Cosying up to China

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s three-day visit to Britain has sparked a flurry of trade and investment deals between the two countries. On Tuesday alone £14bn of deals were done, with the most significant being a £12bn long-term agreement for BP to supply Chinese oil group CNOOC with liquefied natural gas.

China Minsheng Investment Corporation, the country’s biggest private sector investment group, will open its European headquarters and invest £1.5bn in London. China Merchants Securities will boost commodity trading and reinforce London’s position as the largest renminbi-trading centre outside Asia.

State-owned China Development Bank intends to fund the High Speed 2 rail project and the next generation of British nuclear power plants.

What the commentators said

After a slow start, Britain has made a big effort to expand its dealings with China in the past few years, said Kamal Ahmed on BBC.co.uk. British exports to the Middle Kingdom have more than doubled since 2009 to around £12.4bn, but Germany and France are still ahead. Germany’s exports are worth four times ours and France’s reached £14bn in 2012.

With our foreign sales expanding faster, however, we are close to overtaking them and becoming Europe’s second-biggest exporter to China. But when it comes to enticing the Chinese, the world’s highest-spending tourists, into Britain, there is still a lot of work to be done, said The Daily Telegraph.

Onerous visa requirements, which are crying out for reform, explain why the Schengen area gets 1.4 million Chinese visitors a year compared to the UK’s 292,999.

It’s “terrific that Britain is flinging its doors open to investment” from China, said Alex Brummer in the Daily Mail, but it’s rarely as easy for British firms in China.

The legal system is opaque and heavy-handed; witness the seizure of a GlaxoSmithKline executive’s passport and the lack of due process after he and his colleagues were charged with corruption. It seems “easier for Beijing to level charges against foreign investors than their own political classes who have grown rich on klepto-capitalism”.

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