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Home > Topics > 40 Years of China-UK Full Diplomatic Relations
Speech by Ambassador Liu Xiaoming at a Dinner in Honor of Former Senior British Diplomats in China

Chinese Embassy in the UK, 7 March 2012

Lady McLaren,

Sir Leonard and Lady Appleyard,

Sir Christopher and Lady Hum,

Sir William and Lady Ehrman,

Dear Friends,

It is a great pleasure for me and my wife Hu Pinghua to welcome all of you to the Chinese Embassy.

We gather to celebrate the 40th anniversary of China-UK full diplomatic relations.

This evening is a rare occasion to gather together so many senior British diplomats who used to work in China. Our common bond is as witnesses and key players in China-UK relations over the past four decades.

This dinner is a good opportunity for us to take stock of the past, assess the present and look ahead to the future.

'Transformation' could be a key word to describe China-UK relations in the past 40 years. Yet, history will likely record the phrase 'tremendous transformation'!

Politically, China-UK relations were elevated to ambassadorial level in 1972. Together, since then, we have resolved the Hong Kong question. In turn that enabled removal of many obstacles in our relations.

In recent times, the China-UK relationship was further upgraded to a comprehensive strategic partnership.

All of you have been key players in this process of building stronger and stronger relations.

Together you witnessed every milestone in Sino-UK relations.

Let me bring back to you some memories and highlights.

Ambassador Ehrman and late Ambassador McLaren took part in the negotiations over Hong Kong. Both participated in the drafting of Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Ambassador Appleyard's tenure saw the smooth handover of Hong Kong.

Ambassador Hum witnessed the raising of China-UK relations from Charge D'Affaires to Ambassadorial level in his first posting in China. He later was involved in setting up the China-UK comprehensive strategic partnership as British Ambassador to China.

If our political relations have come a long way, then there has been 'extraordinary economics'!

In 1972 bilateral trade was a mere 300 million US dollars. By 2011 this had boomed to 58.7 billion US dollars. That is a rise of more than 200 times.

Two way investment now exceeds 20 billion US dollars. Back in 1972, Chinese investment in UK was almost zero. Now it has reached 2.3 billion US dollars. A remarkable fact was that half of these investments were actually made last year.

In there was few if any cultural exchanges between our two peoples. It was unimaginable in 1972 the level of dialogue reached during the next 40 years.

Today there is a multiple choice of more than 10 direct flights. More than one million business people, students and tourists travel between our two countries every year.

I am told that Ambassador Erhman had only two classmates when he took a Chinese language course back in Cambridge. But now in the UK there are 19 Confucius institutes and 60 Confucius classrooms. That is a measure of the immense British interest in learning the Chinese language.

You will all be aware of the recent arrival of the two pandas in Edinburgh Zoo. Linked to this the Chinese Embassy hosted a schools project called Panda Pals.

This was aimed at building cross cultural understanding in UK schools through a website and drawing and speaking competitions. More than 1,000 British school children took part. Many are learning Chinese and have great interest in China.

I am glad to say that Panda Pals competitions have helped to sow the seed of friendship in the hearts of young people. Here, I want to thank Ambassador Erhman for serving as one of the judges in the final speaking competition.

It is my honour to be the 11th Chinese Ambassador to the UK. As I look back on the past 40 years, a question I have kept thinking about is how to build on the achievements of my predecessors and further grow China-UK relations in the next 40 years.

I believe we need to follow three important principles to advance our relations:

The first principle is to follow the spirit of a famous Chinese saying, which is 'Use History as a Mirror'. Looking back you will know well that China-UK relations in the past four decades have not been without setbacks.

Luckily, both China and Britain have great reserves of wisdom and long historical experience. Over the past forty years both of our countries have used our inner strengths to resolve the many differences and disputes as they arose.

It is realistic to see that differences will naturally happen between two countries like China and Britain. We differ in social systems, cultural traditions and development stages.

What is critical is that we should respect each other and treat each other as equals. We should seek common ground as much as possible. Those values are the foundation upon which we can continue to deepen mutual understanding and trust.

The second principle is to seize opportunities. China-UK relations now face many opportunities. Our development plans reflect each other in many aspects. And our resources and strengths are highly complementary.

A new window of opportunity is before us in such sectors as infrastructure development and financial services. We should make full use of these opportunities and launch more flagship projects.

This year we will launch a high level mechanism for people-to-people exchanges. China will be honoured as the Market Focus country in the London Book Fair. London will host the Olympics. These events will contribute to a new boom in our people-to-people links.

From right: Sir Leonard Appleyard and Sir William Ehrman

The third principle is to keep pace with global trends. Globalization has made a profound impact on the whole world during recent decades. The result is that all countries are more interdependent. In turn, this links our interests and makes us more interconnected.

We should not allow short-term issues to cloud the 'big picture'. We must use our comprehensive strategic partnership to help us plan broadly, deeply, strategically and with a long term perspective.

In addition, China and Britain must collaborate closely and use wisely our influence in the world as major countries. If we work well together, our countries can bring benefits to all our peoples and preserve world peace and prosperity.

After forty years of full diplomatic relations our links are at a new high. But, we must not be complacent. China-UK relations need constant support and care.

All of you here have contributed a great deal to this relationship as career diplomats. I know that after leaving office you have remained dedicated to China-UK friendship.

I hope you will continue to apply your wisdom and years of experience in strengthening our relationship.

The friendship you have offered to China will not be forgotten. As we say in Chinese, when drinking the water, do not forget who dug the well.

As old friends you will always be welcome to visit China. Indeed, I invite you to go back to China more often!

I hope you will use your visits to China to build further understanding of my country in the UK. People in the UK will respect your views and personal experience. So I hope you will continue to introduce China to the British people.

And when you have the opportunity, I encourage you to present the case for supporting China-UK relations. China-UK relationship is a common cause for us, and what you do will generate greater understanding and support for it.

In conclusion, I wish to propose a toast:

· To the growth of China-UK relations in the coming four decades.

· To the lasting friendship between the Chinese and British people.

· To the health of all our guests present.


Sir Christopher Hum (Left)

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