2020 HAS NOT BEEN THE YEAR WE EXPECTED. The start of the year saw Boris Johnson safely in office, Brexit was a certainty and the negotiations kicked off with gusto. Few predicted the health pandemic and its reverberations around the world.
As the ‘second wave’ takes hold, life has transformed for all of us, with everlasting consequences. Economies have been decimated, nationalism has soared, for most of us international travel is out of the question, the poor and vulnerable have been left exposed and many, many people have died.
Closer to home, within London’s diplomatic community, no one could have anticipated the Ambassador of the Philippines and his team taking to the empty street outside the Embassy in central London for a socially distanced photograph all while wearing masks on the occasion of their National Day back in June. Or the easy use of phrases like Zoom diplomacy, quarantine and self-isolation that we now hear almost every day. Things have changed.
Here at Diplomat HQ, I’ve seen my face-to-face meetings with Ambassadors and attendance at National Day receptions evaporate, although I’ve managed one of each in the past six weeks or so, which is encouraging. For the first time in Diplomat magazine’s 73-year history, we now publish a digital version of the magazine in order to continue harnessing our readership as they work from home – or were sent back to their capitals for a few months. Like so many other businesses, we’ve had to quickly adapt to our changing circumstances.
Along with our partner Public Policy Projects, we launched a virtual platform ‘World Economic Series – Rebooting the World Economy’ back in June, with keynote speakers Lord Mayor of the City of London and the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps. Together they emphasised the importance of the World Economic Series as a digital forum hosting an international discussion about the policy framework required by the changed circumstances created by the health pandemic. Since then, we’ve been lucky to work with the Ambassadors of Japan, the EU, Thailand and Colombia, along with the Deputy Director of the World Health Organisation, the President of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration and most recently the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP. We’ve published reports on each session in this edition of the magazine – and on our website – along with videos of the speeches in case you missed them.
Our cover story this month, from the BBC’s James Landale, observes that the UK isn’t the only country that is looking to the Indo-Pacific in its foreign and security policy. Former UK Health Secretary Rt Hon Stephen Dorrell says we are regularly told that countries in the Indo-Pacific have developed a policy response to Covid-19 that “is several orders of magnitude more effective than the response we have seen in Western Europe and North America.” And yet we haven’t taken note.
We have various contributions from heads of mission, including the departing Ambassador of Slovakia who has made such an impact during his five years in London, and the Ambassador of El Salvador who brings ‘surf diplomacy’ to our attention as her country hosts the Olympic qualifiers for the sport in 2021.
With a slew of new arrivals over the summer, Diplomat continues to review the credentials of new heads of mission to the Court of St James’s, this month meeting the Ambassadors of Ethiopia, Latvia, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Uruguay.
One thing is certain, we all need a little cheer in our lives. In our lifestyle pages, we find the glorious country house hotel Beaverbrook is the idyllic spot to escape the serious issues of the day. I have an exclusive peek at the historic Admiralty Arch, soon to open as a Waldorf Astoria hotel, private members club and residences. As most of our focus is on the headlines these days, it would be easy to forget that the festive season is just around the corner. Diplomat includes a gift guide for colleagues and loved ones, plus a profile on Harrods Hampers. The famous department store has been creating hampers and gifts for decades to suit all tastes, needs and nationalities. The ultimate treat.
Please do stay in touch and send me article suggestions, new appointments and mission news that you would like covered. Follow and contact us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – our reach is growing on these platforms – as we are happy to share your news on social media too.
Please stay safe in the meantime.
VENETIA DE BLOCQ VAN KUFFELER