Postcard from Beijing: #YFChina Day 1
After close to two years of planning, we have just finished Day 1 of the first Fabian Society delegation to China for over three decades. After 13 hours, three meetings, one lecture and countless cups of coffee, we have developed and challenged our preconceived perspectives, but for now have only more questions rather than answers.
Lu Mai, Secretary General of the China Development Research Foundation and his senior team hosted our first discussion, providing a Chinese perspective on a number of key developments – including demographic challenges, the evolution of the one child policy, improving early childhood development, and the choice faced by China in balancing state and private contributions to social protection.
This was followed by an afternoon discussion on soft power and the UK-China relationship hosted by Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy and led by British Council China Director Carma Elliot, before a wide-ranging discussion with Christoph Pohlmann, from the Beijing outpost of FES, the German thinktank affiliated to the Social Democratic Party. We rounded off the day by joining a roomful of Chinese and international to hear the Dutch journalist Fokke Obemma talk about the lessons from his new book China and the West.
As we head tomorrow into the first of two days of conversations with students and academics at the China Youth University of Political Sciences, there are three questions I will be considering carefully.
Firstly – despite very different national contexts and political systems, what can each country learn from each other about tackling common challenges? As we began to explore some of the big challenges facing China we soon began to uncover more areas of common interest than previously appreciated. ‘Boosting productivity’ was quickly cited as a key imperative by the CDRF as a response to the China’s demographic challenge – a familiar refrain to anyone who follows the policy debate in the UK.
Secondly, how do we build meaningful relationships with our Chinese contemporaries? Without exception, everyone we spoke to stressed the necessity and importance of building people to people relationships if we are to have any chance of having meaningful dialogue, influence (particularly in areas where we fundamentally disagree) or even insight.
Thirdly, how do China and the UK perceive each other, how accurate are those perceptions, and how much does this matter? Several audience members at Fokke Obemma’s lecture criticised the sensationalisation of media reportage of China, whilst Obemma himself positions his book as at attempt to provide a more balanced analysis than the likes of Martin Jacques’ When China Rules the World.
Hopefully, other members of the delegation will be able to share some insights on these questions and others as the week progresses. For updates from the delegation follow #YFChina.
Written by Joel Mullan, Young Fabians Education Network Chair.
For more information about the Young Fabians China Delegation 2015 and latest updates, follow @youngfabians on twitter.