Sino-British Relations: Rooted in the People for the Benefit of the People


CHINESE President Xi Jinping’s trip to the U.K. in October 2015, the first such state visit by a Chinese President in a decade, ushered in a “golden era” of China-Britain relations. Having developed from a comprehensive partnership to a comprehensive strategic partnership to today’s global comprehensive strategic partnership in the 21st century, Sino-British relations have progressively upgraded and their areas of cooperation expanded. How exactly has this “golden era” come about, and what are its implications for the people of both countries? From one perspective, China-U.K. ties have major impact on people’s livelihood.


Benefiting People of Both Countries


By tapping their respective vitality the two nations have made remarkable achievements in economic and trade cooperation, so generating benefits for people of both sides. The auto industry is a prime example. The steady growth of British auto exports to China satisfies the ever-increasing demands of Chinese consumers, and at the same time creates job opportunities in the U.K. Since British-based luxury automaker Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) entered China in 2003, the country has become the fastest growing market for this company’s global business. China became JLR’s largest single market in 2012, and in 2014 the company sold 122,000 vehicles in China – a year-on-year increase of 28.1 percent. This figure is way ahead of the 83,000 vehicles sold in the U.K., the company’s second largest market, and the 67,000 sold in the U.S., its third largest. Huge demands in the Chinese market have prompted JLR to invest £520 million in its engine plants, so creating 1,000 new jobs.


As regards their investment relationship, high-speed rail, nuclear power, finance, and other projects are entry points to further bilateral cooperation. Investment is an economic hoist that creates employment and so benefits the livelihoods of people in both countries. U.K. Trade & Investment (UKTI) statistics show that in the 2014-15 financial year, investment from China created more than 6,000 jobs in the U.K. The Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, with a planned cost of £25 billion, is expected to generate enough electricity to power six million homes and create 25,000 jobs in the U.K. China General Nuclear Power Corporation takes 33.5 percent stake of the project.


It is notable that Chinese enterprises in Britain lay equal emphasis on economic benefits and social responsibilities. After its purchase a few years ago of the London Taxi Company, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group spent a further £250 million on the research and manufacture of electric taxis and construction of a plant. This investment has resulted in ultra-low emissions from London’s black cabs and the creation of 1,000 new jobs.


Deeper Understanding through People-to-People Exchanges


Differences in ideology, values, and culture have hampered people-to-people exchanges and cooperation between China and the U.K. Escalating bilateral relations and cooperation in economy and trade notwithstanding, the lag in human exchanges impedes comprehensive and sustainable development of Sino-British ties. Amity between peoples is essential to sound relations between states. Encouraging people-to-people exchanges promotes mutual understanding of the two countries’ history, culture and society, and deepens humanistic ties. State leaders on both sides, therefore, have reached a consensus on enhancing cultural cooperation and exploring new models of people-to-people exchanges.


Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the U.K. last year invigorated bilateral cultural industry cooperation and brought fruitful achievements, evident in the two countries signing of film, TV, and music deals worth RMB 3.18 billion.


Tourism cooperation is another medium for promoting mutual understanding while at the same time expanding the economy and benefiting the people. Chinese visitors to the U.K. from 2012 to 2014 maintained a level of 200,000 person-times, according to the U.K. Office for National Statistics. This figure is expected to reach 650,000 person-times by 2020. Official estimates show that each Chinese visitor to the U.K. spends, on average, £2,688. Chinese tourists thus contribute £500 million in revenue to Britain each year. Rising tourism also means more job opportunities. Every 22 Chinese visitors to the U.K. create a new job in the tourism sector.


With the aim of attracting more visitors from China, the British government has extended the validity of Chinese tourist visas and simplified visa application procedures. On October 21, 2015, British PM David Cameron announced that, starting from 2016, the six-month multiple-entry visa for Chinese tourists would be extended to two years. He went on to announce plans to issue a new 10-year multiple-entry visa for the same visa fee. Biometric fingerprinting services will also be expanded to visa offices in some 50 Chinese cities for the convenience of visa applicants.


Both British and Chinese students stand to benefit from strengthened cooperation among education circles, and today’s overseas students are tomorrow’s main pillars of China-U.K. relations. Britain is the most popular EU destination for Chinese students, and there are now 150,000 studying in the U.K. On the other hand, the number of U.K. students studying in China is also expanding, having surpassed 6,000. Twenty-eight Confucius Institutes and 113 courses have been set up in Britain, more than in any other EU country, and Chinese classes are part of the curriculum in more than 600 British elementary and secondary schools. President Xi’s visit saw the signing of several agreements that will expand overseas students to both countries.


Differences in ideology and values constitute the fundamental misunderstanding and mistrust between China and Britain. Their peoples are not likely to become friends unless they become more closely acquainted with one another. China and Britain are hence drawing closer through extensive and frequent cultural and personnel exchanges that act as facilitators for communication and mutual understanding. The trading partnership its main thrust and people-to-people exchanges and political mutual trust its sidelights, the relationship between China and Britain will maintain steady development.


Public Service Cooperation Opportunties


The transformation of China’s economic growth model has brought about new-type urbanization and reforms in such social sectors as healthcare and pensions. China pays equal attention to social development and environmental protection as it does to economic growth. China’s urbanization exerts demands on services relating to education, culture, tourism, healthcare, childcare, and senior care. Britain – birthplace of the industrial revolution – has rich experience in urban planning, transformation of old industrial cities, and construction of livable small towns. It also has a strong comparative advantage as regards service industries. China’s rapid urbanization and opening up in service trade, therefore, will offer British investors more opportunities. China, meanwhile, can learn much and gain considerable benefit from Britain’s experience in healthcare, senior care, and environmental protection.


The progress of China-U.K. relations, rooted as they are in the people, brings benefits to the residents of both nations. Public support constitutes a driving force and solid foundation for the sound development of bilateral ties.