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Keynote Speech by H.E. Ambassador Liu Xiaoming at the "Icebreakers" Chinese New Year Dinner 2019: Carry on the "Icebreakers" Spirit and Take China-UK Relations Forward
The Dorchester Hotel London, 31 January 2019
2019/02/01

Chairman Stephen Perry,

Chairman Fang Wenjian

Baroness Fairhead,

Lord Heseltine,

Vice Chairman Chen Zhou,

My Lords,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Friends:

Good evening!

It is a real delight to join you at the 48 Group Club and CCCUK's Chinese New Year Dinner to celebrate the Year of the Pig.

It is the ninth time for me to attend this annual event. Every time I would share with you the meaning of the zodiac animal of the year. By now I have covered eight of the twelve animals. Tonight, I will continue this tradition.

The pictographic Chinese character for "home" shows a roof over a pig. This means that pig is a symbol of happiness and good fortune. It carries the aspiration for a better life.

The year 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening up. It was also the 65th anniversary of the "icebreaking trip" of 1953, when Stephen's late father Jack Perry led a group of visionary British businessmen to overcome various obstacles to trade with New China.

This cause was later carried forward by Stephen, and in this process, he provided vigorous support and made important contribution to China's reform and opening up. Hence, it came as no surprise when he received the China Reform and Friendship Medal last December at the grand celebration of the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening up. Of all the awardees, Stephen was the only one from the UK. It was not just an award for him. It was also in recognition of the progress of the China-UK relations.

As Premier Li Keqiang said in his message of congratulations to the 48 Group Club, "The spirit of the 'Icebreakers' embodies the strong desire of the British people for friendship and cooperation with China and represents the irresistible momentum towards a more open and inclusive human society."

In the past more than 60 years since the "icebreaking trip", both China and the UK have experienced tremendous changes. So have the China-UK relations. Today, as we remember the forerunners who took the first step to break the ice, it is all the more important that we carry on the "Icebreakers" spirit in the new era.

We should break the ice of protectionism and build an open and inclusive world economy.

In a time when openness and inclusiveness are irreversible, protectionism has no future because it is against the trend of history.

China will continue to embrace the world with open arms and stands ready to work with other countries. We hope the rest of the world would respond in the same spirit. Hand in hand, we can

  • build an open, transparent, inclusive and non-discriminatory multilateral trade regime,
  • advance trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation,
  • and ensure that economic globalisation is more open, inclusive, balanced and win-win for all.

We should break the ice of outdated mindset and enhance mutual trust and mutual learning.

The world is experiencing profound changes unseen in a century:

  • The international landscape is evolving,
  • the interests of different countries are deeply intertwined,
  • and the future of all countries are interconnected.

Against this backdrop, we should break away from the outdated mindset of the Cold War era, or "putting one's own country first", or "zero-sum game". The only right choices are harmonious coexistence, mutual learning and common prosperity.

We should break the ice of confrontation and strive to build a community with a shared future for mankind.

No country is immune to global challenges. To address these challenges, all countries should

  • respect each other's core interests and major concerns,
  • replace confrontation with dialogue,
  • promote cooperation through consultation,
  • choose partnership over alliance,
  • and manage differences properly.

It is important that we hold high the banner of multilateralism and safeguard the rule-based international order and system. As long as we work together for win-win outcome and come to each other's aid in time of need, we can build a community with a shared future for mankind.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

In 2018, the overall relations between China and the UK continued to grow. We made steady progress in our exchanges and cooperation across the board.

In 2019, we will celebrate the 65th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relationship at the level of chargé d'affaires. China-UK relations will come to a new starting point. There will be both opportunities and challenges. I believe there are four major opportunities.

The first opportunity is China's economic development.

China's economy has been a hot topic lately. Some people talk it up. Others talk it down. Despite the different opinions, I would like to point out that the Chinese economy remains robust.

Here are some facts and figures:

China's economy grew by 6.6% in 2018. This is not only within the anticipated range. It is also one of the fastest among major economies and contributed nearly 30% of global growth. China's overall GDP has exceeded $13.6 trillion, with the increment equaling the total GDP of a middle income country.

What is more important, China's economy has grown not only in quantity but also in quality.

In 2018,

  • new industries, new products and new business models have emerged;
  • consumption contributed 76.2% of economic growth;
  • and on-line retail sales increased by more than 20%.

China is shifting from high-speed growth to high-quality growth. This will create more opportunities for other countries in the world, including the UK.

The second opportunity is China's reform.

Reform has been and will continue to be a key driver of China's economic growth. Take for example the supply-side structural reform. The effects of this reform are unfolding:

  • In 2018, corporate and individual tax cuts totaled 1.3 trillion RMB yuan;
  • Industrial profit increased by 11.8% compared with the previous year.

As reform deepens in all areas, including sweeping fiscal and tax reform and strengthening of IPR protection, China will create more opportunities for the world.

The third opportunity is China's opening up.

President Xi Jinping has said on many occasions that China will not close its door; instead, China will open its door even wider to the world.

