“The more you know about China, the more you will like it” was the message China’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Zheng Zeguang, said he wanted to send to young Britons during the “Dialogue with the Ambassador” event in London on Wednesday.
The gathering, a fundraising reception, attracted around 100 guests from the British and UK Chinese communities, mostly from the education and business sectors.
Its organizer, Engage with China, an independent educational charity, has been promoting literacy in China within British schools since 2018.
During the session, which was conducted by Theresa Booth, co-director of the charity, Zheng answered questions that included queries about education and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and received warm applause from those attending.
He said three things impressed him the most in his interactions with British friends during the past two years.
“Number one is the British people are very keen on learning more about China … Wherever I go, I talk to the students. They’re all curious about Chinese history, philosophy, and culture,” he said, adding that 130,000 British students are currently learning the Chinese language.
Noting the recent resumption of people-to-people exchanges following the lifting of most novel coronavirus pandemic restrictions, Zheng said: “The second thing is the vast potential for cooperation … from trade and investment, to education and cultural exchanges, we can work together to generate real benefits for people of our two countries.
“And thirdly, more efforts are needed for the healthy development of China-UK relations … The key is to follow the principles of mutual respect, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality, and mutual benefits.”
Zheng continued: “I know there are different voices in this country. And there are people who will never change when it comes to China. But the point is, we should not allow them to hijack China-UK relations, which is so important for our two peoples and beyond.”
HJ Colston-Inge, director of Engage with China, studied and worked in Beijing in the early 1990s and founded Chopsticks Club, a China-UK professionals’ network that aims to build cross-cultural understanding through events, cultural training, language classes, and networking.
Speaking of the charity’s mission, Colston-Inge said: “We are committed to building a competitive edge in schools, and to do this we need to build global awareness around China, despite the current geopolitical backdrop. We believe that this will not only enrich the lives of our young people but also enable them to flourish in a future where China is increasingly significant.”
Colston-Inge said the organization’s short-term aim is to reach another 3,000 pupils through in-classroom teaching by the end of the next academic year, but she admitted it will be a difficult task.
“China-UK relations have been strained in recent years, and this has cast a dark shadow on the work that we are trying to accomplish. Funders are cautious of committing to a cause that is China-related,” she said.
But the charity’s work has gained positive feedback among those involved, including for its extra-curriculum programs that cover themes from Chinese culture, China’s society, and a Model United Nations on climate change.
Suzanne Shackleton, head teacher at St Kenelm’s Church of England Primary School, spoke highly about its partnership with the charity.
“They engage with our children with incredible enthusiasm, and open their minds from cultural aspects to language skills … and one of our youngest students said: ‘I feel like I’ve already been to China’,” Shackleton said. “I have really high hopes for our children in our school. I see them as the future ambassadors, or the links between China and the UK.”
Gareth Doodes, headmaster of King’s School Worcester, said after students participated in the Model United Nations conference organized by the charity they realized the school’s vision for them “to be curious, to be caring, and to be confident” was shared by schools across the world and especially by those in China.
He said after working with Engage with China, the school curriculum changed to be much more China-focused, and all students in year 9 now have an experience of learning about the Chinese language, and can choose Chinese as an A-Level option.
“Britain is, at times, a little bit too Europe-centric, and probably in the last few years, a little bit too British-centric, we need our children to think in a much wider field,” said Doodes. “We have ensured that pupils are aware that we are in a Chinese century.”
Between 2013 and 2021, China contributed 38.6 percent to global economic growth, more than the G7 countries combined, according to the World Bank. And the International Monetary Fund estimated that China will contribute about one-third of world economic growth in 2023.
Zheng said China’s 400 million middle-income population provides big consumption power, and the nation’s development brings opportunities for growth and for cooperation.
“China has a long history, a lot of people, and has a lot to be proud of,” Zheng said. “But it is also full of challenges and is a complicated country. The best way to engage with China is to know more about China. The more you know about China, the more you will like it. That is the message I would like to give the young people.”
(Source: China Daily UK)