What future for UK-China relations?

In December, David Cameron is to embark on a new trade mission to China. Following George Osborne’s recent attempt to woo Chinese business its clear the government sees China as an important partner in fostering economic development. But what is the future for this relationship?

China has seen unprecedented economic growth over the past decades, with an annul economic growth rate of nearly 10% and 300 million people lifted out of poverty. On the international stage, due to its population size and resources it has become a major player in the global economy. Despite concerns about the rate of growth slowing and the possibility that rising housing prices could be another bubble about to burst, China is still on course to remain one of the main economic superpowers of the future.

Britain therefore has many benefits to be gained from its relationship with China. For example, the increasing in affluent, rich Chinese is fueling the luxury goods market in the UK and a recent report commented that Chinese tourism could be an opportunity to end the recession in the UK. New, powerful Chinese companies are bringing in much needed investment and job creation to the UK such as the £1.3 billion pound investment by the Chinese telecommunications giant Hua Wei. The UK’s nuclear industry is also looking to Chinese investment for its future development such as with the new Hinkley plant.

Britain also has much that it can offer to China. Chinese industry still lacks innovation and technology. China’s energy intensity is three to four times the average level of developed countries and eight times that of the UK. The UK can greatly benefit China by sharing it technological advances and though a major manufacturer China does not have a single brand name on the world’s top 100 list. It can use British brand names and technology to try and challenge more established multi-nationals. Also the UK has great expertise in financial services that can benefit China.

Despite the economic opportunities there are still many political concerns of an increasingly close relationship with china. There is criticism of China’s treatment of Tibetans and the Chinese leaderships refusal to meet Cameron a few months ago over his meeting with the Dalai Lama shows China has little flexibility or desire for change in this area. While the one child policy is to be relaxed, reports of coerced or forced abortions brings lots of international criticisms and despite advances it still lacks many basic press freedoms.

Dialogue on many of these issues could be difficult. China is always resentful of Western interference. The Chinese saw the nineteenth century as one of Western humiliation of China and the memory of decades of domination by western powers still resonates. Part of the appeal of Mao Ze Dong was that he was seen as standing up to Western powers and making China strong again. China, whose name in Chinese is ‘Zhongguo,’ meaning middle country, once again sees it itself as taking a central place on the world stage. For these reasons China is reluctant to take lectures from Western countries.

Despite these issues, there has been a steady softening of its repressive state and while it is reluctant to listen to the opinion of outsiders, as it further integrates into the world economy and community it will inevitably have to take heed of world opinion on a range of issues and continue further reform. In the meantime there are many economic opportunities that can be developed that will benefit both countries.