Asia Briefing: British steer clear of upsetting Chinese

British chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne addresses staff and students at Peking University in Beijing. photograph: stefan rousseau/pa wire

British chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne addresses staff and students at Peking University in Beijing. photograph: stefan rousseau/pa wire

Tue, Oct 22, 2013, 01:00

This will come as no surprise to any Marxist theorists among the Asia Briefing readership, but if there ever was a reminder of the indivisibility of capital and political theory, it came last week when Britain’s chancellor George Osborne came to China.

Beijing was furious after British prime minister David Cameron met the Dalai Lama in 2012, firmly downgrading relations with Downing Street.

That was the year that Mr Cameron was supposed to visit China to cement healthy trade ties. Instead, the current president, then-vice premier, Xi Jinping came to Ireland, in a pointed snub that obviously worked very well in Ireland’s favour.

Mr Cameron has not been to China in three years. Compare this to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s more than annual visits, and you see how Britain has a long way to go to match France and Germany’s position in the Chinese leadership’s affections.

“Frankly speaking, prime minister Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama harmed Chinese-British relations,” Chinese deputy finance minister Zhu Guangyao told reporters during the high-profile British visit, which also included London mayor Boris Johnson.

Boost to London

The British delegation was given a taste of how sweet things can be if one chooses not to antagonise the Chinese by meeting the Tibetan Buddhist leader and Nobel peace prize winner, whom Beijing considers a dangerous separatist.

Investors in London will be the first, outside greater China, to be allowed to apply for licences to make yuan investments in China, which gives a major boost to London as a financial centre for trading the yuan.

Beijing Construction Engineering Group will invest £800 million (€946 million) in Manchester’s “Airport City” construction project.

Chinese firms are allowed to take majority stake in new British nuclear plants, which clears the way for British companies such as Rolls Royce, International Nuclear Services and engineering companies like Mott MacDonald to take part in China’s rapidly expanding and amazingly lucrative nuclear programme.

New relaxed visa rules were announced, which should help Irish tourism too as Ireland is also a Shengen country, which tends to put potential Chinese visitors off as they don’t want to get separate visas for the UK/Ireland and the rest of Europe.

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