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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  April 26, 2021 12:30am-1:00am BST

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to india — as the country grapples with a surge in coronavirus infections. britain, france and germany all said they were sending respirators and equipment in the next few days — and the us is lifting a ban on sending raw materials to india. indonesia says a navy submarine that went missing on wednesday has been found split into three pieces on the sea bed, all 53 crew have been confirmed dead given under water rescue vehicle owned by singapore was sent down to get visual confirmation of the wreckage. the 93rd academy awards are due to begin in los angeles with a strong representation from actors of colour — and british stars — due to pandemic retsrictions part of this year's oscars ceremony is being held at the city's historic art deco train station. now on bbc news it's hardtalk
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with stephen sackur. welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. wherever you look in geopolitics today, there's an overwhelming sense of uncertainty. and it's notjust because we're still grappling with a global pandemic. russian troops amassing on ukraine's border. china and the us are locked in cold war—style hostility. cyber warfare makes state systems and individuals feel newly vulnerable. my guest, sir peter westmacott, was britain's ambassador in washington, paris and ankara. are we, right now, at a point of peak geopolitical risk?
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thank you, stephen. let me start with a big question. do you think the assumptions that underpinned your very long diplomatic career still hold good today? i'm thinking about britain's place in the world, its place in europe, relationships with the united states, the way multilateral institutions work. do all of those assumptions still hold good? i think a lot of it's changing at the moment. i think that the uk's place in the world has been altered by brexit. i think that we were pretty much off the pitch for about five years while we worked out how to deal with the results of the referendum. and only now are we beginning to try to make some kind
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of sense of the global britain idea and work out what our role is going to be on our own, outside europe, but still a member of a lot of very important organisations and still with a permanent seat at the un security council. and then you've got a number of international institutions which have kept the peace and the prosperity and free trade open since the 1940s and �*50s, a little bit in uncertainty. donald trump didn't like any of those international organisations. the world has been asking itself questions about whether america is still a reliable leader of the free world, and into some of the vacuum and the unpredictability created by trump, we've got some very big players who are flexing their muscles and some of whom are making trouble. plus, covid has opened up a lot of questions about resilience and long supply chains and ways of getting stuff done, competence of democracies and so on. so i think a lot of those, what we thought were pretty certain predictabilities, if you like, in
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international affairs, are now open to question. you are fairly recently retired, so, of course, you're no longer privy to the confidential information that used to cross your desk. but as you look at some of the flashpoints around the world today, and i'm thinking particularly of the russia—ukraine border, and i'm thinking of the south china sea, do you think that because of the fragility of the multilateral system that you've just talked about, that the world is a more dangerous place today than it was when even you retired about four years ago? i think what's changed, amongst other things, since then is that china has become more assertive, more, if you like, centralised. it's more a country which is run by a president—for—life and by the party more than by the people, if that was ever the case, and which seems to have convinced itself that america is in irreversible decline and that the unipolar world has gone and that china is going to be, if you like, top dog.
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and whatjoe biden has said is, "i'm not going to have, on my watch, china "the richest, most powerful, most dominant global power. "that ain't going to happen. i'm going to stand up to it." so i think we are in a different place. i don't think it's in a thucydides trap and inevitability of conflict between one declining superpower and one rising superpower. there's been a lot of talk of that sort of idea. i think this is manageable, but i do think that china is keen on a dominant role, although its spokesmen say that it is not. but there's an awful lot of interdependency there. and in some ways, engaging with china, although it's a huge, complex challenge, might be less difficult than engaging with russia, which i think is kind of more destructive and more determined to be talked about and be the centre of attention rather
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than set upon world domination, which it clearly is not capable of doing. well, i promise you, i'll come back to both china and russia in the course of this interview, but let us now come closer to home. i'm very mindful of your own sort of mind—set, your world view. if i may say so, you're of a generation of top british diplomats who were brought up inside the european union, who, frankly, very much liked the notion of britain anchored in europe. well, that anchor has been cast away now. britain divorced itself from the eu after that referendum in 2016. and at the time, you said you felt "physically sick" when that result became clear. the question is, have people like you, five years on, come to terms with it or are you still feeling "physically sick" and are you still determined to cast it in a very negative light? i don't feel physically sick and i'm certainly not
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determined to cast it in a negative light. i still feel regretful, sometimes resentful, about some of the things that were said to persuade people that this was a good idea. and i still think that such an enormously important change in the future direction of our country probably shouldn't have been done except on the basis of a majority of the electorate or two thirds, like you would have in many other democracies for a change of the constitution. but it didn't happen. so people like me, i think, recognise that that's what's happened, the famous 37% of the electorate have spoken. brexit has finally happened. it's not the kind of brexit that we were being told we would have.
