Friday, 10 September 2010

Chinese diplomacy and memories of George Brown

In all my years drinking toasts with maotai in China - I used to visit the country frequently in a former life buying tea - my hosts never once got to the drunken shouting stage. I was thus surprised to read how China's top-ranking UN diplomat recently embarked on a drunken rant against the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, telling his boss he'd "never liked" him, and adding for good measure that he didn't like Americans either.The incident just didn't fit with my impression of the character of a Chinese government official but the reminiscence from a London Daily Telegraph editorial about George Brown, the Foreign Minister in Harold Wilson's Labor Government that the Chinese behaviour prompted did ring true.
"These days, former British prime ministers regard half a bottle of wine at dinner as shocking. It was not always thus. Churchill managed to conceal his thirst from the public; not so poor George Brown, who as Harold Wilson's foreign secretary made it a point of honour never to draw a sober breath. At a reception for a South American republic, Brown is reputed to have staggered up to a glamorous figure in red silk and asked for a dance. "I must refuse for three reasons," came the reply. "First, this is not a dance but the national anthem. Second, you are clearly drunk. And third, I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima."

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