Chinese Ambassador to UK: Understanding China

15:39, December 17, 2009      

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Speech at the English Speaking Union

Fu Ying
Chinese Ambassador to the UK

10 December 2009


Lord Hunt,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor for me to be invited to speak at the Churchill Lecture. And it is a special honor to have Lady Soames with us in the audience.

Sir Winston Churchill was a man of many great accomplishments. The fact that he was the first Chairman of the ESU, is a clear indication of his commitment to promoting peace and understanding across the world through the use of the English language.

When I was a student in the UK 24 years ago, I bought his autobiography when visiting Chartwell House. Buying books was luxury for me at that time and I valued it and read from cover to cover.

I was deeply struck by Sir Winston's attitude towards learning.

When still a backbencher, he already distinguished himself in the Commons and was seen as a bright young man.

He explained that no one can be bright, without learning and disclosed how he devoted hours and days finding the background of the facts from books in the corridors of Westminster every time before asking the two-minute question.

This inspired me greatly especially, when my classes got harder.

To this day, I still work very hard on every speech or interview I take, including this one and I thank the English Speaking Union for giving me a unique training course in Oxford for speaking and debating skill during my study in UK.

I hope the training worked for me or, if you judge me to be a poor speaker today, at least you know where part of the blame lies.

Today, I have entitled my speech as Understanding China.

According to Global Language Monitor, an American research body following the global media reporting, on its list of the Top News Stories of the Decade, the rise of China came as the first, even well ahead of 9/11 and the war in Iraq.

But I think 2009 will probably be remembered in our history, as China's transition into playing a major role in the world.

Here in London, I could clearly sense China's emergence onto the world stage.

During the G20 London Summit, the close cooperation between China, US, UK and other countries shows that China has come to the centre stage of addressing global issues.

During his recent visit to China, President Obama referred to China's playing a larger role in global events as one of the most important things happened over the last two decades.

He welcomed it and said that US looked forward to being an effective partner with China.

However, many people in the Western world find it difficult to understand China.

On the other hand, there is also wariness on the part of the Chinese people about the Western world's intention on China.

So after all, how can one define China? I'm afraid it defies a simple answer. China is too big, too diverse and too fast changing to be characterized easily. I would say that China is a multi-faceted power.

Let me explain what I mean.

First, China is a country that is rapidly transformed over the past 30 years. China's leapfrogging progress can be seen in the following figures:

In 1996, China's GDP was 1 trillion Yuan, that was about 100 billion Pounds. In 2008, it grew to20 trillion Yuan (2 trillion Pounds). This means that in 13 years' time, the Chinese economy has grown 20 times, turning into the 3rd largest economy in the world.

The national wealth created in one day in 2008 was larger than the total annual output of 1952.

With the newly gained wealth, China has lifted 250 million people out of poverty in the past 30 years.

So when I read the UN hunger report, I do feel proud for what China has achieved, with only 7% of the world's arable land feeding 20% of the world's population.

Throughout China's long history, food was always a big concern for the Chinese people and I remember that until the 1980s, the Chinese people greeted each other by asking "Have you had your meal?"

But for my daughter's generation, if you greet them in this way, they might think you have a problem.

Naturally, China is still learning and adjusting to its new global role, as it lacks historical experience of operating on the global stage and also it is still very much preoccupied by domestic concerns and challenges.

That lead to my second point, China is still a developing country. We in China are more conscious of our weaknesses and the challenges facing our country.

People tend to forget that China's GDP in per capita term is only a little more than 3,000 dollars, ranking us as 104th in the world. We are behind countries like Jamaica and Namibia.

UK's per capita GDP is 13 times higher than China. I wonder if you remember when in history the United Kingdom was at this income level? According to British Economist Angus Maddison: It was as far back as 1913.

China's manufacturing is at a fairly low value added level and most of the made in China products are made with the world as the design and key parts are often imported. We may have to export a container full of shoes and socks to pay for a tiny computer chip.

China also faces the serious challenge of uneven development. Many foreigners come to vibrant Beijing or Shanghai and think they have seen China. But for those who have visited China's far west, will have a different experience and understanding.

China is still in the early stage of industrialization and urbanization, with sixty five percent of its people live in the rural areas. You may be surprised to know that one hundred and thirty five million Chinese people live under less than one dollar a day.

We can't be conceited with what we have achieved. This is why Chinese leaders often say that we need to be aware of the difficulties and risks, even when we are enjoying stability and prosperity.

That is not to say that China should ignore the growing expectations in the world for China to take on global responsibilities.

So my third point is about China learning to undertake new international responsibilities.

As the Chinese President Hu Jintao remarked, China's destiny has never been so closely linked with the destiny of the world.

One of the reasons why the rise of China was such a hot topic is that, many people, especially scholars can't be certain how China is going to exert its influence as a new world power and would China too fall into the track of military expansion of the previous powers.

What I want to say is that China being an economic power is not new to the world. It was the most important economic powerhouse for hundreds of years before the 18th Century. Its manufacturing was at times more than half of the world's total.

However, expansionism was not in China's cultural genes. In Dynasty after dynasty, the Chinese built up the Great Wall to fend off the nomadic tribes.

Coming into the 21 century, China gained economic growth mainly through active trading with the world and by benefiting from a relatively peaceful world environment.

Today we live in a globalised world with an unprecedented degree of interdependences among countries and the convergence of their interests.

That is why China set the tone for its relationship with the world as: peace, development and cooperation.

Secretary Hillary Clinton, when visiting China, captured this spirit of the times with a Chinese idiom "fighting the storm in the same boat".

This accurately depicts the nature of China's relationship with the United States, Europe and all other countries amidst the financial crisis.

