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Q&A with Chuka Umunna, Shadow Business Secretary



Chuka Umunna found on his first trip to China that Chinese officials and business people could not fathom why the UK should want to pull out of the EU

You were elected as an MP in 2010 and now Shadow Business Secretary, tell us the secret of your meteoric rise.

It is a huge honour to serve the constituency that I grew up in and love, never mind to serve as Shadow Business Secretary. Every day I do this job I recognise what a privilege it is. It enables me to see the brilliant things all our businesses and those who work in them are doing and to give them our support, as I did on the recent Chinese for Labour delegation to China.

But, being in this role also comes with the responsibility to do all I can to ensure we get a Labour government elected in 2015 with Ed Miliband as our Prime Minister. That way we can make the One Nation country we want to build a reality – a country with mutuality as its cornerstone, where we have shared opportunities and shared responsibilities to empower people to achieve their aspirations and realise their dreams; and, where people cannot look after themselves, we do not throw them on the scrap heap as others would do, we care for them.

You are one of the youngest in the Shadow Cabinet, what can we do to encourage more young British Chinese to engage in politics?

We have to get away from the adversarial, bear-pit of that Westminster has become, typified by PMQs. This turns many people off – particularly young people and women - and isn't the way we should be doing our politics. You can argue about your values, your politics and your policies - I'm not calling for sterility and of course passion is crucial - but it is how you do politics that also matters. And has got to change, which is why I've always been a convinced constitutional reformer.

One way of getting more young people into politics is by ensuring there are people who look like them holding elected office. The fact that Paul Boateng, Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott and Keith Vaz were in Parliament when I was growing up inspired me to believe that, if I wanted, one day I might be able to do the same. So I'm pleased we have the likes of Sarah Owen standing for Parliament in Hastings and Cecilia Love as councillor in Cardiff, both of Chinese descent. We need to ensure we have many more from a Chinese background standing for elected office at all levels for Labour.
一个能让更多年轻人参与政治的方法是确保有一些与他们面貌相仿的人当选。在我成长时期,看到Paul Boateng, Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott 和Keith Vaz成为议员,激励着我,让我相信如果我愿意,有一天我或许也能有此成就。所以,我很高兴看到萨•欧文(Sarah Owen)竞选黑斯廷区(Hastings)的国会议员以及西塞利亚•勒弗(Cecilia Love)参选卡迪夫的地方议员,她们都是华裔的后代。我们要确保在工党的各个层面都有更多华裔背景的人参加竞选。

You visited China recently, tell us about the trip and how can British business companies do more in China?

This visit, my first to China, was a business delegation that I led and was organised by Chinese for Labour. It focused on strengthening and developing trade links with China and the delegation included business people representing a wide variety of UK businesses.

The visit built on the delegations I've previously led to high-tech businesses in Israel and the trade mission for London Chamber of Commerce & Industry and UKTI to West Africa. I and my Shadow Business team don't see promoting British business solely as the role of Government – we should promote UK businesses from Opposition too! The challenge of boosting exports has to be a 'national mission'. The UK has the largest goods trade deficit of any EU member state and Germany exported to China six times as many goods, by value, than the UK in 2012. So we have got to boost exports to China.

The delegation looked at the opportunities for British firms and promoting the British Brand and British business. I had meetings with leading businesses working in China and heard their experiences at first hand - like Rolls Royce and Standard Chartered, which are centring their Asian operations in China. I also met with the UK Ambassador, his team and UKTI, and saw the excellent support work they are giving to UK businesses.

I had the honour of meeting with the Vice President of China, Li Yuanchao. I also made the case for British firms to the other Chinese Government and officials I met including at the Ministry of Commerce, and Zong Guoying, the Vice Mayor of Tianjin, one of China's fastest growing cities and a centre for advanced manufacturing.

Similarly I met with Zhu Xinli, Executive Chairman of the China Entrepreneurs Club, and Gao Xiqing, President of the China Investment Corporation, which has a number of investments in Britain, and China Mobile which has 750 million customers and is leading player in telecommunications in China.

Whilst there I took part in the '2013 Cooperation and Understanding Dialogue' in Beijing as the British representative, an event which included political figures from across the globe including the former President Obasanjo of Nigeria.

There is no doubt that China is hugely important to the UK economy and this will only grow as China is set to become the largest economy in the world. Undoubtedly the British brand is strong - we have world leading firms, world leading products, and world leading expertise - but we need to do more to get firms exporting into China and benchmark against the best.

