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Home > Embassy News > 2012
A Talk about History of China-UK Relations and A Message to the Youth for the Future
Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming Delivers a Speech At Oxford Union

For most people, the word “Oxford” naturally reminds them of the University of Oxford. But in addition, the word can also mean the Oxford Union, one of the world’s leading debating society. Although all its members are the students of the University of Oxford, the Union is completely independent from the University. Since its inception in 1823, the Union has always been known for its sharp style and profound thinking. It has hosted many celebrities, including Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger, Margaret Thatcher and even all British Prime Ministers, and has become a platform for the Oxford students to share and talk with the top figures in the world.

Ambassador Liu meets with representatives of Chinese overseas students

In the afternoon of October 9, 2012, Oxford Union was in a warm atmosphere. The persons in charge of the Union and some representatives of the Chinese students of the University were enthusiastically waiting at the gate of the Union for the first speaker in the autumn and winter semester - Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming. After his arrival, Ambassador Liu first met with President John Lee and other major standing committee members of the Oxford Union. He learned about the history and operations of the Union and watched with great interest the photos of the celebrities in various fields who made speeches here.

At 5:00 p.m., the Chamber Room, the largest lecture hall of the Union, was fully packed. About 300 people, including members of Oxford Union and students from various schools of the University of Oxford, gathered here and looked forward to the speech of the Chinese Ambassador. Once entering into the lecture hall, Ambassador Liu received a big round of applause from all the audience. After the brief introduction of President John Lee, the Ambassador stepped to the time-honoured podium.

Ambassador Liu first thanked the Oxford Union for its invitation. He was pleased to return the University of Oxford after two years and speak at the Oxford Union, a prestigious debating society. Ambassador Liu said, “Today I am going to talk about history, not because I want to teach fish how to swim, but because I believe history tells a lot.”

“Lord Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University, said that history was the best subject to study at Oxford.” When explaining the reason why he chose “history” as the topic, Ambassador Liu humourously quoted Chancellor Lord Patten. “Perhaps Lord Patten gave that answer as he studied history here!” His words immediately won hearty laughters from the audience, and the atmosphere became relaxing. But soon after that the students were attracted by the speech of the Ambassador and listened to him attentively.

Ambassador Liu took the “China-Britain relations” as the theme and used many historical facts and information to explain and analyse from a historical perspective the progress and changes of China’s foreign relations especially with Britain. The Ambassador particularly mentioned five events, namely the Macartney Mission, the Opium War, the “upgrading” of China-Britain relations to ambassadorial level, the negotiations between the Chinese and British governments on the resolution of the Hong Kong question, and the establishment of the China-Britain comprehensive strategic partnership. He condensed the events into five phrases, i.e. “a failed diplomatic mission; an unjust war; well-timed diplomatic upgrading; a historic negotiation and a new partnership”, as a vivid summary of the multi-faceted China-Britain relations which moved forward in spite of ups and downs over the past 220 years with five phases.

Ambassador Liu also specially introduced the important roles of the Oxford alumni in these historical processes, including Sir George Staunton, the second-in-command of the Macartney Mission, the former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, who make an important contribution to the establishment of the ambassadorial diplomatic relations between China and the UK and visited China for 26 times during his lifetime, Margret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, who played an important role in the resolution of the Hong Kong question, and the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who promoted the “fast and positive” development of the China-Britain relations in a new period. These remarks resonated with the Oxford faculty and students. They nodded for agreement from time to time and were more concentrated on the speech.

Ambassador Liu then pointed out that “take history as a mirror and you will understand why dynasties rise and fall.”The most important lesson we should learn from the China-Britain relations is mutual respect and treating each other as equals. The two countries should especially respect each other’s national realities, such as history, culture, development stage and social system and each other’s interests, especially core interests. Only through this kind of respect can China and Britain become equal partners and establish and develop a comprehensive strategic partnership.

When talking about the core interests, Ambassador Liu said that following the Opium War, China had been brought to its knees and the Chinese nation endured untold sufferings. Today’s China and Chinese people cherish national independence and freedom. We value sovereignty and territorial integrity more than anything else. China does not allow violation and interference from anyone on issues that concern China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Ambassador Liu specially mentioned that in one of the verses the British Royal Navy song “Rule, Britannia” says: “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.” Both our nations reflect pride in our culture and a resistance to domination by others. So it should not surprise that the first line of China’s national anthem March of the Volunteers says: “Arise, you people who refuse to be slaves!”

Finally Ambassador Liu expressed his great expectations to the Oxford students. He said, “220 years ago, King George III wrote in his letter to Chinese Emperor Qianlong: ‘No time can be so propitious for extending the bounds of friendship and benevolence, and for proposing to communicate and receive those benefits which must result from an unreserved and amicable intercourse, between such great and civilized nations as China and Great Britain.’ Due to the confines of historical conditions, King George’s wish did not come true! But in this new era, great nations such as China and Britain have much to offer the world. Both countries should use their immense skills and resources to deliver a common goal. This is the shared objective of creating a sustainable and peaceful world for all humanity. I hope my reflections on history may inspire you to follow the spirit of the times and undertake your responsibilities and mission. I hope you will work with the young generation of China to compose new chapters of China-Britain relations.” The speech of Ambassador Liu received warm applause from all the audience.


