Français, Security & Defense

93ème séminaire jeune de l’IHEDN – J3

Le rythme continue.

20 ans IHEDN.jpg

Séminaire jeunes de l’IHEDN

  • L’Europe de la Défense est un terme bien français qui ne se traduit pas dans d’autres langues. Pour la France, le projet de créer des forces armées au niveau européen s’inscrit dans une volonté d’indépendance face à l’OTAN, jugée trop américano-centrée. L’Europe de la Défense, bien qu’un projet communautaire, doit tout d’abord servir les intérêts de la France et mettant l’emphase sur des projets compatibles avec les préoccupations de la France.
  • Le multilatéralisme en Europe est cependant en crise, du fait des intérêts divergents au sein de l’Union Européenne, mais aussi face aux crises extérieures qui touchent asymétriquement les Etats membres. Les alliances bilatérales, ainsi que le pragmatisme politique sont de plus en plus la norme.
  • L’industrie de l’armement français est un outil de la défense de la France, à la fois au niveau militaire qu’économique. En effet, les exportations permettent à la France de faire de gros profits tandis que le maintien de la production dans le pays permet le développement d’armement compétitif et garantit l’indépendance de la France par apport aux productions étrangères, ce qui garantit l’autonomie des forces armées.
  • Seuls les Etats-Unis, la Lettonie et la Grèce respectent le principe du minimum des 2% de part du PIB pour la défense. Le respect de cette condition permet au renouvellement de l’arsenal militaire afin d’éviter la désuétude des forces. Le cas de la Lettonie est facile à comprendre alors que la menace russe continue de peser. Quant à la Grèce, rappelons que ce pays se considère comme en guerre. En effet, la question de Chypre reste à être résolue avec la Turquie.
  • Le respect du droit international et des Droits de l’Homme sont inscrits dans le Livre Blanc de la Défense de 2013. Ces principes limitent ainsi les débordements que peu conduire les conflits, et inspire le respect sur la scène internationale.
  • La stratégie de défense est basée sur la connaissance et l’anticipation, qui passe notamment par le renseignement ; la dissuasion par la démonstration des forces armées, ses moyens, mais aussi par le nucléaire ; protection ; et prévention. Quand ces mesures ne sont pas nécessaires à garantir la stabilité du paysage sécuritaire français, alors une intervention est déclenchée.
  • Au-delà de ses opérations extérieures pour le rétablissement ou le maintien de la paix, la France est stationnée dans nombres de pays afin de garantir la rapidité de son déploiement et d’intervention si nécessaire et sur des théâtres aux quatre coins du monde. Des forces armées sont ainsi postées en continue au Qatar, à Djibouti, au Koweït, à Abu Dhabi mais aussi dans les DOM et les COM. La France est ainsi présente sur tous les continents.
  • La guerre asymétrique pose des problèmes au niveau juridique car les lois normalement applicables à la guerre conventionnelle ne s’appliquent pas. C’est ainsi le droit commun qui régit les actes de piraterie et offrent un cadre juridique drastiquement différent. Cela contraint ainsi les pratiques de la guerre. Par exemple, en droit commun, seule la légitime défense prévaut, les attaques préventive ou préemptive n’ayant aucune valeur juridique. Dans ce cadre-là, seule des Etats peuvent se prémunir contre ce type de menace. La piraterie ne peut ainsi qu’être légitimement combattue que par l’UE et non par l’OTAN. En effet, l’Union Européenne est une association d’Etat, une mise en commun des efforts des Etats contre ce risque, alors que l’OTAN est une agence spécialisée qui ne représente que les forces armées. L’OTAN doit se cantonner à un rôle dissuasion tandis que l’UE a la possibilité d’intervenir.
  • La France est présentement déployée principalement sur 4 missions : Sentinelle sur le territoire français, au Liban, à Barkhane au Chad (pour une action sur la Bande Sahara-Sahel) et pour la mission Sangaris. Cette dernière a été déployée en décembre 2013 en République Centrafricaine (RCA) dans un effort de stabiliser le pays suite à une demande du président Bozizé alors que les Séléka, un groupement musulman pille le pays et menace le pouvoir. Lorsque les français se déploient en RCA, Bozizé a été chassé du pouvoir et le pays en proie à une instabilité flagrante. Pays enclavé et difficile d’accès, la RCA est l’un des pays les plus pauvres du monde.
  • Dans le cadre de Sangaris, la mission de la France est de venir en soutien aux forces de l’Union Africaine alors que cette dernière a des moyens limités et peine à rétablir l’ordre, et de réinstaurer la stabilité dans le pays afin de pouvoir y rétablir des institutions stables.

