DB caught up with Ms. Karen Maddocks, Consul-General for the United Kingdom in
Guangzhou, at the recent “Be Yourself” Women in Leadership Workshop. The event was part of the British Embassy and Consulate’s China-wide “Be Yourself” campaign, and focused on topics like the gender pay gap and women in leadership positions.
Ms. Maddocks spoke about why this type of event is important to her, the UK’s relationship with South China, and what the consulate is planning in 2018.
DB: You were appointed to the role of Consul-General in September last year. How have your first few months on the job been?
It’s a really exciting time to be in China, particularly as someone working for the British Foreign Office. The UK and China consider this golden era of their relationship, and this means we are really increasing our links between our governments, our businesses, and our people.
My first few month in the job as Consul-General have been busy – there’s a lot going on. Just before I started as Consul-General there was a visit by the former Guangdong Party Secretary Hu Chunhua to the UK. He took a big delegation of businesses. Since I arrived there have been a lot of new collaborations to follow up. There have been over thirty new partnerships between British and Chinese businesses in South China. It’s been quite busy!
Beyond business issues we have had time to focus on our people-to-people links. For example, we had a big tourism forum, increasing links between our travel industries. I think the largest source of tourists to the UK from China is from Guangdong province, so that’s an area we’re keen to work on. We work on social issues as well. One of our bigger events last year was a conference on sustainable development along the belt and road. We want to work on some responsible business practices in our partnerships with China in belt and road countries. We held an event in December, and hope to do more in the coming year.
DB: How would you describe the current focus of the relationship between the UK and South China?
One of the most important things that we’ve got coming up this year is the GREAT Festival of Innovation. It’s going to be held in Hong Kong, but we are going to hold a lot of linked activities in Shenzhen because we recognise that Shenzhen is a hub of innovation. A lot of the strengths in Shenzhen map quite neatly onto UK priorities. Things like high tech, advanced manufacturing, financial services, clean energy, healthcare, and education. All those things are important to Shenzhen, and also to the UK. We’ve got lots of areas to work on together, and this Festival of Innovation is going to be a chance to really increase our collaboration. I think that’s going to be our main focus in the next few months.
DB: You spent some time in the past working for Voluntary Services Overseas in China – could you tell us a little about that?
I was in Anhui province as a volunteer English teacher, and I lived in Hefei for two years. It was where my relationship with China began really, twenty years ago. It was a really interesting experience because it was fascinating to see the rates of development in China. Even in a period of two years there were amazing changes in that city. Living as a volunteer I was working on similar terms to local teachers, so it gave me a great insight into how people live and work. It was the kind of experience that you just don’t get when you’re a normal expat anywhere. At that time there were very few foreigners in Anhui province, but my friends and colleagues and my students at that time were incredibly warm and welcoming. I’m still in touch with some of them now in fact.
DB: This event is a workshop for women in leadership roles. Why is this type of event important to you?
When I became a mother I started to appreciate the expectations that are placed on women – on all parents – but in particular mothers. There were social expectations that didn’t necessarily conform with the way I wanted to live my life. It made me appreciate the pressures that parents face when they’re trying to combine parenthood with working, and those are pressures that I didn’t have any visibility of before I had children. It became important for me to be able to support other women, and other parents more generally, in coping with those pressures and being able to speak out about them. To be able to challenge the expectations and assumptions that are made that perhaps aren’t right for them. So it started from my personal experience, and feeling the need to challenge certain expectations and support other women and other parents who need to challenge those expectations as well.
DB: What are some major initiative or events the consulate have coming up in 2018?
The Festival of Innovation is the next thing that will be happening. We also have a sector-specific event – an oncology summit – which we will be holding in Guangdong province. That will be bringing together at least seventy healthcare providers and experts from the UK to set up partnerships and share experiences in South China on all aspects of oncology, from cancer research to diagnosis and treatment.
We’ve also got a few sporting events this year. We have the Clipper Round the World Yacht race stopping off in Sanya. A government Great British Yacht is coming as part of that race, and we’ll be running some events in Sanya like taking some people onto the boats there. We also have the Welsh national football team coming to take part in the China Cup in Nanning in March.
We also want to continue our work with local partners here on sustainable business practices. We want to hold another big event towards the end of this year working with businesses, government partners, and experts to promote responsible business – particularly in partnerships with developing countries. At our People to People Dialogue, which is our annual dialogue on our people-to-people links between the UK and China, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the All China Women’s Federation to collaborate on promoting women’s empowerment, women’s rights and gender issues. We want to worked on that at a regional level here in Guangdong, so you’ll be hearing a lot more from the consulate about that.