Insight Into the Workings of a Ministerial Department: Foreign Office

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    • 00:10

      RODERIC WYE: Hello, my name is Rod Wye.I'm an Associate Fellow at the Asia Program in Chatham House,the Royal Institute for International Affairs.I was, for about 13 years or more,an official in Foreign and Commonwealth Office,working on China.And I spent about 10 years of my career actually in China.And today, we're going to talk about the workings

    • 00:32

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: of a government department dealing with foreign affairs.Well, Chatham House is the UK's leading think tankon international affairs.And what we do is, we run a number of research programs

    • 00:53

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: on various aspects of the world today,and publish reports into topical issues.We have discussion meetings.We have big set-piece meetings, whereimportant international figures come and address bothour members and the public.

    • 01:13

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: So what we're trying to do is, sort ofprovide much of the intellectual backgroundto thinking on foreign policy.The Chatham House Rule, for which we are famous--and I may well misquote it-- but essentially, itis that people attending a meeting under the Chatham House

    • 01:33

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: Rule are allowed to use what is said at the meeting,but they should not attributed to anyoneor to any particular place.So that gives a level of sort of, off-the-record-ness,anonymity, to discussions, which helps them become a lot morefree than they otherwise would be if you're going to be quoted

    • 01:55

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: as saying something on behalf of someone,which always makes life more difficult.Well, to think about how the foreign office promotesthe interests of the UK overseas,it's really sort of quite a complex operation in many ways.

    • 02:19

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: Because first of all, the foreign officeis not the only government department thathas an international agreement.There's the Department of Overseas Assistance,there's the Ministry of Defense.There's UKTI-- UK Trade and Industry.There is what is now BIS-- whateverthat is-- Business and Information

    • 02:41

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: Services or something.And most other government departments, of course,have a foreign affairs arm, because most peoplehave connections with the world somehow.And one of the key roles of foreign office, I guess,is to provide a platform overseasfor all these various government departmentsto interact with foreign governments

    • 03:01

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: or foreign multilateral agencies,such as the UN in New York or Geneva.So there's a great deal of, sort of,joining up, if you like, of the British overseas effortthrough the foreign office system overseas.The foreign office itself deals with political relationships

    • 03:26

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: between countries.It deals with consular assistanceto British nationals.It deals with a certain amount of trade promotion,but in trade promotion, it works very closely with UKTI, BIS.It deals with a certain amount of aid,but again, it works very closely with ODA.

    • 03:49

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: And it deals with cultural relations,but working very closely with the British Council.So in some ways, there isn't that muchof a distinctive foreign office roleother than in the political.And in all the other areas where we work-- oh, well,political and consular, I should say-- in all the other areaswhere we work, we are working usually

    • 04:11

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: very closely with other government departments.Well, to give an understanding of howsort of government departments actually put policyinto practice, I mean, this is what we aremeant to be doing all the time.

    • 04:33

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: It is trying to find ways of promoting,in the foreign offices's example,promoting British interests.And that is not simply trying to develop a healthy relationshipwith the foreign country concerned,through ministerial visits, through discussions

    • 04:53

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: on important issues of the day, but reallyfinding a way to persuade the other-- the third countryconcerned of the British point of view,what the British interests-- well,not necessarily telling them straightwhat the British interests are-- but to make them or tryand persuade them to follow a course of action that

    • 05:17

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: is consistent with the kind of outcomes we would like to see.So big negotiations, for example,over climate change, where we would work very closelywith the Environment Agency to try and push forwardthat huge international agenda on climate change.

    • 05:41

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: Well, this is one of the, sort of,headline objectives of the foreign and commonwealthoffice.If you look on its website, that's what it says.And those two elements are essentially--and in practice I would say, we'reconsular work and trade promotion work.Consular work is perhaps where the foreign and commonwealth

    • 06:03

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: office interfaces most directly with the British public.Because it supports citizens who usually get into trouble oneway or another overseas.And that is not to say fall foul of the authoritiesin a criminal way, because there's

    • 06:24

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: all sorts of ways of getting into trouble.You get robbed.You lose your passport-- getting a new passport.You lose all your money-- finding a wayto get money to you, so you can find your way home.All these things are done through the consular service.It also does notarization of legal documents,

    • 06:45

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: if you need to get married, if you needbusiness documents notarized.It helps when there's a death.And there are deaths.People do die overseas.How to deal with it, when people are in a very, verydistressed situation.How to handle-- people get very sick.

    • 07:08

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: All the kinds of when people get into trouble,there is usually some kind of advice or assistancethat consular offices can offer and provide.And on the sort of criminal justice side,consular officers can visit British nationals

    • 07:30

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: held in jails overseas.Just to bring them-- to give them advice on how to-- lawyersthey might be able to find.Just sort of, basic, simple, helpful, advice.The foreign office can't sort outproblem-- can't actually sort out the problems for you veryoften.But it can give you advice on how to do it.

