Face the reality of modern China, says Blair

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2007, 12:00am

Western countries should start understanding China and build stronger relationships because its rise was no longer a theoretical issue, former British prime minister Tony Blair said last night.

Mr Blair, who was visiting Hong Kong, also said people in the city should negotiate a way towards universal suffrage, bearing in mind Beijing's concern about maintaining social stability.

Speaking at a dinner hosted by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, Mr Blair, who stepped down in June, said western countries in Europe and the US had been focusing too much on terrorism in the past few years.

'They have to pay a lot more attention to deepening relationships with China,' Mr Blair said. 'For so many years, the rise of China was a big issue. But in the last two to three years, it was no longer a theoretical issue. We in the west should start understanding profoundly the challenges in China.'

Many international problems could not be resolved without better friendship, partnership and mutual respect between the west and China, and Beijing also needed to shoulder responsibilities as it developed, he said.

When asked about Hong Kong's move towards universal suffrage, Mr Blair said although democracy was desirable, Beijing's main concern was maintaining stability and people should 'negotiate' their way towards that goal.

Mr Blair joked that the plunge in the stock market yesterday reminded him of his visit to Hong Kong in 1997, when he accompanied Prince Charles as an officiating guest in the handover ceremony, which was soon followed by the Asian financial crash.