There are lots of opportunities for UK businesses particularly in sectors like healthcare, finance, and the creative industries (which we know, despite having global brand recognition, is not prominent enough in UK trade missions).

City to city links will become increasingly important too and we heard that places like Tianjin are looking for a UK city to twin with.

There are some real successes and the UK is doing well in places but we could do even better. There is certainly some UK trade with China that is not picked up by the trade figures and it is likely some big deals on oil and gas are going to come through shortly which might inflate UK success and mask the underlying challenges, which should not be forgotten. Our comparator should be Germany - we need to be equally ambitious as they are in China.

What are the challenges facing China and where will China be in 10 years' time? What should our relationship be with China?

The progress in China has been immense and I saw some of this in the huge new city being created in Tianjin. But there is also a recognition that significant challenges are now coming into view, similar in many respects to what we have here in the UK and other developed economies, including how people can share in progress, share in wealth creation, and we ensure people are not left behind. Of course, the political system is very different and the Chinese do things differently, but there is no doubt they are looking ahead at the challenges and planning for them.

A primary focus is a more sustainable economy. China is hugely concerned about growing in a sustainable way, not least because of the smog in their big cities – I experienced this first hand in Beijing. Our first day was a sunny clear day and we were able to see the mountains surrounding Beijing. But, the following day the smog set in and we were told just what a rare sight it was to actually see the mountains – it is usually quite grey. Indeed a British businessman who has been working in China for most of his life in a leading global UK company said he will leave soon because he said there is now a five year reduction in life expectancy and he does not want to put his young children through that.

But, while there are these challenges, we also heard that this desire for more sustainable growth provides huge opportunities for UK companies. In fact Britain, through passing the Climate Change Act under the last Labour Government, is seen as a global leader and with huge expertise in this area.

There is still a huge potential for China to grow, albeit the headline rate of growth rates are slowing. We discussed the increasing urbanisation of China, with the focus shifting to the expansion and development of second and third tier cities. There are opportunities for links to Britain here too.

What must also be appreciated - and the visit helped us do this – is the scale of change and development in China. Just to highlight one stat - the estimated increase in graduates in China in 2020 compared to 2010 will be nearly the same as the total number of graduates in 2020 in the US and EU combined.

China is also concerned about the social impacts of growth and how this is shared. I was particularly struck by what Zhu Xinli, Executive Chairman of the China Entrepreneurs Club, who went from a poor rural family to becoming a billionaire, said to us: 'the task is to make the poor richer, and the rich more responsible.'

And finally there is the challenge of creating a welfare state. We heard about some of the developments in healthcare taking place – and again opportunities for Britain to help with this - but also the development of state enterprises, the wealth being created and the reinvestment in the welfare of society for the longer-term.

In terms of our relationship with China, of course we need to maintain strong links. It was why I was so pleased to lead this delegation and to build and deepen understanding. I must pay tribute to all the tireless work Sonny Leong does and to Lady Katy Blair too, both in Chinese for Labour.

China is looking at its role in the world - we as a country too. It is patently clear - and I discussed this during my visit with the people we met - that for the UK, being part of the EU is going to be more important than ever. We are a trading country and this means ensuring we get a return from our innovation and intellectual property from music to scientific development. Protection and enforcement of this is going to be ever more necessary and we have much more power in this regard by being part of the EU, China's primary trading partner, than we do being alone. Those arguing that we should be trading more but want us to pull out should take note - that position is not based in the reality of the challenges we face ahead. I found that so many of the Chinese officials and business people we met could not fathom why we should want to pull out of the EU given these benefits which it brings.

China will be the greatest economy in less than four years', and a global powerhouse, learning the Chinese language would put our young people at an advantageous position, do you think our schools should make the teaching and learning of Chinese as part of the curriculum?

We absolutely need more people learning Mandarin in our schools and it will be increasingly important.

So too will be developing links between our two countries. We need to leverage our huge global links across the world including in Africa where China is increasingly playing a role.

And we need the Chinese tourists and business people to be welcomed to Britain and to see what we have to offer. It is not clear that this Government has fully recognised some of the long-term problems it is storing up with the approach it has taken.

Quick fire:

X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing? X Factor

The Apprentice or Dragon's Den? Dragon's Den

Chicken Chow Mein or Chicken Tikka Masala? Both (though not at the same time!)

Wine or Beer? Depends – wine with food, a nice cold beer in the sunshine.

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