Sino-British ties- An historical perspective of a relationship whose time has come

Updated: 2015-10-22 23:14

By Peter Batey(

  Comments() Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

China and Britain established full diplomatic relations in 1972 during the 1970-74 government led by Prime Minister Edward Heath. At a banquet to mark the occasion in the Great Hall of the People, the visiting British Foreign Secretary, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, himself a former prime minister, was serenaded with the Eton Boating Song.

The tone of the new Sino-British relationship, however, was set at a meeting in 1974 between Chairman Mao and Edward Heath, at which Premier Zhou Enlai, Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping and Foreign Minister Qiao Guanghua were also present, along with the British Ambassador, Sir John Addis. Heath told Chairman Mao that he sought a closer relationship with China in order to provide stability and a promising future for Hong Kong and also to pursue economic benefits for both British and Chinese people through expanded trade opportunities. The earliest beneficiaries of the warming relationship between China and Britain were aerospace companies, such as Rolls Royce.

Sino-British ties- An historical perspective of a relationship whose time has come

Peter Batey is Chairman of Vermilion Partners, Vice Chairman of the China Britain Business Council and a Trustee of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation.[Photo by Cecily Liu/China Daily]

Following his departure from office after the loss of the 1974 General Election, Heath was disappointed by the progress of the Sino-British relationship and felt that Britain's industrialized competitors had benefited far more from China's rapprochement with the West, of which he was one of the principal architects. Britain was falling behind in reaping the opportunities arising from China's economic reforms and opening up policy.

For forty years the relationship failed to live up to its potential, largely as a result of neglect by the British. While French Presidents and German Chancellors forged close relationships with China's senior leaders, successive British Prime Ministers of both parties, with few exceptions, paid scant attention to the People's Republic.

Heath would have been delighted by the priority afforded and vigour imparted to the relationship over the past few years by Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

China and Britain are now developing a broad-based political and economic relationship. We have a strategic partnership, onto which regular strategic dialogues put flesh. We have regular economic and financial dialogue, which explores opportunities for mutually beneficial co-operation in trade and investment, not just in and between China and Britain but also in third countries. There is also a People-to-People Dialogue and regular exchanges between politicians of different parties from both countries through the UK-China Forum, organized by the Great Britain China Centre and the International Department of the CPC, as well as a junior counterpart, the UK China Roundtable, which brings together younger politicians from China and Britain.

The efforts made by top leaders from both countries are breathing life into these frameworks for co-operation and encouraging the wider political class and the business communities to invest time and energy into building the bilateral relationship for mutual benefit.

They are helped by the fact that China's extraordinary economic development over the past forty years has built an economy that is now more complementary to the British economy and makes the United Kingdom a more fitting partner for China as she pursues the next phase of economic development, with a greater emphasis on the services sector to produce growth, provide jobs and generate wealth to improve the standard of living. The best days of the Sino-British relationship are still ahead of us, with benefits for both countries and our peoples.

Britain, with its strength and expertise in financial services, professional services, advertising, education, publishing, media, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, to name but a few, is in an increasingly strong position to compete with other developed economies to provide what China needs and to be the partner of choice for China.

Just one example is the role London is playing in the internationalization of the Chinese currency, the Renminbi. Last week saw the first renminbi-denominated Chinese government bond floated in London. There is so much more potential to be realized in the financial sector.

This is why I am delighted by the State Visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Britain this week. I am confident that this will build on the excellent results of George Osborne's visit to China with other senior ministers last month.

China and Britain should use the opportunity to promote trade between our two countries and to increase British exports to or invisible earnings from China to ameliorate the current account deficit.

Britain should reiterate and re-emphasize the warm welcome it extends to Chinese investment in the United Kingdom and seek to engage China and Chinese companies in building the 'Northern Powerhouse', an initiative that the Prime Minister and Chancellor both back. China and Britain should also explore how they can work together in third countries to mutual benefit, pooling our expertise, technologies and respective strengths, especially in tapping opportunities linked to China's 'One Belt, One Road' initiative and through our common membership of the new Asia Infrastructure Development Bank.

So now is the time for British and Chinese businesses to grasp the opportunities for trade and investment and in doing so to benefit from the excellent services of the China British Business Council which exists to advise and guide our companies.

In this way, Chairman Mao and Sir Edward Heath, as they look down on us from above, may no longer be disappointed by the lost opportunities in Sino-British co-operation.

Peter Batey is Chairman of Vermilion Partners, Vice Chairman of the China Britain Business Council and a Trustee of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation. The views expressed here are his own.