British Chancellor George Osborne is on a five-day trade mission to China, in the hope of turning the UK into China’s second-biggest trading partner by 2025. The US is currently the biggest, followed by Germany. UK exports to China have grown fivefold since 2003, and China is now the sixth-biggest market for UK goods and services, but Osborne said Britain must “raise its game” to raise annual exports from £25bn to £30bn.
What the commentators said
Osborne’s visit is “not for the purpose of complaining about human rights abuses”, said Jeremy Warner in The Daily Telegraph. Doing so would be like “insulting someone you are trying to sell your house to”. Yet Britain’s approach has gone far beyond the usual compromises and realpolitik, into “a kind of undignified love bombing”. For example, the UK is to guarantee a £2bn deal for China to invest in the Hinkley Point nuclear power station. “There is nothing special about nuclear power that should disbar it from inward investment and foreign ownership, but when it is state-controlled enterprises doing the investing and it requires British government guarantees to make it happen, you have to ask yourself who is taking whom for a ride.”
Osborne “is right to seek a closer bilateral economic relationship with Beijing”, said the FT. But he should be careful. For example, “allowing Chinese companies to operate at the heart of Britain’s nuclear industry may threaten UK national security”. Moreover, there’s a “lack of reciprocity” in this relationship. For example, there’s no chance that a British company could get involved in “a construction contract in the highly militarised Xinjiang region” that Osborne visited this week. Osborne’s long-term bet on China is “the correct one”. But he needs guarantees that make the relationship “more balanced”.
This article was originally published in MoneyWeek on 24. September 2015: http://moneyweek.com/britain-snuggles-up-to-china/