China and Britain are “increasingly interdependent” and becoming “a community of shared interests,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said Tuesday while addressing both houses of British Parliament,.
In an 11-minute speech, Xi said he believes his five-day state visit to Britain, the first one in a decade by a Chinese head of state, will lift the bilateral ties to “a new height.”
Xi, who arrived in London on Monday evening, told the parliamentarians: “Although my visit has just started, I am already deeply impressed by the vitality of China-UK relations and the profound friendship between our peoples.”
More than 500 people listened to Xi’s speech, including Lord Speaker Frances D’Souza of the House of Lords, Speaker John Bercow of the House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron and Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn.
China and Britain have led the way in a number of areas in terms of bilateral relations, said Xi, labeling Britain as the first major Western country to recognize newly-born People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the first European Union (EU) member to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership with China.
Since Britain’s recognition of the PRC 65 years ago, bilateral ties have undergone remarkable development thanks to close high-level communication and various cooperation mechanisms, laying a solid foundation for a new type of relations featuring pragmatism, inclusiveness, openness and win-win results.
As the backbone of bilateral ties, the two countries’ economic and trade relationship has enjoyed rapid development in recent years.
“Britain is a leading offshore RMB trading center after Hong Kong. It is also the first Western country to issue RMB sovereign bonds and the first major Western country to apply full membership of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank,” said Xi.
Moreover, Britain hosts more Chinese students and Confucius Institutes than any other EU country, said Xi.
There are currently 25 Confucius Institutes in Britain. While there are around 150,000 Chinese students studying in Britain, there are 6,000 British students studying in China.
According to a British report, China has become the largest source of overseas students in the European country.
“It is fair to say that China and Britain are increasingly interdependent and becoming a community of shared interests,” said Xi.
In his speech given at Parliament’s magnificent Royal Gallery, the president quoted William Shakespeare as well as ancient Chinese proverbs, and reviewed the friendly exchanges between the two countries in history and modern days.
He cited how 24 Chinese naval cadets took part in the Normandy landings during World War II and received personal thanks from Winston Churchill for their gallantry, and how China helped save a British military medic earlier this year who contracted Ebola virus while volunteering in Sierra Leone.
Ties between the two nations had been driven by “mutual understanding, support and friendship,” the president stressed.
While acknowledging the British parliament was the oldest in the world, Xi noted: “In China, the concept of putting people first and following the rule of law emerged in the ancient times.”
He voiced hopes that the legislative bodies of the two countries can enhance exchanges in rule of law, and that British parliamentarians can continue to promote relations with China.
“I hope that you will build a bridge of understanding and cooperation so as to help create an even brighter and more promising future of our bilateral ties,” Xi added.
The president’s address met with applause from members of the parliament, business leaders and experts.
“I thought it was a good speech by the president. It is important that we build on the bilateral arrangement to increase understanding to make sure that our relations remain on a good footing and look for opportunities that the president referred to,” John Baron, a member of the House of Commons, told Xinhua.
“It is always better to talk, share experiences. That helps increase understanding,” he said.
Keith Bennett, a veteran China watcher, pointed out that Xi addressing the parliament represents “a historic moment,” as it is an honor that the country bestows on only a few foreign leaders.
As deputy chairman of the 48 Group Club, an independent business network committed to promoting positive relations between Britain and China, Bennett said the founders of the 48 Group broke through the embargo and blockade in 1953 by organizing the Icebreaker Mission and signing the first business deals between the PRC and the Western world.
“Our founders would have been so proud to witness this historic moment which builds on generations of devoted efforts by Chinese and British people alike,” he told Xinhua.
Bennett said it was also of great significance that Xi recalled the contributions of Chinese soldiers to the Normandy landings, in this 70th anniversary year of the victory over fascism, a struggle that united the peoples of China, the United Kingdom and many other countries.
“Multiple challenges in today’s world, be they terrorism or climate change, require a similar degree of cooperation. In such a context it is vital to recall, as President Xi did, our shared past, so that we might together build a brighter future,” he added.
British member of the Parliament Louise Ellman, chair of the powerful House of Commons Transport Committee, welcomed President Xi’s speech, saying it could open the door to massive Chinese investments in major infrastructure projects.
The tone of the speech pointed to China wanting to partner projects in Britain, something welcomed by Ellman who is eager to see vital rail projects such as the proposed HS2 north-south rail and fast east-west rail links go-ahead.
“It is clear we have got to look for outside investment where we can. And providing local people are involved in building these projects and the right conditions are met, we should welcome investment from China,” he said.
In his speech, Xi specifically referred to the charity work carried out in China by Lord Bates, a member of the House of Lords, which Xi says helps grow China-Britain ties.
“I was very surprised and of course, very honored that President Xi mentioned Mike’s name (Lord Bates),” Li Xuelin, wife of Lord Bates who is of Chinese origin, told Xinhua at the Parliament.
“Mike and I hadn’t expected the president would care about Mike’ s charity work and mentioned him in this very important speech. We’re very touched,” she said.
“The president gave a really excellent, sincere speech, which shows his great statesmanship. I can feel that he is a man of action and can accomplish what he says,” she added.