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Foreign Policy Centre

Ideas for a fairer world

Articles and Briefings

Britain and China: A Growing Global Partnership

By Rt Hon Jack Straw MP. Source: FPC event

Let me start by thanking the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Foreign Policy Centre for inviting me to speak at this seminar. This is now the second event which the two organisations have held together, in what is a growing collaboration between them.

My second visit in two years and its an enormous pleasure to be in China again. Our two countries' relationship is going from strength to strength. In saying that, may I express my solidarity with the families of the eight Chinese hostages kidnapped in Iraq, and sympathy for the terrible ordeal these men will be suffering.

British trade with China has doubled over the last five years alone. This growth is faster than that of any other G8 country. Britain is the largest European investor here. Our Ministers, in all fields of government, are regularly in touch. We have regular and valued dialogue on the issue of Hong Kong, in which Britain naturally maintains a close interest; and on human rights.

Culturally our links are also strong. More students from China study in the UK than from any other country, and partnerships between our schools are growing. We have just launched the 'UK-China Partners in Science 2005' campaign, to strengthen our scientific links across the board.

When British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited China in 2003, Britain and China decided to establish Task Forces to strengthen our cooperation even further. Led by British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and by State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan here in China, they have made a great contribution to our relationship. Your Premier and Prime Minister were able to describe it last May, on the Premier's visit to the UK, as a 'comprehensive strategic partnership'. This autumn, the British Prime Minister will visit China as EU President for the EU-China summit, and combine that with intensive bilateral talks to develop our relationship even further.

For my own part I greatly value the regular dialogue which I have, both in person and by telephone, with my Chinese counterpart Minister Li. I am delighted to have been able to continue that here in Beijing today.

The partnership between our two countries is important not just for what it brings both of us; but also for the common work which Britain and China can do together in the world. I want to focus on that theme today. But let me start by setting out why I think it is so important.

Two weeks ago, I visited some of the areas stricken by the catastrophic tsunami on 26 December. No-one who has seen the devastation wrought by that violent explosion of nature could fail to be awed by it.

But that disaster also brought home to me, and to many others, the interdependent nature of today's world. The tsunami claimed the lives of people from every continent – including, tragically, from Britain and from China.

What was striking, however, was not only the destruction which the tsunami caused, terrible though that was. The tsunami united the world in the generosity of millions of people's response to it. I know that the response here in China has been unprecedented, and Chinese government aid was among the first to arrive in the stricken areas.

There is a wider message in the global response to the tragedy of the tsunami. It is that people around the world feel that the inter-dependence of nations, so long talked about by statesmen, is today more than ever a concrete reality.

This reality is also a challenge to which governments must respond. The first part of the challenge is economic – finding the determination not to seek shelter from the global market, but to exploit the opportunities which it offers.

In Britain, we have been determined to meet that challenge. And thanks to our open and flexible approach, and the investment which we are making in skills and in innovation, Britain is now Europe's most successful large economy, and experiencing our longest unbroken period of economic growth on record.

British service industries are world-beating. And so too – though less well-known – is our manufacturing sector. The UK now produces 75% more cars than Italy. We are spending twice as much on science and innovation as seven years ago, so as to ensure that we continue to compete with the very best.

The challenge of responding to global competition is also one which China has embraced. And the results are simply staggering. The world has never before seen growth on the scale which China is producing. It is turning this country into a central player in the global economy, and lifting millions of people out of poverty.

This is the rise of China which many had predicted. But as it is happening, I think one fundamental thing has changed.

Where some years ago the world may have worried about the rise of China, now it welcomes this as truly an opportunity for us all.

The world welcomes China's success not just because of its economic contribution. The second challenge posed by globalisation is one for our foreign policy – the need to act globally to promote safety and prosperity at home and in the world. As China's prosperity has grown, so too has its stake in global security and global prosperity.

