Frosty relations between Russia and West and the rise of China in Asia have brought to some worries about a global or regional war with academics and specialists convening around the world to discuss how it might be prevented. One recent conference with experts from Europe and the Unites States was held in the South Korean capital Seoul to examine threats on the Korean peninsular and throughout the Asia Pacific. One of the panellists was Humphrey Hawksley who found that a key solution being advocated was far removed from the weighty and intricate discussion of rogue states and the international balance of power.
“Thank you all for your insightful and interesting contributions,” announced former US Congressman, Dan Burton, until recently a Foreign Affairs Committee heavy hitter, fixing his eyes on the banner above him that read Prospects for Peace in North East Asia. “Now, before the next session — lunch.”
“What’s in store next?” I flipped through the programme. James Wolsey Jnr, a former CIA director, wandered over to chat and scattered about the room were luminaries on international issues.
“Uhhh-oh!,” said one of the panellists, pointing to a section that said Foundation Day Program. “It looks like we might be going to a wedding.”
Eyes bulged with surprise. “We’re doing what?” exclaimed an analyst from the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington. She had just spoken on the future of Asian economies.
A wedding ceremony was being held in a stadium outside the South Korean capital, Seoul, run by the Unification Church, famous for its mass weddings between couples who had been matched and barely knew each other.
Inside, a vast tiered chequered landscape stretched back and up, brides in white, grooms in black, a peppering of colour from yellow flowers in button holes and bright headphones, their wires coiling out from translations sets so everyone — whatever language — could understand the vows. Most of thos tying the knot were young and a good many Americans and Europeans who had been paired off – essentially – to strangers.
“I soon as I saw his picture, I knew we would be suited,” said Anna, a petite brunette who had flown over from the States to marry a serious bespectacled South Korean computer programmer.
“And where are you honeymooning?” I asked him, but I he didn’t speak English. Nor did Anna speak Korean.
“Oh we’re not yet.” She explained that even after the wedding there would be no sleeping together for forty days. “It’s in case anything goes wrong.” She blushed, then squeezed his hand. “But with us it won’t.”
The Unification Church was founded in 1954 by the late and controversial Reverend Moon who said when he was 16 years old Jesus asked him to continue work left unfinished because of the crucifixion. He claimed a special gift for matching couples from different races, saying it helped understanding between cultures, and now it has spawned a myriad of businesses and international organisations, one of which had set up our conference.
It’s also had a rocky relationship with the establishment. Moon himself was jailed in America for tax evasion and many Christians reject his theology outright. I wasn’t clear how this wedding ceremony fitted in with our security conference or with a conservative politician like Dan Burton who was also an ordained pastor.
All was to be revealed later.
One of our conference helpers, Ke Sung Anderson, had been matched through his parents some years earlier.
“How does it work?” I asked. “Do you date first, go to the movies?”
“Not really.” He creased his brow. “Dating is like holding hands and you’re not supposed to do that. When I was 19 and going to college I knew it would be impossible to keep my virginity so to stay out of trouble I signed up.”
The reverend Moon’s widow, Mother Moon, as she’s affectionately called, presided over the ceremony, sitting on a throne-like chair with an empty one next to it in remembrance of her late husband. Together they’re referred to as the True Parents and she is the True Mother.
And with her came a flurry of activity, processions, music, couples chosen to receive gifts, while non-stop Mother Moon walked on and off stage in glittering robes, colourful trouser suits, changing her outfits as fast as a catwalk model.
Then, suddenly, a spotlight snapped on and the former US Congressman Dan Burton was at the podium congratulating the couples. “Samia and I are honoured to join you in renewing our wedding vows led by the True Parents,” he said, “with the ideal to protect marriage and the family and to reject socialism and atheism.”
And then it turned out our jovial conference organiser, Larry Moffitt, was himself matched in the early Eighties and I had to ask him what any of this had to do with prospects for peace in North East Asia.
He must have seen my sceptical look. “You gotta remember, Humphrey, marriage is a crapshoot,” he said. “We all find it difficult. But one thing’s for sure – and if you get this right everything starts falling into place – world peace begins in the bedroom.”
