Back sun-tann’d from Ibiza and armed with a new ability to Dab, I’ve been doing my new piece for DIPLOMAT. It looks at the idea of Civilisations.

I tripped over this piece about Chinese values in general and as they apply to diplomacy:

The cultural values of a country influence its national psychology and identity. Citizens’ values and public opinions are conveyed to state leaders through the media and other information channels, both directly and indirectly influencing decisions on foreign policy.

The traditional cultural values that influence the psyche of the Chinese people are harmony, benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, honesty, loyalty, and filial piety.

Do we in the West any longer have our own ‘cultural values’? Isn’t it racist even to think that? Eeek.

The article at the respectable Carnegie-Tsinghua website by resident scholar Zhang Lihua presses on by looking at each Value in turn. See especially this analysis of ‘loyalty’:

Loyalty stresses service to the motherland. It is an emotion and a value that evolves from blood ties and means that in cases of foreign invasion citizens should exert all efforts to protect their country as they would protect their own homes …

To our ‘Western’ ears the very word motherland (and fatherland) sounds a bit … collectivist, if not downright Nazi/Soviet? And what about ‘blood ties’? Isn’t that explicitly racist in some way – a weird mystical idea that a nation’s blood itself is ‘pure’ and can be diluted by mingling it with nasty foreign blood?

More! Isn’t the very idea of ‘national loyalty’ also racist/exclusivist or whatever? In our balmy post-modern Western space isn’t the only loyalty that counts applicable to supra-national phenomena such as the EU or UN?

Back in 2011 I wrote about Diplomatic Loyalties for DIPLOMAT:

In short, the Libya drama exemplifies the greatest challenge to any diplomat’s loyalty to his/her country: what to do if the country slumps into civil war or even disappears altogether?

This problem was faced in acute form by Soviet diplomats when the USSR disintegrated in 1991. They had represented one massive state – what to do when the 15 former Soviet republics had each become a new country? For most diplomats born and raised in Russia, the choice was simple: stick with the new Russian Foreign Ministry.

But those diplomats born and raised elsewhere in the Soviet Union had a painful choice. Better to stay on in powerful Moscow as a Russian diplomat, or return to one’s home republic and hope for a role in the nascent and disorganised Foreign Ministry there? If the latter, would they be trusted by the new leadership?

That piece opened with part of a questionnaire I sometimes use:

Which is the most important quality in diplomatic work and why?

a) Speed

b) Loyalty

c) Discretion

d) Good judgement

e) Honesty

f) Accuracy

g) Getting on with people

h)  Personal appearance

Most people favour Good Judgement, Honesty and Discretion. I argue that the answer is Accuracy. If you are smart, loyal, honest and discreet, but get the basic facts wrong, you’re a menace to everyone.

However, at a recent training course one participant brought up in a communist tradition confidently gave one answer which does not usually get given: Loyalty.

In his memoirs leading Bolshevik and Soviet diplomat Vyacheslav Molotov favoured loyalty over experience or competence. He contrasted his predecessor Maxim Litvinov (‘an intelligent man, an exceptional personality, but we did not trust him’) with men like Vladimir Dekanazov (‘a good official, a loyal man’) and Andrei Gromyko (‘still young and inexperienced, but loyal’).

The diplomat ‘from the communist tradition’ who chose Loyalty was in fact from China. She looked bewildered at finding herself the only person from some 20 people or so present who chose Loyalty – isn’t that the obvious choice? Indeed, I must have posed that question well over a dozen times to different international groups and she was the only one who gave loyalty as the answer.

It’s easy to see why loyalty is so crucial in non-democratic systems. Incompetence and dishonesty can be punished. But disloyalty has to be stamped out with no mercy. Stalin of course took this to dizzy depths, deporting whole ethnic communities to Siberia if he questioned their loyalty to the USSR and/or himself.

Once the stupid arrangement of letting the public decide who runs the country is excluded, the only thing the leadership need to fear is being toppled from within. Who can be trusted, and how far? Imagine sitting in the dictator’s very own chair. In comes the dutiful servant with tea. Is it poisoned? Who’s checked it? Who’s checked the checker? Hmm – better eliminate a few random people in these hierarchies to keep everyone else in line?

Loyalty. Trust. Always the same basic issue. Kто кого?