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i think it's, in many ways, economically more damaging. but i think that what we're now looking at is a new set of realities. and i think there is potential for the united kingdom to make its own way, but in a different manner. i don't think we're going to, by the way, sever all our links with the major european players. already you see that in a number of foreign and security policy issues, we are still talking to the french and the germans and others, not quite as much as we were before cos we're not in the same meetings in brussels, but we're certainly talking to them bilaterally. and i think that's very important. and of course, even though we're out of the eu, we're still at the security council united nations, we're still leading members of nato, we're still, along with france, one of the only two serious players with a military capability in the european union, and, if you like, we are no longer constrained by common foreign and security policies and so on of the 28 member states. we are on our own. that does mean that we can be agile and independent. we don't even have to be bound by something like member state
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solidarity if we want to try and solve some of the remaining territorial disputes in the world. well, if i may say so, sir peter, you are sounding like prime minister boris johnson, who, of course, was never your boss, but prime minister boris johnson, who is rather keen on having his cake and eating it. and what you're suggesting is that, in a sense, britain has hit a sweet spot where it can have its cake and eat it, it can still have a working relationship with the 27 member states of the eu, despite the spats over the northern ireland border, over the astrazeneca vaccine roll—out. it, as you just said, it has a working relationship with the eu 27. and at the same time, it does have more wiggle room, if you like, to build an independent foreign policy. what's not to like? well, what's not to like is that 43% of our exports go to the european union. and we have left the single market and the customs union, and we read every day how much more complicated our commercial relationships with europe are and how much more difficult it's become for british subjects to go and live and work and study and so on elsewhere in the eu. sure, sure. but with respect, the trade between britain and the eu is not going to fall off a cliff.
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it's quite clear, it may be for a time having to adapt to new circumstances, but you only have to look at the nature of the uk economy right now and compare it with its eu counterparts to see that the uk isn't suffering some massive post—brexit hangover. and frankly, in some ways there are signs that in other parts of the world, with trade agreements made, already made with japan and other countries, britain might actually make this work quite well. well, i hope britain will, although the trade agreements don't actually improve the terms of trade that we already had with any of those countries, and nor will a free trade agreement with america. i'm not cakeist, stephen. i am simply somebody who accepts the reality, as you challenged me to do, and i hope that we can make the best of it. but the challenge is still out there. i hope we can become significant players on our own, if you like, outside the european union in foreign and security policy,
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but there's a lot of work still to be done and we do not have the structures that tie us with all those partners that we had before. and we've also got to deal with a new administration in washington which will not take special relationships for granted in any way, and we have to show that we are going to make a difference. i hope we can, but i'm not actually one of those who thinks, you know, "what's not to like? we're having our cake "and eating it." i just want us to make the best of the new situation. you've written a book about your diplomatic career, and a lot of it is about relations with the eu and with the united states as well — britain's twin, sort of, pillars of its foreign policy. do you buy the notion that's been peddled by foreign secretary dominic raab, and indeed by borisjohnson, that it's time for a new foreign policy? and the talk is of a tilt eastward, that there is going to be a much greater focus on britain's relations with asian countries. and, of course, that means china, but it also means allies like japan and south korea as well, and perhaps less
