Most of the UK’s media set focused on overseas development waste today.
But the strategic blindness involved is far more reprehensible.
The world’s third biggest and fastest growing economy received just over £40m a year in aid from you and me in 2009. The country with the world’s biggest surplus received money from the EU State with the world’s biggest debt-to-export ratio. As the appalling Littlejohn would say, you couldn’t make it up.
The lack of business nous among Labour ministers and the civil service has been common knowledge in the private sector for decades: as an adman in the 1990s, I viewed any Government account as a licence to print money – without the requirement for any illegality or sleight of hand whatsoever. But while I would fire every person involved in framing and approving that forty million quid (a drop in the ocean to China anyway) to go on about it as the Mail did today is to miss the point.
The geopolitics of China’s rise have been discussed many times before in these columns. The Slog has followed the insidious growth of Chinese influence in South and North West Africa with anxious fascination. Now the process has begun in Europe.
The strategic location of Greece’s abundant port facilities make it a gateway for China into the Balkans and Europe.
Chinese vice-premier Zhangarrived in Athens on Monday for a four-day visit. He met with Prime Minister George Papandreou, and during the stay agreements are to be signed between Greek shipping companies and Chinese transport giant Cosco, and between Greek Telecoms company OTE and China’s Huawei Technologies. Chinese food companies signed four agreements for the export of Greek olive oil to China, and China’s Transport Minister Li Shenglin and Greece’s development minister Louka Katseli will sign further cooperation agreements relating to the shipping sector.
Even though EU sources tell me the deals will be worth ‘billions’, this is as yet relatively small beer. But then this is how the CPR started increasing its South African influence. “We have a saying in China” said Mr Zhang, “he who builds the Eagle’s nest can expect Eagles to come”. Metaphors about cuckoos also apply.
What Greece and SA have in common is cheap commodities and a major fiscal cock-up. The Chinese own a third of SA’s National Bank, and have gold and other mineral interests stretching throughout the country. Only an idiot would imagine that the Beijing regime doesn’t see the same opportunity now among the debtor-cum-bankrupt nations of Europe….and the number of Franco-German banks made potentially insolvent through bad investments there.
The world is changing too rapidly for most ordinary people (I count myself in their number) but the FCO and Overseas Development ministry have no such excuse. We have been terribly badly served by the Foreign Office mandarins for the best part of eighty years. They would be first on my list of firings were I in William Hague’s job today.