    • 07:57

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: Well, for the present government,the key issues in China-UK relations--for the present government at the moment--seem to be what's called the prosperity agenda, promotingBritish business overseas.China is a huge economy these days,awash in some respects with money to invest,

    • 08:22

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: a very dynamic place, and a place thatboth offers huge opportunities to British exporters,and huge opportunities in the UK for Chinese investment, whichis a considerable turnaround from not so long ago when Chinawas a great opportunity for UK investment overseas.

    • 08:46

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: That hasn't stopped.But the emphasis now very much is on Chinese investmentin the UK.And that has sort of superseded-- I mean,all this sort of goes in, if you like, waves.I mean, when I was in the foreign office in Chinain the 1980s, the big issue was Hong Kong.

    • 09:08

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: The handover of Hong Kong, how that was going to be handled,and it was very much a political issue.And the trade, China hadn't really taken off of that time.Trade issues were important, but they weren't very big.Nowadays, if you look at the staffing, for example,of the British embassy in China, the vast majority

    • 09:30

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: of those working there are workingon commercial activities, promotionof British economic and commercial interests.And that's done not simply through identifying exportopportunities or identifying linking up sort of companies

    • 09:51

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: together, but it's also through talkingto the Chinese, relevant Chinese authorities, aboutthe Chinese business environment,trying to improve the Chinese business environment,trying to find ways of getting the Chinese to tackleintellectual property, for example, the problems thatmany people have with that, trying

    • 10:12

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: to find ways of involving China morein the international financial affairs.And there's a lot of talk now of Londonbeing center for Chinese businessfor the Chinese currency.And a lot of that needs to be done at government level,because there are government agreements and government

    • 10:34

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: things.These things can't just happen by themselves.They need government involvement.And that is done through the FCO.Well, when ethics are up on the agenda,you get a more overt and strong sort of declaratory position

    • 10:57

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: by governments, both in terms of government statementsof concern about human rights, and of bilateral exchanges,where ministers visiting the country concernedwill raise human rights in a much stronger way, further upthe agenda, that kind of thing.

    • 11:17

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: When human rights are not so much on the agenda,then these things happen less, and are given less prominence.And it's all about sort of quiet diplomacy.I think, in both cases, a lot of the sort of program workcontinues.Certainly in China, we have always

    • 11:39

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: been supporting legal reform, for example.And we have run a number of small programsin different areas that have really helped on the ground.That have worked, if you like, with the grain of changeand social change and reform in China,and have helped improve people's living conditions.

    • 12:02

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: Because human rights is not solely about political rights.Political rights are an important element of thatand often the argument between states like Chinaand states like the UK, is they saythat we put too much emphasis on the political rights.

    • 12:23

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: And we should consider the economic and social rights,and look what they've done taking 250 million people outof poverty.Isn't that a real achievement?Well, it is a real achievement.But it doesn't disguise the fact that the political rightshave being pretty dismal.

    • 12:47

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: To talk about foreign policy in any country,but, you need, really, to look at the domestic policy.Because domestic policy usually drives foreign policy.And in China, this is very much the case.China is about finding and developing

    • 13:09

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: a relatively secure international environment,in which China can promote and develop its economy,in which China can grow strong.And that does not mean that China should be, sort of,weak on the international stage.The lesson they draw from the last 150

    • 13:30

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: years of Chinese history as they see it,is that China was exploited by Western powers for 150 years,from the Opium War certainly until the establishmentof the PRC in 1949, and probably later.And the lesson from that is you needto be a strong country to promote and develop

    • 13:53

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: your interest.And this is a big element that we'reseeing at the moment in China.This China dream that President Xi Jinpingtalks about of China becoming strong,China being able to stand proudly on its own twofeet in the international community,and promote and protect its own interests in a way

    • 14:14

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: that any other major power can do.And this, of course, has a certain disruptive tendencyin the region.And it brings China against Japan, for example.It brings China up against its neighbors in southeast Asiaor over the South China Sea.It brings China up against the United States,

    • 14:36

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: and its position of not exactly predominance,but its position in Asia, and its general relationshipacross the world.So there is a very clear driver of Chinese foreign policy,is the promotion of China's interestas they are seen by the Chinese government.

    • 15:03

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: And the anti-corruption campaign is a high-priorityfor the current leadership.They describe it at various timesas a matter of life and death for the Chinese CommunistParty.I think there are two big elements.One really is trying to make the Chinese bureaucratic machinefunction more effectively, and without the extraordinary

    • 15:29

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: levels of corruption that one sees when some of these casesare exposed.You know, millions of-- almost $100s of millionsexpropriated, vast private mansions, endless mistresses,endless cars, all sort of the things

    • 15:49

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: that people spend huge amounts of money on.But more than, that it's about the endemic workingsof the system.That if you want a country ruled by law, as they say,ruled by law rather than rule of law-- ruled by law--you need people to obey that law.

