By John Edwards, Consul General of the British Consulate General Shanghai, Shanghai Daily, 1st November 2016
What do you get if you add up seven regional leaders, 40 prominent business people and the heads of eight of the UK’s leading universities? A great opportunity to make a big splash in the most dynamic part of China.
This week, I hope you’ll see the hashtag BritaininEastChina appearing on your feed. It’s how we are bringing together a series of high profile events that exemplify the strong and growing social, cultural and commercial collaboration between the UK, Shanghai and the eastern Chinese provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui.
At the heart of the week will be the largest ever English regional mission — more than 70 government and business leaders — to east China. This is part of a strategy by both the UK and Chinese governments to foster stronger regional links. We believe this is the way to translate the “Golden Era,” announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his state visit last year, into results on the ground. And Shanghai has been chosen for the Regional Leaders Summit led by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.
The region we chose on the UK side was the Midlands. Historically it is known around the world as the stomping ground of Robin Hood, the birthplace of Shakespeare and the cradle of the Industrial Revolution.
More recently football fans will know it as the home of unlikely Premier League champions, Leicester City, and a number of football clubs which have seen massive Chinese investment over the past year — Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
What we’ll want to show is that it’s also one of the fastest growing regional economies in the UK. It’s known as the “Midlands Engine” for good reason.
It’s the advanced manufacturing heart of England and the base for world famous companies like Rolls Royce and Jaguar Land Rover (not to mention some big east China names like Geely). Today it’s got an economy of around a trillion yuan (US$148 billion) a year, making it a natural partner for east China.
But there is much more going on too. The China Britain Business Council will be holding its annual China Outbound Conference, matching Chinese investors with the best project and technology opportunities in the UK. The British Chamber of Commerce Shanghai will be holding its biennial British Business Awards, celebrating enterprise, excellence and innovation in British and Chinese business. And the Russell Group — 24 of the UK and the world’s leading universities — will sign a joint statement with some of China’s best universities to deepen collaboration in research and innovation.
And that’s just this week.
Later this month we have both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in town. And at the start of December, Shanghai will host the first ever UK-China high-level dialogue held outside of a capital city — the annual People to People dialogue.
Then I’m going to go on holiday before it starts all over again next year.
The UK’s engagement with China is growing deeper and wider every year. It’s a lot of work. But it’s also a huge privilege to be part of that story.