China's partners warmly embraces this country's growing international role. As chairman of the six-party talks, China is steering international efforts to deal with North Korea's nuclear programme. It is a crucial partner in the fight against proliferation more widely, and in international efforts to combat terrorism. China's contribution to UN peacekeeping missions is growing, and I greatly welcome President Hu's recent commitment to increase that contribution further.

Meanwhile China is embracing more fully globally-accepted rules and standards. I particularly applaud China's ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. I look forward to China's ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which China signed in 1998 and which I discussed with Foreign Minister Li today.

China's engagement in the world is strengthening as well the partnership between our two nations.

The UK is working with China in encouraging progress towards a solution in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians; helping to tackle other global conflicts through the United Nations; and pursuing the continuing international engagement with Iran, to ensure that its nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes. We are cooperating on practical initiatives too, such as Britain's recent help with training Chinese civilian police officers deployed as part of the UN peacekeeping operation in Haiti. In Afghanistan we have co-operated to provide help with irrigation, and to face the threat from the drugs trade.

But there is more which we can and should do together, to strengthen further our growing global partnership.

I would like today to suggest three areas on which we should focus that effort. They are in pursuing reform of the United Nations; working for a better future for Africa; and tackling climate change.

Let me take those three areas in turn.

As permanent members of the UN Security Council, both Britain and China base our foreign policy on the maintenance of a strong and effective international system. But we both know too that the United Nations, designed 60 years ago, needs reform to meet the challenges of the new century. Many of those challenge are very different to those faced by those who drafted the Charter in 1945 – from terrorism to AIDS, from the environment to weapons-proliferation.

We both recognise that reform certainly does not mean tearing up the UN Charter and starting again: neither we nor any other nation favours such an approach. But we can use the United Nations' capacity to evolve and to adapt as it has in the past, building on what I call the developing jurisprudence and practice of the organisation.

Our two countries were ably represented by Qian Qichen and David Hannay on Kofi Annan's High Level Panel on United Nations reform. The Panel has produced an excellent set of recommendations for the way forward. It is now for the members of the United Nations to discuss them – and our two nations are already doing so.

The Panel has also put forward recommendations for reforming the Security Council, so that it better represents today's world. We have a clear position on this; we favour option A but we also believe that if agreement on change is not possible, Security Council enlargement - just one issue of many- should not hold up progress on other vital reforms. It is only one part of a much wider process of change and evolution.

The Millennium Review Summit in September should set the direction for the way ahead on United Nations reform. In the preparation for that summit, I hope that Britain and China can continue and indeed enhance our productive dialogue on this issue of such importance to us both.

Let me now turn to the second issue on which I suggest we can deepen our co-operation: namely Africa.

I have mentioned the enormous need for international help over the coming year to rebuild the lives and the livelihoods of those stricken by the tsunami in Asia. But meanwhile the enormous problems faced by Africa have become no less acute. So we must resolve to rebuild on this continent not at the expense of our work on Africa, but in addition to it.

Britain has made Africa a priority of our work as Presidency of the G8 in the coming year. And I should like China and Britain to work together on this as close partners.

Both our countries already have strong links with the continent. Your own Foreign Minister, my colleague Li is of course an expert on Africa, having visited most of its countries - and speaking Swahili. We share our experiences of work on poverty reduction, and have opened a dialogue on our co-operation in Africa. We are exploring the possibilities for development co-operation on the ground in Ghana and Tanzania.

Last year Prime Minister Tony Blair launched the Commission for Africa to generate action for a strong and prosperous Africa. I am delighted that China was able to nominate a Commissioner, and even more delighted that China's Commissioner, Ji Peiding, is making such an active and very constructive contribution to the work of the Commission. The Commission will this March be proposing recommendations on how the international community can work in partnership with African leaders and people in the cause of development. Its report should give us a real chance to put Africa right back at the top of the international agenda.

Africa will require an even greater investment of aid than it receives today if it is to meet its goals for development. But it is also crucial that we set the conditions which allow the people of Africa to build a better future for themselves.

