China Time Zone UTC+08:00
Capital City Beijing
National Day October 1
China’s new Ambassador to the UK, His Excellency Mr Liu Xiaoming, arrived in London at the end of February with his wife, Mrs Hu Pinghua. Since then, Ambassador Liu has been ‘impressed’ by the interest displayed by ordinary British people in China. This ‘very solid foundation in terms of people-to-people relationships’, he says, gives him ‘confidence, as Ambassador, to work for better relations’ between the two countries.
Mr Liu grew up in northern China, and after graduating from Dalian University of Foreign Languages he joined the Foreign Service in 1974. He has since ‘devoted his career to diplomacy.’ A Masters degree in international relations, undertaken in 1982-83 at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Massachusetts, may have been ‘very helpful and valuable’ to his diplomatic career, but in truth the Ambassador never stopped studying: ‘I regard my career itself as a school,’ he says. ‘I have learnt so much from my six foreign postings.’
After numerous assignments in Zambia, the US and the Ministry back home, Mr. Liu was appointed Ambassador to Egypt (2001-2003), where he learnt the importance ‘of fostering dialogue between two ancient, but different, civilisations.’ Then, Mr. Liu served as Vice Minister at the Central Foreign Affairs Office of China (2005-06) before he took up his second ambassadorship in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (2006-09), which he describes as ‘challenging’, while acknowledging the experience he gained there: ‘I think it will be very helpful in terms of engaging my British colleagues in advancing our common goals of peace and stability.’
Mr Liu uses the acronym IDEA to summarise his mission in the UK. ‘I’ is for ‘interest’ – although China and the UK already share many bilateral and international interests, he believes that these need to be expanded, ‘to tap the full potential of economic, cultural and educational cooperation’. ‘D’ is for ‘dialogue’ – quoting Winston Churchill’s saying, ‘To jaw, jaw is always better than to war, war’, the Ambassador stresses that ‘dialogue is always better than confrontation’. ‘E’ is for ‘exploration’ – Mr Liu wants China and the UK to identify and explore new areas of co-operation, such as green energy. Finally, ‘A’ is for ‘accommodation’ – ‘Differences in political systems, cultural heritage and history mean it’s only natural for China and the UK not to see eye-to-eye on every issue,’ he notes. ‘We need to accommodate each other and address concerns with respect.’
A museum enthusiast and history buff, Mr Liu recounts his visit to the Albert Memorial in Kensington, where he noticed something held in the hand of the Prince’s statue – a catalogue for the first World Expo, which in 1851 drew representatives from 25 countries and more than six million people to the Crystal Palace. He is excitable on the topic of Expo 2010 Shanghai, viewing it as ‘an opportunity to expand China’s economic, trade, cultural relations with the rest of the world.’ Furthermore, this six-month-long festival, set to attract some 70 million visitors, will allow China, and Shanghai in particular to showcase itself to the world.
On a more serious note, he acknowledges that fostering a ‘peaceful and stable international environment’ represents China’s greatest diplomatic challenge. ‘Peace, development and cooperation have long been the three aims of China’s diplomacy,’ he says, ‘and will remain so for a long time to come.’ It will be fascinating to watch Ambassador Liu pursue these objectives in London while his country grows ever more prominent on the world stage.