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society, The political use of...

The political use of public shaming

I decided that I would listen to a Ted Talk every morning while having breakfast. The point is to keep my brain going from the beginning of the day, but not necessarily on political or topical subjects. Every week, I will pick the one that made me reflect the most. I will post it here, and share my views with you.

We all know who Monica Lewinsky is. She was “the other woman”, the young lady Bill Clinton had an affair with in 1997 while being President of the United States. After years of hiding, Monica Lewinsky finally broke her silence and shared her vision of the scandal, how she regretted what happened, and how it had been a mistake. She rightly points to the fact that everybody makes mistakes in their early twenties; but her mistakes had far greater consequences than the average person’s. Lewinsky dwells on the changes that internet brought. The news of her affair with Clinton was everywhere, every time and for everybody who looked for the information. It triggered a scandal with unprecedented dimensions. The scandal had life-threatening consequences for her. The scandal was not just ethical – it was political. Lewinsky’s humiliation was just the byproduct of a political confrontation between Clinton an his opponents.

Clinton must be taken down 

Clinton was elected President of the United States in 1992, preventing George Bush from a second mandate at the White House (Clinton’s campaign focused on economy while Bush’s hinged on foreign affairs). The new democrat president is not accepted by a large portion of the most conservative politicians, who criticized Clinton for being too lax, for lacking of leadership and experience, and for including his wife in the government’s affairs. Refusing to accept Clinton, his detractors monitors his every move hoping to dig out some dirt which could ruin the president’s integrity and standing. Several stories were brought to the news, such as the Whitewater affair, Troopergate, Filegate or Travelgate, all started by the American Spectator, the same newspaper which launched the anti-Clinton campaign during the elections. The American people did not pay much attention to those affairs, too preoccupied by the stagnation of the national economy.

Monica Lewinsky’s affair with the president, while not being related to the affair that was being investigated at the time, was brought up and added to the list of accusations against Bill Clinton. The conversations the young woman had on the phone with Linda Tripp, Lewinsky’s confident at the Pentagon, were tipped off to the prosecutor in charge of investigating Clinton’s past. Clinton was summoned to the Court where he deliberatly lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. This triggered a political spiral against the president, which went as far as an impeachment procedure against Clinton.

This case shows how adultery was used and distorted by Clinton’s political opponents, for political reasons. This also shows how Clinton’s political decisions as President of the United Nations did not matter in this story. His detractors tried to get him humiliated for his character because they did not support his political agenda. This is not democracy, and this is not justice. Lewinsky got caught in between conflicting political interests disguised as moralism. Clinton’s opponent did not play fair or by the rules.

Judging a president by his personal life

There are many examples of presidents, prime ministers or politicians whose personal lives were used to temper with their careers. Take France: we are probably the champions when it comes to being apologetic with our politicians’ personal faux pas. François Mitterand had a double life which was revealed after his death. Although morally wrong from a marital point of view but also because both wives and children were supported by public finances, did it make Mitterand less of a president? I am not saying that his politics were right. I am saying that what he did in his private life and what he did as the French President were two separate things that did not affect me the same way.

A more recent example: François Hollande was witnessed sneaking out of l’Elysée to go visit his mistress at the time. Same for Mitterand, this shows that he is someone I would not be willing to be friends with, no more no less.