That means tackling poor governance, corruption, and weak institutions; dealing with AIDS. And it means breaking down international barriers to trade, giving developing economies fairer access to world markets. Success in the Doha Development Round could deliver benefits equivalent to three times what developing countries get in aid.

Alongside its own position China now presides the G20 group of developing nations. And the United Kingdom Britain has assumed the Presidency of the G8 and will, from July, take on that of the European Union. That makes us both crucial players in the success of the world trade negotiations.

And your own example here in China is a powerful example of what economic reform and WTO membership can achieve. Others can learn from the energy and enthusiasm for growth and development which China has unleashed from its people.

So we must work on better governance, financing, on tackling disease, and on liberalising world trade. But to make a real impact in Africa we must also help to resolve the terrible conflicts which, quite apart from their human toll, are a brake on the whole continent's ambitions for the future.

In this regard, we must do more to see peace in Sudan.

The Naivasha Accords, now endorsed by the UN Security Council, are a good and welcome basis for building peace in the conflict between North and South. But in the West of Sudan, in Darfur, the situation for millions is still one of urgent crisis. With every day that passes, the human toll only gets worse – and the need for international action only more acute. Already 70,000 people have died, and 2 million have been forced to flee.

UN Resolution 1574 represented a powerful consensus in the international community that the Sudanese Government and the rebels must fulfil their obligations and end the conflict in Darfur. We will only see progress if we can maintain and indeed increase that pressure. And whatever our differences of view on specific questions, the interests of the whole international community coincide in our desire to see the growth of stability and peace in Sudan. We now need to do more to help deliver that.

The third issue which I want to highlight today, and also a priority of Britain's G8 presidency this year, is tackling the threat from climate change.

I want to deal first with two misconceptions.

The first is that climate change is a threat which matters mainly to environmentalists. In fact it matters to everyone – to farmers facing drought and changing conditions, householders and businesses worried about extreme weather and the threat of flooding, doctors concerned about the spread of disease.

And more widely, climate change is a potential source of conflict over scarce natural resources, and of the displacement of millions of people from their land, with all the instability which that would provoke. I went to Darfur in August last year, the encroachment of the desert, and the reduction of land for both nomadic and pastoral peoples has exacerbated tensions there. Climate change is an economic threat too: Swiss Re, the world's second-largest reinsurer, has estimated the insurance costs at an extra $265 billion per year by 2010.

So for all these reasons, this is a threat which we must tackle. But the second misconception about climate change is that there is a necessary trade-off between limiting global warming on the one hand, and promoting economic growth on the other.

In fact, as those figures from Swiss Re demonstrate, inaction on climate change will have an enormous cost of its own. As we work to reduce our emissions there are opportunities for greater efficiency, and for innovation in low-carbon technologies and renewable energy sources, which business in both our countries can exploit.

And, as we mitigate the effects of climate change, we also have to work to ensure access to the secure and affordable energy supplies which our economies need, both from traditional and from more innovative sources. There are especially exciting opportunities for that here in China. About three-quarters of the energy capacity which China will need by 2010 has yet to be built. So if I may say so, China has a great opportunity to lead the way in building clean-energy technology, with all the environmental and economic benefits which that offers.

I'm delighted that Chinese Ministers will be represented at the joint conference of energy and environment ministers which the UK will be hosting in March. We held a valuable Round Table on climate change here in Beijing last October; we have established a High-Level Dialogue on sustainable development; and we are co-operating on a number of practical projects such as promoting more energy-efficient homes, sharing expertise on flood defence, or sustainable energy planning. All of these initiatives show how much we can achieve together – and I want us to strengthen that work further.

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am confident that the year ahead will be marked by a growing and strengthen global partnership between Britain and China.

Britain and China have a shared commitment to meeting the challenges posed by globalisation – and to exploiting its opportunities. Of course we won't always agree. But there is an enormous amount of work for us to do together.

I'm delighted to be able to contribute to that during my visit here this week and in the years ahead. And let me thank all of you for the part which you play in strengthening the partnership between Britain and China, as we work together on the pressing challenges of today's world.