China and the World

London calling

Will China visa issue sour relations with UK?

Osborne: visited Shanghai Expo

The latest Chinese investment in London isn’t being made by a Chinese, but a Russian. A new chain of restaurants – serving healthy, quick-to-prepare Chinese street food – has been launched by entrepreneur, Igor Sagiryan, reports The Times. The first NOW dining outlet just opened near Liverpool Street station, seeking to “capture the colour of urban China,” according to its commercial director.

For some Chinese it will be the source of some consternation that a Russian is profiting from their culinary history. Nor is it Sagiryan’s first attempt to cash-in on China’s gastronomic heritage. He also owns a London chain named the Ping Pong dim sum restaurants.

Meanwhile, the British government will be hoping for a bit more genuine Chinese investment. That was the message from Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne when he recently visited the UK Pavilion (see photo) at the Shanghai Expo. And last week, Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague was in China delivering the same message. He met Premier Wen Jiabao, stressing that the UK’s new coalition government sought stronger Sino ties.

But as news agency AFP points out, relations have been strained by recent clashes. Gordon Brown’s former government was livid in December when Beijing executed Akmail Shaikh – a drug-smuggling British citizen with a mental disorder. The Chinese were equally irritated with what they saw as overseas meddling in the judicial process. Likewise the two governments saw relations sour during the Copenhagen climate talks with former minister Ed Milliband accusing China’s representatives of “hijacking” the summit.

More recently, the Chinese government will probably have been irked by another UK move. In a surprising division of labour it was announced that Nick Clegg would be made responsible for Britain’s relations with Beijing, and David Cameron would handle India. Given the competitive rivalry between the two Asian powers, China will be mindful that it’s been assigned the deputy prime minister, while India has got the top man. No doubt had veteran Sinologist Percy Cradock still been alive he would have cautioned against the move.

Also causing concern in the China Daily is the British government’s hardening attitude towards immigration – which will make it harder for Chinese to live and work in the UK. Specifically, a plan was announced last month to reduce the number of visas granted to skilled immigrants from outside the EU – as a means of placating sections of the domestic electorate which think immigration has got out of control.

But it’s a policy that could backfire. The nation’s universities are particularly worried that the new immigration policies will deter Chinese students from coming to the UK. Overseas students contribute $12.8 billion to the UK economy, reckons the British Council. Of the students from outside the EU, the BBC estimates that one in five are from China.

A hardline immigration policy may send out an unwelcome message, but the UK’s attitude to the world’s most populous country is complex. At no time in its history has Britain shown more enthusiasm for luring Chinese to its shores. Around 170,000 tourists from China are expected to visit this year. London’s shops are especially keen to swipe the credit cards of China’s new rich.

The British economy is looking for as much Chinese investment as it can get too. There’s no better example of that than Liverpool, notes the Economist. Property developer Peel Holdings plans a Canary Wharf style development on the River Mersey and part of the blueprint is a 60-floor skyscraper named the Shanghai Tower. “Peel and Liverpool are transparently trying to attract Chinese money. Peel Holdings is the lead sponsor of Liverpool’s pavilion at the Shanghai Expo,” writes the magazine. “Liverpool, twinned with Shanghai, boasts of having Europe’s oldest Chinese community.”

Perhaps the Scousers might get a bit more Chinese investment than they bargained for. As reported in WiC62, Zhu Jun (owner of internet firm Ninetowns) has said he wants to buy Liverpool Football Club.


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