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Postcard from China: Reflections from Sarah Yong

December 15, 2013 7:34 PM
By Sarah Yong, Somerset Campaigner and incoming Vice-Chair of CLDs in LibDem Voice

Sarah Yong at Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, GuangzhouAfter returning from my first ever trip to China, I felt a 'postcard' was in order to summarise this wonderful experience. It was a huge honour to be asked to represent our Party along with fellow Chinese Lib Dems Merlene Emerson, Alex Payton and Steven Cheung on this visit by official invitation of the Chinese Government in the Guandong province in Southern China. The trip was organised by the British Chinese Project, a not for profit organisation that works to increase awareness and greater engagement in politics by the British Chinese population. Our sixteen strong delegation included representatives from all three main parties and staff from the British Chinese Project.

As the first province in China to 'open up' Guangdong is of strategic importance economically to China. Being on the coast and bordering Hong Kong has allowed trade, investment and growth to boom at an impressive rate over the last few years. The purpose of our visit was to find out more about the Government and economy in this part of China and learn how Guangdong and the UK can better work together for mutual benefit. Our busy week comprised of meetings with Government which included a very important meeting with members of the Guangdong Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), best described as the political advisory body which forms part of the Government. We also met Government advisors, economic experts and visited successful businesses.

Industries are very much on the move in Guangdong and businesses and the Government are very keen not to be recognised just for their manufacturing power which has traditionally been the case. It was important for our hosts to ensure we were shown through business visits that Guangdong is on the cutting edge of development in the technology and increasingly knowledge industries. What was particularly interesting from our discussions was that Guangdong is keen to promote itself in its own right as a key place for Britain to do trade and business with. Indeed as a Westcountry girl I was pleased that one of the things discussed was the twinning of the province capital Guangzhou with Bristol and how the two cities could tie up in the future for trade and investment.

BC Project delegation in Guangzhou 2013

One of the reasons the Guangdong Overseas Office was particularly keen to have our delegation visit is because Government and Business see the overseas Chinese as extremely important in achieving some of their key aims, namely projecting Chinese culture abroad, bringing back skills to the country and perhaps most importantly providing the local knowledge abroad for Chinese investment and business ventures. Increasing representation of Chinese in Government in Britain is very important to the BC Project and all the delegates from the three main parties. From our discussions it was very clear that this is something equally important to business and Government in China. Indeed I was overwhelmed at the well-wishing we got from every meeting for future UK elections.

I have returned feeling there is lots to be positive about in China, something I wasn't sure I would feel at all. One thing that was clearly projected from our hosts in many of our meetings was that the Chinese way of Government works best for them, their history and their situation. It seems to me China does not care whether it is perceived as 'good' or bad', but it does care it is seen as strong and as a nation that should be respected. As a social media lover, the simple inability to be able to get onto my Twitter and Facebook account for the whole week brought home the reality of state control the people still have to endure. Free speech as we know it is certainly, by our standards still a very long way off. However, China is undoubtedly changing because the state is increasingly opening up more and more to the rest of the world. Reform of the enterprise approval system is happening, meaning companies wishing to do business abroad can be sanctioned to do this much quicker; they are certainly chomping at the bit to do this. As China increasingly goes global, coupled with a very switched on youth, many of whom are able to hack through the Government blocks on social media and banned websites, I believe the Government will be able to control free speech less and less.

China is a nation on the move and the next decade will be fascinating. At present it looks unstoppable economically. For the West, fostering good relations has never been more significant politically, economically, socially and culturally for peace and prosperity. For Britain there is a huge opportunity for Chinese investment here and increasing understanding of China will boost this more and more. The overseas Chinese in Britain as the third largest ethnic group and have a key role to play. It has certainly therefore never been more important to have increased Chinese representation in all levels of Government; this will be a real positive for the Chinese in Britain and for British - Chinese relations and prosperity as a whole.