Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report


419. The United Kingdom has an Embassy in Beijing, and Consulates-General in Shanghai, Chongqing, and Guanzhou, as well as in Hong Kong, although the Hong Kong post answers directly to London and not to Beijing. A Trade and Cultural Office handles British interests in Taipei.

420. Our predecessor Committee praised the opening of a post in Chongqing but added: "We recommend that the FCO consider the possibility world-wide of opening more mini-posts in regional cities of political, economic or commercial importance."[672] The Committee also concluded: "We recommend that the FCO consider innovative methods of recruiting China experts in mid career both on term and permanent contracts."[673]

421. We asked the FCO about current plans, and were told:

    The FCO is in the process of shifting resources to China to meet the challenge of its economic and political emergence. We expect total staff numbers to increase over the next five years particularly in key priority areas—Economic, Energy and Environment sections. Many of these staff will be seconded from other Whitehall departments. We also expect to enhance the presence of UKTI and UKVisas. There are no current plans to open new Consulates General in China as we believe resources are better deployed from existing sites.

    There are currently nine UK based staff and 42 locally based staff at the British Trade and Cultural Office (BTCO) in Taipei. Two locally engaged staff are also based at the BTCO in Kaohsiung. There are no current plans to change these staffing numbers over the next few years.[674]

422. The Foreign Secretary also told us that the United Kingdom was to expand personnel in China, but had no plans to establish new posts. She said: "We are not necessarily talking about setting up any new posts but expanding personnel and staff where we are. We have looked at it and think that probably we are in enough of the right places but that there is more that we can do if we have more people."[675] We feel that our predecessor Committee's advocacy of more mini-posts across China was sensible, given the size and variety of the country, which interlocutors described to us repeatedly as a continent and not a country.

423. We conclude that the Government's decision to increase the numbers of its personnel in China is welcome, but we recommend that the Government consider establishing smaller posts or nodes for diplomatic activity in other parts of China, owing to the size and variety of the country, as part of an overall review of the deployment of FCO resources. We further recommend that the Government increase the numbers of personnel in the FCO dedicated to strategic work in posts in China alongside its planned expansion of the economic, energy and environment sections.

424. Don Starr, head of the East Asian Studies Department at the University of Durham and President of the British Association for Chinese Studies, raised other concerns in his evidence. While he praised the expertise of the British diplomatic staff in China, he also said that the skills fielded by the FCO could be under threat:

    The quality of Britain's highly successful diplomatic representation in East Asia, with its excellent training in linguistic competence and cultural awareness, appears to be under threat from FCO policy changes […] it is reportedly planning to abandon this in favour of 'parachuting in' discipline specialists to deal with specific issues on a 'one day China, the next day Brazil' basis. Technical issues require technical experts, but they need their hands holding by competent locally based staff who understand the cultures in which they are operating. It is vital in a 'guanxi' (connections) orientated society.[676]

425. We asked the Foreign Secretary about this concern, but she played it down. She said: "I have not come across the suggestion that there might be a thing about somebody doing China one day and Brazil the next, but certainly on the trade side, on the general diplomatic side and so on, we are planning to step up our engagement in China, which I think the Committee would wish to see."[677] We also feel that a new, single site for all diplomatic and consular activities in Beijing might serve British interests in China better than the existing arrangements. We also heard that Expo 2010 in Shanghai might provide an opportunity for the unification of all British diplomatic activity in the city, including the British Council, under one roof.

426. We conclude that the Government should continue to strengthen its East Asian expertise. We further conclude that all UK diplomatic duties should be concentrated under one roof in Beijing and recommend that the Government consider establishing a new Embassy with adequate space.

The British Council and Educational Links

427. The British Council has a particular role to play in China, by helping to educate Chinese individuals about the United Kingdom, and we heard in particular about the connection between Chinese or Taiwanese students in the United Kingdom and their willingness to work more closely with British businesses in later life. Pointing out its educational achievements, the British Council wrote in its memorandum:

428. We visited the British Council in Shanghai and were impressed by the quality of their work, even if the Council was unable to offer language lessons owing to Chinese legal restrictions. We were taken in particular by the British Council's engagement of the Chinese authorities on the matter of community sentencing for prisoners, which, although a matter of bureaucratic effectiveness, also has benefits for human rights. We were also impressed by the educational ties between schools in the UK and China.

