The United Kingdom and China: a winning combination?

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Alors que le Royaume-Uni tente de sortir de la crise, la Chine, moins touchée , apparaît comme le partenaire idéal pour relancer son économie. Ainsi, le mois dernier, les dirigeants britanniques se sont rendus en Chine afin de promouvoir une nouvelle alliance. Et, comme Boris Johnson, le maire de Londres, l’a fait remarquer, passer de nouveaux accords avec la Chine ne peut qu’être bénéfique pour le pays. Qu’apportera réellement cette alliance au Royaume-Uni ?

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When David Cameron met the Dalai Lama, in May 2012, the Chinese government declared that it would harm the relation between the two countries. China, which still controls Tibet tightly, regarded this meeting as a “personal attack”.

Yet things have evolved since last year. Chancellor George Osborne, and then the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, both went to China in October to negotiate new agreements with China. During his trip, Osborne promoted the closest possible relation with China and confirmed that the two countries needed to work together to boost their growth.

First, the UK is to deliver visas to wealthy Chinese citizens more easily. Indeed, the UK has never wanted to be part of the Schengen area so it loses some Chinese tourists who travel in Europe. Out of two million, only 200,000 Chinese tourists who visit Europe each year, go to the UK. So the idea is to attract these tourists, particularly the richer, in order to support the UK’s tourism industry. And visas would also make it easier for young professionals to enter the UK. Second, the UK is to be authorized to trade directly in the Chinese currency, the Yuan. It won’t need to use the dollar before trading in yuans. It is only the fourth country that will be able to do that. Also, China would be allowed to open new wholesale shops in the country, which would represent a precious opportunity to develop its activity in the UK.

Finally, the most substantial agreement between the two countries aims at developing Chinese investment in the UK. As China owns the largest savings it would be beneficial for each country. China would invest in Manchester’s AirportCity, as it already has in Heathrow. The aim is to help the airport develop. But mostly Osborne went to China to finalise a project that is key to protecting the planet: as the government plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it wants to develop renewable energies and nuclear power. To achieve this, it is to build a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset in southwest England.

As Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, said : “Free trade would bring greater prosperity to both Britain and China and we should embrace it”. It would indeed develop employment in the country (in the nuclear sector, the financial sector and the tourism industry). Johnson observed that the European Union is already trading and developing new agreements with China such, as in the photovoltaic sector, for example. Yet he argued that it would be too complicated to be a real success. Once more it could be true as the EU is struggling to find agreements that would convince every EU member. Therefore if the UK gets closer to China on its own, it would be more successful as it would defend its own interests. Finally, developing such deals with China would allow the country to exit the EU and become independent. Britons seem to like the idea now.

Nonetheless, the fact that Cameron is getting closer to China is a real swing and could have unexpected effects. To develop Chinese activity in the UK could affect UK activity all the more as the Chinese promote cheaper products. If China got to invest a lot in the country, it would make the UK dependant on China. Finally no one knows what China’s goals are. Let’s not forget that corruption is still widespread in China. Would closer UK- China ties not signal that bribery  has somehow become acceptable?

Marie PERRIOT & Anaïs SEGONDS

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