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Peter WilsonPolitical counsellor, Beijing
Just in Shanghai to talk with a group of business people who were looking ahead at China's next year. I thought that you might be interested in the conversation.
2008 had been an extraordinary year. Snows in February, Tibet riots in March, worldwide Torch relay in April, Taiwan elections in April, Sichuan earthquake in May, the Olympics in August and Paralympics in September, and now the milk scandal as we moved towards the October national holiday next week.
Underlying this turbulence, and triumph, there were some reasons for confidence, and some for uncertainty. On the plus side, the relative resilience of the Chinese economy, the stability of the political leadership, after the last big change in personnel last October in the Party and in March this year in the Government, and China's international diplomacy - good relations with neighbours and the wider world.
But, like everywhere else, reasons for uncertainty too. It was not clear how much global financial turbulence would affect China. Protectionism was rising globally, and there was a danger we could all draw the wrong conclusion now - that closing down was a safer bet than opening up.It wasn't. The last Doha round was as big a missed opportunity for China as for the rest of us. And keeping markets in Europe and the US open depended also on China continuing to open up.
Internationally, China, like the rest of us, faced big choices - on how to handle North Korea and Iran, on how to continue building firm alliances with the US, Europe, and Japan, and a more difficult Russia. There were also choices about how to handle big thematic issues - in particular climate change. On many of these issues, China was the key swing vote - on climate change most of all. And the rest of the world wanted to hear more from China, on all these issues.
But the area of most interest was politics. No one had a clear answer on this. And of course it is a complex domestic debate. But one thing was very clear from all present. The West's interest in this issue was not borne of a desire to preach, or - more crazily - to destabilise. Rather it was borne of self interest. We all needed to understand China's direction of travel. The challenges we faced were shared. We needed China's growth, and wanted China's continued success. China had easy access to the politics of the West, and those who made decisions in it. We needed the same. Confidence and trust on both sides must grow. It would be at a premium in the coming years.
It was good to be in Shanghai - it is a refreshing, dynamic, cosmopolitan, commercial place. But I think the centre of debate on these last questions - the main focus of my work - is now, for the most part, in Beijing rather than outside it. So I am heading back.