The Conservative Party Conference was held in Birmingham on 28 September. The Chinese Embassy held a fringe meeting at the time with the theme “Post-Olympic China: Partner or Challenge?”This was the first of this kind organized by the Embassy at the Party conference in UK. The Embassy invited former Foreign Secretary Rifkind, Shadow Cabinet Deputy Leader of the House Shailesh Vara MP, Opposition Whip Nick Hurd MP and Chairman Bradshaw of the British Club joined as guest speakers with Ambassador Fu Ying in addressing the audience and answering questions.
The theme attracted Conservative Party members from the grassroots. The conference hall was packed with people sitting on the floor or standing throughout. Many Chinese members of the Conservative Party Association also came. The audience expressed their views by chiming in or raising questions. It was warm and lively with laughter and applause.
An in-depth discussion was held on whether China was partner or challenge and a consensus was reached that China was a partner for Britain and the West but its relations with the West were also faced with challenges. Rifkind described China as a challenging partner. He said that China had rapidly emerged as a global power with considerable increase of its economic strength. Many people in the West were concerned, worried or even frightened. But the fact is that China has always been a power in the history and it is only regaining its own place in the world. The US and EU should not be worried. With power responsibility also comes. He expressed his hope that China could strike balance between power and responsibility and make more contributions to the world.
Vara said that he had worked in Hong Kong and witnessed China changed, from a country of Mao suits and bicycles to prosperity and strength. It raises a challenge to UK and the West that how to see and understand China’s changes. The West regarded China as a superpower but the Chinese were not overwhelmed. They have acknowledged their problems and been working solidly to reduce poverty, develop education and social insurance. He expressed his hope to have cooperation with China.
On bilateral relations the guest speakers maintained that UK-China relations were one of the most important and strategic relations for UK. Better relations with China confirms to the state interest of China. The two countries have established regular meeting and economic and financial dialogue system between bilateral leaders and other frequent consultations and dialogues at different levels. China is the largest source of international students for UK, with Chinese students accounting for 15% of all overseas students that it received. They are a unique bridge between China and UK. Direct dialogue and personal exchange are preferred than media conveying message. The two countries should use the present favorable opportunity to push the bilateral relations further because it is good for the two countries and to the world. UK and China also have different views but it should not hinder their cooperation in wider fields.
Hurd said that the British public, despite party affiliation, all supported British relations with China. China tops the agenda of the Conservative Party and it is planning to establish a China task force to develop party-to-party relations with China and open new channels for bilateral relations. The UK could play an important role in promoting open and constructive dialogue between the EU and China. The two countries could work together to resist trade protectionism and advocate free and fair trade.
Participants agreed that China had brought some challenges to the West. Rifkind maintained that there were still unresolved questions, like Tibet, between China and the West and caused tension from time to time. China and the UK had solved Hong Kong, enabling the territory to keep its own rule of law and way of life. He trusted that the Chinese Government would have adequate wisdom to solve the Tibet issue.
Hurd said that there were many people in the West who had doubts about China’s development direction. They were not sure whether China would resort to unilateralism or a cooperative power. The UK knew the US’s policy tendency more than China’s. The two countries still lacks mutual understanding.
Participants also raised democracy, human rights and other issues. Rifkind maintained that China’s reform stopped short of solving all questions. Its grassroots election staggered and rule of law was not perfect. Guest speakers and participants also asked questions on China’s foreign policy, China’s role in solving global financial crisis, China’s space plan, climate change, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Iran nuclear issue and Middle East.
Fu Ying first talked about the positive implications of the Olympic Games and Paralympics. She said that they left China with rich legacy and gave rise to passion of the society for sports and love for the disabled. The Olympics also enhanced the awareness of the society for environment, which was crucial for China in rapid urbanization. It was equally important that the Olympics enhanced mutual understanding between China and the world and went a long way in making China and the West know each other better.
Fu Ying said that the success of the Olympics was built on the solid basis of 30-year reform and opening-up. Post-Olympic China would still develop by integrating and interacting with the world. China’s reform was irreversible. It would still adhere to the foreign policy of peace and cooperation. But it would not become another western country.
