Friday, 3 June 2011

China-UK Young Leaders Roundtable

Last week I visited Beijing and Inner Mongolia as part of a 10 strong delegation team from the UK for the second China-UK Young Leaders Roundtable. Facilitated by the Great Britain-China Centre on the UK side and the All-China Youth Federation on the Chinese side, 24 delegates from both China and the UK participated.

The team in Hohhot
After being invited to this year’s Roundtable a few months ago I was quite apprehensive as to whether I should attend or not. China has a damning human rights record internationally and its rapid emergence as a global player on the world stage seems to provoke a range of mixed emotions from around the world - from excitement to anxiety. China ’s reputation as a growing economic power has resulted in it having a greater influence in world affairs. Its membership and increasing power in the IMF, World Bank and the G20 has given China a seat at the table alongside other major world economies, yet China still emphasises that it is a developing country and still considers itself a leading member of the G77 group of developing countries. It seemed to me to be a mixture of contradictions and I decided to attend to gain a greater understanding of the workings of the Chinese state and to also build relationships with future leaders.

After David Cameron’s successful visit to China last November where he led the largest trade delegation to China in over 200 years, Chinese leaders have publicly endorsed his concept of ‘Partners for Growth’ as increased bilateral trade and investment will undoubtedly benefit the economies of both countries. I wanted to understand how China has managed to lift 500million people out of poverty over the last 30 years and how it emerged strongly from the global economic crisis by becoming the second largest economy in the world in 2010.

Our first meeting after a long flight from London Heathrow to Beijing was with the Ambassador and his Embassy officials where we received an introductory briefing from them. We spoke at length about a variety of issues from human rights, trade& investment to science & innovation. It was also interesting to meet the rest of the UK delegation - a mixture of politicians, advisors and politicos from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour, Downing Street and the business world.

Uk delegates at a community centre

The Roundtable discussion was fascinating and every delegate participated fully in the various topics that were covered. It provided a very useful insight into understanding China’s mentality, how its people view themselves on the world stage and what the pact is between the government and its people that still allows them to govern in a one party system. I felt that the Roundtable was an extremely useful learning and influencing opportunity as we had the chance to engage with Chinese delegates at length about the various ways where we felt progression was needed in China.

Over the next few days whilst in Beijing we had meetings with various government departments and companies and then departed for Inner Mongolia - which is China’s third largest autonomous region.

UK delegation with Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying at the Department of Foreign Affairs

It was fascinating to see the amount of construction going on in Hohhot and when we visited Tianjiao to speak to local residents about social insurance, medical insurance and community youth work it was great to see the progress that the Chinese have made in these areas.

Whether we like it or not China’s economic success is crucial to our own economic prospects. The franker the dialogue that we can have with them now privately will help both countries build a strong relationship for the future. I still have a lot of concerns about China’s progression in applying human rights and creating an independent civil society under the rule of law as they are universal rights and essential for China’s long-term economic and political stability. However with the recent social provision reforms around pensions and healthcare, China are moving in the right direction but we must always remember that it is only a direction of travel with no clear final destination in sight. 

I would like to thank the Great Britain-China Centre for inviting me and to Diageo and  Standard Chartered for sponsoring the trip. 

The delegation at a Mongolian banquet

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  1. Jealous! Bet it was a fantastic experience in what is the worlds most fascinating nation.

  2. Good for you, though your analysis is somewhat naive.