Monthly Archives: November 2009

This post by the Financial Times looks at the big powers – Russia and China included – uniting to insist Iran closes down its second secret enrichment plant. Read more

By Alan Beattie, world trade editor

If anyone can explain this to me, I’d be very grateful. I have been reading everywhere that Dubai has no modern bankruptcy law, meaning you can go after your debtors with criminal sanctions if they default. Read more

By Victor Mallet, Madrid bureau chief
The Philippines has had a reputation as a violent archipelago ever since Ferdinand Magellan failed to circumnavigate the globe (though some of his sailors did make it all the way round and thus immortalised his name) because he was killed on a beach on the island of Mactan near Cebu in 1521.

Yet the massacre of 46 people on Monday in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in the southern Philippines plumbs new depths of violence and cruelty. It appears that gunmen loyal to a local politician attacked a convoy of his opponents and slaughtered them, as well as 12 accompanying journalists, with M-16 rifles and machetes. Read more

By Geoff Dyer, China bureau chief

Barack Obama has already moved on to the next aspiring Asian superpower – today he meets India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh – but plenty of people are still trying absorb what really happened on his visit to China last week. Read more

By James Blitz, the FT’s defence and diplomatic editor

Britain’s official  inquiry into the Iraq war begins today, amid much speculation that it will be a “whitewash”. One of the main reasons for this is that Sir John Chilcot, the inquiry chairman, is the very model of a British civil servant and a man who looks unlikely to wield the knife when it comes to an inquiry of this sort. Besides, argue the critics, the other members of the inquiry team have all been selected by Downing Street, suggesting to some that they are not truly independent and likely to pull their punches.

I’m not so sure about this. Having covered the four previous inquiries into the Iraq war, I’d beware of making any prediction on the outcome of this one. One thing I do know: the media has misjudged what the eventual outcome of all the previous Iraq inquiries would be and I expect will do the same again this time.

Take the 2003-04 Hutton inquiry into the death of weapons scientist Dr David Kelly. There was a near universal assumption in the British media when the inquiry began in the autumn of 2003 that it would destroy Tony Blair. In fact, Hutton  did the exact opposite. His inquiry almost completely exonerated Blair over the handling of the Kelly affair but instead found heavily against the BBC over aspects of its reporting -  leading to the dismissal of the two leading figures in the BBC. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

If the answer is Herman Van Rompuy and Cathy Ashton, what the hell was the question? Europe’s choices for its new “president” and “foreign minister” are like the result of some sort of computer-dating programme that has gone badly wrong. If you fed in all the criteria for the jobs into your computer and it spat out the names – “Van Rompuy” and “Ashton”, you would ring the systems department and tell them that there had been some sort of catastrophic breakdown. Read more

By Alan Beattie, the FT’s world trade editor

Look, not my specialist subject, but here’s my eurocent’s-worth on the appointment of the Baroness High Representative and the Lord High Everything Else.

(Incidentally, I’d have stuck with the classic original song for this blog post title, but if there’s one thing Brussels isn’t short of, it’s lawyers.)

The biggest problem with these posts isn’t the final personnel decision, though that’s certainly in the top two. It’s that no matter who fills them, there’s no there there. Pick any important foreign policy question of the last twenty years – Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/Palestine – and it’s clear that what you need for influence is one or all of:

1. veto power on the UN Security Council

2. troops you can send into battle (a shooting war, not peacekeeping)

3. foreign/military aid big enough to matter that you can use for political ends Read more

By Roula Khalaf, the FT’s Middle East editor

Ingram Pinn Illustration Read more

By James Blitz, defence and diplomatic editor, in Kabul

President Hamid Karzai’s inauguration speech has long been seen as a critical moment for him to spell out his determination to improve Afghan governance in his second term of office and begin the fight against corruption.

