President Xi Jinping starts his state visit to the United Kingdom from October 19. This is the first visit of a Chinese head of state to the UK in 10 years, and unlike his European tour last year that covers several European countries in sequence, this time President Xi will fly 8,000 miles only for the UK. This arrangement speaks for the importance of this trip.
Recent two years have seen tangible results arising from accelerated China-UK cooperation. In 2014, the UK has overtaken the Netherlands to become China’s second-largest trading partner inside the EU, and the UK is China’s number one investment destination in Europe. Breakthroughs have been made in financial cooperation including the first currency swap agreement between China and the UK and the UK being awarded the first Renminbi RQFII quota outside Asia. The headline event that UK became the first Western country to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank highlighted UK’s farsightedness as well as its relative openness.
It is beyond doubt that the British government has strengthened its commitment to China-UK relations, as shown from many high-profile visits of its leadership and dignitaries and more vividly their positive outlook for the UK’s role in China’s future. Prime Minister Cameron declared in 2013 that Britain would be China’s strongest advocate in the West and on a recent visit Chancellor George Osborne promised to “stick together” with China.
All these developments have become sources of some uneasiness elsewhere in the West, the US included. Some suggest that the Cameron-Osborne team is “kowtowing” to China’s economic might and criticized UK’s “constant accommodation of China”. Some even begin to question the “UK-US Special Relationship”.
However，it is important to bear in mind that the goal of China-UK cooperation is to bring benefits to both countries. UK is experiencing a re-recognition of China’s importance for its own development. Even though it is doing relatively well in economic recovery after the European debt crisis, its economic prospect is by no means all rosy. The ongoing deficit, imbalanced regional development and lack of investment in infrastructure are hurting the country’ economic competitiveness. Prime Minister Cameron vows to deliver security and prosperity to the country, and the UK believes China is a valuable partner in its endeavor. In addition, Britain is not only looking to China: Guided by the “commercial interest at the heart of foreign policy” doctrine, UK is strengthening ties with Gulf States, Southeastern Asia and Japan. In the process of adjusting its relations with the EU, it is natural for the UK to distance itself ostensibly from Europe and move a bit closer to Asia.
China always values the UK as a partner; its many qualities make it unique and valuable. Its financial expertise and its liberal approach in economic and trade issues are what China needs for further development. The UK’s long experience as a strategic player on the international stage could provide insights for China, an emerging big power that until now has relatively little experience in steering through the complexity of international affairs. China seeks win-win results from its cooperation with the UK but fully understands the difficulties and challenges ahead.
In this context, strengthened China-UK cooperation is not a bad news for the West. First, China-UK cooperation is to bring benefits to both countries as well as to others, at a time when the global economic uncertainties loom large. UK’s positive role in promoting a China-EU Free Trade Zone is a good thing for the two big markets to grow and prosper.
Second, the UK’s active role in China’s future is in the interest of the West. To take the AIIB as an example, in addition to the primary fear that China is “setting up its own shop”, the West is also concerned about the “standards” or “governance” of a Chinese-initiated structure. But the participation of the UK and countries that signed on later will almost guarantee that the AIIB will not be China-dominated and will have high governance standards.
Third, the cooperation pattern between China and the UK, one a big emerging country the other a seasoned world power, will present another case of successful big-country cooperation. At a time when China’s advocacy of a “New Type of Major-Country Relationship” is doubted by some in the US, the cooperation between China and the UK illustrates that the big-country relationship can start from win-win cooperation to the benefit of all.
Fourth, to suggest that China is “luring” the UK, and that a weak UK has succumbed to China’s economic power, is plain scaremongering — and a misjudgment of China’s intention and UK’s overall capabilities. It runs against the simple fact that bilateral cooperation could not exist unless it is win-win. Both Beijing and London know what they want from the accelerated cooperation and they are convinced that their cooperation will lead to growth and prosperity and is in the interest of the whole world.