New Chinese envoy to UK seen to inject new momentum, stabilize ties
Published: Jun 08, 2021 10:08 PM
Zheng Zeguang Photo: Chinese Embassy in the UK

Zheng Zeguang Photo: Chinese Embassy in the UK

The new Chinese ambassador to the UK, who is also a veteran Chinese diplomat, is hoped to inject new momentum into stabilizing China-UK relations that have faced growing difficulties in recent two years, as both sides are expected to be more rational about problems in ties after the Chinese diplomat takes more field studies in the UK, Chinese observers said. 

Zheng Zeguang, a former vice minister of Chinese Foreign Ministry, arrived in London and made his first public appearance, according to the official website of the Chinese Embassy to the UK on Monday.

His appointment came at a time when relations between China and the UK have been in a downward spiral as London has closely followed Washington's lead in a crusade against China and made a series of provocative moves ranging from banning Chinese telecom firm Huawei from its 5G network to pointing fingers at China's internal affairs regarding Hong Kong and Xinjiang.  

Anticipation runs high for the new ambassador to handle and ease contradictions and problems existing in bilateral ties.  

In his first message to British citizens and Chinese living in the UK titled "Keeping to the right direction and promoting mutually beneficial cooperation," Zheng said, "I look forward to working with the British government and friends in all sectors to increase engagement and communication, enhance mutual understanding and promote mutually beneficial cooperation between our two peoples."

The appointment of  Zheng, who is a veteran diplomat, as the new ambassador after Liu Xiaoming, the longest-serving Chinese ambassador to the UK and of all Chinese ambassadors of all time who made tremendous contributions to improving China-UK relations and helped push bilateral ties to their highest point, showed that the Chinese government attaches great importance to China-UK relations, Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times.

"We expect Zheng to help stabilize and stop the slide in bilateral ties as it is the right moment when the UK is on a path of reshaping its own diplomacy after Brexit," Cui said.  

China understands the dual character of British diplomacy as the country just withdrew from the EU and it is normal to have ups and downs for China-UK relations, but it should not plummet or lose control, the expert said, noting that "we expect Zheng to help UK in shaping its diplomacy."

On ties between China and the UK on Monday, Zheng emphasized that "as long as the principles of mutual respect, equality, inclusiveness and mutual learning are observed, China-UK relations will keep moving forward and make further progress."

The US has been playing a subtle role in China-UK relations as there are US factors behind UK diplomacy, and amid the China-US rivalry, the UK has taken a much tough stance on China-related issues in recent years, Zhao Junjie, a research fellow at the Institute of European Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times, noting the new ambassador's rich experience in engaging with the US will help him handle the relationship with the UK. 

Zheng worked in the Chinese Embassy in the US from 1994 to 1997 and from 2005 to 2008, according to a resume published by the ministry. 

The veteran diplomat has participated in high-level economic and trade consultations between China and the US. He was part of the 12th round of China-US High-Level Economic and Trade Consultations in Shanghai in July 2019 and visited Washington along with Vice Premier Liu He for trade talks in October 2019 as vice minister of Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Chinese experts said Zheng, regarded as a senior official who knows the US well, could provide a sharp vision in handling foreign relations, especially on issues relevant to the US. 

With a deep understanding of China's principles and great international vision especially on Western diplomacy, Zheng could always express his position in a reasonable and convincing way, Zhao said.   

"The top priority is to increase political mutual trust between China and the UK. We expect Zheng to bring some new ideas to the relationship. By carrying out field research, he could come up with rational thinking on bilateral ties," Zhao said. 

The Chinese ambassador also highlighted students as one of strengths of bilateral exchanges and cooperation on Monday. "Thirty-five years ago, I was a student in the UK on a government program. Back then, there were only several hundred Chinese students here. Today, this has exceeded 200,000," Zheng said. 

He could also play a positive role in resuming direct flights post-pandemic to facilitate Chinese students, further enhancing mutual investment confidence and exploring deeper cooperation in finance, technology and trade, Chinese experts said. 

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