In 1992 when I was serving with a UN peace keeping mission, I was always asked are you from Korea or Philippines? Now, among the P5, China is the largest troop contributing country to the UN peace keeping missions worldwide, totaling 14 000.

China has also been a serious contributor to global poverty reduction and development efforts. China-Africa relationship is a good case in point.

Premier Wen Jiabao announced at the recent China-Africa Cooperation Forum a series of assistance to African countries. Apart from offering concessional loans and removing debts, China will also build 50 new schools, train 1,500 headmasters and teachers, and give 5,500 scholarships.

China and UK are also exploring possibilities working together on some of the African projects.

Now, with the Copenhagen Conference heating up, I should also mention China's role in the global fight against climate change.

China believes in the need for cutting emission to counter global warming. We are experiencing more bouts of extreme weather. The fast economic growth has also resulted in serious environmental damages which urgently need to be addressed.

Though a developing country, China started voluntary reduction of its emission intensity and set new targets for 2020 to further reducing its carbon intensity per unit of GDP by 40-45%.

China will also continue to expand forest coverage by 40 million hectares, that is bigger than one and half times the size of UK.

According to the International Energy Agency, if China fulfils its target for 2020, it will have reduced its emissions of CO2 by 1 billion tons. That will be a great achievement.

But when discussing climate change, the issue in not only related to facts and figures, there is also the human dimension.

Imagine when electricity reaches a Chinese village, not only are the farmers able to drill deeper for water, but also their children would be able to watch TV for the first time and see the wonderful outside world.

They of course will dream about a better life and all the things that come with it.

Who are we to tell them that they have no right to the kind of life in Shanghai or London they see on TV?

China's difficult mission is to enable all of our 1.3 billion people to have the opportunity to realize their dreams, but to achieve it in an environmentally responsible way. The only way we will make that leap is through investing in science and technology.

China believes in a balance between rights and obligations. China's emission per person is 4.6 tons, compared with 20 tons in America and 8.7 tons in Britain.

Between 1750 and 2005, developed countries accounted for 80% of the world's CO2 emissions. Even today, with only 20% of the world's population, developed countries pump more than 55% of the total emissions into the atmosphere.

That is why we support the idea that developed countries should take the lead in emission reduction in Copenhagen according to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and that they should increase technology transfer and funding for developing countries. This is ultimately about fairness and equal right to development.

China's relationship with the world is still evolving. Greater knowledge of the outside world and greater knowledge by the outside world of China are essential to greater understanding and cooperation between China and the world.

China is embracing the world with enthusiasm and English learning has become very popular. 20 million more people take up English learning every year. Olympics was a great promoter and even housewives and taxi-drivers were learning English before the games.

Indeed, the language barrier can be a big factor affecting understanding. To give you an example, an important principle in China's diplomacy is "Taoguangyanghui"(stay away from the limelight), which was proposed by Deng Xiaoping in the 1990s.

It was time of great changes in the world and some people wanted to draw China into the debate in the world about the right and wrongs of the cold war and its related issues.

By quoting a historical proverb, Mr. Deng, wanted to say that we should focus on our own economic development and refrain from attempting things beyond us. This is still a guiding principle for us.

For whatever reason, an American scholar translated it for the Pentagon as "biting the teeth and waiting for the time". One doesn't need much imagination to see how this can fuel the China threat theory.

Many misunderstanding of China are to some extent a result of miscommunication.

When President Obama was visiting China, some media completely ignored the warm debate among the Chinese bloggers on the Chinese web and media, about China US relations and about China and the world.

In China, there are 2000 newspapers and 9000 magazines. 230,000 books are published every year. There are 360 million internet users including 180 million bloggers. So there is a very lively public expressing their views sometimes positive and sometimes critical on almost everything.

But very few people outside China follow this fast growing information flow.

Between China and the Western world, China has always read more about the Western World than vise versa. Chinese translation of Western literature and science has grown in strength since the 1920s and is still very strong and are widely read.

It is impossible for Chinese student to enter the university without knowing some British literature and the history of industrialization.

Now with more Chinese reading English, you can find shelves of original English books in the bookstores in Chinese cities.

However this two way traffic is not evenly matched, as you can find very little about China even in the school and university libraries, let alone in the book shops.

As time moves on we are seeing the older generation of language experts fading away. David Hawkes, a Sinologist at Oxford, who translated the ancient Chinese classic The Story of the Stone passed away last summer.

When I visited him at his home last spring, I could not help realizing his loneliness. His great work is little known here.

On the Chinese side, the famous Chinese translator who turn many Chinese classics and poems into English, Mr. Yang Xianyi also passed away recently.

We now urgently need a new generation of Chinese-English translators to continue the work and efforts of great men like them.

China has stretched out its hand to the world. There are now 282 Confucius Institutes and 241 Confucius Classrooms set up in 87 countries, including in the UK. We are glad that the world is taking China's hand.

Here in UK, more and more schools are taking up Chinese language teaching.

There are about 3000 British students studying in China and 80,000 Chinese students in the UK. I hope more bridges will be built by them.

President Obama announced in Shanghai that a hundred thousand American students will come to China in the next four years. Similar measures could also be taken by this country.

Before concluding, I want to say that we appreciate the ESU's years of effort to cultivate the learning of English in China. What you did decades ago is bearing fruit and you can take some credit for China's engagement with the world today.

Now the world needs to know China better. I would like to see ESU playing a growing role in this new era and be an indispensable bridge for the partnership between China and the UK and China and the world.

Thank you.

More speeches from Fu Ying:

Unity is deep in China's blood

Where is the "gentlemenship"?
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