One hundred years ago this year the intricate network of diplomacy that connected together the developed nations of the time contracted into catastrophic conflict. A century on, it is fitting to consider how we can ensure that the different nations that share the globe can live peacefully together. How we can be partners, not rivals, bound together by mutual respect, economic interdependence and a shared commitment to the values embodied in the United Nations.
Over Easter I learnt more about one such partnership, growing slowly after centuries of conflict and distrust, the relationship between Britain and China. Visiting China as a guest of the ruling Communist Party, not at the taxpayers expense, I was able to see firsthand some of the new links between us. Much of this linkage concerns trade, with British exports to China up 40% in the past four years. This is a developing economic success story which I want Cornwall to play a leading role in. I was proud to spend much of my time in China flying the flag for Cornish businesses, highlighting to local business and political leaders the high quality and growing international reputation of Cornish products. I had a particularly productive meeting with the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) in China discussing how it can be made easier for Cornish companies to access Chinese markets.
A major Cornish export consists of the knowledge and skills capital built up at Falmouth University and Exeter University’s Cornwall Campus. I was delighted to visit Zhejiang University to discuss how links can be forged between its arts department and Cornwall’s dynamic creative sector, and to meet with the academics at Tsinghua University to celebrate their exciting collaboration with Exeter researchers.
Whilst these economic and research links are exciting, they are only half the picture. If we want to be friends to the Chinese people we cannot shy away from the issue of human rights, the shadowed side of our partnership with that country. I share the deep concerns of my constituents concerning the actions of the Chinese Government towards Tibet, political dissidents and certain faith groups.
Following a trade mission led by David Cameron last year progress is being made in promoting human rights in China. A pioneering UK China human rights summit, proposed by Mr Cameron during his 2013 trip, is due to take place this year. Trading links are paving the way for dialogue on human rights, as a deeper partnership develops.
The current flash points of conflict around the world all have different historical contexts and rationales but I believe share one theme – a rise of nationalism. We need to remember the world wars of the last century, as current conflicts are being provoked and led by people who stoke up nationalistic sentiment based on perceived historical injustice and social division, manipulating patriotic instincts for political gain. In Cornwall and around the world, we all have our part to play in working hard for human rights, understanding of different people and ultimately peace.