The UK has to think hard about how it engages with China. In quite a short period of time—not more than a decade—China has leapt from being a mid-ranking economic power to the second largest economy in the world. In a range of other areas, China plays a crucial role—from energy use, to the environment, to global governance, regional security and exchange rate decisions.
Britain is a far smaller force in the world than it was even 20 years ago. Even so, there are key areas where the UK can be China's preferred partner. On technology transfer for environmental sciences, on education and on the promotion of the UK as a model knowledge economy Chinese leaders need to know what the UK has to offer. There are some areas where the UK will work best as a member of the EU. At other times, it will work along with other powers like the United States, or Australia. But in some areas, the UK will want to act bilaterally.
Other things that the UK is doing may also appeal to the Chinese Government's own reform agenda. The attempts to create a smaller, slimmed down government, for instance, and to encourage more nongovernmental groups to supply social services traditionally supplied by government departments might be one area. The attempt, too, to scale back state expenditures and create a stronger role for private enterprises is also of interest to China. Finally, the UK's continuing attempts to reform educational and medical services is of potential interest.
Over the last decade, the UK and China have made a number of attempts to set up structures that enable all interested parties—from government and civil society to universities and enterprises—to talk to each other and identify common interests.
As Cameron visited China, U.S. President Barack Obama was also on a formal visit to India. It seemed symbolic that two leaders of developed countries were visiting Asia at the same time. Both made trade a focus of their visits, with Obama signing deals which, it was claimed, would help create 50,000 jobs in the United States.
The one thing that Cameron's tour in China underlined was the great importance of Asian countries in today's world. Although he did not refer to a power shift in his talks in Beijing, Cameron declared that any attempts to talk about global trade without bringing in China were nonsense.
Business and Beyond
British Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to China on November 9-10 highlighted the importance of bilateral cooperation in diverse fields, ranging from promoting economic recovery to addressing global issues, said Chinese analysts. Some of their comments follow:
Revitalizing the British economy is the priority for Cameron and the coalition government he leads. Strengthening economic and trade cooperation with China—one of the world's most dynamic economies—is undoubtedly an excellent recipe to cure the UK's economic problems.
The UK leads the world in finance, services, scientific research, space technology and environmental protection, while China is strong in manufacturing. What's more, China has a thriving domestic market and large foreign exchange reserves. This economically complementary relationship will greatly promote the two countries' economic and trade cooperation.
—Feng Zhongping, Director of the Institute of European Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations
Cameron, who has been in office for only about six months, needs to show the importance the Conservative Party attaches to the Asia-Pacific region. Before coming to China, he visited India in July. Cameron hopes to expand the UK's overseas investment by exploring the two big Asian markets.
—Zhao Junjie, an associate research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Since China and the UK are both influential powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council, their relations have long gone beyond the bilateral scope and have taken on a global and strategic significance.
—Shi Zhiqin, a professor with the Institute of International Studies, Tsinghua University
Leaders of many countries exchanged visits ahead of the G20 Summit in South Korea. The major purpose of these visits was to coordinate stances through communication. Consultations between China and EU countries were particularly significant. Like China, many European countries are also dissatisfied with the United States' quantitative easing policy.
—Qu Xing, President of the China Institute of International Studies
The author is a senior fellow with Chatham House, London
(Viewpoints in this article do not necessarily represent those of Beijing Review)