As 2021 brings fresh opportunities and new hopes, I will be heading home upon completing my 11-year-tour of office as the eleventh ambassador of New China to the UK. I am the longest-serving both in the history of China-UK relations and of all Chinese ambassadors of all time.
Looking back at the nearly 4,000 days I have spent here, I find myself filled with a myriad of feelings, not least because this is the last tour in my diplomatic career of 47 years. This posting has given me much honour and many memories to cherish. And I feel grateful to my British friends who have given me invaluable support as I have discharged my duties here in the UK.
In these 11 years, I have been to all corners of the UK, engaging with people from all walks of life, exploring ideas and promoting cooperation. There are so many things I shall never forget: the competitions in the Olympic arena, the chimes of Big Ben, the New Year’s Eve fireworks on the Thames, the degree ceremonies at the University of Nottingham and the University of Huddersfield, the smiles on the faces of children meeting giant pandas Sweetie and Sunshine. Nor shall I forget the deep affection of my friends in the UK.
In these 11 years, I witnessed and took part in mutual visits by Chinese and British leaders. I take particular pride in my humble part in the successful state visit by President Xi Jinping to the UK in 2015, which ushered in the China-UK “Golden Era”. This visit left an indelible mark on the history of China-UK relations by highlighting the strategic, practical, inclusive and global significance of this relationship. I also had the honour of receiving Premier Wen Jiabao and Premier Li Keqiang in the UK, travelling in China with Prime Minister Cameron, Prime Minister May and the Duke of Cambridge, and attending meetings of the China-UK dialogues. These visits and dialogues enhanced communication, deepened trust, defined what relationship we wanted and advanced cooperation.
In these 11 years, China-UK trade, economic cooperation, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges yielded fruitful results: from 2010 to 2020, trade in goods surged from $50.1 billion to $92.3 billion; Chinese investment in the UK and British exports to China rose by nearly 20 times; the number of Chinese students in the UK and visits between the people of our countries doubled, with the former growing from just over 100,000 to 220,000 and the latter from 1 million to over 2 million.
China and the UK are major countries with global influence. These 11 years have seen our cooperation increase in width and depth. There is no better example than our joint response in the face of the challenge of a century – the Covid-19 pandemic. China and the UK have come to each other’s aid, shared experience on prevention and control, worked together on research and development of vaccines and medicines, and joined hands to advance international cooperation.
The friendship between the peoples of China and the UK has deepened. The beautiful voices of the children from the Confucius Classroom choir at Millburn Primary School in Northern Ireland singing “Let the World be Full of Love” is a memory I will cherish.
Another highlight of my tour of 11 years was the purchase of the former Royal Mint Court as the new embassy premises, more than 140 years after China’s first diplomatic mission abroad moved into 49 Portland Place in 1877. This “project of the century”, on the bank of the forever-flowing River Thames, will witness the growth of China-UK relations in the new century.
These 11 years have not always been smooth sailing. Given our differences in history, culture, social system and development stage, it is natural that China and the UK do not always see eye to eye. But it is important that differences are handled appropriately. A review of the history and experience of China-UK exchanges since the establishment of an ambassadorial relationship reveals the most important lesson: when international law and the basic norms governing state-to-state relations are observed, the relationship will move forward; otherwise, it will suffer setbacks or even regress. I hope that China and the UK will keep in mind this lesson from history, respect each other, build a relationship that transcends differences in social system and ideology, and engage in mutually-beneficial cooperation. This is in the best interest of the peoples of both countries and beyond.
My ambassadorial mission may be drawing to a close, but China-UK friendship is a cause that goes on. As a British military song goes, “Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away.” I will continue to follow and support the development of China-UK relations, and I believe that with the care of the people of all walks of life from both countries, this relationship will withstand the test of the cold winter and embrace a warm spring at an early date.
Liu Xiaoming is the Chinese ambassador to the UK. The article was originally published in Daily Telegraph on 25 January 2021.