But the part of the speech that will make the headlines tonight in the US and Europe is his commitment to get the Afghan National Army and police into a position where they can manage the nation’s security alone by the middle of the next decade. Read more

By Geoff Dyer, FT China bureau chief

Barack Obama made one last final attempt to speak directly to ordinary Chinese people at the end of his three-day visit, giving an interview in Beijing yesterday to Southern Weekend, one of China’s more outspoken newspapers. Read more

By Geoff Dyer, FT China bureau chief

Now that the Obama circus has left town, the biggest sigh of relief comes from the group of people often labelled as China’s “dissidents”: human rights lawyers, serial petitioners and democracy advocates. Even though the US president went out of his way to be diplomatic about human rights issues and did not have any extra-curricular meetings with independent intellectuals, Beijing still detained dozens of people and put others under house arrestRead more

By Zach Coleman, FT Asia world news editor

Lee Myung-bak, the South Korean president, may have looked like he was bulking up ahead of Barack Obama’s first presidential visit to Seoul this week when he sported a sweater under his suit jacket.

In fact, Lee and his cabinet – who joined him adding some layers of protection – were trying to lead by example as they committed the country to cut its carbon emissions in a symbolically under-heated meeting room during a cold snap.

How Seoul will reduce emissions by four per cent from 2005 levels by 2020 has not yet been spelled out. But the track record of other leaders using sartorial gestures to promote energy conservation has been mixed.

Months after becoming US president, Jimmy Carter donned a cardigan to underscore that the energy crisis was the “moral equivalent of war”. Carter hoped to summon public solidarity to conserve energy and reduce oil imports through steps such as reducing wintertime heating and driving more efficent cars.

But in the heyday of the Pontiac TransAm, his plea for sacrifice didn’t resonate with the American public (how would Hummer owners react now?). Oil imports continued to climb and Carter was eventually sent packing by the sunnier optimism of Ronald Reagan. Read more

In this audio interview, Edward Luce, the FT’s Washington bureau chief, analyses the significance of President Barack Obama’s first visit to China. Read more

By Geoff Dyer, FT China bureau chief

Have we just watched the launch of the G2? As Barack Obama has said several times this week, there are few big global problems that can be solved without the agreement of the US and China. And talking in terms of a G2 captures some of the shifting balance of global power where a wounded US is seeking to find common cause with a rising China. Read more

By Mure Dickie, FT Tokyo bureau chief

The depth of Barack Obama’s pavement-scraping bow to Japan’s Emperor Akihito last weekend has become a matter of controversy at home drawing individous comparisons with the upright Dick Cheney  (see this Los Angeles Times blog).

So here’s my verdict on the president’s protocol performance.

First off, Obama definitely wins some credit for being so obviously keen to show respect for local feelings. This is an important message to convey given that his administration has been rather brusquely waving aside calls by Japan’s new government for a rethink on a controversial Marine base relocation plan.

Like people everywhere, the Japanese appreciate when visitors abide by the old injunction to “follow village ways when in the village” (the local equivalent of “When in Rome…”). And bowing is very much a part of Japanese etiquette. Read more

By Geoff Dyer, FT China bureau chief

Barack Obama’s efforts to reach out to ordinary Chinese on his Asia tour may have fallen a little flat, but there is one trump card he can play to score points with his hosts – the three members of Obama’s Cabinet who can get by in Chinese. Read more

By Christian Oliver, FT South Korea bureau chief

Seoul’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper last week speculated on the most important question surrounding the South Korea leg of Barack Obama’s Asia tour: whether the presidential lunch would be accompanied by Korean rice liquor, or a fruity Californian red?

On the eve of Mr Obama’s arrival in Seoul on Wednesay, officials said it would most likely be an American wine. The South Koreans probably intend those bottles of Californian wine to deliver a none-too-subtle message about the importance of a trade agreement between Washington and Seoul, currently held up mainly by resistance from US automakers.

But that bottle – Zinfandel? – could also raise deeper questions about trade deals with South Korea. Read more

By Roula Khalaf, the FT’s Middle East editor

It doesn’t take much to charm the Arab public after all. Combine romantic television drama and anti-Israeli comments and you win instant sympathy from public opinion. Read more

By Alan Beattie, the FT’s world trade editor

The Copenhagen conference will agree no treaty; the WTO ministerial in two weeks’ time will not even discuss the Doha round – roughly equivalent to staging Hamlet without the prince, Horatio, Ophelia, Rosencrantz or Guildenstern; the UN food security summit this week removed even a largely rhetorical pledge to end hunger and boost agricultural aid; Barack Obama has so far failed to elicit anything but vague hints on currency cooperation from Beijing. Read more