Collage of cover pages of newspapers about scandal of Dominique Strauss Kahn

Innocent until proven guilty? Will ‘DSK’ survive the sex scandal? AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX

The most extreme example of distorting a politician’s personal life is that of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Former president of the IMF, Strauss-Kahn is – or was – also a French politician who was rumored to have been preparing his candidacy for the French presidential elections  of 2013. He was accused of “aggravated-pimping”, sexual harassment and other terms of the sort, and finally acquitted. I am one of those who believe that this was a conspiracy, just like in Clinton’s case(You can read more about the scandals here). Because of the scandals, Strauss-Kahn was fired from the IMF and put to the sideline in France, thus annihilated (or at least greatly postponing) his possible candidacy for the presidential elections.

Find me cynical 

Now, find me cynical, but I believe every single politician has something to hide. We would like for them to resemble the general public, to be just like us, or at least reflect what we would like ourselves to be like. But we are not perfect, we also have things that we do not want to be made public. Because they have a public life, politicians’ private lives are more likely to get exposed. But think that we hope to be judged on our skills and capacities when we are at work. Let’s judge politicians on the same ground, in their case for their abilities to govern.

Do not get me wrong: adultery, sexual harassment, and so forth, are terrible things and they should be addressed. They should not, however, be used as political daggers to get rid of an opponent. Those defects should be exposed before they become liabilities for a nation. Everybody knew Clinton had had several affairs before going to the White House, but nobody did anything about it and it did not prevent him from becoming the president of the US.

The French (and others) political scene is sexist, which is only a reflection of our society. Change this approach and you will change the politicians. As long as this has not changed, I will continue judging my political leaders based on their capacities to govern, and not on what they do with their personal lives.

In the name of transparency, I would ideally like my politicians to be angels. But none of them are. Someone still has to run our countries. Does that make me cynical?

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Countries

Madagascar: aborted development

Madagascar… apart from the animated film of the same name, what do we really know about Madagascar? Until last weekend, I certainly did not know much, but meeting a native person opened my eyes to the potentials and threats that this gigantic island located off the coast of Africa, across from Mozambique is facing.

Madagascar - Source:

Madagascar – Source: Ministère des Affaires Etrangères de France

A little bit of history

Madagascar was independent kingdom before being colonized by France in 1896. In 1946, the island’s status changed to become a French Overseas Territory, as opposed to a colony. The decolonization process started with a local insurrection in 1947 which was violently repressed by the French forces (the repression is often considered as one of France’s bleakest moment of the decolonization era, alongside Indochina). Madagascar finally seizes it independence in 1960. This renewed freedom did not, however, change much at the political level as the lack of democracy and an autocratic, inherited from the colonial era, stayed in place until 1992-93 when the first free elections took place.

Important political instability shook the country in 2009-2013, as a popular uprising forced former president Marc Ravalomanana to hand in the power to the military who passed on the reins of the state to the mayor of Antananarivo, the capital city. The process is de facto considered to be a  coup d’état. The crisis was settled through international mediation led by the Southern African Development Community, following which Madagascar held UN-supported presidential and parliamentary elections in 2013. The presidency has been in the hands of Hery Rajaonarimampianina since 2014.

Political and economical disarray 

Last May, the “Assemblée Nationale” (legislative chamber) voted for the destitution of the president, result of the semi-parlementarian system and the lack of strong political foothold of the president (Rajaonarimampianina was elected despite not belonging to a party and thus not being represented in the

Malagasy President Hery RAJAONARIMAMPIANINA Source: www.presidence.gov.mg/

Malagasy President Hery RAJAONARIMAMPIANINA
Source: http://www.presidence.gov.mg/

Assembly). The request was, however, rejected by the Constitutional Court. The political situation on the island remains unstable, illustrated by the resurgence on the political scene of former heads of states. The demons of the past have creeped up again on the economic scene as well, although Madagascar had been on the road to development since the mid-1990s after the country followed the IMF and World Bank policies.

