By Tomos Povey – Nee Hao Political Correspondent
When Prince William handed Xi Jinping, president of China, an official invitation to visit the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Chinese and British media jointly repeated the apparent transformation in Sino-British relations. Indeed, there is plenty of reasons for us all to join in the celebrations.
Britain will offer a more than warm welcome to Xi Jinping and his delegation. The Mall is full of British and Chinese flags, fluttering alongside each other. It seems that the whole of UK and China are joyful about the visit: respective media organisations have spoken highly of each other and the people are eager to await the announcement of achievements. Some highlights of Xi Jinping’s visit will be to dine with Queen Elizbeth II and stay at Buckingham Palace.
It’s without doubt, Britain is determined to create even friendlier relations with China. For some years Britain has been courting China, with the hope of re-igniting an old friendship. Indeed, the political map following the 2014 European election wholly re-jigsawed Britain. UKIP won the election, having secured an astonishing 4 million votes. Following the dramatic rise of eurosceptism, and fears of a split within the Conservative party, Cameron decided on holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. With a strong possibility of a Brexit, the UK is looking for alternative economic markets and investment.
Since David Cameron assumed office in 2010, he has attempted to increase British exports to non-EU countries; India was given particular focus and thrice entertained Cameron. Such high hopes of forging a new “special relationship” with India seem to have been dashed; thus, embarrassingly, Cameron has ended up turning his attention, once again, to China and south-east Asia.
These turn of events paved the way for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, to visit China. Some months before saw the most high-profile attack coming from Britain’s closest friend, the USA. Ostensibly the UK “constantly” accommodates China, these were the used words of a US official. Nevertheless, the Chancellor was undeterred; he even accepted a rare visit to China’s turbulent Xinjiang autonomous region. Chinese media heavily praised Osborne and even envisioned him as China’s “best” pro-Western politician. Evidently, Osborne’s past decision in signing Britain up as a founding member of the planned Asean bank scored him many brownie points.
But why has the Chinese side placed much emphasis on visiting Britain I hear? Firstly, George Osborne has advised the Chinese side where to invest in Britain. Most significantly, however, is with the Chinese economy seeming to be slowing down, the Chinese are attempting to re-structure its enormous economy. It wants to generate more growth through overseas investments.
As the article is written, Xi Jinping will be en route to making his second visit to Britain (the first having been in the 1990s). There seem to be high expectations, on both sides of the world, of the up-coming visit. The world can expect to witness China and Britain signing a plethora of billion-pound contracts, especially in the energy and healthcare sectors. Much attention will be focussed at whether China will provide the money for a new nuclear power plant, which would be situated in Essex; and whether Britain will succeed creating London into a vital trading centre for the Chinese currency (renminbi).
Earlier this year, when I was studying at Fudan University, I recall the incredible amount of warmth I received when it became apparent that I am British. I would usually be greeted with annoying regurgitated questions like: “How can we speak British-English?”, “Have you met the Queen?”, “Do you love Queen Elizabeth, we do!” and “What’s London like? We want to visit”. Despite irritation becoming visible from my facial expressions, in hindsight it revealed underlying fascination between each country’s diverse cultures. What did become interesting was the fascination with the world-wide envied institution: the British Royal family. I met 4 separate families who solely visited the UK to learn more about the British Royal family. British culture, among many other things, is popular in China – especially its media – Downtown Abbey and Doctor Who. Thus, through soft power, Britain has much to offer China.
Whatever materialises from Xi Jinping’s visit, the UK and China relations are now defined as entering a “golden era”. Such a description totally contrast to Xi Jinping’s recent visit to the USA, where much underlying tension between both countries was visible. Undeniably the UK needs China much more than China needs it. Yet, it would be fallacious to argue it were all one-way. China has long sought a stable and reliable country, which is also a EU member, to invest in. The clear choice is the UK. And, as stated above, Britain leads the way in many fields: media, healthcare and environment in particular. Moreover, through the Commonwealth, the UK has many useful contacts for China, should both countries’ relations warm further.
China and Britain can learn much from one another.