‘Icebreakers’ key to Sino-UK business ties

Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping had two telephone conversations with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and charted the course for further advancing Sino-British relations. In February 2021, Premier Li Keqiang delivered a speech, via video link, at a New Year banquet held by the UK’s 48 Group Club, encouraging Chinese and British peoples to strengthen the “icebreaker” spirit.

And on July 6, Premier Li and British business representatives held a successful dialogue, through video link, which greatly encouraged and supported Chinese and British business communities to advance practical cooperation, reflecting his eagerness to champion Sino-British friendship.

With long histories and splendid cultures, China and the UK are important representatives of Eastern and Western civilisations. Exchanges between the peoples of the two countries go back a long time in history. At the beginning of the 1950s, when Western countries imposed embargo on trade with China, visionary British businessmen led by Jack Perry overcame many obstacles to make an ice-breaking trip to China, with the support of the older generation of revolutionaries, including then Premier Zhou Enlai. They not only “broke the ice” to trade with New China, but also left us with a rich heritage of China-UK friendship and exchanges.

The “ice-breaking” spirit has been carried forward from generation to generation for more than half a century. A new generation of “icebreakers” represented by the 48 Group Club and China-Britain Business Council is committed to working-with enthusiasm and passion-to strengthen China-UK friendship and cooperation in all areas.

In this process, the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade has maintained close cooperation with the CBBC and the 48 Group Club, making greater efforts to strengthen unity and overcome the difficulties and obstacles to help each other, assisting Chinese and British enterprises to stabilise development, leading business communities to shoulder more responsibilities, and organising a series of events of great significance.

Recommended by the CCPIT, Stephen Perry, chairman of the 48 Group Club and son of Jack Perry, was awarded the China Reform and Friendship Medal in 2018. In 2019, Hu Chunhua, vice-premier of the State Council, China’s Cabinet, met with the CBBC delegation and, in response to Stephen Perry’s correspondence in 2020, encouraged the British business community to make greater contributions to China-UK business exchanges.

Chinese and British business communities have contributed to and benefited from China-UK business cooperation and witnessed the rapid growth of China-UK business relations. For more than a decade, China-UK trade in goods has doubled, and British exports to China have increased by about 20 times. China has become the third-largest export market for British goods while China’s investment in the UK has increased by about 20 times. Also, the UK has become the second-largest destination for Chinese investment in Europe, with the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant being China’s single-largest investment in Europe, and a flagship project of China-UK cooperation.

Besides, financial cooperation between China and the UK has created many “firsts”: the UK is the first country to issue renminbi sovereign bonds and the first to apply to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Shanghai London Stock Connect for the first time connected the Chinese capital market with a foreign one, enabling many Chinese companies to be listed in London.

China-UK cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative is still gathering momentum as the two countries have signed agreements on third-party market cooperation committed to high-quality development of the initiative.

Moreover, China-UK bilateral trade grew against all odds in 2020, a year marked by the combined forces of changes and a pandemic, both unseen in a century. In the first quarter of 2021, China became the largest goods trading partner of the UK, and the largest source of imports for the UK for four consecutive quarters, reflecting the resilience and potential of China-UK business relations.

Both China and the UK are undergoing a profound transformation. China is in a critical period of achieving national rejuvenation. This year marks the first year of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) and China has embarked on a new journey of building a great modern socialist country in all respects. It is also fostering a new development paradigm at a faster pace, with the focus on institutional opening-up that covers rules, regulations, management and standards.

China will continue efforts to foster a business environment that is based on market principles, governed by law and is up to international standards, so as to motivate all types of market players. At the same time, the UK has entered a new stage of delivering “Global Britain” and expanding global partnerships.

Our two countries also face the global challenges of Covid-19 and climate change. History shows that closer exchanges and cooperation between China and the UK, both permanent members of the UN Security Council and countries with global influence, conform to the trend of the times, serve the interests of both sides, and contribute to world peace, stability and prosperity. Under the new circumstances, China-UK cooperation has great potential and the two economies have strong complementarity in areas such as climate change, finance and modern services, as well as third-party cooperation with Africa, in which Chinese and British business communities will find development opportunities.

Connecting the Chinese government and businesses, the domestic and foreign market players, and supply and demand, the CCPIT is not only a critical bridge for business exchanges and cooperation between Chinese and foreign business communities, but also an engine for efficient and smooth domestic circulation and domestic and international circulations that reinforce each other. The CCPIT will continue to work with the CBBC and the 48 Group Club to carry forward the “ice-breaking” spirit while keeping the original aspiration of promoting friendship and development.

We will build on the momentum and adapt to changes in the following areas: we will nurture the “ice-breaking” spirit among future generations and give full play to our respective strengths in different channels and resources. Stronger and more practical measures will be taken to enrich and improve the cooperation mechanism by implementing the exchange programmes of “China Link and Virtual Visit” launched by the CBBC. We will support a new generation of “young icebreakers” for diversified exchanges and activities, sharing good stories of win-win cooperation and friendly exchanges between the two countries, so as to lay a solid foundation for exchange, cooperation and friendship, contribute to the healthy development of China-UK relations, and build up momentum for friendship between the two peoples.

We will uphold mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation, and support extensive business collaboration of the two countries in trade and investment, financial services, medical treatment and healthcare, and third-party market, so that Chinese and British companies can enjoy more substantial benefits and gather added momentum to boost China-UK practical cooperation and stabilise bilateral relations.

We will constantly strengthen the “ice-breaking” spirit. And we are committed to breaking the “ice” of unilateralism and protectionism while upholding multilateralism and free trade in support of the rules-based, non-discriminatory, open, inclusive and transparent multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation as its core. In this way, the Chinese and British business communities will contribute their wisdom and strength to global economic recovery and growth and an open world economy, and help build a community with a shared future for mankind.


Gao Yan is chairperson of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade. The views expressed are his own.

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