Wardrobe diplomacy at the Bric summit

When the annals of early 21st century geo-politics are written, in the section dealing with the rise of China, there ought to be a chapter on sartorial diplomacy. The sub-title would be obvious: outsiders, wear red!

Dilma Rousseff and Hu Jintao in China

Getty Images

As for photographic illustration, you could pick pretty much any national leader either on a visit to China or hosting a visit from China. Like, for example, Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian president, who yesterday sported a bright red jacket for day one of her visit to China for the Bric summit.

As for why the plethora of carnelian shades, the answer is obvious – it’s respectful, red is a deeply meaningful colour in Chinese culture, it is good luck, and so on – but at the same time, I can’t help thinking it is terribly reductive, even vaguely condescending, and wondering if Hu Jintao doesn’t roll his eyes in amusement every time he sees yet another peer in their permutation of red dress.

I mean, subtle this is not. Besides, even in the years of American hegemony, it wasn’t as if foreign diplomats arrived sporting red, white, and blue ties. Nor, when Japan was seen as the economy to obsess over, did cherry blossom pink become a political trend. So how come it has become conventional wisdom that obsequiousness in dress is good for relations with China?

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