The UK-China Inaugural Summer Conference

On Monday 24 June 2024 the IoD China Group, chaired by Steven Lynch MBE, hosted a highly insightful UK-China Inaugural Summer Conference, focusing on strategic engagement and policy discussions, with over 250 attendees.

On Monday 24 June 2024, the IoD China Group (chaired by Steven Lynch MBE) co-organised a Pre-Election UK- China event “The UK-China Inaugural Summer Conference” with over 250 people attending (standing room only) to debate, listen and discuss what the UK’s current relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is and what it should be.

It was an incredibly insightful discussion emphasising the importance for engagement, nuance and strategic thinking on China. For the audience, they came across as knowledgeable and committed to navigating a way forward.

The debate centred around the current policy of ‘protect, align and engage’ where it was felt that there was too much emphasis on ‘protect’ and far less on ‘engage’. The perception was that the attitude towards China was filled with too much ‘noise’ and not enough constructive dialogue.

Turning to Labour’s policy of ‘compete, challenge and cooperate’, there was a belief that there was now an opportunity for a more balanced and less politicised tone on China, which in turn would support a more open environment for navigating the complexities of UK-China relationship. A new UK government should facilitate these conversations, focusing on both the positive and negative aspects of the relationship.

In response to a question, a Labour Party shadow representative acknowledged the need to make secure trade links.

It was highlighted that various surveys amongst the resident UK business communities in China (including the recent Britcham survey) had an encouraging outlook for commerce, however it was noted that it would have been more helpful to have had more encouragement and support from the current government. That being said, the recent global AI initiative (Bletchley Declaration) hosted in the UK in November 2023 was recognised as a smart move.

Practically, there were a number of ideas the audience believed should be actioned from Friday 5 July, which included:

  • The Prime Minister should not waste any time in arranging a meeting/call with President Xi.
  • There should be a swift decision on EV tariffs to illustrate an ability to be decisive
  • As part of the outcome from the China audit, there should be a defined China strategy
  • The UK should actively encourage British students to study and travel to China as awareness amongst the younger generation could help re-balance some of the older generation’s long held prejudices of what modern China looks like.

The tone of the discussion was swinging from frustration to concern, to determined resilience, to pragmatism and realism and finally to long term optimism.

In summary, one had to be in the room last Wednesday to hear the voices loud and clear as the challenge for all of us is to instil into next week’s new government a real commitment to cooperate AND compete, whilst recognising the need for economic engagement alongside upholding UK’s values.

Note: The above comments reflect the conference discussions (including the panellists James Crabtree, Julian Fisher, Sam Hogg, Te Le, Trey McArver, St. John Moore, Henry Sanderson, Rachel Tsang, Simon Wright & Cindy Yu)  held on 24th June together with the event summaries provided by IoD China and my own reflections.

Current Trade: The current overall trade with China (including HK) for 2023 totalled £115.7 billion representing approximately 6.4% of UK’s GDP and is UK’s 4th largest trading partner {DBT Factsheet}. Within the UK, there are 32,214 registered Chinese entities of which the top 970 contributed £115.2 billion to the UK economy and created 59,293 jobs. [CCCUK 2023 report and Grant Thornton 2023 Tou Ying Tracker]

John N M McLean OBE
Chair IoD City of London 

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