A tale of modern identity
LONDON EYE - David Jones (The Philippine Star) - March 14, 2013 - 12:00am

I am delighted to be visiting the Philippines next week on behalf of the British government, of which I am the cabinet member with responsibility for Wales, one of the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom.

Wales is a small country, with a long and proud history, its own separate language and a distinctive culture. Our population of just over 3 million is similar to that of Cebu province in an area about twice the size of Palawan. It is renowned for its rugged, natural beauty and its chain of mediaeval castles, such as those in Caernarfon, Conwy, Beaumaris and Caerphilly.

Wales was a powerhouse of the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Its mines produced coal that fuelled the navies of the world, whose ships were often built with Welsh steel. Engineering giants of the era such as Telford and Robert Stephenson left their imprints on the landscape, with towering structures such as the Pontsycsyllte Aqueduct (now a World Heritage site) and the Menai bridges.

We are fiercely proud of our cultural heritage; as Wales’s greatest modern poet, Dylan Thomas, remarked: “Thank God, we are a musical nation.” Every year, people from the four corners of the world convene in the little town of Llangollen, which has been holding its International Musical Eisteddfod, or festival, since soon after the end of World War II. Like the Philippines, we are celebrated for our singers, such as Katherine Jenkins and Bryn Terfel. And we are famous, too, for our love of rugby, a sport that I am delighted to learn is enjoying an increasing following in the Philippines.

But no country can live solely on its history. The old heavy industries of the last century have now been replaced by high-tech 21st century ones. Wales is a growing centre of the defence and aerospace industries. The huge Airbus factory at Broughton manufactures all the wings for the planes made by that company, including those that Philippines Airlines has recently agreed to purchase.

Wales also literally makes money. The Royal Mint, at Llantrisant, has produced Britain’s coinage for 1,100 years. It is now a globally-significant business, producing coins for around 60 countries around the world, including the Philippines.

The Welsh have always been an outward-looking people, migrating in large numbers to the United States when that country was expanding, and putting down roots in many other parts of the world. There is even a community of over 50,000 Welsh descendents living in Patagonia, Argentina, who still speak their nation’s language. Wales is also proud to be home to some 6,000 Filipinos, many of them playing an important and valued role in the health sector.

Like most Welsh people, I am hugely proud to be both Welsh and British; there is no contradiction between the two. Ours is a United Kingdom, but it is not centrally administered. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own devolved governments and assemblies, as well as sending representatives to the British Parliament at Westminster. We all cherish our own individual identities, but also hold our British identity very dear.

What unites us, too, is our desire to forge links with other nations throughout the world, not only in the interests of trade, but also to help create greater mutual understanding in what are sometimes dangerous times.

Helping to develop that understanding is what I hope my visit will achieve. More than ever before, partnerships founded on mutual respect are what drive economic success. Britain and the Philippines may be many thousands of miles apart, but their shared desire for peace and prosperity are a strong foundation on which I hope to build.

(The Rt Hon David Jones MP is the UK’s Secretary of State for Wales.)

BEAUMARIS AND CAERPHILLY BRITAIN AND THE PHILIPPINES BRITISH PARLIAMENT DYLAN THOMAS INTERNATIONAL MUSICAL EISTEDDFOD KATHERINE JENKINS AND BRYN TERFEL LIKE THE PHILIPPINES PHILIPPINES AIRLINES PONTSYCSYLLTE AQUEDUCT UNITED KINGDOM WALES
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