BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – From a “golden era” to a “deep freeze”. This is how China-UK ties have been characterised in recent years. But can a heroic act melt the ice?
A video showing Stephen Ellison, the United Kingdom’s consul general in Chongqing, diving into a river to save a drowning Chinese woman has gone viral in both countries.
It is right that his warm heroic act in the cold of winter should be highly praised, and the numerous comments follow the video fully display Chinese people’s appreciation of his bravery. Chinese netizens have called him an “English gentleman” and “Chinese people’s friend”.
The footage taken by onlookers on Saturday shows Ellison, 61, diving into the river to save a 24-year-old Chinese woman while he was out, walking in a nearby village.
It is right that his warm heroic act in the cold of winter should be highly praised, and the numerous comments follow the video fully display Chinese people’s appreciation of his bravery.
Chinese netizens have called him an “English gentleman” and “Chinese people’s friend”.
The Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, also praised the British diplomat, saying: “Salute to Stephen Ellison, Britain’s new Consul General in Chongqing. His name will be remembered not only in the Chongqing area but around China. His act of heroism and kindness will be a much-told and far-spread story of China-UK friendship.”
In history, accidental events often play a special role in bridging gaps between countries, such as the famous ping pong diplomacy in the early 1970s.
After a US athlete happened to board the Chinese athletes’ bus during a tournament in Nagoya, Japan, in 1971, the American table tennis team received a surprise invitation from their Chinese colleagues, which opened the door for exchanges, and provided an opportunity of rapprochement when both China and the US were adjusting their diplomatic strategies.
The economic relationship between the UK and China has grown significantly over the past two decades.
In 2019, China was the UK’s sixth-largest export market worth of 30.7 billion pounds (S$54.64 billion), and fourth-largest source of imports worth 49 billion pounds, both a record high, according to UK figures.
In the golden era, Britain was the first G7 country to express interest in China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
The strain in their political ties, however, has cast a shadow over the strong economic bond. Under pressure from the United States, the UK has taken a series of actions against China, from excluding Huawei from its 5G networks to smearing Hong Kong’s national security legislation.
The UK should make its choices independently, rather than blindly clinging to the US. The UK’s economic cooperation with China, as well as people-to-people exchanges, serve the interests of the UK, especially since China is expected to be the only major economy to register positive growth this year.
Hopefully the UK diplomat’s heroic act can melt ice of China-UK ties, though lots of challenges remain.
The author is a writer with China Daily. The paper is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media titles.
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