Op-Ed Contributors

Election a boost to Sino-UK ties

By Andrew Moody (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-08 07:50
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Editor's note: The upcoming general election in the UK would be a favorable turn for the soured Sino-UK relations. No matter which party will win that election, we can confidently expect better bilateral relations.

The summoning of Fu Ying, China's former ambassador to the UK, to the Foreign Office in London over the execution of Briton Akmal Shaikh last year marked a low in foreign relations between Britain and China. Fu, now vice-foreign minister, had been a popular figure in Britain. She was at the center of a diplomatic row when Sino-British relations turned frosty.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's announcement on Tuesday the general election would be held on May 6 brings these relations into focus once again. The poll could herald the first change in government since just before the handover of Hong Kong in 1997.

A new government led by David Cameron, the 43-year-old Conservative leader, has already signaled there might be a change in foreign policy. He has said Britain should have a "solid but not slavish" relationship with the US and build stronger ties with emerging economic superpowers such as China.

Related readings:
Election a boost to Sino-UK ties UK's Brown calls for May 6 vote
Election a boost to Sino-UK ties Good start to Sino-UK ties

Whether there is any substance to this claim remains to be seen should he get the keys to Number 10 Downing Street. The current Labour government led by Brown has had recent difficulties with China.

Apart from the row over the execution of a British citizen convicted of drug trafficking, there was also the episode of British Environment Minister Ed Miliband accusing China of "hijacking" the Copenhagen climate change conference only days earlier.

The two countries, however, are far from daggers drawn. Only a few weeks ago Miliband's brother, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, was on a visit to Beijing where he talked of developing a "modern partnership" with China. What he was saying appeared to be a restatement of "The UK and China: A Framework for Engagement" published a year earlier.

What exactly is meant by "modern" is difficult to decipher, although it seems to imply that you can still be friends, even if you fall out occasionally, as if Britain and China are in some form of co-habiting relationship. Whatever such fashionable terminology may mean, Brown has earned a lot of respect from the Chinese leadership for the way he appeared to lead the international response to the economic crisis when the US Treasury seemed to be run by headless chickens.

Britain and China are not countries unknown to each other. China suffered the ignominy of defeat by Britain in the Opium Wars and lost Hong Kong in the process. And despite the British being responsible for looting the Summer Palace, China has held no long-term ill will.

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