October 5, 2012 · 0 Comments
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird and British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, signed an agreement in Ottawa on Sept. 24 to open joint Canada-U.K. diplomatic missions abroad. According to Hague the move has been initiated in view of pressing economical, political and historical considerations. The proposed fusion of the embassies has raised many an eyebrows, especially in Canada.
Canadians speculated that the blend might erode Canadian sovereignty on one hand and impair its affable image in Asia and Africa on the other. Because many countries here and as elsewhere in the past hell-spent centuries of colonial rule under the British and haven’t forgotten their agony, however apologetic Britain might appear to be about that now.
But the British foreign secretary and the Prime Minister never stop telling that Canada and Britain have stood together through many trials, and that the two nations under one queen are first-cousins.
The observers in Canada however, question about the knack of Canadians to act independently in embassy premises shared with diplomats of Great Britain the country they rated as their ‘mother country’. That admiration notwithstanding, many ask as to why Canada, a sovereign state among comity of nations, had failed to extricate itself fully from the silhouette of Buckingham Palace until now.
Even the time and money spent on red carpet receptions given to the princes and princesses of British Royalty on their visit to Canada were beyond comprehension of many, particularly the new immigrants who take such events in modern times with pinch of salt. A large number of them have emigrated from Asian and African countries that remained under British yoke for centuries, were treated by the Raj as inferiors and never like cousins. The psychosomatic submission of Canada to England, although taken as a fate-accompli by many was not acceptable generally and particularly by new generation of Canadians.
Attempt to offset EU
Economically cut off in Europe and amidst deep financial crisis, United Kingdom was trying not only to refurbish its trade and commerce or save costs on diplomatic offices but was also working to regain glory of the imperialist days gone by. To implement the idea of joint embassies, it successfully roped in Canada to be followed by Australia and New Zealand. Though Queen Elizabeth II continues to be the Monarch of 16 sovereign states and their territories and dependencies, as well as head of the 54-member Commonwealth of Nations ‘de jure’, England was craving to regain its dominance ‘de facto’ over others that it once enjoyed in world during the colonial era.
A grapevine said to be in circulation among UK diplomats that talked about the French tactics to surpass Briton, the Germans’ plans to command Europe and the Italians’ presence already felt all over the place seem to be reflective of British current outlook towards EU. “We would never dream of trusting them with intelligence secrets, but we share everything with the Canadians, Aussies and Kiwis”. The EU is so burdened by history it doesn’t know what it wants to do and is hopeless at speaking with one voice”. William Hague also found much more commonality with many Commonwealth countries than the EU — and not just the English language.
Blowing their own trumpet they say, “We Brits know who we are, who our real friends are, and between us we have been a rather good influence on the world in the past century”. That way, they were now cajoling former colonies to become their trade partners, whom they exploited ruthlessly during their colonial regime, they think them better than EU in trade but sense of guilt of haunt them which William Hague tried his level best to ward off.
Evade past to boost trade
While initiating his move for joint embassies, Hague advised his country to “just relax” about its role as an imperial power and must shed any lingering feelings of “post-colonial guilt” to be confident about its status on the world stage to day. Retreat of Empire, Foreign secretary reminded, took place a long time ago and new generations have come up everywhere. Now it had a “new and equal partnership” with countries unburdened by past history. He also emphasized that the country was seeking to expand its diplomatic presence across Asia, Africa and Latin America in an effort to boost bilateral relations and enhance economic and trade opportunities. By 2015, the Foreign Office would deploy an extra 300 diplomatic staff in the “fastest-growing cities and regions” in about 20 countries.
Such statements made by Hague about UK’s ‘post colonial guilt’ at this juncture appear more tactical than an honest appraisal of their enslaving many countries of Asia, Africa and elsewhere, opine some political pundits.
In the end
The British foreign secretary might be having sense of guilt for Empire’s history of oppression in those countries on back of his mind while talking of improvement of diplomatic and trade relations with them now. But let it be recalled that history is the account of events printed not only on sheets of papers but emblazoned also on hearts of people that pass on from generation to generation. The cellular Prison of Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India called ‘Kala Pani’ stands as a monument of India’s freedom struggle where hundreds of freedom fighters were sent as prisoners but they never returned. Similarly the marks of bullets ( preserved on boundry walls of Amritsar Jalianwallah Bagh ) fired indiscriminately by the British Army at peaceful gathering on Baisakhi festival day in 1919 bore testimony to their brutal regime in India and elsewhere that in today’s context could be overlooked but never forgotten!.
At the same time, UK’s initiative to collocate embassies with Canada and other countries for its benefits has evoked criticism from many in Quebec, who have asked Canada to share embassies with France as well. Others opine that it’s like being subordinate to a big power – UK. Let us look at condition of Canadian portion of embassy at a joint Canadian –Australian embassy in Cambodia:
“In Cambodia the Canadian embassy was once located in the garage of the Australian embassy. When I visited this establishment, I had to climb over some boxes, squeeze past a reception cum communications desk and then get into the back where a washroom has been helpfully added on, said, Jan Drabek the former Czech diplomat.
An embassy is what represents an independent nation around the world. While we still pledge allegiance to the Queen, we are an independent nation that is fully capable of running its own affairs, including embassies, wrote one of the commentators online.