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Peter WilsonPolitical counsellor, Beijing
That is why we see a dialogue between P5 members at all levels, including between NGOs, as an important part of international efforts towards an ATT - efforts which received the support of 147 countries at the UN last year. We believe that an effective ATT can not only make the world a safer place, but also be consistent with a commercially successful international defence trade.
That is the conversation we are having with Chinese experts and it is a very interesting one. Indeed, not only are we discussing the potential benefits to our respective defence trades, but also to our wider trade in the developing world, where stability and reducing the impact of conflict are key to mutual benefit. Finally, addressing the unregulated trade in conventional arms should make our peacekeepers and nationals working overseas safer.
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I have had a lot of questions on the Chinese version of my blog. And it is not always easy to answer them systematically, as the comment system works a bit differently than the one for my UK blog. So... I have focussed on three of the big ones, and will try to answer those.
1. Visa questions. Our visa section in Beijing is one of our largest in the world. Add to that our teams in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing and it is one of our three biggest global visa networks. Most of our visa work is done through our visa application centres, in 12 locations across the country - that means we can do much more, much faster, than if we did everything through the Embassy. We want genuine applicants to go to the UK but our systems are tough on those who try to abuse the system and break our rules. Over the past three years we have been consistently rated one of the best visa services available in China, by independent observers. Most applications can be turned round inside 15 working days, we publish our turn around targets and most importantly how we are doing against them on our website www.vfs-uk-cn.com . This lets customers know how long their application is likely to take, which is the question we get asked most frequently. When making a visa application it is important to provide what the visa section ask for - these requirements, and any right of appeal, are clearly set out on the Embassy website, at www.ukinchina.fco.gov.uk .
This period is the busiest of the year, because of the number of student applications. There has been something like a 20% increase on last year. We take a lot of trouble to make sure that the application process is fair, and as quick as we can make it. The vast majority of people who apply for a visa in China are genuine applicants, and our refusal rate in China is low. But there has been an increase in fraudulent applications recently, in particular for student visas from Fujian. We take a very tough line on anyone using fraud or forgery to attempt to obtain a visa, their application is automatically refused and they are banned from making a future UK visa application for ten years. The current problem is slowing us up a bit as we have to make detailed checks but we are still processing the vast majority of applications within our 15 day limit. We are committed to providing a quick, efficient and fair service.
2. The Arms Trade Treaty. A couple of people said they thought the West was happy to expand our own armed forces, but complained when China did it. It is important to be clear about what an Arms Trade Treaty would be and what it would not be. It would not have any bearing on the defence equipment that countries decide to develop for themselves. What it would do is ask all signatories to agree the criteria they should use when deciding who to sell arms to (countries would retain the sovereignty to make the ultimate decisions themselves). This would create a more predictable international market for China both as an importer and as an exporter. And it would close the loopholes that allow arms to find their way into civil wars and be used against peacekeepers. An Arms Trade Treaty would make it harder for Chinese or other weapons to be used in conflict zones in Africa, for example.
But there is a broader issue, too. The more transparent countries are about the purpose of their military expansion, the less likely others are to be worried by it. Signals of intent matter. So too do substantive military to military exchanges, sharing of doctrine, and proper mechanisms for handling crises. There is more exchange now between major militaries today than there has been in the past. But there's a lot further to go.
3. How to get into the Foreign Office. A couple of you on the English language version of this site have asked. There is a lot of material on the www.fco.gov.uk website. But if you have a particular interest in China, then you should know that our network in China is one of our largest in the world. And the opportunities here for British diplomats are likely to increase. Having a background in Chinese studies will not necessarily make it easier to get into the Foreign Office - we are looking for a broad range of people, and we need to be able to deploy them in a wide variety of places. But once you get in, if you already have some Chinese or an interest in China, that will be a big advantage for you, and good for the Foreign Office too. And particularly good for the growing China network. So please apply!
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