As the United Kingdom sets out its “Global Britain” strategy to maintain its international standing after its withdrawal from the European Union, China is an important factor, British experts said.
In announcing the government’s review of security, defense, development and foreign policy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said China would “pose a great challenge” for the UK, but it is in Britain’s interest to build “a stronger and positive economic relationship” with the world’s second-largest economy.
Jim O’Neill, a British economist and China expert, said: “It is inescapable that China matters, because it is the second-largest economy in the world in current nominal dollar terms, and the largest in purchasing power parity.”
Sherard Cowper-Coles, chairman of the China Britain Business Council, echoed O’Neill’s view, saying there are profound economic implications for the UK to positively engage with China, which now stands as the third-largest trading partner following the European Union and the United States.
UK exports to China, which are growing rapidly, were up 30 percent in 2019, and even in the first 11 months of last year they grew 9 percent, Cowper-Coles said during a recent online discussion on the UK’s policy toward China.
The many high-spending Chinese tourists visiting Britain have accounted for an important part of the country’s tourism revenue.
It is important that the UK pursue “a comprehensive China strategy that protects our vital national security interests, that promotes British values, but also delivers for Britain post-COVID, post-Brexit, benefits of a sensible and balanced commercial engagement with a vast and growing economy with a middle class of 800 million people”, Cowper-Coles said.
Stephen Perry, chairman of The 48 Group Club, a business network committed to promoting trade and cultural links between the UK and China, said:”Business goes where the money is. Asia has the biggest population and GDP growth. It is natural for the UK to try and make its mark there.”
Sino-UK relations have soured in the past two years, highlighted by their difference on some issues. The integrated review describes China as “the biggest state-based threat to the UK’s economic security” and as a “systemic competitor”.
In response to Britain’s stance, Yang Xiaoguang, charge d’affaires ad interim and minister of China’s embassy in London, said China is a partner that seeks collaboration, and that “differences in political and social systems should not prevent the two countries from cooperation. Major countries like China and the UK should not resort to confrontation”.
O’Neill, who facilitated the “Golden Era” relationship between China and UK in 2015, said: “The Chinese typically tend to respect countries that are courteous and try to understand where China is coming from. It doesn’t like to be lectured by anybody and it doesn’t like other countries that appear to be behaving opportunistically without thinking about what it means for China.”
Peter Frankopan, a professor of global history at Oxford University, said:”In the world of today, working out how to have the best possible relations with important countries－whether China, the US, India or with countries in a wide region－is not easy in a world of change.
“China has many opportunities to invest around the world, and will do so in the locations that are most welcoming and appropriate,” he said.
“It is the same, of course, for British investment in China.”
Source: China Daily