Today, 80% of population lives off of agriculture but deforestation and difficult weather conditions such as drought and cyclones have put a strain on food supplies and the income generated. The national economy knows a very slow growth, 3,2% so far in 2015 (IMF), a number which should be much higher considering that Madagascar is a developing country. Plus, the Malagasy soil is rich with oil, chrome and nickel, thus offering immense economic potential for the local population, but the laxity and lack of efficiency of the government keeps putting foreign investors off.

The rampant corruption is also preventing the development of the country: Madagascar ranks 133 out of 174 on the corruption scale, a situation which has worsen since 2012. Other numbers are alarming: close to 3 out of 4 Malagasy live under the poverty line; the GDP per capita ranks 218 out of 230; the GDP has dropped by 42% since the independence in 1960.

The vicious circle 

Unfortunately, the situation Madagascar is in today will be hard to get out from alone. And due to the elements enumerated above, violence, strikes and inefficiency have increased. As a consequence, tourism, which is one of the island’s main source of revenue due to the beauty of its nature, has considerably dropped: only 100,000 tourists have made it there so far in 2015, although the previsions forecasted three times more foreign visitors. The strikes at Air Madagascar are partly to blame, although the claims of the staff are more than fair (see here for more).

The crisis also triggers chronic malnutrition, but also caused the resurgence of plague due to the poor living conditions in some parts of the country (Madagascar is the country the most affected by plague in the world).

Madagascar is also widely affected by malaria and dengue fever due to its tropical climate. Prevention campaigns have so far failed to reduce the effects of malaria. For example, children have been seen fishing with the mosquito nets rather than using them to keep the insects away.

Getting out of the mess 

On September 22, the IMF agreed to a 42 million euro loan to reform the local economy. This is a two-hedged sword because it has the potential to make a difference and trigger real changes, but it also has the potential to support corruption and not reach the intended result.

Madagascar is in a very concerning situation as the country seems to have halted its development. Strangely, it seems like the country is going backwards. Political stability has done no good for the population yet. Fear is spreading that only a military coup could force changes. Weirdly enough, history has shown that authoritarianism seems to have brought better results than democracy in Madagascar.

This situation cannot last. Parts of the civil society – mostly students- are denunciating the failures of the govenment, to which the police is reacting with violence instead of protecting the population. 

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Français

Hong Kong, Coquelicot et Waterloo: Prendre en compte la culture de l’autre

Cet article a été traduit de l’anglais. Cliquez ici pour voir l’article original. 

En politique, et dans la vie en général, la culture est importante. La meilleure façon de voir les différences entre les cultures et d’étudier un processus de négociation. Ce processus met en lumière la stratégie et la personnalité du négociateur, mais aussi reflète la façon dont les parties a cet négociation se perçoivent. Comprendre les coutumes, valeurs et rites, ainsi que l’histoire de l’autre est primordial. Passer outre aura sans doute de graves conséquences; aux plus aux échelons politiques, cela peut lier a une crise diplomatique, voir a une guerre si la diplomatie secrète n’arrive pas a désamorcer la situation. Comprendre l’autre augmentera au contraire les chances de parvenir a une solution positive.

