England China Business Forum Annual Dinner 2022

Some of you may be wondering why the President of England China Business Forum (ECBF) is giving his speech dressed casually in a hoodie. The reason is because I am undergoing chemotherapy for terminal pancreatic cancer and I have to carry a pump over 48 hours, every 2 weeks, that continuously injects a chemo drug. Tonight could well be the last time I speak at an ECBF Annual Dinner event (and I thank everybody who wish that I will still be here in 2023 to give another speech).

ECBF started informally in 2010 when likeminded people came together twice a year to share our collective experience. At the time, there were very few people with practical knowledge of doing business with China. The China Britain Business Council (CBBC) was just established and the larger consultancies and legal firms were only starting to build their China desks. In 2013, ECBF was registered formally as a not for profit organisation. ECBF is managed by volunteers. We run free seminars and webinars in collaboration with other host organisations. Our aim is to foster trade and investment between China and the UK by encouraging sharing of experience, mutual understanding and collaboration.

When ECBF started, we were entering a golden era of relationship between the UK and China. We were encouraged to build business relationships in China, export to China and court inward investment. However, in recent years, as China became a superpower in its own terms without becoming more like western liberal democracies, the geo-politics changed. China is increasingly seen as a threat that needs to be constrained.

China is not perfect (no country is). There are certainly human rights violations but when news reporting by the western media, driven by US geo-political interests, over sensationalise and demonize China, the resulting sandstorm of misinformation, disinformation and allegations, it becomes increasingly difficult to know where the truth lies. It is not helpful that the US Congress has proposed USD 500 million to fund negative media coverage on China.

There is at present some kind of schizophrenia in the Western world concerning China. On one hand the politics and the press are very hostile but on the other hand trade and investment continue to grow. For example, foreign direct investment inflows into China was up 7.4% in 2020 and up again by 20.2% year on year (but see OECD reports for updates). According to Statista, “while global FDI slumped dramatically in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese FDI outflows even increased against the trend to 153.7 billion U.S. dollars, making China the largest global direct investor for the first time in history”.

A present, I see only 2 MPs that speak openly about the need to engage with China — Mark Logan (Conservative) and Vince Cable (Lib Dems). There may be more, but these are the two I noticed in social media. I see also that Boris Johnson wants to start trade talks with China but is being opposed by those within the party, who want a hard-line approach. Similarly, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats want the UK to have more forceful policies towards China.

I do not feel that the hostile political and media coverage will end anytime soon. There are increasing concerns within the Chinese British community that the current demonisation of China is causing a rise in Sinophobia, racism and hate crime against people of Chinese, East and Southeast Asian heritage. It is especially bad in the US with almost monthly reports of violent hate crime incidences against Asian Americans (i.e., East and Southeast Asians). According to the Pew Research Centre, “67% of Americans have “cold” feelings toward China, ….. up from just 46% who said the same in 2018”.

Based on data from thirty police forces in the UK that responded to Freedom of Information requests, EVR estimated at least a 27% increase in hate crimes from 2019 to 2020. Is there not a co-relation, if not causal connections, linking political propaganda and persistent one-sided negative news reporting to Sinophobia and racism towards Chinese, East and Southeast Asians?

To conclude, I believe that ECBF should persevere with engagement and continue with activities that develop mutual understanding and collaboration on trade and investment. Politics can change and do change over longer periods. Who knows what geo-political alignments we will have in 5 years or 10 years?

ECBF is apolitical and has to date not commented on the current geo-politics and the potential impact on the British Chinese, East and Southeast Asian communities. Going forward, as a business forum, we ought to speak up more, without becoming overtly political and taking sides. We should be raising issues for our politicians and business leaders to consider.

We should raise concerns when hostile political rhetoric and sensational news reporting on China affect UK trading and investment relationships, as well as the impact on the wellbeing of the British Chinese, East and Southeast communities.

Dr Yeow Poon, President, England China Business Forum

Postscript

Thank you for the lovely lifetime award. Very unexpected and highly appreciated. According to the oncologist team, I have reached stage 4 where the cancer has metastasised from the pancreas to the liver and is deemed incurable. I have about 12 months but it could be more or it could be less.

I am on a quality of life chemotherapy programme, which hopefully will keep me going for as long as possible. It would certainly be nice if I am able to speak again at the next ECBF Annual Dinner in 2023.

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Yeow Poon

Yeow Poon

Exploring social cohesion, cross culture mutuality and a sustainable, collaborative and peaceful multi-polar world. https://www.linkedin.com/in/yeowpoon/