise no objections because some of that new wealth may come their way. Moreover only those with a party link gain access to education and opportunity. The system of administration is complex with great powers invested in the local authorities run by party members through committees. There is no incentive to change, providing you're one of the people able to exploit the system. Over recent years an enormous amount of damage has been done to the soil and the environment generally. Some 200 million people left the land to find work in the industrial cities, many have returned to their villages.
At the moment, access to the Internet is largely a privilege for the same educated portion of China's population, many young, hungry for contact with the wider world. My belief is that as in South Korea twenty years ago, sometime soon the democratic cyber wave must break on the communist shore, sweeping away the present political temple and its high priests. Democracy and decent wages have much greater impact than any minor changes to the value of China's currency. Democracy opens up closed markets. Democracy will eclipse China's accession to the WTO. Encouraging political change without inadvertently entrenching the party regime is one of the most important tasks confronting our diplomats.
A tale of two cities with opposite ways of living. In the left photo, Myong Dong quarter, Seoul's answer to Bond Street and Soho complete with the cathedral's twin spires and all crammed into a small space between modern high rise offices and hotels. The right photo shows the dramatic skyline along Shanghai's waterfront - a monument to the ambition of China and its Communist aristocracy. Spectacular skyscrapers soar from Pudong's prime land beside the Yangtze River. As the city grows, its population already passes 20 millions, more land is seized from thousands of poor families evicted after generations living among the central, older quarters of the city. In state run Shanghai pretty little Myong Dong would long have been confiscated, bull-dozed and built over. Instead, Koreans, young and old have a place to gather where individuality rules, where ' doing your own thing ' is the norm, where boutiques, bars and restaurants flourish in small streets that still provide the heartbeat of modern Seoul.
Other differences exist behind the breath-taking steel and glass. South Koreans are the most wired up society on Earth. Education is paramount. Young and old, South Koreans have better access to the Internet than most Americans and Europeans. Koreans soak up the knowledge and contacts over a world wide web made possible by Sir Tim Berners-Lee when designing a means for passing scientific ideas and data for CERN in Geneva. China restricts access and this censorship soon caused Google to question whether the company can operate properly within China. The Chinese state has built a machine to restrict the access of its own people while attacking the communications and data bases of countries that it regards as political and commercial rivals. South Korea and China could not be further apart when it comes to gathering and sharing knowledge.
There's an old joke in South Korea that the letters QC do not stand for quality control but quite close. This label no longer applies to most goods manufactured in South Korea - they learnt and worked - but certainly it does apply to the vast majority of poorly made goods from China's state grown factories sold for hiked up prices by western import agents and high street chain stores.
China calls the client states along its frontier ' the ring of pearls ' and not one regime would exist without support from Beijing. The string runs from the north-east around the Chinese mainland through Vietnam and Burma to occupied Tibet and Kashmir to the Karakoram Pass into Pakistan. North Korea is ruled over by the World's first Communist dynasty. We have witnessed the latest crown prince - educated at a little known international school in a Bern suburb - displayed as a puppet during a mass parade of human robots one sunny day in Pyongyang. China is directly responsible for the continuing survival of this grotesque regime.
The north is much larger in area than the south though supports half the number of people, indeed, nearly 18 years ago I predicted that North Korea would become northern Asia's lone region of famine. When Korea was partitioned in 1945 the north gained all the industry and coal fields. South Koreans, poor farmers ruined by war, have left their Communist sister state light years behind and despite threats and nuclear bomb rattling, it's more a matter of time, before starvation opens the DMZ to absorption by the South's wealthy economy. There will arise many of the problems that Germany faces even years after the wall came down; but, it will happen. Meanwhile the US 8th Army and 17th Air Force with the ROK Armed Forces maintain their long watch along the DMZ and coastal waters. Already we see the regime gripped by the military as the ' throne ' passes to this odd crown prince. South Korea's navy has lost a warship and shell fire duels break out with no warning. Nuclear sites are revealed to frighten the neighbours. Perhaps the moment has come for the US Navy's big stick. Whatever their diplomats believe, China's rulers, who include the generals, will back to its dieing moment the North Korean dictatorship as a buffer, hoping to put off the day when 70 million Koreans live in a single booming democracy right next door. The price is misery for the 18 million people surviving in North Korea.
America's diplomats could offer China a deal whereby North Korea is rescued by South Korea through re-unifying the country through a peace - after decades finally ending the Korean War - with both Koreas, China and the UN Command guaranteeing a tranquil future. The big carrot for China would be the departure of US Forces with tactical nuclear weapons. There is an obvious stumbling block lurking ahead of any signatures. China attempts to exploit the present Korean crisis to introduce a warship notification regime around its coastal waters. China might demand this concession as part of the price for a peace treaty. The UN Law of the Sea Convention grants coastal states an Exclusive Economic Zone stretching 200 miles from its shores. Some countries - China is one - demand that foreign warships seek permission prior to entering their EEZ. The US Navy and the Royal Navy do not recognise this practise as required by international law and never give notification before entering an EEZ. Their reason is straight forward. Were such a custom to become international law our warships would need permission to pass through the choke points between oceans.
