We live in extraordinary times. The fifth year approaches of financial crisis in the developed countries. Significant parts of the world are unstable. But despite these challenges, there is much to celebrate in the relationship between China and the UK.
Britain, of course, is focused on two major events this year, the Olympics and Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee. But this is also the 40th anniversary of full diplomatic relations between our two countries. I believe history will judge the current strength of the Sino-UK partnership as being of pivotal importance in global affairs.
China and Britain have much in common. On the global stage, we share heavy responsibilities. We are two of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and our countries play a crucial role in seeking resolution to the financial crisis in forums such as the G20. There are many further tasks of mutual interest, from resolving poverty alleviation to tackling climate change.
We have a shared history of groundbreaking contributions that have benefited all humanity. China's inventions include paper, printing and the compass. Britain was the cradle of the industrial revolution that profoundly reshaped the world. Both countries have very deep cultures that have contributed much to the world in the arts, literature and philosophy.
During the past 300 years, Sino-UK links have gone through a number of positive and negative cycles. Official ties between the two countries started with Macartney's mission to China in September 1792, though historians have described this as "a dialogue between the deaf and the blind". During the first Opium War in 1840, Britain forced open the door of China with gunboats. Relations between China and the UK and the rest of the West have since been defined by inequality, with China at a disadvantageous position.
There were some bright intervals. Seventy years ago, Chinese and British people stood shoulder to shoulder against the invasion of China by Japan. Then, those ties went into a deep freeze following the foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949. On March 13, 1972, China-UK relations were raised from charge d'affaires to ambassadorial level. Forty years on, in 2012, our countries are closer than ever before.
There have been some crucial milestones during the past four decades that have led to this point. The restoration of China's position as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council was a key first move. Other notable steps were the British commitment to the one China policy on the issue of Taiwan and Tibet; the successful resolution of the Hong Kong question; the establishment of a comprehensive strategic partnership; high-level dialogue mechanisms, such as the annual summit of premiers: plus, economic, financial and strategic dialogue.
These strong political links have been matched by an extraordinary economic transformation. Sino-UK bilateral trade reached $58.7 billion in 2011, more than 200 times that in 1972, and the premiers of our countries have committed to raising the sum to $100 billion by 2015. Two-way investment has surged from zero to nearly $20 billion – in particular, Chinese investment in the UK is growing fast.
The collaboration between our countries is constantly widening and deepening.
Co-operation is advancing in the areas of energy efficiency, environmental protection, branding and financial services, and there are joint efforts involving infrastructure development, small businesses and research.
People-to-people and cultural exchanges are on the rise – there are now 47 pairs of sister provinces and cities – and there is a choice of more than 10 direct flights between our countries every day. More than 120,000 Chinese students study in the UK, compared with just 100 back in 1972. A total of 19 Confucius Institutes and 60 Confucius Classrooms have been opened in Britain. No other European country can compete in this regard. China will also participate in the 2012 London Book Fair as the "market focus" country, which will involve more than 300 related activities.
Of course, China and the UK differ in history, culture, social systems and values, so one should not be surprised when differences arise. In a mature relationship, some important principles need to be followed – we should respect each other, treat each other as equals and seek common ground while accepting the differences.
Over the past two years, since I came to London, I have visited many places in Britain and I have been deeply impressed by the enthusiasm for the growing links between our two countries. There is great mutual benefit to be had if we work to take the relationship to new highs over the next 40 years.