Les négociations sur le sort de Hong Kong 

Mrs Thatcher and Zhao Ziyang formally agree the handover - Source: BBC News

Mrs Thatcher and Zhao Ziyang formally agree the handover – Source: BBC News

Prenons l’exemple de la Déclaration conjointe sino-britannique sur l’indépendance de Hong Kong, signée par le Royaume Uni et la Chine en 1984. Les accords scellaient le future de Hong Kong alors que le bail des Nouveaux Territoires (99 ans) au profit de Londres approchaient de leur date d’expiration (1997). Le texte officiel statuait ainsi que l’intégrité des territoires constituant Hong Kong seraient rendus a la Chine a la fin de juillet 1997. En échange, la Chine s’engageait a mettre en place son fameux arrangement politique “un pays, deux systèmes”, respectant ainsi l’économie capitaliste et autres spécificités de Hong Kong. Afin d’arriver a cet accord, les deux partis ont du prendre en compte les demandes ainsi que les techniques de négociation de l’autre. L’équipe de Margaret Thatcher a  pourtant obtenu des concessions de Deng Xiaoping en comprenant et en utilisant, avec efficacité et a leur avantage, le protocole chinois. Les britanniques ont ainsi suivi la hiérarchie chinoise, les négociateurs ont construit des relations personnelles au delà du mandat politique, qui ont fait presque oublier aux chinois les deux siècles de soumission au colon européen. Le résultat des négociations peut être considéré comme positif pour les deux partis car ils ont chacun pu protéger leurs plus cruciaux avantages: la Chine a récupéré Hong Kong, ce qui envoyait un message fort a Taiwan en vue d’une possible réunification, et la position de Deng Xiaoping en étant renforcée au niveau national; quant aux anglais ils ont pu protéger leurs intérêts économiques et assurer une transition lente et pacifique entre leur administration et celle de Pékin.

Le scandale du coquelicot 

Comme vous l’avez peut-être remarque, le Royaume-Uni et les costumes des politiciens britanniques se garnissent d’un coquelicot tous les ans a l’approche du mois de novembre. Ce symbole a été créé en souvenir des morts de la Première Guerre Mondiale et pour célébrer l’armistice du 11 Novembre. Ce symbole est tellement ancre dans la vie politique et la mémoire en outre-manche que l’ancien premier ministre Tony Blair le porte sur son portrait officiel. C’est avec ce même symbole sur la veste de costume que David Cameron s’est rendu en Chine lors d’une visite officielle en Novembre 2010.

David Cameron - wearing the poppy - inspects Chinese troops in Beijing with China's Premier Wen Jiabao

David Cameron – wearing the poppy – inspects Chinese troops in Beijing with China’s Premier Wen Jiabao – Source: The Sydney Morning Herald 

J’ai auparavant mentionné que la Chine en voulait au Royaume-Uni suite à la domination de ce dernier sur le Royaume du Milieu durant deux décennies. Les points culminants de cette domination sont appelés les Guerres d’Opium (la première qui dura de 1839 à 1842, le deuxième de 1956 à 1860), qui ont permis aux puissances étrangères (Royaume Uni et France en autres) des avantages termes de commerces mais aussi des gains territoriaux (Hong Kong par exemple). Quand l’on pense que l’opium est fabriqué à partir de pavot, dont la fleur est le coquelicot, on comprend mieux pourquoi le fait que le Premier Ministre britannique porte ce symbole lors d’une visite officielle en Chine a pu créer la controverse à Beijing.

Porter le coquelicot rouge, et le garder malgré la demande du protocole chinois pour que ce symbole soit enlevé, était un risque diplomatique et culturel important. Cameron et les quatre membres du Cabinet l’accompagnant, ont pu, après de dures négociations, garder cet emblème sur le revers de leur veste. L’importance de la visite, dont le but était d’améliorer les relations économiques entre les deux pays ainsi que de signer de nouveaux deals, on surement poussé les chinois à faire des concessions, notamment à accepter que les visiteurs portent le symbole du colonialisme d’antan. Le reste de la visite s’est ainsi déroulé comme prévu, les parties se focalisant sur les opportunités économiques. Les britanniques ont tout de même clairement énoncé leur désapprobation quant aux manquements de la Chine au niveau démocratique et des droits de l’homme, renforçant l’offense en attaquant directement le régime et ses pratiques sur leur territoire.

