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New UK Ambassador to China signals change of approach to China

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Graham Perry
Graham Perry
Experienced Arbitration Lawyer | China & Chinese Business Affairs | Public Speaker/Lecturer.

The new British Ambassador to China, Caroline Wilson, said that UK and China “should join hands” to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an interview with the China Media Group, the Ambassador, who took office as the UK’s envoy to Beijing in September 2020, noted that as the world strives for economic recovery, the opportunity existed for Britain and China to deepen its cooperation on environmental protection to bring about “a sustainable recovery”. Ms Wilson hailed China’s pledge to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 as a “very positive step”. 

The new Ambassador also said there was “enormous potential” for cooperation between the two countries in the fields of poverty reduction and vaccine research.

With a nod to festering sores re the Hong Kong situation, Ambassador Wilson said that bilateral relations were “extensive and intensive” and looked forward to setting an “ambitious agenda” to boost their cooperation on global public health, economic recovery, climate change and trade”.  

Is this the return of Johnson’s ‘tilt to China’? In recent months the political situation between UK and China has been bleak. Prime Minister Johnson, under pressure from President Trump, has followed a very anti-China foreign policy. Focusing on Huawei and the Security Act in Hong Kong, the UK government has lined up four square behind the increasingly belligerent US policy to China. It is the case that the US is “top dog” and seeks to call the tune with powerful consequences if allies do not toe the line. But Johnson has always wanted a better relationship with China, notwithstanding the difficulties over Hong Kong, and a measure of independence from Washington is now apparent form the words of the new UK Ambassador.

Consider the four headings that Ambassador Wilson identified; two can be bracketed together – global public health and climate change. These are significant topics for the personal health of the people of the world and for the environment. The remaining two topics – economic recovery and trade – are prime issues holding out the opportunity for deepening and strengthening business and investment links between China and the UK – heralding, perhaps, a closer economic relationship.

Things change – not always at the same pace but when China moves it is always good to try to understand China from China’s perspective – where is China coming from and where is China going towards.

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