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of a focus on the twin pillars of relations with european partners and the united states. do you think that's the right way for britain to go? there's a lot of talk about indo—pacific, whatever that means, and a tilt in that direction. i think that it makes eminently good sense, for economic and other reasons, to be looking in that direction. i talked briefly about the importance of long—distance supply chains, and an awful lot of the things that we need for british industry in manufacturing and consumers come a very long way from that part of the world, and we have every interest in close relations and strong trading links to that part of the world. i don't want us to end up talking about a tilt to the east and finding we've got no resource there to actually make a difference. i think paying attention to those countries — india, china, the pacific rim countries = makes perfect sense. i don't think i would give up on the others. as you said, we've got huge economic relations with the european union. you hope it won't fall off a cliff, i think it will go down. i think we've got to keep
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working on that, and i don't think we should give up on our relationship with the united states, that we need to recognise that america itself is entirely transactional. but there's many issues which the biden administration care about, which happen to coincide with british values and interests, and i think we should carry on seeking to engage closely with them, too. you're one of the most experienced diplomats in the uk. how do you balance out principle and pragmatism in a relationship with china right now? are you...? again, going back to your past, you spent many years working as a diplomat under the blair government. now, tony blair was famous for talking about a foreign policy driven by values. he talked about humanitarian interventionism. we hear that the united states government believes the chinese are conducting a policy of, quote unquote, genocide against the muslim minority uighur community in xinjiang province. when you deal with china, how do you balance out principle and pragmatism? it's a very... it's a very difficult issue.
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i think that, with china, as with a number of other countries, including, for example, saudi arabia, there is a real need to take a stand on the values that we hold dear. the united kingdom has been pretty firm on human rights issues in china and on the way in which hongkongers have been treated, and it's done the right thing by making it easierfor them to come to the united kingdom. and we've also stood up for freedom of navigation and issues like that, which china feels strongly about and where we are not on the same page in the south china sea. now, how do you reconcile pragmatism and principle? i think you have to be true to yourselves and you have to also pursue the things that you think really matter with those governments. in the case of china, it might be climate change and it might be trade and it might be supply chains and it might be innovation. it might be global trade, there's a lot of issues. if you look atjohn kerry, for example, the us climate czar, he will say we've taken a very firm line with china on values and human rights, but we're also discussing
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in a very productive way the importance of making progress on climate change. i don't see why the united kingdom can't and shouldn't do the same thing. you can do both. the one does not exclude the other. really? and you don't think that that smacks of cynicism, that you mouth the rhetoric of standing up for human rights while in fact acknowledging a very, very pragmatic principle that china is so economically important now that, frankly, you turn a blind eye to many of the abuses that they are alleged to be undertaking? no, i don't think you should turn a blind eye at all. as i was saying, i think you should stand up for the values and the principles that you hold dear, but you should also recognise that if you want, for example, to stop the destruction of this planet, you've got to talk to china as well as to other people about that. it's not about turning a blind eye. it's about trying to deal with all those different elements of a complex relationship, the one not excluding the other.