A British parliamentary report has accused the government and the European Union of a ‘catastrophic misreading’ of Russia’s thinking over Ukraine. The response from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office reveals why this was undoubtedly the case and why the FCO itself may be in need of urgent and substantive reform. The FCO says that no-0ne could have predicted the scale of the unjustifiable and illegal Russian intervention. Firstly, Vladimir Putin and his advisers knew, so the use of ‘no-one’ is symptomatic of lazy and inaccurate language. Second, there had been predictions. Diplomats only had to consult Ed Lucas, Anne Applebaum and many others to understand what was at stake. Third, for years — at least since the Georgia war of 2008 — British officials have been briefing about the dictatorial and kleptomaniacal regime of Vladimir Putin so any ‘unjustifiable or illegal actions’ should come as no surprise. Fourth, the FCO argues that the EU Association Agreement was the catalyst to Russian intervention. This is not the case. The catalyst was the overthrow of the elected pro-Russian president which — rather than wait for elections — Britain supported. There is a risk of one of the finest diplomatic services becoming ridden with hubris, naivity and lazy thinking — that if only Saddam, Ghadaffi, Assad, Mubarak, Yanukovych, Putin stepped aside a panoply of democtratic institutions would fall from Heaven and all would be fine. Both Putin and Yanukovych came to power precisely because early experiments with democracy in their countries failed. You don’t need need trade craft-trained spies and columns of Russian specialists to assess what Vladimir Putin might do next. You only need to follow Twitter.
When, in 1989, the Chinese government killed its own citizens campaigning for freedom, there was no moral question from Western democracies. China became the monster of the world and put under heavy sanctions. A quarter of a century later, as Egyptians campaigning for the same freedoms are murdered by their own government, tourists continue to holiday there and weapons and aid flood in to prop up the regime. What has happened to us?
Pity the youth now deciding between the bullet and ballot box, dictatorship and democracy. Rarely have the mission statements from Western leaders been so contradictory and skewed. From the West, they have been exporting brand democracy while sponsoring the overthrow of two democratically leaders — in Egypt and Ukraine — because they weren’t strategic allis. In Britain, they fly flags at half mast to mark the death of a ruler whose values advocated the beating of journalists and the treating women as property. After the dreadful Charlie Hebdo killings they march in Paris as a show of championing free speech, but shoulder to shoulder with regimes that oversee the violent crushing of writers and commentators who use that free speech. We are told we are at war with extreme Islam as if a multi-million dollar Al Qaeda orIslamic State franchise masterminded and micro-managed the Paris murders. (The killers had to steal money from a gas station to get away.) Is it really religious extremism or flaws in France’s system of social care, reconciliation from its Algerian war, ethnic integration or many other factors that attach people to violence and a false, higher moral cause. Oxfam tells us that in this recent era, when the Western democratic system has had a clear canvas to prove its worth, 99 per cent of global wealth is about to be held by just one per cent of its population, some of whom are partying at a Swiss mountain resort this week. So what, then, is the current mission statement from the West? Could they let us know and make it more attractive to those coming from Moscow, Beijing and Mosul.
Israeli academic Yuval Noah Harari explains in his book Sapiens — a Brief History of Humankind that our present human species got ahead of all other animals after the discovery of fire. This allowed us to cook and therefore digest food quicker which in turn allowed our stomachs to become smaller and our brains bigger — underlining the argument that the less time spent thinking and dealing with food a cleverer a society becomes. In our work, many of us would have sat through excruciatingly tedious banquets being lectured on the exotic cuisine and ancient and glorious civilisation from which its comes. These are often poor, corrupt and violent countries. Japan, however, that invented fast food Sushi in the late 19th Century became the first Asian nation to defeat a European one — Russia — at Port Arthur in 1905. And America which began mainlining fast food into its national culture in the 1920s quickly became the global super power. Come to think of it, I can’t remember that nugget of the American dream Jack Bauer from 24 ever eating at all.
Thirty years after the Ethiopian famine, Africa is enjoying a new confidence with strong economies, the hopes and tears of new democracies and a sense that this is a continent on the rise. Then Live Aid 30 comes along ostensibly to raise money for the Ebola crisis. Firstly, charity is nice, but it’s not necessary. There’s plenty of money around. Second, many of those in the developing world are sick of aid hand-outs which they associate with failure and corruption. What they want more than anything else is to have a voice in a system that works for them. Live Aid 30 represents everything that Africa is not. There are no brilliant, talented African voices on the new Christmas single. The recording studio was closed to them. Instead, there is a stream of almost all white faces getting out of limousines to make a song to create a hand-out for a place that’s painted as being diseased, impoverished and incapable of looking after itself.
In June, we marked 25 years since the Chinese killings of Tiananmen Square. Today, we celebrate 25 years since the end of the Berlin Wall. Enough time has past to ask a difficult question. If the Tiananmen democracy activists had won concessions in June, how big would their protests have become after November as Eastern Europe dissolved and what sort of country would China be now?
For nearly twenty years, Taiwan has shown that democracy can work within a Chinese society. During this time threats of war have ended and relationship between Taiwan and China has improved dramatically. This success could become a model for Hong Kong and then for other, richer parts of China in a gradual process of reform. Instead, Hong Kong has become an ideological battleground and China’s hostility to democracy is becoming embedded in the promotion of its values on the world stage.
This week might be remembered for two big dumb decisions.
1) The Hong Kong’s government’s cancellation of talks with protestors.
2) The decision by the enemies of Islamic State not to defend Kobane.