Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

A Changing China in a Changing World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd September, 2009

Fu YingAmbassador Fu Ying became the first Communist Chinese head of mission to address Liberal Democrats at their autumn conference in Bournemouth this lunchtime, at a crowded fringe meeting on ‘A Changing China in a Changing World’, alongside LibDem Lords Tom McNally and Tim Clement-Jones, foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey MP  and Professor Hugo de Burgh, Director of the Chinese Media Centre at the University of Westminster. Ambassador Fu is both rather glamorous (more silver-haired than in her official photograph) and very impressive; the days of baggy Mao suits among Chinese diplomats have long gone. Having studied in England and served as Ambassador to Australia, she is used to dealing robustly with critical questioning, of which, as one might expect, there was quite a lot at this meeting. Among issues of concern raised by party members were China’s continued use of the death penalty for a very wide range of offences and the continued imprisonment of Tiananmen protestors from 20 years ago.

Tianmen SquareOn 1 October, the People’s Republic will be celebrating its 60th anniversary. Interestingly, the Ambassador said that this has prompted many older Chinese to look back nostalgically at the advances made. It is easy to forget just how underdeveloped and strife-ridden the country was in 1949. Unquestionably, China has made huge strides, as well as some mistakes (the biggest of all being the Cultural Revolution). As New China enters its seventh decade, it is playing a role on the international stage more in keeping with its size and power. The 19th century was in some ways a British century, the 20th even more so an American one. History will judge whether the 21st turns out to be China’s.

Ambassador Fu ended the fringe meeting with a pertinent comment which reflected what I have been told recently by several of my Chinese students at SOAS, namely that while there are aspects of China which sometimes give it a negative image in the West, similarly aspects of countries like Britain sometimes generate a negative image in China too. So any work on image improvement needs to be a two-way process.

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