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i think, for example, in the case of saudi arabia, it is right that america and the united kingdom should refuse to supply weapons that are being used indiscriminately in the civil war in yemen. and i believe we have done that. so, i think you've got to do what is right, but you've also, at the same time, you pursue the national interest as well. i don't think that's cynical or double standards. there's a couple of other really important arenas around the world i want to talk to you about, and we don't have much time, so let's quickly get on to the united states. and you in your career left washington as british ambassador when the obama administration came to an end, so you watched trump from the outside. but the question, the point about donald trump is that he changed so very much about the definition of us interests. he put america first. he adopted a clearly nationalist and indeed protectionist policy around the world, some would say isolationist, too. and the assumption that joe biden�*s going to reverse all of that seems, in some ways, to be a little misguided, not least because of what we've
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seen of his decision—making in afghanistan, where he is going to stick to the trump idea that troops have to be pulled out. he's extended the deadline until september, but nonetheless, they're coming home. so, would it be fair to say that actually there are things about the trump presidency and what he did to the definition of us national interest thatjoe biden will actually continue rather than reverse? i think you're right, there are some things that will not change. we haven't yet seen, for example, the elimination of all the extra tariffs which trump put on some of america's trading partners. on iran, even though the biden administration thought it was completely wrong of trump to tear up the nuclear deal, the american... the current administration is saying, "well, we're happy to go back to talks, but it needs to be "the nuclear deal, plus additional "obligations on iran." there are a number of issues, i think, on which, if you like, biden will have to build on some of where trump was, on the other hand —
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whereas donald trump was against nato, against the european union, against the wto, against the who, against the united nations — i think we have an administration which is much more multilateralist and ready to work with those institutions than its predecessor. but, hang on, that's important. that's a really interesting point you're making, sir peter. but isn't the truth that many in europe, despite hearing joe biden�*s rhetorical commitment to nato, for example, they're not sure they can buy into it? i mean, emmanuel macron not so long ago said he believed that nato was effectively braindead. he said it was no longer pertinent. and we've heard many other european officials in the last few months saying, just because biden�*s now in power doesn't mean that we in europe can assume that we can rely on america as a trusted and constant partner in the future in the way that we did in the past. we have to learn the lessons of trump. given all of that, isn't vladimir putin right now looking at nato, looking at the lack
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of cohesiveness and, frankly, credibility in nato and thinking to himself, "i can pretty much do what i want"? he's certainly been thinking like that for the last four years because, on the whole, he got a free pass from president trump. i think he will be looking at nato with a slightly different approach now, but he's testing us. look at all that build—up of troops on the ukraine border. what is nato... ? of course, nato is not treaty—bound to defend ukraine, but what is nato going to do about european security? but the other point that you're sort of hinting at, which i think is a very important one, is that this is an american president who is on record as opposing most military interventions — not iraq, but in libya and in the surge in afghanistan and a number of other places, his view was that america should not be getting involved in faraway wars where it's not in a position to build nations or make things better. so you are dealing with a president who instinctively, and as we've seen in the decision that he has taken on afghanistan, wants to bring the troops home,
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but he's also committed to the alliances of which america is a member. and he has repeated his commitment to article 5 of nato, which is, you know, an attack on one is an attack on all. so, i would rather hope that russia and other people are looking at the alliance and saying, "well, it is still very much intact," while recognising that america is in a rather different position than it was. but there is so much... even as we talk, it strikes me there's so much more scope for misunderstanding and for unpredictable behaviours in the next few years than there were perhaps in the period in which you were serving as a british ambassador. do you feel that, too? do you feel there is a much greater sense of risk right now? i think there was great unpredictability over the last four or five years,
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when even american officials had to understand what policy was by looking at twitter at five o'clock in the morning, because it often didn't reflect the advice that the administration were giving to their own boss. and i think a lot of countries, china and russia amongst them, but plenty of others, including ourselves, wondered what was happening from one day to the next. there was a level of unpredictability there. i think that some of that is now going. but we are in a global situation where an awful lot of things have changed, where a number of critical relationships are under review, and biden has made that clear. i would hope that we can engage with china in a collective way which finds benefits for china as well as for others in the region, the indo—pacific point you were making, and for the rest of us, rather than leaves everybody wondering what's going on and you end up with a kind of 1914 conflict by accident, because of changing capabilities. i think we are moving away from the unpredictability we had in the last few years towards something which i hope is a bit more predictable. and you've seen a very firm position from the americans and others against russia, for example, with substantial