429. We conclude that the work of the British Council plays a valuable role in efforts to broaden understanding of the United Kingdom in China, which could have a beneficial impact on British business links in China and also on the world class status of the United Kingdom's educational institutions. We recommend that the Government consider the British Council's school links programme in China as a model for school links with other countries.

430. Educational institutions also play a major role in Sino-British ties. The 1994 Group, a collection of British universities, wrote in its submission:

    British Policy with regard to East Asia and the PRC in particular should seek to maximise the comparative advantages that the UK has to offer in the short to medium term, at the very least. One of the areas of advantages is in the layered expertise that UK HEIs [Higher Education Institutions] have to offer.[679]

The 1994 Group pointed to the benefits arising from such collaboration, including: increasing links by training China's future managers; improving China's higher education; the prospects of collaborative research; improved links between higher education institutions; and the trade benefits which may arise. [680]

431. However, the 1994 Group also pointed to China's growing academic capacity as a future threat:

    The emergence of China as an academic powerhouse is to be welcomed but there is no doubt it will create competition for the UK HE [Higher Education] sector and its resources will inevitably come to dwarf those available to the UK. The best solution is for UK HEIs to seek to collaborate rather than to become aggressive competitors. The proposal by the UK government to set up a budget for the development of such collaborations is a sensible way forward.[681]

A number of British educational institutions have opened campuses in China, including the Universities of Nottingham and of Liverpool.

432. We conclude that ties between the United Kingdom and China's higher education institutions are welcome both because they strengthen ties and because of the business opportunities in China. We recommend that the Government continue to offer support for British universities seeking to engage with China.

The Great Britain China Centre

433. The Great Britain China Centre (GBCC) told us that it promotes "understanding between the UK and China". It also "delivers projects and exchange programmes to encourage best practice primarily but not exclusively in legal reform, good governance and sustainable development. Its close relationships with Chinese ministries and educational establishments are based on over 30 years of engagement".[682] The GBCC said in its submission that "because Chinese culture is very distinct from Anglophone and is likely to remain so as China grows in confidence, the key to operating with China in the generations ahead is through language." [683]

434. The Government launched a review of the GBCC recently, and in a written statement in May 2006 said:

    The follow-up work to the review has ensured that the GBCC now has stronger financial controls, a better alignment of the Centre's work with Government policy on China and improved management oversight. Ministerial agreement to these new measures brings to an end the process initiated by the review. The GBCC now looks forward to further consolidating and expanding its position as a centre of expertise on China, widening its project base and diversifying its funding sources, including from the EU, UN and the private sector.[684]

435. We conclude that strengthening understanding of China is most important and we recommend that the Government continue its support for the Great Britain China Centre.

BBC World Service

436. The BBC World Service has a particular role to play in societies which lack a free press, such as China. However, China's policy of jamming external news services or cutting items of which the authorities disapprove limits the availability of the World Service radio and TV broadcasts in China. Our predecessor Committee recommended in 2000 that "the British Government make it plain to the Chinese Government that there should be no inhibition on the free availability in China of BBC World transmissions."[685]

437. The problem of jamming continues to limit BBC broadcasts in China. The BBC World Service wrote in its submission:

    The issue of jamming is something that the BBC, and the FCO on behalf of the BBC, has taken up with the Chinese authorities. The Chinese side has not admitted to deliberate jamming but has suggested that congestion on the air waves might result in accidental co-channel interference (where the output of one radio broadcaster is heard on a frequency used by another radio broadcaster). However, earlier this year, the BBC World Service carried out an experiment whereby Mandarin programming was broadcast on three new frequencies alternately on a random pattern. Within 24 hours, the jamming followed the random pattern so that whatever frequency was used, it was jammed within a few minutes. Our conclusion was that the jamming was deliberate.[686]

438. We conclude that the Government must continue to make strong representations on behalf of the BBC to the Chinese government about the continuance of jamming of BBC World Service broadcasting.

672   Foreign Affairs Committee, Tenth Report of Session 1999-2000, China, HC574-I, para 196 Back

673   Ibid Back

674   Ev 132 Back

675   Q 254 Back

676   Ev 232 Back

677   Q 243 Back

678   Ev 307 Back

679   Ev 209 Back

680   Ev 209 Back

681   Ev 2010 Back

682   Ev 234 Back

683   Ev 237 Back

684   HC Deb, 24 May 2006, col 87WS, [Commons written statement] Back

685   Foreign Affairs Committee, Tenth Report of Session 1999-2000, China, HC574-I, para 207 Back

686   Ev 217 Back

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