China, Sudan and Darfur

At Chinese EmbassyI went together with Mark Lancaster (Tory No 2 in International Development and a serving soldier) to the Chinese Embassy to have a meeting with Professor Zhao Yongren, Counsellor Political Section and Parliamentary Affairs Officer and Dr. Zhang Lirong, Chief Political Section.

We were presenting a letter signed by 100 MPs asking China to help further with ending the genocide in Darfur.

China has clearly been instrumental in promoting modest progress over Darfur but it must continue to use its considerable influence in Sudan to promote the cause of peace and development. It particular, it could send clearer messages to the Sudanese Government by using its diplomatic, military, humanitarian, and economic ties to greater effect.

So the good news so far: the Chinese Government joined in the unanimous UN Security Council (UNSC) vote to authorise, under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, deployment of 26,000 peacekeeping troops and civilian police to Darfur (the joint African Union-United Nations Peacekeeping force). China’s appointment of a Government Special Representative on the Darfur issue, Liu Guijin, played a key role in gaining the Government of Sudan’s acceptance to the peacekeeping force – breaking a long held deadlock. China has sent some 300 engineers to Darfur to back up the UNAMID peacekeeping mission as part of the heavy support package.

But not everything in the garden is rosy and there are still mixed messages coming out of China. Reports indicate that China worked behind the scenes to significantly weaken the terms of UNSC Resolution 1769 (e.g. removing the ‘ability to disarm militia’ mandate for the peacekeeping force). China hasn’t been pressing properly for those indicted by the International Criminal Court to be handed over. Also, two recently released studies by well-respected organizations have fuelled concerns that weapons from China are being used against the people of Darfur, and that China is not doing enough to prevent such usage. Further, in the spring of 2007, China indicated its desire to further its military relationship with Sudan “in every sphere.”

China has extended some humanitarian aid to the people of Darfur in 2007 but such aid has been far less than the new support it has provided to the government of Sudan. A striking example was provided during President Hu’s February visit to Khartoum, during which he announced several new economic aid packages to Sudan, including an interest-free loan to construct a Presidential Palace. The sums involved were dramatically larger than the modest amount of new humanitarian aid provided.

Trade between the two countries more than doubled in the first half of 2007. China also continues to sign new accords, such as oil development agreements, that strengthen economic ties between the two countries.

The words of Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing in March are rather worrying in fact: “Our assistance is free of any political pressure and helps resolve specific problems, a good demonstration of China’s peaceful development road and constructive role in the world”; in other words, ‘we’re not going to exert as much pressure as we could’. Not good!

The specific asks we put forward at the meeting today were that China should:

  • Use its position as a leading member of both the Security Council and the G-77 to push for the swift recruitment and deployment of the peacekeeping mission authorized by UNSCR 1769.
  • Contribute helicopters and heavy transport vehicles to the UNAMID mission to help fill the gaps in these areas (this applies to whole international community).
  • Review the sale of arms and military cooperation with Sudan until atrocities have stopped, and a stable peace has been built; and encourage the Government of Sudan to disarm militias and hold the perpetrators of war crimes to account.
  • Continue to work harmoniously with other countries to strengthen the political peace process led by the African Union and United Nations envoys, and to pressure all parties to participate fully and unconditionally in peace talks.
  • Provide greater humanitarian assistance to Darfuri civilians.
  • Make clear to Sudan that if it obstructs progress towards peace or peacekeeping, this will damage Chinese-Sudanese relations— possibly including trade and investment ties.

The meeting was a little frosty. The Chinese were unhappy that the media had got hold of the story that we were doing this today. But as I explained – in a democracy this is a positive thing. When one hundred MPs feel strongly enough to take this action and China is willing as at this meeting to enter a dialogue – that is news – and it is good news.

So – a start has been made of engagement. China is so hugely influential with Khartoum and such an important superpower it has to be right to try and form partnerships and engagement. In terms of the meeting – views were exchanged – and that in itself is progress. I am optimistic that at our next meeting – we will make progress. It is important to start the journey – but the destination is still zillions of miles away.

