How able is “negotiator” Hunt as compared to Johnson?

The Tory leadership campaign of Jeremy Hunt is, according to himself and many supporting MPs in the media, based upon the premise that Hunt will be (far) more trusted and more easily welcomed at EU negotiating tables than Johnson. They say this is the case because the European players (national ministers, EU negotiators like Barnier) have come to know him as sitting Foreign Secretary, and that they would trust him more than Boris (who they also know from his accident-prone Brexit spell at the Foreign Office).

Hunt also insists he has experience as an entrepreneur, including negotiating deals, which Johnson lacks because he was a journalist, not a businessman, between his public school/Oxbridge education and his political career.

But right at the start of his term as Foreign Secretary, Mr Hunt made a massive negotiating gaffe while trying to use his personal background to curry favour with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

At the start of his business career, Hunt had learned Japanese to be able to work as an English language teacher in Japan in the late 1980s; and minister Wang Yi studied Japanese and was a former ambassador in Japan (2004-07). As a minister in Cameron’s shadow cabinet, Hunt in 2008 met and married his Chinese wife, Lucia Guo. As the new Foreign Secretary negotiating in Beijing in July 2018, Hunt and Wang Yi had been speaking in Japanese, when Hunt, switching to English, made his gaffe when he talked about his wife and her parentage. According to the BBC, Hunt said “My wife is Japanese – my wife is Chinese. Sorry, that’s a terrible mistake to make.” The company at the table politely laughed it off, and Hunt went on to say that he and his wife had close ties with his in-laws still living in the Chinese city Xi’an.

Everybody knows that Japan attacked, invaded and occupied parts of China in two wars (1894-95 en 1937-45), and that war atrocities as the “rape of Nanjing” (December 1937) together with present-day conflicts around islands and territorial claims at sea, continue to overshadow Chinese-Japanese relations. The two wars are part of the Chinese “Century of Humiliation” (1839-1949) that China teaches its schoolchildren about, as a bad episode China wants to rise above and never return to.

But Xi’an proved a turning point in that “century”; it was there, in December 1936, that mutinous nationalist officers forced Chinese president and general Chiang Kai-shek, who up to then had concentrated on fighting the Chinese Communists under Mao Zedong, to change tack: Chiang and Mao became allies and started fighting back against the advancing Japanese. This became known as “the Xi’an Incident”. After the incident, Mao established his fighters as the “8th Route Army” of Chiangs Republic, and slowly overtook Chiang’s army, to finally defeat him in the civil war of 1945-49.

It so happened that the secretary of Mao’s assistant, Zhou En-lai, who in 1936 mediated with the rebelling officers and Chiang, later became minister Wang Yi’s father-in-law. So Wang Yi knew all about where Hunt’s wife was from.

As a British academic having lived in Japan, and the husband of a Chinese wife, Hunt of all people must have known how sensitive and touchy mixing up Chinese with Japanese heritage is. A gaffe, but one with historic implications which caused a small diplomatic storm.

 

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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3 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Jul '19 - 12:43pm

    I would say Bernard you and we benefit from separating the personal, political, professional.

    If your idea of a storm is as was, those who think it a storm need to get out more in wellington boots and complete with umbrella!

    Hunt as a person is a decent man, his personal life by any token, admirable, his interest in the Est, love for two women one Japanese , then Chinese , his fatherhood of mixed race children, excellent. Norman Lamb told me in a conversation, a few years ago, Hunt was a trustworthy not duplicitous Secretary of State, from his experience there.

    His gaffe was a non event. He years ago had a Japanese girlfriend so got mixed up in the heat or humour of the moment of the event .

    I suggest it is the political and professional gaffe of his ham fisted handling of the Junior doctors that was an issue.

    Easily that also is explained as poor communication by him. It was little else, he was by most accounts correct in his demand of a twenty four hour seven day per week health care delivery. He did not plan or prepare or put in place the needed support. He came over as stubborn and intransigent, no more than did the doctors, but they get understanding because their jobs are deemed more important, far more stressed.

    Hunt is an average politician compared to some greats. He is a positive delight compared to some Tories. Mentioning no names….!!!

  • Richard Underhill 6th Jul '19 - 9:39am

    Sorry, I do not have a vote in the Tory leadership contest.
    I have voted once in the Lib Dem leadership contest

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