Better to be friends than rivals

Liu Xiaoming – China Daily Global

China and the UK can join hands to overcome the pandemic and contribute to a global community of health for all
At the dawn of the third decade of the 21st century, the worst pandemic in 100 years ravaged the world, precipitating the profound changes unseen in a century and posing unprecedented challenges to the world. The grave pandemic situation calls on all countries to bear in mind the larger picture and do the right thing. It is in this spirit that China and the United Kingdom have come to each other’s assistance and fought the pandemic hand in hand, strengthening the response at home and abroad, and contributing to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind. There have been five highlights in China-UK cooperation:

First, there has been close high-level communication, ensuring coordination of their public health responses. At the beginning of the outbreak, President Xi Jinping and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had two telephone conversations in a little over one month, during which they built up consensus and charted the course for China-UK cooperation. President Xi stressed that viruses know no borders or races, and the only way to defeat them is working together. Vice Premier Hu Chunhua, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Minister of the National Health Commission Ma Xiaowei have maintained communication with UK counterparts to fully implement the important agreements reached between President Xi and Prime Minister Johnson. The Chinese embassy in the UK has also enhanced communication and coordination with government departments and local governments in the UK in order to enhance China-UK cooperation both bilaterally and multilaterally.

Second, there have been closer exchanges of experience in prevention and control which has led to better results. Health officials, medical professionals and front line health workers from China and the UK have readily shared their diagnosis, treatment and prevention experiences. Not long ago, the National Health Commission of China and the Department of Health and Social Care of the UK held the fifth China-UK Health Dialogue, where the two sides had in-depth exchanges of views on prevention and control measures, World Health Organization reform and support for response in developing countries. This was a reiteration that China and the UK will continue stepping up cooperation to safeguard the health of the people in our two countries and beyond.

Third, there has been deeper cooperation on scientific research that has brought together the respective strengths of both countries. Chinese universities and research institutions have carried out effective cooperation with the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London on tests, medicines and vaccines. Businesses of the two countries have also taken an active part. A rapid COVID-19 test developed by a joint team from the Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research and Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science has been put to use in Heathrow Airport and some communities, hospitals, schools and large-scale event venues in the UK and has achieved good effects.

Fourth, there has been mutual assistance in supplies and mutual goodwill in times of hardship. At the height of China’s fight against the virus in Wuhan, the UK government sent two shipments of badly-needed medical supplies to China and British people from all walks of life donated funds and supplies. When the virus spread in the UK, Chinese governments at various levels, businesses and ordinary citizens donated medical supplies to reciprocate the kindness of the British people. A joint team from Shandong province came to the UK and brought critical supplies, including ventilators, when the UK was at a critical point in its response to the virus. Despite the shortage of supplies at home, the Chinese side assisted the UK side in procuring over 100 million medical items.

Fifth, there has been a firm joint commitment to multilateralism and international responsibilities. China and the UK have made vigorous efforts to enhance global cooperation in response to the pandemic and global governance on public health. Both countries have supported the World Health Organization playing a central role in the global health crisis. Premier Li Keqiang attended the Global Vaccine Summit and worked with the UK and other participating parties to raise funds for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. The two countries joined the COVID-19 Vaccine Implementation Plan to promote fair distribution of vaccines around the world. They have also taken vigorous measures to implement the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative to provide support for the response of developing countries. Recently, new cooperation projects in pandemic response and healthcare were launched to improve the virus management and control capacity of primary healthcare institutions and to provide support for the wide application of vaccines, diagnostic methods and treatment. A webinar was also held to discuss tri-party cooperation between China, the UK and Africa.

Unavoidably, the pandemic affected the business cooperation and personnel exchanges between China and the UK in 2020. However, as China effectively placed the virus under control and got the economy back on track, China-UK business cooperation has shown a momentum of steady growth.

The year 2021 has historic significance for both China and the UK: China will embark on a new journey of implementing the 14th Five Year Plan (2021-25) and building a modern socialist country in all aspects; the UK, having completed Brexit, will enter a new stage of building a “Global Britain”. There will be new opportunities for the relationship this year, and there will be enormous potential and promising prospects for China-UK cooperation in trade, investment, financial services, science and technology, education and healthcare, as well as in safeguarding multilateralism, fighting against the pandemic, addressing climate change, upholding free trade and promoting the global recovery. In particular, China and the UK will host the 15th Conference of the Parties to Convention on Biodiversity and the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties in May and November respectively. The two sides are enhancing communication and coordination on global environmental protection and climate response.

Despite all these positive factors, 2020 was not without tests for the relationship. A series of wrong remarks and actions by the UK side on issues related to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region caused severe difficulties for bilateral relations. Will the relationship return to the normal track and will cooperation resume in the new year? This will, to a large extent, depend on whether the UK sees China as a partner or a rival, respect China’s core interests and major concerns, and abide by the basic norms governing international relations, including non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. The ball is in the court of the UK side.

Winter will end and spring will arrive. As I am about to complete my tour of office in the UK, where I have served as Chinese ambassador for 11 years, I would like to express my two wishes for the China-UK relationship: First, I hope China and the UK will continue to deepen their pandemic response cooperation, promoting the research and fair distribution of vaccines and contributing to an early global victory. Second, I hope China and the UK will deepen mutual trust, resist disruptions and guard against “political viruses” in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, so as to ensure the sound and steady development of our relationship and jointly promote the building of a global community of health for all.

The author is the Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.