Tuesday 12 December 2017

John-Paul McCarthy: Diplomatic use of China factor

Use of the Chinese as a domestic lever goes back over 50 years in Ireland, writes John-Paul McCarthy

ON the face of it, there doesn't seem much a small island can do except shake the collection box when confronted by a behemoth like China. We bet our all last week on the proposition that profits drown out prejudice, and Vice President Xi Jinping duly concurred.

Use of the Chinese as a domestic lever goes back 50-odd years though in Ireland, back to the days when you had to do more than shout 'unionist' to take down a determined Conor Cruise O'Brien. And while there are plenty of silly books on the so-called 'golden age' of Irish diplomatic clout at the UN in the Sixties, it is true enough that O'Brien gave us real sinew and bite there for a spell.

When Frank Aiken took the reins as De Valera's last foreign minister, he signalled that he wanted to shake things up in Iveagh House. He asked O'Brien, then a former protege of Sean MacBride and someone who owed his diplomatic career to De Valera's quiet guardianship, how this might be done. Quick as a flash, O'Brien told him all hell would break loose if the Irish started tabling motions at the UN asking for the whole question of Communist China's UN representation to be discussed. Based on O'Brien's close reading of Swedish foreign policy doctrines as articulated by the diplomatic star Daj Hammarskjold, himself the son of former Swedish prime minister Knut Hammarskjold, O'Brien assured Aiken that this move would simultaneously annoy the British, the Americans, the Catholic Church.

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