Photo: (From left) Gillian Merron, Qui Yuanping and Vivian Wineman
It might have been thought that a country the size of China had little to learn from the Jewish community. But a lunch in London, organised by the World Jewish Congress, underlined the ancient ties between China and the Jews and sought to build on a relationship that stretches across millennia.
The guest of honour at the lunch, chaired by Lord Young, was Her Excellency Qiu Yuanping, Minister for Overseas Chinese Affairs, effectively the minister for the Chinese diaspora. In a warm address, Minister Qiu reminded those present, including president Vivian Wineman, chief executive Gillian Merron as well as me, of how the Chinese ambassador in Vienna during the Second World War, assisted in the evacuation of several thousand Jews to Shanghai where they found refuge. She expressed China’s great admiration for the Jewish people and their contribution to society.
The Shanghai evacuation is to be marked by a joint event in August of this year.
Among the main reasons for the meeting was so that the overseas Chinese, who number 62 million (600,000 of whom are in the UK), can understand better how to organise and participate in political, business and media life in their adopted countries.
Organisations such as the WJC (to which the Board is affiliated) and the Board of Deputies with their democratic traditions were seen as a role model. The delegation seemed surprised that the British Jewish community, so few in numbers, has been able to play such an important role in civic society.
This year will see a record number of Chinese standing in the UK general elections with both a Conservative and Labour candidate seen as likely to be elected in relatively safe seats. The Chinese delegation are seeking to build on relationships between the communities through more joint events.
Alex Brummer is Board vice president