After his speech, Ambassador Liu Xiaoming answered the questions on the Diaoyu Dao question, situations in Syria, the South China Sea question, China - West cultural exchanges, the opportunities and challenges facing the development in China, the responsibilities of diplomatic institutions in the new era and other hot topics of the common concern of the students. He also gave an exclusive interview with the journalist from the Oxford Journal.

Ambassador Liu made a thorough introduction on the history and facts of the Diaoyu Dao question. He said that Diaoyu Dao is an inherent territory of China since ancient time. Diaoyu Dao has been under China’s jurisdiction since the Ming Dynasty 600 years ago. In 1895, Japan launched the Sino-Japanese War and grabbed the Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands. After the World War II, in accordance with the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation signed by China, Britain and the United States, Diaoyu Dao, as affiliated islands of Taiwan, was returned together with Taiwan to China. As China and Japan were normalizing relations and concluding the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Peace and Friendship in the 1970s, the then leaders of the two countries, acting in the larger interest of China-Japan relations, reached important understanding and consensus on “leaving the issue of Diaoyu Dao to be resolved later.” But in recent years, Japan has repeatedly taken unilateral measures concerning Diaoyu Dao and connives at the right-wing forces’ entrance into the Diaoyu Dao waters. Recently it conducted in particular the so-called “nationalization” of Diaoyu Dao. This has not only seriously damaged China-Japan relations, but also rejected and challenged the outcomes of the victory of the World Anti-Fascist War. Japan should immediately correct their wrongdoings and stop all actions that undermine China’s territorial sovereignty.


An audience said that in today’s world political arena, China is involved in the resolution of any international hotspot issue. What role will China play in the current Syrian issue?

Ambassador Liu pointed out that China has been actively promoting a political settlement of the Syrian issue. China is actively participating in the UN Security Council consultations; it has dispatched a special envoy to Syria to promote the reconciliation between Syrian government and the opposition; China is also actively supporting the mediation of Kofi Annan and the current Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi; and not long ago, China hosted a visit by a Syrian opposition group. It is reasonable to say that China is always actively promoting an early ceasefire in Syria to avoid civilian casualties. But China opposes foreign military interference and any “regime change” imposed by external forces. “Non-interference in internal affairs” is a basic principle of the Charter of the United Nations. To resolve any internal contradiction, a country should first and foremost rely on its own people. And it should be its own people rather than any foreign government to determine who is to govern, which path is to be followed and what kind of political system is to be established. China is firmly opposed to foreign military interference. In this respect we already have too many lessons to learn in the international community. We should avoid making the same mistakes.


A member of the Oxford Union said that traditionally diplomatic institutions play a role of “messenger” between the high levels of two countries. With the development of modern technology and frequent meetings between the state leaders, will the role of diplomatic institutions be weakened? Ambassador Liu said that, indeed, the time when the state leaders can only contact through letters has long been history. Today, the General Assembly of the United Nations, G20, APEC and other international conferences together with the modern communication technology provide more convenient stages and means for more frequent exchanges between the leaders. However, this has also brought huge changes in the mandates and missions of the diplomatic institutions. Today the responsibilities taken by the embassies are incomparable with what they were two or three decades ago. On one hand, the embassies play an important role of “public diplomacy” to help the public in the host countries to better understand China. During the 2 years and 8 months since I took my office in Britain, I have made more than 200 speeches to the British people from all walks of life, visited dozens of colleges and universities in Britain and published dozens of articles in the British newspapers. I recently wrote an article in the “Daily Telegraph” to introduce the Diaoyu Dao question. In addition, the Chinese Embassy in the UK also shoulders the important task of actively promoting the China-UK cooperation in various fields. For example, the bilateral exchanges in various areas keep expanding. Every year more than more than 500 political, business and cultural delegations from China visit Britain, and 120,000 Chinese students are studying in the UK. In addition, the Embassy has a great amount of consular protection work to do. I also often receive letters from the British public requesting the Embassy to facilitate the contacts between the two countries for the expansion of cooperation. We can say that today embassies have more important mandates. Their role is not weakened but strengthened. Ambassador Liu’s wonderful answers received prolonged applause from the audience.

Ambassador Liu gives an interview with the Oxford Journal

“History tells”. Ambassador Liu’s speech is a review of the history of the China-Britain relations in the past more than two hundred years. It has sown a seed of building the bilateral ties together in the hearts of the youth of both countries. The future of the China-UK relations needs the common heritage and hand-in-hand cooperation of the youth of both countries!

Group photo of Ambassador Liu and the standing committee of the Oxford Union

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