In early July, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa assembled in Ufa, around 700 miles east of Moscow, for the seventh annual Brics summit.
Overshadowed by Europe’s currency imbroglio and China’s stock market nosedive – along with the usual plethora of summer sporting events – this diplomatic gathering in the Bashkirian capital deserved far more media attention than it got.
I spent much of last week in Tbilisi, a city of around 1.5m people on the south-eastern fringe of Europe. Sitting at the juncture of historic East-West trade routes, the Georgian capital has long been a melting pot of cultural mingling, a place where rival empires collide.
With its mix of medieval, classical and Soviet architecture, some of it charming, some of it not, Tbilisi is a good place to think about the broad sweep of foreign affairs. That was particularly true during my latest visit, as the city was hosting the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). For several days, some of Tbilisi’s most prominent downtown buildings – including the ornate old parliament and several beautiful museums – were inhabited by a multi-cultural gaggle of officials, bankers, investors and journalists.
Iran remains a pariah state. In the eyes of many Westerners, not least those sitting in the mighty US Congress, there are few more dangerous, untrustworthy states on Earth. It’s incredible, then, that in the wake of an historic framework agreement, which emerged earlier this month after fraught negotiations in Lausanne, long-standing international sanctions against Iran could soon be dropped.
Even in the midst of a general election campaign, to say nothing of the slow-motion-car-crash negotiations that may or may not keep Greece (for now) in the eurozone, this Iran deal deserved more headlines. A country that should rank as one of the truly significant global economies, bigger than South Africa and home to 81m people, could soon return to the world stage.
What’s the longest bridge in the world? It’s not San Francisco’s Golden Gate, or Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd Causeway (as a friend insisted when I asked him) or even one of those really long “over the horizon” ones in Scandinavia.
The world’s longest bridge in the world – by far – is the Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge on the Beijing-to-Shanghai high-speed rail link. Stretching across the Yangtze delta, and completed in 2010, the Danyang-Kunshan is no less than 102 miles long. That’s over 29 times the length of Bromford Viaduct near Birmingham, the UK’s longest bridge. And it’s 116-times longer than the Humber Bridge, our widest single-span crossing.
The UK is guilty of “constantly accommodating” China, hissed an anonymous White House official in mid-March. The British government had just announced the UK would become a founder member of a new China-led financial institution that one day could rival the World Bank.
Ever since Beijing launched the $50bn Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank last October, US officials have insisted Western countries “could help shape the standards and rules” this institution will adopt “by staying on the outside”. The real reason for Washington’s lack of engagement, of course, actually lay in fears the AIIB will become an instrument of Chinese foreign policy. That, after all, is precisely the role the World Bank has played for the US for the best part of 70 years.