Tuesday 24 November 2020 10:00 pm

Guest opinion: Britain could lose out if it doesn't open up to China

Wenjian Fang is the CEO of the Bank of China (UK Ltd) and the Chairman of the China Chamber of Commerce in the UK. Today he issues a warning to Britain that only with Chinese help can Britain achieve its green goals, after the UK Government pushed back on the involvement of companies it believes have links to the Chines Government in UK infrastructure.

The past year has tested business as never before. 

The unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the dramatic fallout on the economy and, of course, preparations for Britain’s exit from the EU. 

For Chinese businesses here in the UK it is no different. 

While some have had to revise their strategies many remain profitable and, critically, ready to invest and create more jobs.

One thing they have obviously noticed is a change in the rhetoric around Chinese business. 

Read more: Those who profit in Hong Kong must speak up in its defence

The China Chamber of Commerce UK today publishes an unprecedented survey of Chinese companies here in Britain and while 51 per cent plan to increase investment in the next two years, 55 per cent say the fallout from the worsening geopolitical climate is the biggest issue they face.

It matters to me because CCCUK’s priority is to act as a bridge between the UK and China.

And it should matter to policymakers too as Chinese companies are ready to help the Prime Minister achieve his vision and “build, back, better” post-Brexit.

This begins with the environment. 

Following the disappointing decision to exclude Huawei from the 5G rollout – one the UK Government admits will delay nationwide ‘gigabit’ broadband – MPs now want Britain to exclude China General Nuclear Power (CGN) from any future role in the energy sector.

CGN has been a key investor in Hinkley Point alongside France’s EDF and they are ready to make a big and substantial investment in the UK by building other plants such as the one proposed at Bradwell.

But they like other investors are waiting to see what the Government will do, especially after the recent National Security and Intelligence Bill. 

Read more: Hong Kong pro-democracy legislators resign en-masse

Already Japan’s Hitachi has pulled its plans to invest in nuclear power in the UK. Here is a Chinese investor ready to work with the UK and deliver on the environment.

The Prime Minister talks about ‘Race to Zero’ and it’s a great campaign and a great target. But let’s remember, it is Race to Zero, not Walk to Zero. 

And by turning your back on CGN for example you close the door to leading edge technology in this area, funding and make it harder to bring emissions down.

Chinese business knows it must do more to earn the trust of the UK. We need to communicate more effectively, we need to challenge the misconceptions many have.

Nearly three quarters of the Chinese firms reinvest some or all of their UK profits back into the UK. And they are ready to invest in ‘Brexit Britain’. Yes Chinese business would like to see a deal with the EU, and are worried about the arguments over ‘equivalence’ for financial services.

But 44 per cent believe a No Deal will not impact them.

And they are excited about the potential of planned developments such as freeports and they back the Home Secretary’s plans for a points-based immigration system, hopeful it can help them to bring in more senior talent from around the world.

There are many positive stories around Chinese investment. Jingye’s purchase of British Steel saved 3,000 jobs. British exports to China hit a record of more than £30 billion last year.

Yes, 2020 has led some to question the relationship between China and Britain.

But I truly believe China should be seen as a partner, not an enemy. 

Our two great nations have numerous shared interests, values and objectives. 

And I truly believe that with the right, pragmatic approach and positive mindset, the relationship can grow, helping to create greater business opportunity and economic value for all of us.