British chancellor George Osborne kicked off a 5-day trade mission to China on Monday by announcing a loosening of visa restrictions and affirming that the British government had no plans for high-level talks with the Dalai Lama, part of a broader push to repair bruised ties with China. From Stephen Castle in today’s New York Times:
Britain is hoping not to miss out on economic opportunities in China, which other European nations are courting, and on Monday the pragmatic desire to compete for business took priority over political differences.
In remarks to the BBC, Mr. Osborne emphasized the growing importance and sophistication of the Chinese economy. “Many people think of China as a sweatshop on the Pearl River,” he said. “Yet it is at the forefront of medicine, computing and technology. It’s a very rapidly changing country.” Speaking on Monday to students at Beijing University, Mr. Osborne said that while other nations have been wary of allowing Chinese investment in strategic industries like water and aerospace, “we positively welcome it.”
A Chinese company has announced that it will be part of a group investing $1.3 billion in Manchester Airport, and the British energy secretary, Ed Davey, said on Sunday that he was close to securing a giant wave of investment in nuclear and other technologies from China and elsewhere in Asia. [Source]
BBC News published a video of Osborne’s remarks at Peking University on Monday. He was scheduled to meet People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan later on Monday, according to Bloomberg, before co-hosting the fifth China-U.K. economic and financial dialogue with Chinese Vice Premier Ma Kai to discuss the economy, trade, investment and financial management.
China slammed Britain last year after prime minister David Cameron met with the Dalai Lama, saying that it indicated support for the cause of Tibetan independence. The Guardian’s Nicholas Watt wrote Saturday that Osborne’s visit is “a sign of Downing Street’s determination to reset relations with Beijing”:
Osborne’s trip – in which he is being accompanied in part by the London mayor, Boris Johnson, and four other government ministers – is designed to pave the way for a long-awaited trade mission to China by the prime minister.
Cameron was forced to abandon a visit to China earlier this year when Beijing punished him for meeting the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, at St Paul’s Cathedral in May 2012 with Nick Clegg.
The prime minister abandoned tentative plans for a trip to China in April after Beijing indicated that he was unlikely to be granted meetings with senior figures. The UK government said no plans had been finalised and the new Chinese leadership, which only took over in March, needed time to bed down.
The Osborne and Cameron trips, which have been pencilled in for the autumn for some months, have been the subject of intense negotiations in Whitehall. The chancellor is said by some ministerial sources to be adopting a gung-ho approach and is keen to explore every opportunity to boost trade links with China. “With George it all comes to pounds, shillings and pence at the end of the day,” said one ministerial source. [Source]