Unknown to most, the Lib Dem Chief Whip is called 'Sunshine' at the weekends

I was disappointed to discover that when the media reported two Giant Pandas in Scotland they didn’t mean Ed Miliband and his lesser known brother Hubert, of a thousand panda stares fame, but rather the large black and white fluffy mascots of China’s foreign policy.

Pandas had been a staple of Chinese diplomatic policy for millennia, even utilised as far back as the Tang dynasty (For those not aware of when that was, think around about the fall of the Roman Empire) – under the Communist party the practice was revived in the 50’s and Panda’s have been used for everything from placating The US and Britain to trying to disrupt the internal politics of Taiwan.

If Washington or Paris wants to be very good friends with you they send you a nice shiny plate and invite you over for a bang up state dinner. When Beijing want to be very good friends with you they will send two evolutionary dead ends in three cages, one for each black and white fluffy thing and another for the few types of rare bamboo it actually feeds on – contrary to common conception they will not eat haggis or deep fried Mars bars.

Leaving aside the moral ambiguities of using an endangered species as a diplomatic tool, Alex Samond must be delighted that the Pandas have ended up in bonnie Scotland; the Scottish First Minister is currently in China promoting business and ‘cultural links’ whatever that means and will undoubtedly try to take the credit for ‘Panda Mania’ which was a UK government agreement with China signed by Nick Clegg.

Of course if they don’t breed they’ll blame Clegg for the cock up.

I am, Panda jokes aside (No, Nicola Sturgeon – you can’t deep fry them in batter) finding it rather difficult to give a damn.

Panda’s aren’t really all that cute. They’re not all that useful and beyond gawping at them for the next 8 years I really don’t see the point in the undoubtedly high Bamboo price tag.

Yes, we should aim for good relations with our partners, China included. But China is a special case. Let us not forget that the Peoples Republic is a repressive one party state where censorship is rife, injustice is indiscriminate and random, where capital punishment is rampant, individualism crushed; a place where calls for democracy are put down with tanks and the butts of replica AK 47’s.

Instead of calling out the government of the People’s Republic on its shortcomings and using the opportunity to, yes, welcome closer ties, business links and common purpose but also call for a faster transition to democracy, with or without ‘Chinese Characteristics’ we are airbrushing history. Instead of making the case that a more accountable and democratic Chinese government would be good – for China – we are collectively cooing at giant fluffy things.

I’m not suggesting throwing our toys out the pram. I’ve been to breakfast meetings with Wen Jiabao and attended youth exchanges at the Chinese Embassy, its important to have dialgoue and for the sake of balance I’ve also been a guest of the Taiwanese Government in a visit to Taipei and Green Island (and Democratic Capitalism, as opposed to Communist Capitalism hasn’t done the Taiwanese any harm)

The Chinese government should be treated respectfully and any dialogue needs to be handled in a firm but mature way. Telling the Chinese Premier that we appreciate the cute teddy bears but remain silent, even on the basis that we hope Beijing sees the benefits the West enjoys in terms of civil society, is neither firm nor mature. We’re letting ourselves down, not just those under trodden by the Communist regime.

We have a strategic relationship with China for mostly positive reasons, and that’s much preferable to a standoff, however, if we are friends, friends should be honest with each other. Taking a Panda loan shouldn’t blind us to that.

Advertisements