Last stop of the day – 18 Doughty Street TV a good robust debate around Saudi, Scotland and Immigration!

Appearing on 18 Doughty Street

It was off to 18 Doughty Street on Thursday night to do the two hour stint from 10 – midnight. Haven’t done this particular slot before. My co-panel comprise Steve Richards (The Independent), Julian Glover (Guardian leader writer) and Phil Hendren (Dizzy Thinks blog) and of course Iain Dale.

Really enjoyable session. Great to hear Steve graciously concede that this new media era is the way forward – him having previously been a doubter. What Steve said was right – the old, format-weary, predictable diet of mainstream politics programs is looking very tired by comparison.

We roamed over bullying Catholics to not vote for politicians who support abortion; the ethics of the media campaign around Madeleine McCann; the Tory grammar school debacle, and the size of men’s private parts – yes – blame Iain! Anyway – hugely enjoyable!

Review of the year

Co-presented Iain Dale’s Review of the Year on internet TV – 18 Doughty Street. It was, in the end, mostly about international affairs – which given my promotion earlier in the day was quite appropriate. My new job will place me in the International Affairs Team with Foreign Affairs and Defence. The discussion ranged over Iraq, Israel and Lebanon etc – and I think I went too far in terms of being non-partisan, as in fact it was Iain who raised the Lib Dem noble position on the Iraq war. Though perhaps it’s an interesting and possibly new approach for politicians: if you don’t state the bleeding obvious – others feel obliged to do it for you? So – I found the panel (Peter Riddell, Keith Simpson and Danny Finkelstein) all acknowledging the Liberal Democrat moral (and right) position against the war in Iraq. We ranged over Gordon, Dave, Tony and Ming – and then amazingly an hour and a half had passed.

TV appearances

I’m co-presenting with Iain Dale on 18 Doughty Street TV again on Monday for a review of the year – so that should be fun!

I’ve been bumped off the Sunday Edition today. They phoned on Friday to book me saying they would phone back on Saturday. With no call back, I called them to discover that I had been bumped. This happens from time to time – and I am reasonably amenable and philosophic about being at the end of the food chain – but no call back is bad manners. Other programs do manage good manners!

Presenting on 18 Doughty Street

On Wednesday evening I went to co-present with Iain Dale his Queen’s Speech special on 18 Doughty Street TV.

Having never presented anything and being far more used to being asked my opinion it seemed gamekeeper turned poacher. Keeping quiet and listening to the guests speak without interrupting all the time was a challenge – and I probably was more restrained than necessary. But it was hugely enjoyable and although two hours long (unheard of normally for political TV!), the time flew by. The guests were Labour MP Graham Allen, Lib Dem Jeremy Browne and two Conservatives, Greg Clark and James Duddridge – the two conservatives doing an hour each.

This was my first return to Doughty Street since its inaugural evening – when despite the chaos around Iain calmly (or at least seemingly calmly) delivered a good show. Now he is a master of the art.

There was a great deal of consensus (shock horror) around the near-impossibility in the current climate around Home Affairs and terror to have serious and proper debate. The political knock about has developed to the absurd point when the Home Affairs legislation is virtually trailed as a “get David Cameron for being soft on crime” measure. It was very refreshing to have a discussion where reason and debate held sway instead of political slanging match. If only Parliament was like 18 Doughty Street!

As to being a presenter – it was fun!

Whittington Hospital – and chance to watch me on TV!

Local Haringey Police Chief, Simon O’Brien, came up to Parliament for one of our regular meetings. I usually go to him at Tottenham Police Station – so it was a nice change. Issues of discussion included the changing police estate (i.e. police stations and other land and buildings) in Haringey, the re-offending rate, youth courts, knife crime and anti-social behaviour.

Zoom back to Haringey to go to the new wing (long time coming) of the Whittington Hospital. Some real design thought and talent has gone into creating state of the art facilities at this much loved, but somewhat run down, hospital.

