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Episode 2 of 3

Series looking back at 500 years of British diplomacy continues by examining how Britain's lust for trade and cash has shaped our chequered relationship with China.

Sir Christopher Meyer, former British Ambassador to the USA, presents a three-part series telling the behind-the-scenes story of British diplomacy over 500 years of intrigue and adventure.

In this second episode, Meyer looks at how for 200 years Britain's lust for trade and cash has shaped our chequered relationship with China. He follows in the footsteps of Lord Macartney, Britain's first envoy to China, and finds out how the 1792 mission ended in fiasco when Macartney refused to conform to Chinese court etiquette and was sent home in disgrace - the first but not the last time that deciding whether to kowtow to China has troubled Britons desperate for a piece of the Chinese action.

60 years later, governor of Hong Kong Sir John Bowring went for the row rather than kowtow and was more successful, but only after provoking a dubious war (the second Opium War) with the aid of a 'sexed up' dossier.

The consequences of this unsavoury diplomacy were finally played out in the negotiations over handing back Hong Kong in the 1980s and 90s, when passions ran high among British diplomats who disagreed about the best way to handle China.

13 years after the Hong Kong handover the argument still rages, and contributors include the last governor, Chris Patten, and his adversary, the late Sir Percy Cradock, formerly Britain's top negotiator with the Chinese. Former foreign secretary Douglas Hurd and Hong Kong super-tycoon Sir David Tang also feature.

Meyer concludes that it is time we started learning from our diplomatic history - now more than ever, as trade with China is a crucial element for British prosperity. It necessarily forces our diplomats to tread a delicate tightrope - in both standing up for human rights and looking out for British interests.

1 hour

Last on

Mon 22 Feb 2010 03:00