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Let China be your partner - and your equal


In the 1920s, the Chinese envoy to the United Kingdom was a great diplomat called Gu Weijun. When he was asked what the cruellest Chinese saying was, he would quote this proverb: "However grand the feast is, it always has to end."

I've been considering his words as I prepare to leave London. It is a bittersweet occasion, like savouring the last sip of wine at the end of the party, still warm with excitement, but already tempered with a little sadness.

Being a diplomat, and an ethnic Mongolian, you might say I am a natural nomad. It's a career that has taken me across the world: Bucharest, Phnom Penh, Jakarta, Manila, Canberra and now London. I have always found the farewells difficult; but leaving here is particularly hard.

Over the past three years, I have walked British streets and discovered the countryside, yet never felt like a complete stranger. The Chinese writer Wang Meng best expresses what I have often felt here: "Coming to London is like walking into a familiar oil painting."

British literature was part of my education, as it is for most Chinese. Being here has given me the luxury of tracing the roots of some of the famous names I have read and loved. I can still picture the little round table under the window where Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice; the open moor that inspired the Brontë sisters gave me much to think about, too. I spent many happy hours in Wordsworth's lakeside home. British culture is such a magnet for countless Chinese.

Life here is so exciting and diverse; I will miss the friends and colleagues who have helped me to understand the country and its people. Whether watching a play, cheering on a football team or going to the races, my time has always been enjoyable and exciting.

Diplomatically, too, it has been a busy three years. I have witnessed the stable development of relations between the two countries. The Chinese President and Premier have visited and, in turn, Gordon Brown has travelled to Beijing. Leaders and ministers met and called so many times that I have lost count. Everyone wants to be involved: there are increasing visits from all the provinces; Chinese investment in Britain has grown almost sixfold; and the number of Chinese students and tourists here is rocketing.

Meanwhile, Britain has reciprocated. It has maintained its position as the largest European investor in China and as China's third-largest European trading partner. During my summer holiday in Beijing last year, I went shopping for a mattress and the one I eventually bought turned out to be a brand name that dates from 19th-century Britain. The phrase "British-designed" carries strong weight in China.

The growing partnership between the two countries is underpinned by increasing support among our peoples. Organisations such as the China Britain Business Council, the British Council, the 48 Group Club and other educational and friendship groups have created a wealth of interest and business opportunities that now mustn't be neglected.

It shouldn't be difficult. China's engagement with the British is matched only by your fascination with the Chinese. When I addressed the Annual Conference of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust last year, I talked with many head teachers who told me that Chinese language teaching is more and more popular.

Having said that, there have also been some low points. The temptation is to judge and criticise immediately China fails to meet or agree with British preferences. Every time a problem cropped up, I tried to draw inspiration from the historical wisdom of our two countries, to confront the problem candidly without losing sight of either country's larger interests.

When change becomes a fashionable slogan in the West, how many people notice that the most profound change in the world is actually happening in China? China is only halfway through its reform, and for decades to come, the central theme will remain the same. We know we are not perfect, but we also understand that this will be an incremental process; we must explore and forge our own path instead of copying other models. While Westminster Hall roof might be magnificent, it wouldn't fit all the other buildings in the world.

I hope the West will grow to understand where China comes from and is heading to, and learn to work with the country as an equal. To achieve this, we must engage and discuss, rather than lecture, when we reach a an apparent impasse. The sooner instant stereotyping of China is replaced by a wider understanding, the sooner we will be able to celebrate our diversity and build a stronger relationship based on understanding and respect.

For our part, we in China need to learn how to better explain ourselves to the world. My message to my colleagues is communicate, communicate, communicate. This is particularly important as China and Britain meet on the world stage to work on global issues.

Even though my feast with this country is ending, my commitment to furthering our relations remain unchanged. I am confident of a better tomorrow.


Article by Ambassador Fu Ying to the Daily Telegraph on February 5th