Observer could not help but marvel at the boldness displayed on Thursday by Ye Xiaowen, the director of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs, China’s top religious body, for his attack on George W. Bush, US president.

Ye said Bush should respect religious diversity in his war on terror and condemned him for using inflammatory terms such as “crusade” and “Islamo-fascism” when speaking about terrorism and militant Muslims.

“How can you link anti-terrorism with a particular religion?” Ye thundered in a commentary in the international edition of the People’s Daily. “Bush should reflect deeply. Amid such pain, can the US try to abandon unilateralism and respect that differences can exist in harmony?”

No doubt there is plenty to criticise about Bush’s conduct of the war on terror, but even so such barbs are a little rich coming from the atheist head of a Communist party body that exists strictly to enforce religious controls (China allows five official religions and no more) and to ensure religion remains subservient to patriotism and the state. Such is the sensitivity about religion in China that the country’s internet police even block the site, www.religiousfreedom.com. Perhaps Ye might explain that in his next missive in the People’s Daily.

Bad to worse

Relations between Singapore and Thailand are going from bad to worse. First it was protests against the Singapore government’s investments in the Thai telecommunications industry and then allegations of Singapore electronically eavesdropping.

But matters have now come to a head on the football pitch. Singapore won the first round of the Association of South East Asian Nations Football Championship final against Thailand, 2-1 on its home ground after a controversial ruling by the Malaysian referee gave the Lions a penalty kick that secured the match.

The decision sparked a 15-minute walk-out by the Thai team, which had never lost to Singapore in 30 years. A second round rematch is scheduled on Sunday in Bangkok. The Singapore team is preparing to face protesters.

Thailand is still favoured to win the championship. A defeat for Singapore will also underscore that the city-state is not having much luck lately when it ventures on to Thai soil.

Gone nuclear

Solidarity is one of Jacques Chirac’s favourite words. Especially when France’s ageing head of state is explaining his position over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “Full solidarity with the international position” is how he sometimes puts it.

Yet it is doubtful that many diplomats in Washington, London or Moscow were feeling much solidarity when they read the 74-year-old’s incendiary comments about Iran in the press on Thursday morning.

“The danger does not lie in the bomb it [Iran] will have,” he said, adding that a nuclear weapon- equipped Tehran would be “not very dangerous”. He was forced hastily to organise a second interview and communiqué disowning these comments.

If by this stage anyone should doubt Chirac’s solidarity with his partners on the UN Security Council over the sanctions they are imposing on Iran to try to stop it developing a nuclear bomb, they could be left in no doubt by what happened next.

His spokesman at the Elysée palace told the AFP news agency that the whole “shameful polemic” was the result of American newspapers “using all means to undermine France”.

How’s that for a diplomatic approach to transatlantic solidarity?

Trend setting

Chileans are thought of by their South American neighbours as a somewhat staid bunch. But the country’s government is spearheading a national loosening up, urging public sector workers to take off their jackets and ties amid a sweltering southern hemisphere summer in a bid to save on air-conditioning bills.

Michelle Bachelet’s administration is encouraging the private sector to follow suit (or to follow without suit) and has received enthusiastic backing from Bruno Phillippi, president of the Industrial Development Society, the main private business organisation.

The Chilean striptease follows a similar initiative in Japan, which, according to Phillippi, resulted in significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions.

In a continent where a wave of radical leftwing leaders has popularised the tie-less look, Chile might seem to be following a trend.

But Chile also has a reputation for being a regional leader: if temperatures rise further, could the government encourage office workers to remove their trousers, too?

Quick read

With a reputation as one of the world’s savviest sports marketers, Nascar is leaving few stones unturned in its drive to shore up sagging attendance at its races.

Women are among its latest targets and Nascar unveiled a new strategy on Thursday to bring them flocking to the Nextel Cup and its other championship series.

It has teamed with Harlequin Enterprises, publishers of the eponymous romance novels, to publish 20 books this year with a Nascar theme. It will be interesting to see just how much chest hair the Nascar driver-heroes bare on the Harlequin covers. Meantime, the two groups have another idea to drum up interest among both genders in stock-car racing.

Next month’s Daytona 500, one of the biggest events on the Nascar calendar, will feature a speed-dating event for spectators. Not coincidentally, the first book in the new Harlequin series will be titled Speed Dating.

Harlequin could use a lift, too. A subsidiary of Torstar, the Canadian group that also publishes the Toronto Star, Harlequin has been hit hard by the strong Canadian dollar. It recently laid off several dozen workers.

Get alerts on Opinion when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article