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Collaboration with China is the way forward

By Alan Barrell | | Updated: 2020-09-15 09:00
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As a citizen of the world who has had the privilege of working and living at different times in the UK, Europe, the US and China I have felt enriched and fulfilled as a result of my exposure over six decades to people, business, learning and personal development for which I feel enormously grateful.

In recent years, after a career in healthcare, business, some academic endeavors and latterly, much teaching and research involving the next generation of world citizens, I have experienced great pride and rewards seeing how young people of many diverse nationalities, cultures and backgrounds, have matured and blossomed as they undertake, with a little help from the older generation, life's journey.

My business experience has been heavily weighted to developing relationships with Chinese colleagues, companies, governments and people across a wide spectrum. I have found the means to forge trustful relationships and to develop enduring connections and to enjoy the fruits of collaboration.

I have naturally found obstacles and challenges and some people on my journey – of many nationalities who did not share my values and principals, but many more who were willing and interested to work, not just to make money, but to make the world a better place.

I have lived through a world war and other lesser human conflicts. I have experienced East-West divides and conflicts. Throughout my long life, I have however observed the benefits and positive effects of globalization. I have witnessed the growth of America to be a great nation and exert leadership in technology and scientific discovery and development – and my own country UK has contributed significantly as have many others.

During the past 30 years I have likewise admired the growth and development of the modern Chinese nation – since the great reform and opening up initiated by Deng Xiaoping more than 40 years ago, China has too become a leader in technology and its citizens have benefited from continuing enhancement in prosperity – 750 million being lifted from poverty to a better life. In my hometown of Cambridge I can see all around me the results of close collaboration between Chinese entities such as Tsinghua University, Huawei and Tencent and I can certainly attest to the manifest existence of trustful business and personal relationships existing within an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship. And we have excellent examples of US investment from a variety of great companies and strong affiliations with universities such as Stanford and Harvard.

From my vantage point, it can be imagined therefore that when I look beyond at the world economy and the macro situation related to globalization and concepts of collaboration, I am dismayed to see and read so much indicating not enhanced approaches to international cooperation but divisions, lack of trust, geopolitical adversity and the decoupling of connections that indicate the vision some of us have nurtured of a "world without borders" is moving out of reach.

The information available publicly of the reasons and reality behind some of the claims and counter-claims being made by the protagonists in the international verbal warfare between nations does not enable rational people to arrive at a clear view of what is possible for future moves toward collaborative and coherent international evolution.

Competitiveness and conflict are more in evidence than the principal and prospect of a future seen as "better together". We are left in a position to continue our endeavors at local and regional levels to work across borders and barriers since there are no longer indications that a spirit of working together with common purpose is in the minds of leaders.

The decoupling of great economies across a global world constructed in interactive ways toward common purpose and internationalization will not, from my perspective, serve any individual nation or region well.

What to do? As citizens with open minds about diversity and inclusivity? Difficult questions. I can only suggest adherence to our own beliefs, principles and values – and a continuation of honest appraisal and expression to those of the next generation we are charged to educate and guide to keep minds open and adopt similar stances.

We have an obligation to urge on those with greater authority and ability to influence to be guided by integrity and to seek to influence the geopolitical environment with wisdom and base positions on the establishment of trust and openness. For many of us it has become a time of great challenge and concern. A time of great uncertainty.

The author is a professor at the University of Cambridge in England and also has appointments at four Chinese Universities and is a director of Chinese and UK companies.

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