It was a real honour to be invited to attend the China Britain Business Council Dinner last night in honour of the visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to give him a copy of my book: Turning to Face the East.
To coincide with the visit of Li Keqiang I spoke with a journalist from one of the leading Chinese news agencies – Xinhua News Agency.
The interview and subsequent piece has been picked up by a number of Chinese news outlets, for example here, but you can read the text here below:
Britain needs to better understand China
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s ongoing visit here presents a great opportunity for British policy-makers to increase understanding of the Asian giant, experts say.
Upon his arrival in London on Monday for a three-day visit, Li said that he was looking forward to having an in-depth exchange of views with British leaders on bilateral affairs and other issues of common concern.
He also vowed to give impetus to and chart the course for the bilateral partnership so as to speed up the development of China-Britain relations in the upcoming decade.
Britain needs to further understand China, its needs and its policies,said Liam Byrne, a Labour member of parliament and the current shadow minister for universities, science and skills.
“Britain needs to understand what China’s core objectives are, and British policy-makers need to understand the scale and speed of what China’s leaders are introducing,” he added.
“People in Britain and the West do not understand the scale of China’s ambition to create a welfare state to rebalance its economy, and this means we often do not spot the opportunities to work more closely,” noted Byrne, who is also a former chief secretary to the Treasury in Gordon Brown’s government.
Citing the building of health care systems and pension systems, which serve as “the two foundation stones of any welfare state,” he said Britain has “great experience of building and reforming those systems.”
“We have got many things right and many things wrong in the past, and that is an expertise we should be sharing,” he said.
Byrne’s call for greater understanding of China was echoed by Kerry Brown, an associate fellow on the Asia Program at Chatham House, a renowned British think tank.
“If you said to the political elite in the UK whether they felt they truly understand China’s geopolitical and political ambitions, then I think they would give confused answers,” he told Xinhua.
“Some think China wants to be a dominant world power, others think it simply wants to be a sideline player. There is no consensus on this issue,” noted Brown, who is also a professor of Chinese politics and the director of the Chinese Studies Center at University of Sydney.
There is trust between Britain and China on some issues, such as trade, but there is a lack of trust on diplomatic and political issues, he said, pointing to the repercussions of Prime Minister David Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2012 despite China’s strong objection.
“Trust is OK where both sides are clear about what they are talking about, how much they understand where the other side is coming from, and whether they both feel like they understand their own and the other side’s objectives,” he said.
Meanwhile, Byrne, the political veteran, also called for a deeper and more sophisticated relationship between Britain and China.
“We need to put things on a more long-term footing. We need to create a relationship that is more complicated and sophisticated. In Britain we need to be doing far more to introduce our children to Chinese language, to Chinese culture and Chinese history,” he said.
There needs to be many new players in the Britain-China relationship, driven by trade and investment, Byrne said, proposing to add a new city-to-city dimension to Britain-China ties.
“In that way we bring a much more complicated and in-depth dimension to the relationship for the years to come,” he said.
Also in this regard, Brown, the professor, urged to do everything to support people-to-people and grass-roots contact and help small- and medium-sized enterprises.