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sanctions applied in response to the latest bits of cyber warfare. i think russia is getting a clear message. i want to end by switching focus and rather dramatically shifting subject matter, but it is, in a sense, linked. we've talked a lot about the future of britain's role in the world. you, in the early 1990s, spent a couple of years working very closely with prince charles in his office. you know him very well, and many of our viewers around the world will, of course, have watched the funeral of prince philip, the duke of edinburgh, in recent days and they will... all of us are mindful that the queen is of a very great age and that, before too very long, we expect to see a king charles, and i would like to ask you whether you feel it is going to be a very different kind of monarchy when that transition comes about? i think what we will see in the coming months and years is a kind of seamless process whereby the prince of wales becomes the dominant male member of the royal family,
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stepping into the shoes quietly of his late father. i think that is excellent preparation for everyone getting used to the idea of him becoming the monarch when that time happens. will it be a very different sort of monarchy? well, the prince of wales is his own man. he, along with other members of the family, have been aware, as aware as any of us, for years that if the monarchy does not keep itself relevant and modernise, it is going to lose its way and people are going to question what it is for. so, already there's been streamlining. there has been a cutting back, if you like, of the numbers of royals who are undertaking duties, although, funnily enough, because of changes within the family, we're seeing one or two of the younger members now assuming new roles, and we saw that at the time of prince philip's funeral. so i think you're going to see a change of personality for sure. well, i took away from that funeral a sign of the monarchy, even in these extraordinarily difficult covid times,
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being an institution which helps the people of britain, and perhaps more widely, the commonwealth and further afield realised that our monarchy is capable of getting us to lift our eyes temporarily from the awfulness of covid and from the daily grind of politics and individual scandals and other things that are going on in the newspapers each day. sir peter westmacott, we have to end there. i thank you very much indeed forjoining me on hardtalk. of getting us to lift our eyes temporarily from the awfulness of covid and from the daily grind of politics and individual scandals and other things that are going on in the newspapers each day. sir peter westmacott, we have to end there. i thank you very much indeed forjoining me on hardtalk. thank you, stephen.
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hello. the sunny, dry theme to the april weather continued through the course of the weekend. this was the picture in wiltshire on sunday, so similar to many areas, blue sky overhead butjust quite dry and in fact quite cracked ground. some parts of southern england has seen barely any rainfall throughout the entire month so far. now this week a return to some scattered showers. we won't all be seeing them, but there is, thankfully, a little bit of rain in the forecast. and things turning a bit colder as well. we've got a small, slow—moving area of low pressure moving in from the north, slowly slipping south over the next few days. so monday morning, then, starts off on a bit of a milder note. particularly for scotland where we've got more cloud. still likely to see a frost across parts of england and wales, particularly in the north. monday morning, then, initially quite a bit of cloud in the south but that will tend to break up so quite a lot of sunshine coming through. there will be more cloud for scotland with some patchy showers heading in and they will be heavier during the course of the afternoon for parts of eastern scotland. one or two into northern
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england and northern ireland. further south in the sunshine it's also less windy than recent days as well, so we are losing that biting easterly wind. still a bit of an onshore breeze making things cooler around the east coast, but further west temperatures for the likes of cardiff and belfast are up to about 16 degrees on monday. and then as we move through monday night into tuesday this area of low pressure still with us as it moves its way south we will start to see some showers rotating around that area of low pressure. so hit and miss scattered showers on tuesday, but they will probably avoid east anglia and the southeast where we could really do with a bit of rainfall around. staying quite mild in the south, up to about 16 degrees in the sunshine, but turning colderfrom the north as the winds start to come in from a northerly direction. just 7 degrees or so for aberdeen. into wednesday i think the focus of the showers probably for wales and the southwest of england. fewer showers around elsewhere, perhaps one or two around these east coasts where it is, again, going to feel chilly. just 7 degrees for the likes of aberdeen. but could well be 15 or 16 for southern parts of england and wales too. but as low pressure drifts off towards the near continent that's going to open the doors
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for these cold north or north easterly winds, once again coming down from the arctic. so temperatures in the cold side towards the end of the week for thursday into friday, just about getting into double figures by day but do be prepared if you've got gardening plans, we could well see a return of frosty nights. bye for now.
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this is bbc news. i'm david eades with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. the international community sends urgent medical aid to india but infection rates and deaths continue to surge. after body being brought in. it's hard for anyone to keep count, but what workers have been telling me is that the real scale of deaths caused by covid—i9 in india is a lot higher than what official numbers reflect. the missing indonesian navy submarine is found split into three pieces on the sea floor. there are no survivors. apple at loggerheads with facebook over an iphone update that will help protect users�* privacy online.
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