Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Diplomacy and great knockabout entertainment

We have written previously about the dangerous mix of drinks and microphones, especially for diplomats.  Tim Collard, a retired British diplomat who spent most of his career in China and Germany heard about the rant that ricochet around the world from China's John Bolton and recalled from memory a prior diplomatic encounter with the drink/microphone mix up, then blogged about it in the Telegraph. Excerpt below:  

When I worked in Beijing in the late 1990s Mr Sha was head of the Arms Control department of the Foreign Ministry, and an entertainingly robust opponent. The best performance I ever witnessed was in 1998, when he was guest of honour at a lunch given by Commonwealth diplomats.

Rather naughtily, we seated him directly opposite the Indian Ambassador, this being directly after India had declared itself a nuclear weapon state, to China’s fury. As expected, China’s fury erupted across the table in an impassioned rant, which the urbane Indian envoy took on the chin, responding with a few rapier thrusts of his own. It was great knockabout entertainment.
The spokesman who was wheeled out afterwards to give the official smoothing-over statement even went so far as to suggest Sha may have had a few drinks. Surely not, among senior diplomats on a “retreat”?

Actually, I’m not sure. The great thing about Sha Zukang, for those of us used to hearing Chinese officials droning predictably on, with all the real content having to be dug out with spades from between the lines, was that he was always capable of this kind of performance stone cold sober.

A more total refutation of the stereotype of Oriental inscrutability is hard to imagine. And far from being superannuated, he is only 62. Even Ban Ki-moon will surely come to appreciate a genuine original. Long may he continue to rage against the dying of the light. And the Americans – they can take it.

Stone cold sober, huh?  Diplomacy is 95% theatrical aplomb, too? Perhaps we should think twice about that dangerous mix ....

Read the whole thing here.

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