International Ties

China important to UK

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-01 08:09
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It is time for further mutual understanding and respect to forge close cooperation in a wider range of areas.

Editor's note: As the Asia-Europe Meeting draws near, China Daily's chief correspondent based in London Zhang Haizhou interviewed two UK scholars on Sino-EU relations and in particular, China's ties with Britain.

Alex Mackinnon is an international strategy consultant and co-author of China Calling: A Foot in the Global Door and China Counting: How the West Was Lost, and Kerry Brown is a senior fellow of the Asia Program at London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs. The follow is an excerpt of the Q&A sessions:

Q: How important do you think the ASEM meeting is? There has been little media coverage or attention on Sino-EU ties other than on Sino-British ties. From a British point of view, do you think state-to-state ties are more important than Sino-EU relations?

Brown: ASEM is important and the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty is important, but the EU's position on China continues to remain frustrating.

Member states have different interests and the creation of a consensus between them is very hard. Sometimes one thinks that the EU will never translate its immense commercial importance into political influence.

Q: Can you comment on bilateral ties since the Coalition took power earlier this year?

Mackinnon: At this stage it is too early to tell. However, business pressure on the financial and banking industries emanating from Dr Vince Cable should be read in Beijing with the understanding that he is talking politically rather than technically.

The problems of speaking from a party perspective in the UK are often misread overseas and the coalition government does have to adjust to a dual party joint presentation rather than a single mandate. Only then will bilateral ties be more clearly assessed.

Brown: It is too soon to say a great deal. The Coalition made it clear when they came to power that they regarded their Labour predecessors as having 'got China right' in creating a constructive relationship, and that they did not wish to make any dramatic changes.

On the whole, China remains a major focus for the UK's economic interests.

Q: How important do you think China is to the UK? How dependent and complimentary do you think the two economies are?

Mackinnon: The second largest economy in the world - China - is of great importance to the UK.

For example, the UK has a National Health Service with a large administration covering urban and rural medical provisions. As China modernizes, the health difficulties in the West will be imported by China and require both medical and administrative experience to handle. The UK already has that experience.

Business is developing closer links with expertise in areas such as engineering and consumer goods. I would support Chinese firms searching for UK joint venture partners and reverse the FDI process by setting up more UK-based joint ventures, rather than China-based ones, to then run subsidiaries in China and in the EU.

Education is linking well, with universities and schools developing close contacts for language and cultural exchange, but there is potential for Chinese students in the UK to gain closer links with UK business and ultimately back into their family businesses in China.

Q: Some say China and the UK are business partners that need each other rather than actively pursue a good relationship. Do you agree with this suggestion?

Brown: The UK and China know each other well. We have maintained a dialogue that goes back over two centuries and there have been good and bad moments.

The UK has made a big commitment to understand China more, with some of the best university departments of Chinese studies in Europe and the UK. It is very good to see a growing number of schools in the UK offer Mandarin courses and there is a genuine interest in the culture and history of China in the UK right now.

Of course, there are areas too where we are standing for very different values. Politically, and in many ways culturally, we have many differences. However, that is true too of most other countries outside Europe.

Mackinnon: China and the UK have been close to each other, rightly or wrongly, for a few centuries and have more shared values than we may realize. Both nations have had their internal struggles and their external confrontations and have not always acknowledged their mutual respect - it is now time to do so.

Q: Apart from business, in which areas do you think both countries should cooperate more?

Mackinnon: There are two areas where I think there is room for lateral thinking.

First is the development of contract law, which is highly respected and advanced internationally in the UK and could be of benefit to China.

Additionally, the UK also has a fair and reasonable arbitration environment and China could agree that some disputes be arbitrated in the UK under guidance from scholars of both nations.

Chinese guanxi relationships do put some overseas investors off and the renqing obligation is becoming overly manipulative. China needs a balance between relational manipulation and institutional reform.

Brown: Environment and sustainability. Beyond the political arguments about who is responsible for climate change, the fact remains that natural disasters like flooding, earthquakes, and other results of man's impact on the environment are looking likely to occur more frequently.

The need for an urgent response to this means that China and the UK, and everyone else, need to work within a common framework and not fight with each other.