As an academic in international relations, one of the most frequently asked questions I come across is: Are diplomats always diplomatic? And do they ever strike me as condescending or arrogant?
Well, the answer is both yes and no. Some diplomats I met were very polite and diplomatic, whereas some were not.
However, when it comes to meeting with diplomats from any country, I always remember one rule: never meet them in their consulate office.
That’s because I have found that consulate guards and doormen are often much more difficult to deal with than their bosses.
Over the years they have given me a lot of hard time at the security checkpoint. For me, they are the ones who are really condescending.
Apart from these consulate guards and doormen, executives of some international foundations often get to me too.
In fact, many of these people are de facto diplomats with their own political and diplomatic agenda, even though they are not officially designated as such.
They themselves often get a little confused about their exact role. And perhaps for that reason, they might sometimes allow their ego to get the better of them.
For example, I know a German guy who used to represent a certain foundation.
Many years ago, during an international academic conference held in Hong Kong which his foundation sponsored, he suddenly flipped out and berated the organizing staff because he wasn’t happy with the low attendance.
Worse still, he threatened not to pay speakers whose speeches he found boring.
However, over the years I did meet some very skillful, sophisticated diplomats.
For instance, two years ago during the Occupy Movement, I was invited by the French foreign ministry to visit Paris.
During that visit I met a seasoned French diplomat at an exclusive clubhouse.
He told me that decades ago, in that same place, he received a young man from Hong Kong on an official occasion, during which he told him if he wanted to have a promising career, he must bear in mind that he always had to stress his Chinese identity in front of Beijing officials.
That young man is named Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 14.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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