Fu Ying went to say that both China and UK attached importance to each other. Their cooperation was crucial to deal with challenges. The UK was indispensable in supporting China’s reform and opening-up, technologic and scientific development, Chinese enterprises going overseas. Common grounds between the two countries far outweighed their differences. The biggest challenge for China-UK relations was the need to better understand each other. They had different views or even misunderstanding on some issues. So long as they show sincerity in dialogue and seek common ground while putting aside difference, bilateral relations will have a bright future.
On democracy and human rights that some were concerned, Fu Ying said that since reform and opening-up, considerable progress had been made in political reform and economic restructuring. Chinese leaders stressed on many occasions that there would have been no socialism and socialist modernization without democracy. The word “democracy” was mentioned 63 times in the report of the 17th Congress of the Communist Party. It proposed that power should be exercised under sunshine. The two principles of “rule by law and build a socialist country of rule of law” and “human rights respected and guaranteed by the State” were written into the Constitution in 1999 and 2004. Law on Property Rights and Labour Law and a number of laws and regulations were issued, legalizing protection of private ownership and labor rights. The policy that put people first was supported by the people. According to a survey by Pew, 86% of the Chinese people are satisfied by the development direction of the country.
Fu Ying said that the key to judge whether a country was democratic or not was not there was national election that lasted only one day. Instead it should be whether the decision-making process was democratic, whether the Government was serving the people’s interest. China’s grassroots election would gradually develop on the basis of accumulating experience. The delegates to the Party Congresses and People’s Congresses at different levels are all elected. The decision-making process is democratic. Members of the Polibureau made inspection tours to the grassroots and held discussions before making decision to adjust macroeconomic policy after new trends emerged in July. Appointment of officials at all levels, which should take the people’s supervision during the publication period, is more open and transparent. Supervision and accountability are strengthened and punishment of corrupted officials was stepped up.
Fu Ying said that western democracy came out of western history and culture and was matured with economic and social development in centuries of industrialization. The UK had violated the rights and interests of aboriginals in its early days of industrialization. For example, social conflicts got worse at the beginning of industrialization, and kids who just stole a piece of bread were sent to exile in Tasmania. The West also went a long way in giving rights of election to women and the issue of minority rights.
Western democracy works well in corresponding economic and social conditions. Transplanting it elsewhere is not all successful. China is still in the early days of its industrialization, it had its own history and culture, and it is not appropriate to judge and demand China according to western standards. It was undemocratic in itself to ask China to apply western democracy. China has gone through confusion of the Cultural Revolution and it knows the importance of national unity and stability. It will continue to develop its own democracy according to its own conditions. China is far from perfect and faced many problems and challenges in terms of fair execution of law and fair distribution. That’s why China stresses again and again that it will continue to reform and open up. Fu Ying answered other questions from the guest speakers and audience one by one.
The guest speakers and audience agreed with what Fu Ying said with applause. Rifkind said that China was undoubtedly undergoing positive changes. Its society was becoming more open. Basic rights and freedom of the people were guaranteed. Vara said that British democracy was established over the course of several centuries and it was not right to ask China to achieve what western countries had gone through over several hundreds of years. But a natural result of China being a super power was that it would hear criticism more. It should treat it with ease instead of turning inward looking.
Some participants were of the view that China showed aspects of democracy though its system was different with the West. Like its appointment of officials, corrupt and unqualified officials being punished, its openness increased and all questions could be openly discussed. The UK should understand and acknowledge all these and cooperate with China. A participant cited his own experience to say that those who were interested in China should take a trip to China which would change their view of China. Hurd pointed out that it was up to the Chinese people to choose which democracy. To the UK, China’s success was the most important thing.
After the forum the guest speakers and audience all said that the discussion was wide and in-depth and Fu Ying’s way of talking was easy for them to accept. It helped their understanding of the Chinese views. Such events showed the openness of the Embassy. It was also a good chance to introduce China to the British audience. They expressed their hope that the Embassy organize more of such events in the future.