World / Political Ties

Xi has put 'personal stamp' on China, says BBC editor

By WANG MINGJIE in London (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2015-10-21 15:56

Xi has put 'personal stamp' on China, says BBC editor

Outgoing BBC Economics Editor, Robert Peston. Photo provided to China Daily

Outgoing BBC Economics Editor Robert Peston sees President Xi Jinping, arrived for a four-day state visit in the UK since Monday, as a tough, charismatic head of state who is probably the most important Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping.

Peston's views are closely followed. Known for his tie-less appearances, slightly unkempt hair and penetrating insight, he is shortly to leave the BBC to host his own politics programme on the rival ITV network.

"President Xi is an extremely important figure, probably the most important Chinese president since Deng Xiaoping", he told China Daily in an exclusive interview ahead of the first state visit by a Chinese leader for 10 years.

He described Xi as a charismatic leader, someone who has "put a personal stamp on the country in terms of economic reform, anti-corruption, political reform and foreign policy."

In recent years, as China-UK relations have been elevated, the high-ranking official visits from both countries have increased commensurately. This includes David Cameron's visit to China last year, Premier Li Keqing's visit to the UK in 2014, and Chancellor George Osborne's one-week long trip to China last month.

Peston, who went to China to cover Osborne's visit, said the frequent high profile official visits help strengthen the Sino-British relationship and expand the economic and trade collaboration.

"It is certainly the case that Britain needs to get on better trading with the rest of the world. We have big deficit on trade and current account, which is not sustainable for the long term," he said, adding "China has gone through this really impressively transformation since 1980 and is the second largest economy in the world. It's important for Britain to sell more to China."

"For China, at this stage of economic development, when it's generating big surpluses, it makes sense to invest in more developed economies so that it has a stream of income from its investments abroad as it becomes a more mature economy," said Peston.

He believes there is a mutuality of interest in Britain and China forming closer economic links so that there will be more trading opportunities for Britain in China and more investment opportunities for China in Britain.

Peston, who has been going to China since 1999, said he loves the country, adding "there is something exciting about seeing a country transform on the scale that China has been transformed."

During Osborne's week-long visit, Peston had a chance to talk to various Chinese business leaders and investors.

What Peston found most striking during his trip was that without exception, the business people that he met recognized the economic transformation from a debt-fuelled investment model to a consumption model would be painful. He said that inevitably it's a painful experience when a government moves from one economic model to another.

"What none of us yet know is what the new stable growth rate will turn out to be, so from 1980 to the great crash of 2008 the growth rate on average was about 10%; in the subsequent few years, it comes down to about 7% officially."

"The extent to which this will be traumatic and difficult for China depends on a number of factors: it depends on whether there is still the imperative as there was for jobs to be created for people from rural areas coming into cities," he added.

"If this process of urbanisation is slowing down, then actually you could cope with a lower rate of growth, and there will not be tremendous hardship for people. Also, if the slowdown is associated with great consumption by people, that broadly means that people are enjoying higher living standards and that would be a good thing," Peston explained.

He thinks it's too early to tell how difficult this "New Normal" will be, but underscores that this is a major transformation that both affects the Chinese people and the whole world as China has become such a big economy.

Asked about his ride on the high speed train in China, Peston said he had loved it, adding "The Chinese high speed train is a fantastic train, and if I have that experience in Britain, I will be thrilled."

During Chancellor's recent visit to China, Osborne said Chinese firms would be welcome to bid for the High Speed Rail, or HS2 project which will connect London to Birmingham.

The British government would select the bidder whoever offers the best combination of value for money and technology, Peston said, adding "If that happens to be Chinese bidder, I personally can't see why anybody would object to that. But it is fundamentally got to be the judgement about value for money and technology."

"Right now we are seeing important cutting-edge innovations in China, and also there is an interesting question about the extent which China can create brands, brands that are respected and of high quality all over the world," he said.

He stressed that the great challenge for China is to create a brand that is as trusted as Apple or BMW, saying "It is not just about technology innovation, but also about acquiring the reputation for high quality the world over. When you can do that, you can charge more for your goods and services, and you end up making more money"

Peston said the British economy is particularly strong in services, including financial service, or architecture, or creative industry or music, whilst China has been very open to car exports from Germany, but has not been so open to industries that Britain is good at.

"So it would be great to see Chinese economy more open to the kind of the industries on the service side that Britain is best at. In terms of China, I assume China will be looking for investment where they think in the long term they will get a proper return," he said.

He believes there is a meeting of minds and interests for both nations: Britain's need for long term finance and China's need to make long term investment that will earn the return over the decades to come.

Peston, who has worked for the BBC since 2005, will become ITV's Political Editor and will host a new Sunday programme, 'Peston on Sunday'.

He said, "Politics at the moment is incredibly interesting and I am looking forward to a new challenge and covering politics."

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