Monthly Archives: June 2010

Still brooding about England’s defeat, I went to Cape Town last night to watch Spain play Portugal. I find that at this stage in the competition, a sort of fellow feeling settles in amongst the followers of defeated nations. On the plane down, I sat next to some Chileans who were still licking their wounds, after their team’s 3-0 defeat by Brazil the previous night. They told me that England had been unlucky; I told them that Chile had been unlucky. Near the ground, a bunch of fans in Mexican shirts noticed my England scarf – and we jointly cursed the referees in this competition, and agreed that both our teams had been victims of incompetence or worse. Then queuing to get into the ground I got chatting to a Japanese fan, who had just seen his team go out on penalties to Paraguay. I told him how impressed I had been by Honda, the Japanese forward. “He’s called Honda, but he plays like a Ferrari,” replied the fan, who was over from Tokyo for the week. Read more

FT column: Hail to the new world (cup) order

My latest column is on the World Cup.

As a commentator on international politics, it is naturally tempting to draw some trite geopolitical lesson from the World Cup. There are those who believe that the unexpected early elimination of France and Italy at this year’s tournament is a parable of the decline of Europe. A commentator in El País, a Spanish paper, claims that England’s loss to Germany over the weekend reflects Thatcherism’s demoralising effects on the English proletariat. (And there was I thinking that it had something to do with lumbering centre-backs and a disallowed goal.)

Sitting in the stands last night, waiting for the Argentina-Mexico game to start, I texted a South African friend about England’s loss to Germany earlier in the day. “We were robbed”, I wrote. Her reply reminded me that “In SA, that phrase is ambiguous”.

Actually, one of the things that most visitors to this World Cup agree about is that South Africa feels a lot less scary than they expected. I have been here four days now, and I haven’t been murdered once. Read more

The Afghan war effort is in chaos; the Australian prime minister has resigned and the G20 are meeting in Toronto. But the global event that I have decided to concentrate on is the World Cup. I have just arrived in Durban and later this afternoon, I will be attending the Lusophone derby: Brazil v Portugal.

One of the things I love about the World Cup is the way that it takes a country over. Even the air hostesses on my flight down from Johannesburg were wearing football kit (a marked improvement on the fussy uniforms that BA put their cabin crew in). Out on the Durban waterfront almost everybody is wearing either a Brazil or a Portugal shirt.  The miles of golden sand are playing host to lots of Copacabana-style games of beach football (the Durban beaches knock spots off the Copacabana). Everybody is in a good mood. At one stage, a street hawker began to shout at me rather loudly, in what I ïnitially took to be an aggressive manner. But then I made out his words: “My brother, your flies are undone.” I bought a Brazil cap off him, as a reward for his tip. Read more

Gillard, McChrystal and the G20

In this week’s podcast we look at the appointment of Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard. We ask, what went wrong with Kevin Rudd’s leadership and what can we expect from his successor? Read more

The FT story that China is poised to overtake the US as the world’s largest manufacturing nation has been widely picked up in the States – and I’m not surprised. This is just one of a number of milestones that China is rushing past. Over the last 12 months, China has become the world’s largest exporter – displacing Germany. It also became the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the world’s largest market for vehicles, displacing America in both cases. And China has had the world’s largest foreign reserves for some time.

These numbers are cumulatively significant, since they show that the emergence of China as a genuine superpower is not a story set in the future. It’s happening here and now. Read more

I know this is a highly delicate subject, but I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t a racial under-current to the row about France’s rebellious football team. Most of the French team are black – including Nicolas Anelka, the player who was sent home and Patrice Evra, the captain, who clashed with his fitness trainer and then took part in the boycott of training. Most of the politicians and journalists who are denouncing the team for betraying the nation are white.

When the French team was successful – above all, when it won the World Cup in 1998 – mainstream opinion delighted in the multi-racial character of the team and took it as a symbol of a newly-unified French society. When Jean-Marie Le Pen, the head of the French National Front, criticised the team for having too many non-white players, he was roundly and rightly denounced. Zinedine Zidane, the star of the French team and the son of Alegerian immigrants, remained a national hero, even after he was sent off in the World Cup final of 2006.

