Prince Charles Discusses The Sustainable Markets Initiative With Chinese Business Leaders

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By Chris Devonshire-Ellis 

In an unparalleled first, Chinese President Xi Jinping has reached out to Prince Charles, the future King of the United Kingdom, inviting him to discuss the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI) with some of China’s most senior business leaders. The comments came as he gave the opening address via video link at Cop15, the UN Biodiversity Conference being hosted by China. Clarence House has said the prince was invited by President Xi to offer opening remarks in recognition of his work over the last 50 years raising awareness about climate change.

The UK is due to host the COP26 meeting of world leaders next month to discuss climate change, an issue the Chinese leadership has long stated requires global cooperation. That mission is at odds with much of the West’s rhetoric, which has been stressing competition with China. Involving Prince Charles, well known for his endorsement of eco-friendly solutions to environmental problems is a shrewd move, and a brave one by both parties – the Prince has been highly critical of the Chinese Government in the past. Here, those differences appear to have been set aside in favour of a communal approach.

The Sustainable Markets Initiative was launched by Prince Charles in 2020 and is aimed to kick start ‘bold and imaginative’ action to move industry and government policy towards a ‘sustainable’ future, words that Chinese leaders have also been stressing. The Prince has stated that a dramatic shift is needed in corporate business models on a global basis, with an aligned, incentivised and mobilised financial system coupled with “an enabling environment that attracts investment and incentivises action.”

China, it appears, has been listening at the highest levels – and apparently agrees. In a round table virtual discussion, which the Prince began in Mandarin – he stated “I know that a deep understanding of nature has underpinned Chinese civilisation, healthcare, craftsmanship and philosophy for thousands of years. The world has much to learn from this timeless wisdom, which is one of China’s great gifts to this world of ours. China has already done a great deal to advance the green economy – we have much to learn from each other.”

To date the SMI does not include any Chinese partners, however this meeting suggests that will soon change, with the Prince himself stating that “China, is of course, critical to our shared future on this planet. It is therefore my great hope that, together, we will be able to work towards establishing a China Council as part of my Sustainable Markets Initiative to help accelerate the green economy globally. This Initiative aims to help find immense and accelerating solutions to the practical problems posed by climate change, and to scale them up to promote the global cooperation which is critical to achieving a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren. I am delighted that we now have an opportunity to engage with you all as representatives of the Chinese private sector.”

There is a growing realisation by both the West and China that there needs to be a reset of relationships between them and that the deterioation of this in recent years needs reversal. Certain elements of trust need to be rebuilt, yet it remains unclear how far the United States is prepared to go to make alterations to the global hierarchy. Current US and to some extent EU policy views China as competitive and can become aggressive and exclusive. The UK therefore has a unique opportunity to act as a mediator between the two as it is no longer part of either bloc in terms of trade, an unexpected potential benefit of Brexit. How this will impact upon the currently toxic political environment between Beijing and London remains to be seen, however in my opinion some pragmatic thinking on both sides has been taking place. The Princes invitation to address Chinese business leaders at the behest of Xi Jinping appears to confirm this.

There are other potential benefits, with Chinese businesses potentially looking for British partners and co-investors in eco-friendly projects and products on a global basis. That could help plug in the UK with the 147 countries that have signed up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, where numerous signatories are also members of the British Commonwealth. China, with its huge population and sheer size is of course a major polluter in its own right, while many developing nations within both the BRI and Commonwealth are also experiencing, or shortly will experience, problems and stresses relating to pollution and climate change. China however appears serious about wanting to react to this and fix these problems – meaning there are huge opportunities for British – and other businesses involved in creating a greener global environment. An alignment, between the UK and China, if not officially endorsed, but practically undertaken, may well benefit all parties.

The Prince’s address can be viewed here

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