There is more than a little irony that the 7th Asia Europe meeting (with representatives of half the world's people), focused on the crisis of international finance markets, should be taking place in the Great Hall of the People. The Chinese government have reaffirmed their commitment to stabilise the global market - because China depends on it. China's own economic growth is vital to the rest of us; and our stability and growth is vital to China. But this isn't quite what the Great Hall was originally intended for...
I got my own insight into how China is changing with a pre Conference open session with the Young Communist League. This youth organization boasts 73 million members, and spans culture as well as politics. It's not clear whether the young leaders see economic growth or ideological renewal as the key to the stability of the system and the power of the Communist Party. But the discussion was pretty open.
The recurring theme of western perceptions of China's rise - and media coverage of it - was tempered by willingness to listen and reflect on the virtues of pluralism and the foundations of strong socialism in the protection and promotion of human rights.
The young people drawn from China's universities were a good advertisement for the new China: globally engaged, enquiring, keen to travel, ambitious for themselves, and more than able to hold their own on the economic crisis, climate change, nuclear proliferation and human rights. It's interesting listening to the opening speeches. The focus on the economic crisis could be a spur to franker and more urgent discussion of climate change and human rights, rather than detract from them. The historical record shows that the opposite is possible: countries turning inwards, neglecting common problems. But this is not inevitable.
The Wall Street Journal pointed out today that the economic historian Charles Kindleberger showed that it was the lack of international coordination during the Great Depression that led to its depth and persistence. The meeting in Paris on Sunday of Eurozone Heads of Government plus our Prime Minister - and more important its conclusions - suggests that the severity of the crisis is not just recognised but the need for coordinated action is a spur to coherent action. The agenda for the European Council later this week has effectively been rewritten to focus on the economic situation - but in advance action is underway.
From my meetings in Brussels last Wednesday and the discussion at the Foreign Affairs Council this week it is clear that the UK plan announced last Wednesday is seen to set a global standard. Last week people feared that Europe would miss the chance to show that it could overcome the obstacles to coordination. Prospects look better today.
The situation in Kosovo has been a particular focus recently, following its declaration of independence in February. We've also closely watched the formation of a new pro-European government in Serbia. It's vital too to see the links across the wider Balkans.
Yesterday the electorate in Bosnia took part in their latest round of municipal elections. It's good that those elections went smoothly. But what's concerning is that the election campaign saw political leaders continuing to focus on rhetoric rather than on reforms. Instead of making progress on the key challenges Bosnia faces to move towards the EU, Bosnia's leaders have instead been questioning the very structure of the state (a structure set out in the Dayton Peace Agreement which, in 1995, ended the bloody conflict in Bosnia).
Europe has a role to play. That means supporting the efforts of the international community's most senior official in Bosnia, Miroslav Lajcak, to drive progress. It also means urging Bosnia's politicians to do their bit in turning away from rhetoric and engaging together to drive the country forward. Bosnia's been out of the headlines. But, given the current challenges, it shouldn't be far from our minds.
The Council of Europe - 47 countries founded on the back of the 20th century's failure to build a concert of European democracies committed to each other's territorial integrity and human rights - hosts an important conference at the FCO this week on the vital work of international courts and tribunals - from the ICJ to the Tribunals on former Yugoslavia and Rwanda (whose prosecutor made it to London to testify on its power). After the grandiose but ultimately unsuccessful visions of Woodrow Wilson's internationalism, these piecemeal but powerful attempts at developing international law with teeth, right up to the International Criminal Court, are a vital prop to civilised ways of doing business in the 21st century.
I saw on arrival in Brussels today that everyone was on tenterhooks for the details of the Mugabe–Tsvangirai deal on the future of Zimbabwe, brokered under South African auspices. That is not an exaggeration. The suffering has gone on so long that many people could not see any change coming. But it seems that some time last week there was a shift. The pressure for recognition of Morgan Tsvangirai’s democratic legitimacy has finally yielded him real power. Or so it seems.
The Europe response is cautious - necessarily so given the history of coalition governments in Zimbabwe. But we will be there as change shows itself to be real – above all real – offering hope to the Zimbabwe people.
It must be a western conceit to think that just because we are on holiday in August there should be fewer crises in foreign policy. Sure enough, August is usually full of crises: coups, scares etc. We go on holiday; we jet back from holiday. Why do we even think that two weeks could go by without a problem?
This year has proved no different. And the Georgia crisis is a real crisis. The European Council meets today in emergency session for the first time since September 11 2001. Over 100,000 Georgian refugees have joined the 200,000-plus left over from the civil wars of the early 1990s. That is reason enough to say there is a crisis.
But the rupture in international norms is more significant. As recently as April, Russia supported a UN Resolution affirming the territorial integrity of Georgia. Today it is occupying and recognising two breakaway states. Talk about unilateral use of force without UN cover ...
Many people have made the point that "we" need Russia - if not for gas then over Iran or Afghanistan. This is true. But Russia needs "us" too. As Fareed Zakaria cleverly points out in Newsweek, Russia's actions in Georgia are a potentially serious strategic blunder: Europe has been united by Russian action; trans-Atlanticism revived; and China alienated. Not a clever day's work.
I do not celebrate this breach. Russia's integration into global economics and politics is actually the best hope for a country losing population at Russia's rate.
Europe and America have not rushed thoughtlessly into action. We will be deliberate and effective in choosing the right ways to react to Russia's actions. In the short term we support democratic and sovereign countries, starting with Georgia, which need economic and political help. In due course we will raise the costs to Russia of such behaviour.
This isn't about winning or losing, as the Russian Foreign Minister pointed out in the FT two weeks ago. What we want to see is Russia on a different course, not Russia ground down. A weak Russia is as little in our interests as an aggressive one.
Europe Minister Jim Murphy has rightly and deservedly been named Minister of the Year, voted so in one of the annual competitions by his fellow Parliamentarians. His embrace of the daunting European brief, and especially his command of detail, his good humour towards friends and foes, and his ability to get by on limited sleep and not noticeably healthy diet, more than merited the award. I think secretly he began to enjoy the cut and thrust after 14 days on the floor of the House of Commons...
I have sat through a discussion in Brussels about next steps on engagement with Cuba. The number of political prisoners (229 in June 2008) and prisoners of conscience (62 according to Amnesty) are a stain on the reputation of the country. But there is consensus in the EU that renewed engagement with the new government is worthwhile. I support that. And there are tentative signs of opening up.
But the discussion was striking for the experience around the table of living with dictatorial regimes: not just in Eastern Europe where the memory is recent, but in Spain and Portugal and Greece. The discussion was not romantic or rose tinted: human rights abuse casts a long shadow.
The EU will review its process of engagement in a year's time to check on progress before taking it further forward.
Over 100 election monitors are now in Zimbabwe. Not enough but a start. Not enough because the scale of violence and intimidation is massive – over 50 dead, 1000s injured and brutalised. A start because it means there is a chance of a proper record – journalists and NGOs having been driven out. There is a massive responsibility on Africa to support the brave people of the opposition, and a major responsibility on the rest of us to support them. We will do so, bilaterally, in Europe and at the UN.
Congratulations to the British Council for their TN2020 initiative. I met some of the first 50 fellows from around Europe and the US at the New America Foundation today. Their job is simple: to re-energise the transatlantic relationship. The polling on the website (eg 57% of Americans have a positive or very positive view of the EU) shows that the well of common values is deep. The network intends between now and 2020 to become 1000 strong. After the second world war Anglo-German cultural and other links filled a void. The transatlantic relationship needs nurturing too. Digging deep into the US, and Canada, I hope it has similar success.