Wang Yi visits Britain: a new golden age for relations

By Tim Collard
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 16, 2015
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A fairly low-key diplomatic event took place last week, though one of considerable significance for the future: China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited the U.K. for three days (June 8-10). The main purpose of his visit was not to deal with any immediate concerns, but was a recognized part of the preparatory work for the President Xi Jinping's state visit in October this year. Minister Wang met Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as attending two meetings with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, a relative newcomer to the role who has not so far had the opportunity for much engagement with China.

It was announced that the Queen has invited President Xi to stay at Buckingham Palace during his visit to London. This unusual honor reflects Britain's desire to create links not just between China and the British government, but also to involve the royal family directly in the relationship; this process was started when Prince William visited China in March. The royal family's engagement represents not only Britain's national engagement at the very highest level, but also plays a unique card that other countries will have difficulties in matching!

Both Cameron and Hammond emphasized to Wang that Britain is committed to taking a lead among Western countries in opening up a constructive relationship with China. Ever since, earlier this year, the British government seized the opportunity to sign up ahead of the pack to the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank initiative, this determination has been doggedly pursued. Wang acknowledged this and expressed China's appreciation.

One slightly unusual facet of Mr Wang's visit was a meeting, not with ministers or officials, but with representatives of various academic "think-tanks" dealing with foreign policy. This was seen by both sides as a useful contribution to the making of the mood music for the president's coming visit.

It is true that this bilateral relationship, though strong and mutually beneficial in itself, is sometimes occluded by misunderstandings and misconceptions harking back to earlier eras. While diplomats and active participants in the economic relationship are well aware of the real import of the changes in China and the development of China's relationship with the outside world, there are large sections of the British population whose understanding has not kept up with events. Wang's meeting with academics and opinion-formers was aimed at addressing this issue, and at encouraging those with a more up-to-date and enlightened view of China to play their part in creating an atmosphere propitious to the success of Xi's visit and to the fulfilment of the hopes both sides have expressed for a new era of concord in relations between China and the U.K.

In particular, Wang noted that some people still have difficulties in dealing with the questions raised by China's regaining of "her due influence in the world," which some persist in mistaking for the pursuit of hegemony. Wang emphasised China's commitment to an independent foreign policy of peace, saying that this approach was "culturally embedded" in Chinese thinking. A greater understanding of China's culture, history and recent development will form a basis for better understanding and a more solidly grounded relationship. This cannot be promoted by governments alone: the academic organizations to whom Wang spoke are not in anyway controlled by government, but are still vital in forming and leading domestic opinion on foreign policy issues and correcting some of the bizarre misapprehensions about modern China which still persist in some sections of British opinion.

Obviously, there is a limit to what can be achieved in concrete terms by such high level visits: but they can set the tone for the spirit in which the practical aspects of the relationship will be subsequently conducted. It is impossible to put a price on goodwill, although constructive relations between states cannot function without it. Thanks to modern communications, we are all neighbors even at great distances; and close contact between leading representatives demonstrates that we all have similar hopes, fears and aspirations.

In a larger number of important fields, including technology, scientific innovation, energy and finance, Britain is particularly well-placed as a potential partner for China. In particular, we hope to attract Chinese scientific experts in large numbers to collaborate with our own scientists in the excellent facilities we can offer; although sharing a language, Britain lags far behind the USA in scientific cooperation projects, and we are very keen to make up ground. The foreign minister's visit will have made considerable progress in sowing the seed for this hoped-for future harvest, and the president's state visit should see the inauguration of what the Chinese side are hopefully calling "a new golden age" in Sino-British relations.

The writer is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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