‘Miscommunication’ over Chinese press conference

Updated 02 December 2018

‘Miscommunication’ over Chinese press conference

  • Five minutes before it was due to start, a Chinese man stood up to inform us that it was all a “miscommunication” and there would be no press gathering after all. Trade war averted perhaps?
  • With Donald Trump in town, the owner of the Ping Golf driving range must have thought his dreams had come true when the US president took an hour out to hit a few balls into the Silver River

After a while, the G20 Summit of world leaders in Buenos Aires just melts into surreality. Residual jetlag, early-morning starts, long days and lots of sensory stimuli send you into a state of hyper-awareness. This must have been how Alice felt in Wonderland.

“Never heard of yerba mate? You soon will,” runs the advertising slogan on the stall in the International Media Center (IMC), home to 2,500 journalists for the duration of the G20. 

“Argentinian yerba mate is one of the next big trends on the horizon, and it’s about to become your next superfood obsession,” said the promotional literature. 

It is a kind of tea native to Argentina, and “reduces inflammation, helps your body detox, protects your DNA (!) and can help with weight loss,” the ab blurb reads. 

I had a cup before heading off from the IMC for the 5-km trip to the Costa Salguero Center, the venue for the leaders gathering in Buenos Aires and a veritable fortress for the duration. Normal traffic is banned from the center, and all roads around it are closed to anyone not involved in the G20.

It was spooky driving beside the Rio de la Plata along what on a normal day would have been a busy six-lane highway. The only other vehicles were G20-branded. The only other people were heavily armed military and police, manning roadblocks every so often, boarding the media bus with enough kit to take out a regiment, asking to see your lanyard and waving you through with a finger flick. 

When you get to the Costa Salguero Center, the through-the-looking-glass experience intensifies. Some of the sights were just too coincidental to be true. With Donald Trump in town, the owner of the Ping Golf driving range must have thought his dreams had come true when the US president took an hour out to hit a few balls into the Silver River.

Maybe Trump would stop at the nearby Trixie diner, a pastiche of an old American railroad carriage eating-house complete with red neon lights offering hamburgers, hot dogs and pancakes?

Likewise, the BMW franchise saw a unique opportunity and quickly knocked up a promotional banner that screamed “Herzlich willkommen Frau Merkel” to the chancellor, maybe in the hope that she would be in the market for a 7 series on her final G20 trip as leader of Germany.

Inside the center, things got even more bizarre. I was there to attend a press conference by a Chinese minister, which looked interesting in view of the ongoing US-China trade confrontation. 

But five minutes before it was due to start, a Chinese man with an impeccable English accent stood up to inform us that it was all a “miscommunication” and there would be no press gathering after all. Trade war averted perhaps?

Disgruntled at the inconvenience, I went off to look for a sherpa. These legendary load-bearers are the brains and sweat behind big international gatherings. They do exist. I found one heading out of the “sherpas plenary room” on his way to the “sherpas lounge.” You could tell he was a sherpa because of the color of his lanyard.

I made an amiable joke about not being able to speak Nepalese, but he had obviously heard it a hundred times before and did not want to speak to the press anyway. He was far too busy, with the G20 communique still to be drafted and the midnight oil looming. He headed off with the look of a man bearing a heavy load.

For me, there was nothing for it but to leave the center, on a different route, equally deserted but with impromptu army barracks on either side of the road where bored-looking young men sat in large groups cleaning long-barrelled automatic weapons. 

I asked myself if it was all a dream. Ping Golf, Trixie and the sherpa; did any of that happen? I resolved to lay off the yerba mate in future.


UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

Updated 18 August 2019

UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

  • Johnson will travel for talks with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron
  • Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit

LONDON: UK's Boris Johnson will visit European capitals this week on his first overseas trip as prime minister, as his government said Sunday it had ordered the scrapping of the decades-old law enforcing its EU membership.

Johnson will travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on to Paris Thursday for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street confirmed on Sunday, amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit in two and a half months.

The meetings, ahead of a two-day G7 summit starting Saturday in the southern French resort of Biarritz, are his first diplomatic forays abroad since replacing predecessor Theresa May last month.

Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit or warn that it faces the prospect of Britain's disorderly departure on October 31 -- the date it is due to leave.

European leaders have repeatedly rejected reopening an accord agreed by May last year but then rejected by British lawmakers on three occasions, despite Johnson's threats that the country will leave then without an agreement.

In an apparent show of intent, London announced Sunday that it had ordered the repeal of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the forerunner to the EU 46 years ago and gives Brussels law supremacy.

The order, signed by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday, is set to take effect on October 31.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," Barclay said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back -- we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances -- delivering on the instructions given to us in 2016."

The moves come as Johnson faces increasing pressure to immediately recall MPs from their summer holidays so that parliament can debate Brexit.

More than 100 lawmakers, who are not due to return until September 3, have demanded in a letter that he reconvene the 650-seat House of Commons and let them sit permanently until October 31.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders who want to halt a no-deal departure.

"We face a national emergency, and parliament must be recalled now."

Parliament is set to break up again shortly after it returns, with the main parties holding their annual conferences during the September break.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to call a vote of no confidence in Johnson's government after parliament returns.

He hopes to take over as a temporary prime minister, seek an extension to Britain's EU departure date to stop a no-deal Brexit, and then call a general election.

"What we need is a government that is prepared to negotiate with the European Union so we don't have a crash-out on the 31st," Corbyn said Saturday.

"This government clearly doesn't want to do that."

Britain could face food, fuel and medicine shortages and chaos at its ports in a no-deal Brexit, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, citing a leaked government planning document.

There would likely be some form of hard border imposed on the island of Ireland, the document implied.

Rather than worst-case scenarios, the leaked document, compiled this month by the Cabinet Office ministry, spells out the likely ramifications of a no-deal Brexit, the broadsheet claimed.

The document said logjams could affect fuel distribution, while up to 85 percent of trucks using the main ports to continental Europe might not be ready for French customs.

The availability of fresh food would be diminished and prices would go up, the newspaper said.