Les deux exemples mis en perspectives 

La visite de Cameron à Beijing (ou Pékin si l’on veut être colonial), peut-être considérée comme très condescendante. Une ancienne puissance coloniale est venue rendre visite à son ancien vassal en portant de manière ostentatoire un symbole de cette domination malgré le fait que les hôtes avaient clairement demandé à ce que celui-ci soit caché. Si l’on transpose cette situation dans le contexte des négociations sur le future de Hong Kong, Thatcher et son équipe n’auraient jamais pris la même décision. Pourquoi? Tout simplement parce qu’il y avait trop en jeux à l’époque. Un faux pas diplomatique de ce genre aurait pu forcer la Grande Bretagne à rendre Hong Kong à la Chine sans rien obtenir en retour.

Dans le cas des négociations au sujet de Hong Kong, le Royaume-Uni a pris l’initiative d’initier les pourparlers avec la Chine, espérant ainsi obtenir quelques concessions malgré leur position de faiblesse vis à vis de l’autre parti. Les britanniques ont suivi les règles des chinois afin d’éviter tout incident diplomatique, ce qui a été évité. Les deux partis se sont ainsi quittés relativement satisfaits. En 2010, Cameron s’est rendu en Chine dans une position de force, sachant que les chinois seraient prêts à tout pour signer des accords économiques, même si le Royaume Uni les avaient offensés à plusieurs reprises.

Il est donc possible de croire que comprendre et prendre en compte la culture de l’autre est seulement recommandé lorsque l’on se trouve dans une situation de faiblesse, comme démontré par le fait que les chinois ont laissé Cameron porter le coquelicot; et c’est seulement un détail, un bonus, lorsque l’on se trouve dans une position de force et que le faible est prêt à tout pour obtenir ce qu’il veut.

Considérations éthiques 

Mais, que doit-on faire, ou ne pas faire, afin de ne pas offenser les autres, même lorsque cette offense est liée à notre identité nationale? Et aussi, est-il acceptable que des opportunités économiques puissent justifier le non-respect de l’autre? Le profit justifie-t-il l’offense?

Un autre exemple a attiré mon attention il y a quelques mois. La Belgique voulait introduire une pièce d’euro en commémoration du bi-centenaire de la bataille de Waterloo contre Napoléon. En tant que française, j’ai trouvée l’idée très blessante. La France et la Belgique ont normalement de très bonnes relations diplomatiques, elles font toutes deux partie de l’UE, de l’OTAN, etc. La Belgique n’aurait-elle dû donc pas prendre les émotions de la France en compte lors de la présentation de ce projet à la Banque Centrale Européenne? (le projet a été refusé suite au veto français)

Si les chefs d’Etats n’hésitent pas à offenser leurs amis et partenaires, comment peut-on s’attendre à ce que les populations se respectent entre elles?

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History and Culture

Hong Kong, Poppy and Waterloo: Taking others’ culture into consideration

In politics, and in life in general, culture matters. The best way to observe cultural difference is to study a negotiation process. On one hand it showcases the strategy and the personality of the negotiator, and on the other hand, it exemplifies how parties to the negotiation perceive one another but also perceive time. Understanding others’ customs, values and rites, as well as history is crucial. Failing to understand this will most certainly lead to problems; at the highest political ranks, this can lead to diplomatic crises or even to wars if the back channels are not able to mend the offend. Successfully understanding the other will however increase the chance of a positive outcome for the discussion.

The Hong Kong negotiations 

Mrs Thatcher and Zhao Ziyang formally agree the handover - Source: BBC News

Mrs Thatcher and Zhao Ziyang formally agree the handover – Source: BBC News

Take the example of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Independence of Hong Kong signed by the UK and China in 1984. The accord settled the question of the future of Hong Kong, as the UK’s lease on the New Territories was due to end in 1997. The agreement stated that the entirety of the territory of Hong Kong would be returned to China by the United Kingdom at the end of July 1997. In return, the Middle Kingdom would implement its “one country, two systems” administrative arrangement, thus respecting Hong Kong’s capitalist economy and other local specificities. In order to reach such an agreement, both parties to the negotiation had to work with the other’s demands and negotiation techniques. Margaret Thatcher’s team managed to get many concessions from Deng Xiaoping’s as they managed to understand the Chinese protocol and use it to their advantage. The Brits respected the Chinese chain of command, the negotiators built personal relations which made Peking put aside their resentment that two centuries of British domination had caused. The outcomes of the negotiation were positive for both parties: China got Hong Kong back, thus sending a strong message to Taiwan and reinforcing the stature of Deng Xiaoping at the national level, while the UK managed to secure their economic interests and ensured a smooth transition from British to Chinese rule for the territory.

