China’s longtime envoy to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, a staunch advocate of closer economic ties between the UK and China and the imposition of new security laws in Hong Kong, is retiring, marking the end of an era in relations between the two affected countries. a peak in 2015, but since then it has noticeably worsened.
He is being replaced by his country’s Vice Foreign Minister, Zheng Zeguang, a former Cardiff University law student who once set out to become China’s ambassador to the US, and is still considered a candidate for that position in a couple of years.
Liu, 64, has been an ambassador since 2010, a marathon period at a time when most ambassadors are serving four-year terms.
He has been a fierce critic of the UK’s decision to ban the Chinese company Huawei from its 5G networks, also repeatedly denying that Uighur Muslims were forced into detention camps in Xinjiang province.
Arguably, the decline in UK-China relations was underway before China imposed new sovereignty laws on Hong Kong in June, but the new laws, seen by Britain as a violation of the China joint statement- United Kingdom, paved the way for a major change in relations.
Liu drew more attention on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show when he was shown images of Uighur Muslims blindfolded and kneeling, claiming the images were “false”.
During the Huawei furor, Liu said Britain could “bear the consequences” of treating China as a hostile country, saying: “It has become questionable whether the UK can provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment for companies from other countries “. . “
He also accused the British government of making “irresponsible remarks about Hong Kong”, insisting in a series of fierce press conferences that the protests in the former British colony were not about freedom, but had been sparked by irresponsible foreigners.
In his latest speech at the third China-UK trade and economic forum, he said that the decline in political relations has not been accompanied by a slowdown in economic relations. Liu said: “In 2019, the trade volume between China and the United Kingdom reached a new record of $ 86,272bn [£64.4bn]. In the first 10 months of this year, trade in goods between our two countries increased 2.8% year-on-year, faster than the growth rate of China’s overall foreign trade in the same period. ” He was granted the freedom of the City of London in 2018, a sign of the close ties between British finance and China.
His personal highlight will likely be when in 2015, President Xi Jinping made a “super state visit” to the UK and a golden era in relations was announced.
The new ambassador will be central to discussions between the UK and China on the climate emergency as the UK will host Cop26 in Glasgow next year and urgently needs Chinese cooperation for the world to meet the most ambitious goals. that the UN will seek to establish at the November conference. .
The new ambassador will also have to deal with the consequences of the UK offering Hong Kong citizens with British nationality passports (abroad) the right from 31 January to stay in the UK to work and study for up to five years. They can then apply for settled status and seek citizenship after the sixth year. The plan also covers the adult children of a BNO holder, their spouses, and their young children. Britain also ended its extradition agreement with Hong Kong in late July in protest of the security law imposed by Beijing. However, it has not imposed sanctions on any Chinese official responsible for the crackdown in Hong Kong.
Zheng’s appointment, first reported in the South China Morning Post but not formally announced in the UK, puts a specialist in the recent US-China confrontation at the forefront of UK-China relations. . He began his diplomatic career in 1986 and focused on US affairs for more than two decades from 1990 before becoming an assistant minister in the department of foreign affairs in late 2012 and then a deputy minister in 2015.
He has been at the forefront of China’s efforts to fight the Trump administration’s attacks on China for its handling of the initial coronavirus outbreak, claiming that a handful of American politicians were driving the United States away from China.
Accusing the United States of being the “biggest black hand” behind the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, he recently said: “It is not true that the United States cares about democracy, human rights and Hong Kong’s autonomy. Kong – it’s true that they want to make a mess in Hong Kong and sabotage China’s stable development. ”He described the US sanctions against Chinese communist officials involved in suppressing individual rights in Hong Kong as barbaric.
China expects the UK to suffer post-Brexit and is likely to fall under the wing of the US administration, so its knowledge of US politics would be very helpful in tackling Boris Johnson’s quest for a new role as’ global Britain ”.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.