China is highly interested in using its expertise and finance to invest in UK infrastructure projects. Over a fifth of Britain's power generation capacity will be replaced in the next decade, and on a recent trip to China British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced opening of bidding for the country's projected $17 billion High Speed Two rail link - contracts potentially of great interest to China which now has the world's largest high speed system.
The opportunities for cultural, educational and 'people to people' exchanges are also enormous. Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Harry Potter and other classic and modern British icons are well known known cultural imports in China. Britain's knowledge of modern Chinese culture is not yet as good as it should be, but enormous queues for exhibitions such as the British Museum's exhibition of the Xi'an terracotta warriors show deep interest in Chinese classical culture, while China's rise will produce increasing knowledge of China's modern achievements. More Chinese students study in British universities than from any other foreign country, for example.
Unfortunately a few years ago these potential benefits were blocked by ill-judged moves by Britain. Prime Minister David Cameron held a meeting with the Dalai Lama – a person pretending to be a purely religious figure but who actually leads a separatist political movement. This was an intervention in China's internal affairs and contrary to Britain's unequivocal recognition of Tibet as part of China. It was rather like de Gaulle's notorious 'Vive Le Quebec Libre!' declaration regarding Canada. This naturally led to a frost in relations – China refusing to hold high level meetings for over a year.
Both sides lost from this, but as China is a rising economy Britain lost more. Fortunately the British government reversed this approach and no further meetings have been held, and relations warmed. David Cameron visited China earlier this year and on his recent visit George Osborne declared Britain wanted to be China's 'best partner in the West.'
Now, Britain is doing everything possible to overcome previous problems in relations and China has responded. Both sides gain.
From going through a difficult period China-Britain relations currently are a model of how countries should interact. Regarding cultural and human interaction the situation was very accurately observed by China's President:
'Civilizations are equal, and such equality has made exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations possible… No single civilization can be judged superior to another… Every civilization is unique…. All achievements of civilizations deserve our respect and must be cherished. History proves that only by interacting with and learning from others can a civilization enjoy full vitality.'
Fortunately these principles currently inform British-China relations - to the benefit of both countries.
The writer is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit: http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/johnross.htm
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.