Some of the pearls are content with their existence - so far as it goes - such as Vietnam although the southern provinces were conquered with tanks, not ' liberated ' as claimed by folklore. There is an uneasy truce between the Vietnamese and China - given that open warfare flared along their border not long after the American war finished. The people of Burma are held down by a military junta through suppression. Again, we have just witnessed a phoney election, designed to keep the Burmese generals in power, an election that could not have taken place without China's backing for the military junta. The courageous Aung San Suu Kyi released from house arrest once more, steadfastly refuses to abandon her long, lonely vigil, thereby keeping the flame of liberty flickering. Small independent states once part of the Raj are threatened by China's rulers. Even the Philippines and Malaysia along with Vietnam are threatened by China's rulers who want their oil reserves. Bringing democracy to China would transform the lives of millions suffering under regimes imposed through China's tacit support.
Taipei capital of democratic Taiwan mixes old and new.
Just over a hundred miles off China's eastern coast lies the island of Taiwan. From 1905 the island, known as Formosa, was seized and colonised by the Japanese. After victory in 1945 the island returned to the Republic of China. When Mao's army conquered China in 1949 the remaining supporters of Chiang Kai-shek retreated to the island. Chiang not only brought many national treasures but also the foreign currency reserves and many of the business elite. At first the Americans declined to take sides but China's 1950 invasion of Korea changed the situation overnight and with America's political and military support, by creating high technology industries, Taiwan became one of the most prosperous economies in the World, one of the four Asian tigers. Democracy took a long time coming but today is well established. What makes Taiwan so unusual is that unlike Hong Kong and Singapore - since 1945 Taiwan has been a purely Chinese society and with no lingering European colonial influence. One can argue that had Mao Tse Tung been defeated the mainland would resemble a giant version of Taiwan. Some 23 million Taiwanese enjoy one of the higher standards of living in the World. Beijing does not like Taiwan's independence and the Taiwan Strait remains a flash point. None-the-less, for the rest of us, Taiwan is the kind of China we want - peaceful, prosperous and concerned with improving the lives of its own people through highly successful global trade.
Consider the alternative. China's regime will continue its policies of industrialisation while dominating more than a billion people. Wages will be held down through political suppression combined with an artificially low exchange rate for the Yuan. For some years ahead, dependent on coal burning power stations, the regime will block any Global agreement on climate change as it has done already at Copenhagen. Tibet will remain occupied so that China's regime controls its uranium and water. Despite opening trade and investment with Taiwan, on the political and military fronts China's leadership still threatens Taiwan and firmly supports despotic regimes in North Korea and Burma. China's leadership will continue to cause instability along the frontiers of India. The regime will not take up the responsibilities of a super power, for example, over Iran's and North Korea's nuclear ambitions. They will increasingly threaten - or bribe - governments in countries which have natural resources that China wants: Australia is threatened as with RTZ, Africans bribed as with Zimbabwe. China will sign more contracts and agreements for raw materials with suppressive regimes - deals which exploit populations and work forces unable to protect themselves, the kind of deals which companies from OECD countries are quite rightly, forbidden. All this gives China's industry an unassailable advantage over competitors from OECD economies. There is an unhealthy imbalance between China's huge trade surplus, resulting foreign exchange piles and the trade deficits and debts of the USA, European and other OECD economies.
Classic diplomatic negotiations to resolve these differences almost certainly risk failure. Chinese obstruction blocked any worthwhile deal on climate change at Copenhagen and provides the most recent snapshot. Combine diplomacy with imaginative doses of the democracy germ and the results might prove swifter than hoped and lasting. Massive trade barriers raised overnight, one, two, three thousand per cent import duties, though highly confrontational, quickly reverse the economic power balance between China and the United States. China snatches our manufacturing because New York and London bankers cannot see any further than their noses - the Germans enjoy booming manufacturing and car plants work overtime to deliver cars for China. The present Chinese regime won't let their exchange rate climb 200-300% so we have to force up their production costs. The Federal Reserve Bank recently printed another $ 600 billions for achieving the same effect though less drastically. New wealth does not reach every Chinese and those who benefit increasingly find political restrictions frustrate daily life - somebody who moves to Beijing usually waits seven years before they qualify for the housing list and housing is controlled by the city government. We are kicking at an open goal.
Alongside diplomacy, naval power also plays a vital role, because we must show China's leaders that we have the intention and the means to protect our own sea trade and our trading partners. This is not the same task as the US Navy's long watch over the China Seas and Taiwan Strait. The new naval task involves policing choke points such as the Malacca Strait and South China Sea, indeed, as the competition for resources increases, blocking any attempts to secure monopolies over raw materials through intimidation of other countries and closing ports and routes for our merchant shipping.
Click HMS Daring below at left for the latest on China and the carrier-killer missile - the new Daring Class are designed to shoot down multiple targets.
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