HMA Dame Caroline Wilson was recently appointed Ambassador to China and has arrived at a time of increased diplomatic challenges. Here she tells Tom Pattinson about her goals on trade and the climate.
What are some of your personal goals and aims that you would like to achieve during your time as Ambassador?
My priority will be to establish a robust relationship that allows us to manage our disagreements with China so we can partner where our interests align, such as on trade and tackling global challenges. Open trading economies like the UK need to engage with China and remain open to Chinese trade and investment so in my first few months I have made it a priority to travel across the country promoting UK business.
Do you think there is scope for more joint collaboration between the UK and China in areas such as R&D, healthcare, education etc?
The UK and China have already achieved so much together but I want us to have an even more ambitious future agenda on the areas that will bring huge benefits to our people and the world.
In terms of global health, the UK and China have partnered for over 20 years. The challenges of Covid-19 have showcased this, as both countries moved to support each other in their hours of need. A fantastic example of this was GSK working with Clover pharmaceuticals and Innovax to develop Covid-19 and other vaccines.
The climate change agenda is a big focus point in the UK-China relationship, particularly with COP26 being hosted in the UK this year, and with President Xi’s announcement on achieving carbon neutrality before 2060 (something which the UK welcomes). COP26 is a big moment for green industry in the UK. Innovation and research is another area of priority, with the UK currently standing as China’s second-biggest research partner. We are working together closely on a whole range of issues including food security, antimicrobial resistance, and climate change.
The UK and China have already achieved so much together but I want us to have an even more ambitious future agenda.
Educational and cultural exchange is also a huge priority as part of deepening the links between the people of China and UK. This sector offers a huge opportunity for bilateral trade and investment. For example, as of 2020, the number of British school brands in China has increased to 26 and the number of British-style campuses in China reached 64, an increase of over 300% in both aspects compared to five years ago. Global economic recovery is also a huge area of importance, where we will be focused on modernising the WTO and removing trade barriers to international trade.
And of course, the trading and investment relationship between our two countries is more important than ever. China is the UK’s third-largest trading partner after the EU and the US and our trade with mainland China and Hong Kong reached £104.5bn in 2019. I will be working to strengthen this further, helping to demonstrate the best that Britain has to offer to the Chinese market and consumers.
In what areas do you think Britain can benefit China from a trade and economic point of view?
UK goods and services are highly complementary to the next stage of Chinese economic development, particularly as China seeks to transition to a more consumer-driven economy. As we know, the trading relationship has an excellent footing already, but we are now also starting to see new areas begin to flourish, including in film co-production, drug development, innovative fintech solutions, or the growing Chinese appetite for high-quality British food and drink. In my first months as Ambassador, I have seen countless examples of new and exciting opportunities being created.
The UK’s total investment assets in China were worth over £100 billion last year. These strong economic links already create jobs and wealth for the people of both our countries. As the UK enters its post-EU era and the world emerges from Covid-19, Chinese and UK businesses have an even greater opportunity to drive game-changing innovations and increase collaboration.
How do you think the UK’s relationship with China will evolve post Brexit?
Leaving the EU provides the UK with an opportunity to develop newer stronger trading relationships with fast-growing economies around the world like China. The UK and China are both major powers with a global outlook, and as the UK becomes ever-more outward-looking, we are committed to a deeper and more resilient partnership with China. An example of this is the UK’s announcement of its new tariff regime: the UK Global Tariff (UKGT). This replaced the EU’s Common External Tariff from 1 January 2021 and provides a regime tailored to the UK economy, including being in pounds, not euros. This scheme reflects the UK’s free trade ambitions and is excellent news for the UK-China business relationship, and particularly excellent news for Chinese exporters to the UK. It will be a simpler, easier to use system – and importantly will be a lower tariff regime than the EU’s Common External Tariff. I am personally very excited about seeing the benefits of this unfold during my time as Ambassador.
The UK and China are also conducting a joint trade and investment review, designed to explore options to further strengthen our trading relationship now that the UK has left the EU. We expect the review to be concluded this year.