    • 16:10

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: And you need to know where you areand where you stand in the system.And if you don't, then it is very difficultto function effectively.So I think there is a real point behind it all.Secondly, of course, there is a political point.It is no coincidence that the most prominent people whohave fallen foul of the anti-corruption campaign

    • 16:33

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: have been people who were believedto be opponents-- political opponents--of the current leadership.So there is a political element.It helps strengthen your power, and it does good to the nation.You know, win-win, as the Chinese say.In terms of China-UK relationship,that's sort of mixed.

    • 16:55

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: Because of course, corruption is not at allonly about bureaucracy.It's about business.And the UK is very firm on anti-corruption,and about how our firm should behave in a proper manneroverseas.Nonetheless, there have been British companies caught upin this, GlaxoSmithKline for example.

    • 17:17

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: Some of their workers and employees in Chinawere arrested a few years ago for corruption,for corrupt practices.Again, this was-- I don't think they were unique in that,but it was a signal to other businessmen that, as it were,

    • 17:39

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: the Wild West days of China are over.That anti-corruption campaign is not solely about China,it's about foreign businesses in China.That they too need to observe proper practices.Now individual cases, of course, can have implications

    • 18:00

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: for political relations.And it is the duty of the British governmentto support the interests of-- or make surethat British citizens overseas whofall foul the authorities for whatever reasonget proper access to lawyers, get proper procedures,

    • 18:25

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: all these kind of things.So it can make life more complicatedat a sort of micro level.At the macro level, there is, at least in theory,a consonance of view between the two governments.And both are very opposed to corrupt behaviors.

    • 18:49

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: It might be worth saying a few words on the sort of mechanicsof how policy is developed.Because of course, it just doesn't spring out of nowhere.And there is a pretty well established procedurethat officials, when confronted with a particular problem

    • 19:11

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: will write a position paper calleda submission to ministers, which sets out what the problem is,which sets out some of background necessary backgroundto the problem, and then, gives some argumentationabout the various options that mightbe taken-- trying to give a sort of comprehensive view

    • 19:36

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: of that problem, to give the minister all that he/she needsto make a decision, and not necessarily to guide themtowards a particular decision, but to give themthe information they need.And then, this set of documents is sent upto the minister's office and will be read

    • 19:59

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: by the minister in due course.And then, he/she can either make a decision,if they feel it's within their competence.Of if it's something that they want, say,to consult the foreign secretary on,they will send those papers on to the foreign secretarywith a little note perhaps from the ministersaying what he thinks.And the foreign secretary might then take the decision himself.

    • 20:22

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: Or if it's a much, much bigger issue,there will be a whole process leading up to a cabinetdiscussion of that issue.Equally, it can be a sort of minor problem,a sort of every day running of the department.How do we deal with a particular problem thathas arisen, say for example, in the course of setting up

    • 20:43

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: the state visit that is just about to happen in the UK?The Chinese want something.We want something else.How are we to reconcile this?We need a ministerial decision so that we can take it forward.And so there's a complex bureaucratic processes.And they're also, of course-- when a new government comes in,

    • 21:06

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: they have their own policies probably from their manifestoor whatever, that Britain will develop relationswith whatever.Or Britain will take such and such a viewin such and such an international discussion.And those views of ministers haveto be worked into whatever policy submission is given,

    • 21:27

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: so that the decisions taken within the contextof the government's known position.I hope I've given you a little bit of an insight into howa government department works, how policy is made,

    • 21:49

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: and more importantly, how it is carried out on the ground.And that has been given in sort of context of our relationshipwith China, because that is the one that I'mfamiliar with, that I've worked on throughout my careerin the foreign office.And I think it shows how, although a department

    • 22:11

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: like the foreign office might seem a little bit distantfrom everyday life, actually, it touchesour lives in all sorts of ways.It touches your life if you're overseasand something goes wrong.It touches your life if you're a business person.It's touches your life if you're workingwithin British business, British commerce, the financial sector.

    • 22:33

      RODERIC WYE [continued]: There are things that the foreign officeis doing that are in support those activities.It touches your life if you're just an ordinary personliving on the planet, because we're workingon environmental questions.There are huge areas of enormous activitiesthat you don't often see, but are going on all the time.

Insight Into the Workings of a Ministerial Department: Foreign Office

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Analyst Rod Wye details the practices and activities a government office abroad undertakes, both in terms of policy and for individual citizens. He cites his experience working for the United Kingdom in China.

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Insight Into the Workings of a Ministerial Department: Foreign Office

Analyst Rod Wye details the practices and activities a government office abroad undertakes, both in terms of policy and for individual citizens. He cites his experience working for the United Kingdom in China.

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