And yet racial politics have continued to haunt the French football team. In 2001, there was a public outcry when the French national anthem was greeted with cat-calls at a home game against Algeria – young Frenchmen of North African origin were blamed. Then when Nicolas Sarkozy notoriously referred to rioters in housing estates as “scum”, he was criticised by Lilian Thuram, one of the heroes of the 1998 winning team. Read more

FT column: Europe is having a midlife crisis

 My latest column is on Europe suffering from a deep malaise.

For the past few months, the words “Europe” and “crisis” have been inseparable companions. First, there was the threat of sovereign debt crises across the European Union. Now there is the spectacle of the most famous footballing nations in Europe floundering at the World Cup: Italy unable to beat New Zealand, England held by Algeria, France humiliated by Mexico.

Just after England’s abject 0-0 draw with Algeria in Friday night, my friend Stephen turned to me and said – “The whole world is laughing at us.” That’s the thing about the World Cup. I invariably fall into the trap of seeing the England team as representing me personally – and so their rare triumphs and frequent disasters can never be shrugged off. Searching desperately for consolation, as England head for the exits, I can only note that we are not the only big European country to be struggling: France are all but eliminated; Germany lost to Serbia; Spain, inexplicably, lost to Switzerland.

But, let us not dwell solely on the negative. Here are my World Cup highlights for the first week:

1) Best game: USA 2- Slovenia 2: A fanatstic comeback by the Americans from 2-0 down. This US team has a college-boy charm; they work hard and they are good sports. They barely protested when they were inexplicably denied a perfectly legitimate winning goal that would have made this one of the all-time great comebacks. The second best game was Denmark 2- Cameroon 1, last night. Fantastic attacking football – I was just a bit sad that Cameroon didn’t get the result they deserved. Read more

You may recall that when Barack Obama first came into office, one of the major themes of his foreign policy was the effort to reach out to moderate Muslim states. He made his first speech overseas as president in Turkey. And the president and his team made much of his childhood in Indonesia – and promised to schedule an early trip there.

Well, the relationship with Turkey is clearly not going as planned. The Obama team are disillusioned with prime minister Erdogan, who they regard increasingly as a political opportunist, playing to the Islamist gallery at home. The fact that Turkey opposed the latest Iranian sanctions resoluton at the UN, when even Russia and China voted in favour, will not be forgotten. Turkey’s emergence as a centre of opposition towards Israel is also worrying the Americans. In fact, as Stephen Walt points out, it has provoked some American neoconservatives, previously firm friends of the Turks, into unrestrained fury. Read more

Poor old Belgium. The only thing about the country that seems to interest the foreign press is the perennial question of when it is going to fall apart?

The latest rash of speculation has been provoked by the recent Belgian elections. The largest party in the new Belgian parliament will be the New Flemish alliance, the NVA, which want to break the country up – splitting Dutch-speaking Flanders from French-speaking Wallonia. On the face of it, this doesn’t sound good. Still, optimists point out that a majority of Flemings still voted for parties that want to keep Belgium together, rather than split it up. And the far-right Vlaams Belang party actually saw its votes decline, as the more respectable NVA became the repository for Flemish-nationalist votes. Read more

As the EU prepares for its summit at the end of the week, Gideon Rachman chairs a debate with Mats Persson of Open Europe and Charles Grant of the Centre for European Economic Reform. They discuss the tensions between France and Germany over the southern European members’ debt crisis, and the call for greater budget scrutiny, which the UK is questioning.

We now have it on the authority of President Barack Obama himself. His fury over the BP affair is nothing personal. It is purely business. Speaking to David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, over the weekend, the US president insisted that his apparent desire to find an “ass to kick” at BP had nothing to do with anti-British feelings.

