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Durham University

Durham University News

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Britain should follow French and German ways of engaging with China, says leading expert

(9 November 2010)

Dr Marcus Power, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Dr Marcus Power, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

France and Germany have left Britain behind in terms of trade and influence in China, and Britain needs a new way of dealing with the Chinese leadership, according to a Durham University expert.

Britain faces significant problems of perception in China including mistrust of Britain's colonial past and its openly critical stance on Chinese political affairs.

Prime Minister David Cameron's first visit (Tuesday 9 and Wednesday 10 November) to China since his election in May follows an official invitation by Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao.

Business Secretary, Vince Cable, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, and 50 British business leaders are also taking part in Britain's largest trade trip to the country.

According to Dr Marcus Power, an expert in Chinese affairs in the Department of Geography, Durham University, Britain needs to take significant steps to improve relations.

He said: "The coalition government needs a new mindset if it is to succeed in its dealings with China. There is a delicate balance to be struck between boosting trade relations and having a bearing on China's domestic reform agenda and foreign policy.

"France and Germany have been more proactive and focussed, are perceived as being less critical and have become increasingly successful in their trade deals with China.

"The coalition government has a chance to adopt a new stance but to do so it will have to engage the Chinese without doing and saying things that alienate them."

The main stumbling blocks facing Britain according to Marcus Power:

• Britain has to change its dialogue and the way that it deals with China in order to boost trade and increase its influence on foreign policy

• The coalition government needs to be conscious of Labour's experience of working in partnership with China and engaging on complex issues like human rights, climate change and international development

• China is keen to distance itself from accusations about imperialism in its dealings with new partners in Africa. It is keen to avoid being seen as working too closely with countries like Britain that are perceived to still have lots of ‘colonial baggage' in their relations with the continent

• Britain has fallen behind France and Germany in trade with China in recent months because of the transition between British government administrations

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