Xi hails legacy, key role of UK 'icebreakers'

By ZHANG YUNBI (Chinadaily.com.cn) 08:47, July 07, 2023

Trade: Xi says 'bright future' was foreseen by delegation

In 1953, a group of British entrepreneurs, led by trade leader Jack Perry, embarked on their historic "Icebreaking Mission" to visit China, helping to warm the West's trade relations with the newly founded People's Republic of China.

Seventy years later, Stephen Perry, son of Jack Perry, and other business leaders, while visiting Beijing and attending a major ceremony on Thursday to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the "Icebreaking Mission", received a congratulatory message from President Xi Jinping.

It was not the first letter sent by Xi about the pioneers. In January last year, Xi sent a congratulatory message to the Chinese New Year celebration of the "icebreakers". The celebration was hosted by British trade organization The 48 Group Club in London.

Business leaders said the latest letter, read by Vice-President Han Zheng at the ceremony in Beijing, has shored up their confidence and their hope to work together, rule out disturbances and further revitalize China-UK trade and cooperation in the post-pandemic era.

In the letter, Xi pointed out that 70 years ago, British entrepreneurs, as represented by trade leader Jack Perry, "perceived in an agile manner the bright future of New China and the huge potential of China-UK cooperation".

Xi hailed them, saying they "broke the ice of ideology fearlessly, and took the lead in opening up the channel of China-UK trade exchanges".

Over the past 70 years, generations of "icebreakers" have witnessed and earnestly participated in China's development and reform, and they have achieved their own development and growth through mutually beneficial cooperation, Xi noted.

Annual bilateral trade has grown to exceed $100 billion last year, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

"Facts have testified that China-UK cooperation benefits the two peoples and is conducive to world peace and development," Xi wrote.

Stephen Perry, chairman of The 48 Group Club, said this very special message from President Xi "is very meaningful to us".

Perry, like his father, has been active in China-UK friendly exchanges for a long time. He was awarded the China Reform Friendship Medal by the Chinese government in 2018 and met Xi.

"We are at the crossroads of history. Who knows where the world will be in 20 years' time. But one thing is for sure. … The 48 Group will be doing the work in China to develop trade with China," Perry said.

Writing on the current situation in his letter, Xi said today's world faces multiple, intertwined challenges, and "economic globalization is facing countercurrents".

He called on individuals with great vision from all walks of life in China and the UK to "carry on the Icebreaking Spirit — bearing far sight, seeking openness and cooperation, and daring to be pioneers".

In addition, Xi asked them to work hard to break new ground for win-win cooperation, promote the building of an open world economy, and make greater contributions to promoting China-UK friendship and cooperation.

Observers and entrepreneurs said the Icebreaking Spirit is needed at a time when the overall China-UK and China-European Union ties and business exchanges of recent years have been overshadowed by rising voices in Europe calling for economic "decoupling" from China or "de-risking" of relations.

Dominic Barton, chairman of multinational mining giant Rio Tinto, said "there is a lot of rhetoric" and "a lot of noise" advocating "decoupling" or "de-risking", and this is very negative for prosperity and for everyone.

"Trade is something we should remind ourselves that we shouldn't take for granted," he said.

"We have to speak up about the benefits of trade. It is really important for everyone, for everyone's standard of living. … That's another reason why I think we're reflecting today on the 70 years. It's kind of a rejuvenation," he added.

Ren Hongbin, chairman of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, said the lasting charm of the Icebreaking Spirit and the great roles played by the "icebreakers" over the past 70 years "stem from efforts in catching up with the times, grasping historical opportunities and having the courage to join hands in taking the initiative".

Gordon Orr, vice-chair of the China-Britain Business Council, said, "Trade and investment forms the foundation of this relationship." He noted that at the China International Fair for Trade in Services this year, the UK will be the country of honor.

"This year, renewed connections, strong focus on economic growth, and China's continued opening up to international business make this again an important icebreaking moment," he added.

Liu Jin, president of Bank of China, said that China is a driving force for advancing global free trade and stabilizing world economic growth, adding that deepening collaboration between Chinese and UK businesses is highly practical.

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


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