A wow factor entrance – with double height spaces, huge and voluminous, where outpatients will wait for imaging (x-ray) or other. High tech – the patients will be given a pager which allows them to go to the new restaurants or shops whilst waiting – and they will be paged just when they are next but one to be called.

The critical care area (intensive care in old jargon) is large and spacious – which will cut down on infection. The equipment should always be right up to date as the contract contracts the supplier to keep it up to date – no more purchasing and having to keep beyond sell by date stuff. And perhaps most of all – it has all been thought through so that form follows function – and the needs of the patient are at the forefront.

There have been huge problems getting to this stage – and all sorts of things wrong and should have been done differently with the Jarvis contract, the timings and costs etc – but finally we’re there.

Excuse the not fantastic picture – the girl who kindly agreed to take the photo sadly seems to have missed the splendid surroundings and just got me and the escalators!

Back to Westminster for briefing on tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech and a phone call to say that Iain Dale has invited me to co-present tomorrow’s (Wednesday’s) show on 18 Doughty Street. I phone Iain to say willing to give it a go!

Internet TV station 18 Doughty Street debuts

Mad dash to Iain Dale’s new TV (internet) company, 18 Doughty Street, for its inaugural program. A cab is sent for me – but sod’s law – gets stopped by security coming into the Commons to the Members’ entrance. After 15 minutes waiting for it to clear, the policewoman on the door where I am waiting calls to the search post to find that they have found something in the engine they don’t like and are holding the cab pending the arrival of further security experts. So – not wanting to completely ruin Iain’s opening show, (which I am extremely flattered to have been asked to do!) I run out into the street, literally throw myself in front of a taxi and we arrive with about 10 minutes to spare.

There are lots of people and a reasonable degree of uncertainty about whether the mikes should be placed. The other guest – Fraser Nelson of the Spectator – arrives even later than me! Lucky I put my make-up on myself before coming – as there wouldn’t have been time and this was no night to frighten the audience. Chaos appeared to reign – but miraculously as go live 9pm struck – the studio was clear and we were rolling.

Iain’s co-presenter Rena who was absolutely lovely and just the right person to have alongside Iain. And, hats off to Iain. I cannot imagine the stress of going live on your first TV program with guests, films, texts, emails and so on. I don’t know how it came over (pretty well I would have thought) – but I think Iain’s desire was for it to not be so desperately tribal as most format political shows – and to bring in the very live, live media feeds combined with real political discussion. Not soundbites and even allowing a full half hour – yes half hour – for debate on a single topic debate.

So we started with Graham Norton and drugs, followed by remembering a Tory parliamentarian – Eric Forth who died quite recently, followed by blogging (very brief) and then the half hour debate on ‘Rogue States’ – mainly North Korea and her impossible to rein in nuclear progress. I was trying to defend the United Nations which was being attacked as toothless and useless by Fraser and Iain. Challenged to find some way in which they hadn’t been useless – nothing came to mind. Of course, the next morning I remembered a whole slew – including the recent ceasefire in Lebanon / Israel. Love live TV!

Of course, everyone condemns North Korea – but I am not sure that anyone has got any useful answers. Sanctions – yes – but they generally hit the poor people not the despot rulers.

So – a bit of TV history! I really enjoyed it. I hope it does develop into a whole new genre of political programming and formats. I thought it went extremely well, am delighted that there is a challenge here for the very traditional fare that is usually political programming, think Iain is very brave and wish it every success for the future.

Just a PS. I was so worried about the poor taxi driver that had been held at the Commons that on the way home I phoned the company that the TV firm had sent to check. They rang the driver and he was OK. They had found what they thought was a bullet in the engine. The security squad had come and it had turned out to be some sort of bolt and then he was let go. So he was OK. And I was quite impressed that they had actually seen something and stopped someone – albeit in this case happily with no bad outcome. But they search all the cars in and out – including mine when I take it in – and I always think ‘are they really looking’?. Clearly yes. 10 out of 10 – even though it nearly gave me a heart attack thinking I wouldn’t get to the church on time.