British chamber in China calls for 'greater engagement' amid rising tension
Published: Dec 13, 2022 08:18 PM Updated: Dec 13, 2022 08:11 PM
China UK Photo:VCG

China UK Photo:VCG

Despite short-term challenges, UK businesses are committed to the Chinese market, which maintains massive potential, said the new managing director of the British Chamber of Commerce in China in an interview with the Global Times on Tuesday, calling for "greater engagement" between the two countries.

"A lot of our companies point to China and to its massive market potential, and that's been the case in the past few years and the whole time. Businesses are operating and investing here because of China's great potential," said Rachel Tsang, who has been appointed managing director of the British Chamber effective January 2023.

UK companies in China have reported that dialogue at the government-to-government level can help foster a better cooperative environment with better market access and a greater demand for services, Tsang said, stressing that more engagement at various levels is needed.

The relationship between China and the UK has encountered headwinds in recent years, as some UK politicians hype the "China threat" theory and push for hostile moves against China, which have cast a shadow over normal economic and trade exchanges between the two major economies.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently said in his first foreign policy speech that the "golden era" of relations with China is over, and the closer economic ties between the two countries over the previous decade had been "naïve," the BBC reported, noting that Sunak has faced pressure from Tory backbenchers to toughen the UK's stance on China.

Despite his tough remarks, Sunak also warned against "Cold War rhetoric" and said that "we cannot simply ignore China's significance in world affairs - to global economic stability or issues like climate change."

Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry, said at a press conference on November 30 that China is a development partner and an opportunity for other countries, not a threat or challenge. The UK side needs to discard the Cold War mentality, stop disseminating the so-called "China threat," and view China and its relations with China in an objective and rational light.

Tsang said that "when Sunak was chancellor, we saw his pragmatism in his approach to China, and he puts a very strong emphasis on bilateral trade" with China and it is hoped that the pragmatism of his strong stance on trade could continue.

China is the UK's fourth-largest trading partner, and that is something that cannot be understated, she noted.

According to China's General Administration of Customs, bilateral trade totaled $112.7 billion in 2021, up 21.9 percent year-on-year.

As for voices in Europe that are calling for "decoupling" from China, Tsang said that the "data speaks for itself" and over half of the companies will keep investing in China.

Citing the British Chamber's latest survey, she said that UK companies in China have been feeling pessimistic, particularly in the past year, due to the COVID-19 prevention situation and there are many immediate concerns. But over the longer term, collaboration opportunities do exist and, in fact, companies from both sides have been seeing closer collaboration in such areas as green energy.

Green energy is a big area where the two countries can collaborate, as there is a lot of UK expertise on hydrogen and renewables, and technological innovation in China is one of the biggest opportunities for businesses here, Tsang said.

Global Times