The Poppy Scandal

As you have probably noticed, the UK and the decision-makers’ lapels get pinned by a red poppy every year around th end of October – early November. This symbol was created in remembrance of the 11th of November, the anniversary of the World War I armistice. This symbol is so enshrined into British politics and memory that former Prime Minister Tony Blair wears this red flower in his official portrait. It is with that same poppy that David Cameron travelled to China in November 2010.

David Cameron - wearing the poppy - inspects Chinese troops in Beijing with China's Premier Wen Jiabao

David Cameron – wearing the poppy – inspects Chinese troops in Beijing with China’s Premier Wen Jiabao – Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

I mentioned earlier that China resented the UK because of two centuries of domination. The high points of this domination are referred to as the Opium Wars (the first one was in 1839-1842, the 2nd in 1956-1860 – more info here), which awarded commercial privileges and territorial gains to the foreign powers. Now, remember that opium is made from poppies. The fact that the British Prime Minister wore a poppy during a visit to China brought to the surface a strong anti-colonial and bitter taste in the Chinese’s mouths.

Wearing that poppy, and keeping it on despite the Chinese protocol clearly demanding those symbols to be put away, was a clear diplomatic and cultural risk. Cameron and four members of his Cabinet, not without negotiation, were allowed to keep the pin on. The importance of the purpose of the visit, which was to enhance the economic partnership of the two countries and sign new deals probably pushed the Chinese to make this concession. The rest of the diplomatic visit was dedicated to economic considerations, but also to making clear that China had some work to do on the democratic front, furthering the offense by directly criticizing the local political practices.

Confronting the two examples 

All in all, this visit can be regarded as very condescending. A former colonial power went to visit a former colony, and wore a symbol of this domination despite the fact that the hosts asked for this emblem to be removed. If we transpose this situation to that of the negotiation of Hong Kong, Thatcher’s government would never have made this decision. Why? For the simple reason that there was too much on the table at the time. The UK could have potentially been forced to hand back Hong Kong to the Middle Kingdom without getting anything in return if they had not played their cards right.

In the first negotiation, the UK approached China in a position of weakness and hoping go secure their interests even if the power balance was against them. They followed the lead of Peking to avoid possible offense. None was made and the two countries left the signature ceremony content. In 2010, Cameron went to China in a position of strength, aware that China was willing to negotiate economic deals even though the UK had offended them several times, by wearing the poppy but also by openly criticizing their human rights violations.

It is then possible to assume that cultural understanding is only advisable and practiced when in a weak position, as demonstrated by the Chinese’s willingness to let Cameron wear the poppy during the official visit; it then only a detail when in a position of strength, when the weak party is desperate and is willing to accept everything to secure some benefits and its vital interests.

Ethical considerations 

So, where do we draw the line? What should we do – or not do – in order to avoid offending others, even though the offense is perpetrated by our national identity? But more importantly, should economic opportunities be considered acceptable excuses to baffle others’ culture? Should business allow us to be offensive?

Another example caught my eye a few months ago. Belgium wanted to introduce euro coins commemorating the battle of their victory in Waterloo against Napoleon. Needless to say that, as a French person, I was offended by the idea. Belgium and France have good diplomatic relations, they are close economic and cultural partners, are both part of the EU, NATO, etc. So, shouldn’t have Brussels taken Paris’s feelings into account when introducing the idea to the European Bank?

If Heads of State do not hesitate to offend their friends and partners, how can we expect people to be accepting of others?

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