|Speech at the Launching of "Young Icebreakers"|
1 May 2008
Mr Stephen Perry,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to join you at the launching of the Young Icebreakers hosted by the 48 Group Club. I would like to congratulate the 48 Group Club on its 55th anniversary, which they recently celebrated in Beijing.
Fifty-five years ago, it took Mr Jack Perry seven days to go from London to Hong Kong and another four days to reach Beijing. But today it would only take Mr Stephen Perry no more than ten hours to fly from London to Beijing.
Over the past five decades, much has changed in China and in the world. If the old ice between China and the West has melted thanks in part to the foresight and courage of business leaders like Mr Jack Perry, today an invisible layer of ice still stands between us.
Such a lack of mutual trust can be traced to some recent developments. The manner with which the issues of Tibet and the Olympics have been reported by some Western media have hurt many people in China. I.E. many young people in China expressed their anger on the internet and in the streets at the comments made by a certain presenter in a Western TV (CNN Cafferty April 9) that the Chinese are "basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they've been for the last 50 years".
The Olympics is a moment of celebration, particularly for the young people. Seven years ago when China won the bid to host the 2008 Olympics, many people, mainly young people celebrated all night on the streets and squares. After seven years, when they are welcoming the world to Beijing with open arms and are hoping that the Olympics will showcase today's China, they are disappointed at the response.
According to the result of the latest poll done by Horizon in China, more than 80% of the people polled said they did not like the Westerners any more. And since last year the number of Europeans who considered China as a threat has reportedly almost doubled. In the United States, 31% of the people consider China as a bigger threat than Iran or North Korea. I have not seen such opposing views in the past.
Why has there been such a gap? Why these opposing feelings among the two groups of people who account for one third of the world's population?
Many Chinese feel disappointed and puzzled by the attacks on China on issues of Tibet and the Olympics. There are some people in the West who say that there is no freedom of speech in China, the Chinese people are brainwashed, and that the Chinese people's feelings against the West are an explosion of nationalism.
It is naïve and arrogant to think that the 1.3 billion Chinese people can be brainwashed. It is also an overstatement to say that there is rampant nationalism in China. I also disagree with the assertion that the majority of Western public are against China. The lack of knowledge and information about each other could be the reason behind these misconceptions.
The Chinese people today are not living in an isolated world. By the end of 2006, there were altogether 573 publishing houses in China, turning out 230,000 books every year. There are also nearly 2,000 newspapers and 9,000 magazines. China has leapfrogged into the information age. Every day internet portals like SINA and SOHU roll out 10,000 news updates. By February this year the number of internet users in China reached 221 million, the largest in the world. Many young people are more comfortable using the keyboard than the pen.
Before this year's National People's Congress session there was a special column created on a main website in China entitled "Questions to the Premier". In less than two weeks, 40 million people raised 3 million questions. Some people were concerned about rising food prices; others gave their views and suggestions on how the country should be run. There were also criticisms of some government policies.
However, the amount of information that is reaching the Western public is limited. Many British people like reading books, but I've found few books here that can present the China of today. On its part, the Chinese side should also work hard to reach out more to the British public and explain more about the culture, the way of life, the vibrant youth culture and successful art scene in China.
Here there is limited knowledge about Tibet, too. Many of those I have talked with said they did not know that Britain invaded Tibet on two occasions (in 1888 and 1904) or even tried to reduce China's sovereignty over Tibet to suzerainty.
At this difficult moment, it's important that we work together to bridge the gap. I also hope that through these developments, the younger generation of Chinese will have more comprehensive understanding of Western countries, who remain our main partners in reform.
Human rights have become a hot topic about China recently. Some individual cases are raised to prove that the record is not very good. However, the human right improvement of the bigger majority of the Chinese is seldom mentioned.
China is not free of problems. Recently Phoenix TV has been running a program about a "cancer village" in Henan Province, where many villagers have cancer as a result of pollution. There are also cases of farmers who lost their land to commercial development without sufficient compensation. These human rights problems need to be addressed. We are not hiding anything. Westerners can certainly criticize China, but we do hope they will do it on the basis of facts. That will do good for their credibility among the Chinese people.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of reform and opening-up in China. China has been transformed. In the past five years in particular, the country has had the fastest growth rates in the world. Its GDP grew 60% in total, reaching 3.4 trillion US dollars. China has become the fourth largest economy in the world.
The most important change in China has been rapidly rising living standards. China is now No 1 in the world with its 360 million fixed line phones and 630 million cell phones.
China has not only become the workshop of the world, it has also become a vibrant new market. By 2010, China will import 1 trillion US dollars' worth of goods and services from the rest of the world.
The development of the Chinese economy has provided a broad prospect for China-UK relations. Prime Minister Brown made a successful visit to China and leaders of the two countries reached a series of important agreements. In the middle of April, Chancellor Alistair Darling visited China, and the first Economic and Financial Dialogue at vice premier level was held.
China-UK trade grew by 29% in 2007 year-on-year, and investment and financial services have become new growth points.
There have also been dynamic cultural exchanges between the two countries. "China Now", a series of events covering more than 800 activities was launched last February across the UK. It covered the areas of culture, commerce education among others, are the largest events of cultural exchange between the two countries.
The blockbuster exhibition First Emperor -- China's Terra Cotta Army which ran from last September to April this year was a huge success, attracting nearly 800,000 visitors.
Today 18,000 Chinese students come to Britain every year and 15,000 are coming back to China.
In the beginning of the year, the two governments launched a two-year youth exchange program, under which 400 young people from China and the UK will visit each other.
Friendly exchanges are an important means to increase mutual understanding and trust and bridge the gap in knowledge. I am filled with confidence about the people in China and Western countries, particularly young people.
Young people have an open and perceptive mind and are ready to learn about new things. Many of you have been to China. You can better communicate with the young people in China and establish mutual understanding.
The spirit of ice-breaking pioneered by the 48 Group Club represented courage, calm thinking and self-sacrifice. It has stood the test of time and is the best way for us to break the ice.
The young icebreakers have injected fresh vitality into the 48 Group Club. I do hope you will work together in the spirit of ice breaking to help promote understanding between China and the West.