China continues to open its market to foreign investment. Last year, despite the steep drop in global FDI, foreign investment flowing into China totaled $135 billion, up by 3%.

China is also lifting or easing the restrictions on foreign ownership in joint venture firms. This covers banking, insurance, securities, auto manufacturing and ship building. It will create favorable conditions for China and the UK to deepen business cooperation.

Moreover, the Chinese people are better off and have an increasing appetite for overseas products. This is gradually turning China from a "global seller" to a "global buyer". This year, China will host the second International Import Expo. We welcome British companies to the Expo so that Chinese consumers will have better access to more British goods and services.

The fourth opportunity is the Belt and Road Initiative.

Since its inception five years ago, the BRI has generated enormous enthusiasm and extensive support from the international community.

In 2018, trade in goods between China and countries along the BRI routes stood at $1.3 trillion. This represents a 16.3% increase from the previous year. It was even 3.7 percentage points higher than the growth rate of China's overall external trade.

To date, more than 13,000 China Railway Express trains have travelled along the BRI routes. They have linked cities in China with 49 cities in 15 European countries, including London.

In 2019, China will host the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. We look forward to working together with global partners to ensure that BRI development is of higher quality, at a higher standard and at a higher level.

China and the UK are partners for mutual benefit. Our cooperation on BRI has promising prospects.

While we are encouraged by these opportunities, we are fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead in China-UK relations.

The first and foremost challenge is Brexit. When I ask my British friends about the prospects of Brexit, I would most probably get this answer: It's hard to tell. To borrow from a popular Chinese TV commercial, "anything is possible."

Both the UK and the EU are important trading partners of China. We hope that the UK and the EU will reach a mutually-beneficial agreement. What I would like to stress here is this: No matter how Brexit will evolve and where it will end, China will remain committed to the China-UK "Golden Era".

In the new year, it is important that we seize the opportunities, address the challenges properly and work together to ensure the steady and sustained development of the China-UK "Golden Era".

To advance China-UK relations in 2019, I have in mind four key words.

The first word is reinforce.

Looking back at how far China-UK relations have come, we can see that it is a journey in which we constantly broke hard ice to forge ahead.

Francis Bacon wrote, "The golden age is before us, not behind us." Going forward, we should continue to reinforce China-UK relations. To do that, we should adopt a long-term and strategic vision. We must bear in mind the large picture and follow the main trend of our bilateral relations. It is important that we view each other's development as an opportunity rather than a challenge, still less a threat. It is important that we enrich cooperation and contribute positive energy to China-UK relations. This will ensure that we can keep our relations on the right track.

The second word is energize.

Despite Brexit, China-UK business cooperation remains strong. Chinese companies have invested more in the UK in the past five years than they did in the previous 30 years.

Last year, RMB did well in London's foreign exchange trading. Dollar-yuan turnover increased to $73 billion per day, overtaking pound-euro turnover for the first time.

Last September, China Re completed its 100% equity acquisition of Chaucer Holdings. This was the latest highlight of China-UK cooperation in insurance and financial sectors. It was also another vote of confidence by Chinese companies for the prospects of China-UK economic cooperation as the UK leaves the EU.

I hope that the UK will respond in the same spirit of openness and inclusiveness. I hope you will resist all kinds of pressure and interruptions, and continue to foster a fair, transparent and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies in the UK, including Huawei. This would be vital if we want to inject much needed energy into China-UK cooperation and take it to a new level.

The third word is innovate.

Both China and the UK are full of vitality. We both value innovation and have engaged in fruitful cooperation on innovation.

Last November, the ninth meeting of the China-UK Joint Commission on Cooperation in Science, Technology and Innovation was held in London. At the meeting, our two sides reached important agreements on deepening cooperation on innovation and entrepreneurship.

In April this year, the 17th China International Talent Exchange Conference will be held in Shenzhen. The UK will be the only country of honour. I am sure this significant event will give a fresh boost to China-UK cooperation on innovation and talent exchange.

The last word is respect.

China and the UK differ in social system, history, culture and development stage. It is natural that we do not see eye to eye on every issue. The key to addressing our differences is that the two sides should

  • treat each other with mutual respect and on an equal footing,
  • respect each other's core interests and major concerns,
  • and respect each other's sovereignty, security and right to development.

Only by addressing our differences properly can we ensure that our bilateral relations will continue to break the ice and forge ahead.

A famous line of Percy Shelley says:

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

This echoes a Chinese poem describing the scenery in late winter and early spring:

Wild wind chases away remnant of snow melting.

Dale stream washes down broken ice whirling.

I am confident that, in the new year, as long as we carry on the "Icebreakers" spirit, as long as we march on with the courage to "break the ice" and forge ahead with the wisdom to "melt the ice", we will embrace a warm and sunny spring of China-UK relations!

Now may I invite you to join me in a toast:

To the steady and sustained development of the China-UK "Golden Era",

To a happy, healthy and prosperous Year of the Pig for all of you present today.

Cheers!

Thank you!

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