Continue reading “Love and loathing across the ocean”

Warning: this “foreign affairs” blog may contain quite a lot about football over the next month. With the World Cup underway, I’m finding it hard to concentrate on my usual diet of failed states, UN resolutions and brave struggles for democracy. The 42-inch-plasma TV is now installed and looking vulgar and out of place in my otherwise tasteful, sitting room. It arrived just in time for me to watch Argentina-Nigeria – a game that Alan Beattie has called the “bad governance derby”. Argentina won 1-0, as sovereign defaulters triumphed over sufferers from the oil curse.

Then in the evening – England’s 1-1 draw with the USA, featuring the latest in a long line of horrendous, suicidal errors by England goalies. I remember when I was growing up, it was taken as a read that England produced the best goalkeepers in the world – just like we had the best police. I still have some faith in the police – but the goalies?? Read more

It is always dangerous to confuse diplomatic progress with real progress. I don’t mean to denigrate the work of the western diplomats who have toiled for months to put together a new package of sanctions on Iran. In purely diplomatic terms, it was a formidable achievement to get a new UN resolution through today. Although a lot of attention has focussed on the fact that Turkey and Brazil voted against the resolution – an interesting development, to be sure - I think the more significant fact is that all five permanent members of the Security Council voted in favour. It has taken a lot of haggling and persuasion to get the Chinese and the Russians on board.

Inevitably, however, the price of unanimity was to water down the resolution. Western diplomats think that it was worth it. Obviously, a Russian or Chinese veto would have meant no sanctions at all. It is hoped that getting Moscow and Beijing actually to vote in favour will send a powerful signal of international unity to Tehran. Read more

Forget about Iran’s nuclear programme, North Korea’s naval assaults and the security implications of global warming. In north Yorkshire, a new threat to the local way of life has emerged – hungry and insolent sheep.

I thank my sister in Geneva, who spotted this excellent story and forwarded it to me:

Hungry sheep on the Yorkshire moors have taught themselves to roll 8ft (3m) across hoof-proof metal cattle grids – and raid villagers’ valley gardens.
The crafty animals have also perfected the skill of hurdling 5ft (1.5m) fences and squeezing through 8in (20cm) gaps.
They have destroyed several gardens and even graze on the village park, bowling green, cricket field and graveyard.
The grids were installed 10 years ago after a gardener in Marsden, near Huddersfield, held stray sheep hostage.
Dorothy Lindley, a Conservative councillor in the former textile town on the edge of the Pennine uplands in West Yorkshire, said: “They lie down on their side, or sometimes their back, and just roll over and over the grids until they are clear.
“I’ve seen them doing it. It is quite clever but they are a big nuisance to villagers.

 Read more

The Chinese government cannot tolerate dissent. The Chinese people care about economics not politics. The Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing is now largely forgotten.

Continue reading “Liberty endures in two-system China”

On June 4th, the 21st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Hong Kong commemorated the dead. Last night, I visited the park where the annual ceremony takes place – and where thousands of people carried candles in memory of the dead.

Earlier in the day, I had lunch with Jasper Tsang Yok-Sing, the leader of Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing party, the DAB, and the president of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. I expected him to gloss over the events of 21 years ago. But not a bit of it. He seemed eager to discuss his painful memories of that day. He was a headmaster at the time in a pro-Beijing school in Hong Kong – and every morning in the months before the killings, the teachers and school children had discussed the news of the demonstrations in Beijing. “We never believed a government we so trusted would turn its troops against the people,” he recalled. The morning of the massacre was a Sunday – but teachers and pupils had headed spontaneously for the school. “We gathered there and we all cried.” Recalling that day, 21 years on, Mr Tsang choked up, wiped away a tear and struggled to continue speaking. Eventually he just said – “It’s not easy, even now.” Read more

Martin Wolf (the FT’s chief economics commentator) has circulated this hilarious – and alarming – take on the crisis in the eurozone to fellow FT journalists. I think it needs to be shared more widely.