UK business leaders upbeat on Chinese market, urge constructive dialogue amid tension
Published: Mar 22, 2023 10:12 PM
China UK Photo: VCG

China UK Photo: VCG

UK business leaders are calling for the return of constructive dialogue between China and the UK in economic and financial sectors, as they put more weight on the Chinese market and its strong consumption recovery.

Rising bilateral tension due to the UK government's hostile moves against China, including targeting Chinese firms and joining in the US' containment of China, are causing uncertainty and concern among both UK and Chinese firms. 

Still, UK businesses are optimistic over the Chinese market amid a solid economic recovery in the country. 

Tom Simpson, the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC)'s managing director for China, told the Global Times on Tuesday that things have completely changed in terms of the council's outlook for China this year.

After the downgrading of the epidemic response, Simpson said that companies in the services, finance and healthcare sectors have completely reset their expectations about China for the year ahead.

"Companies are focusing on bringing their overseas management to China, and identifying tactical investments they need to make this year to release the ambitions based on their revised outlook," Simpson said.

Simpson spoke to the Global Times on the sidelines of a ceremony in Beijing to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of China-UK ambassadorial diplomatic relations on Tuesday. 

Simpson said that "if China can be successful in achieving its target of five percent GDP growth against this global backdrop, then China would find itself once again as a key global driver for growth."

Such an upbeat sentiment is also shared by executives of UK firms operating in China. 

Fu Yue, head of corporate affairs for greater China at Haleon, a UK multinational consumer healthcare company, told the Global Times on Tuesday that China's emphasis on the continuous deepening of reform and opening-up as well as putting forward directions for high-quality development have provided a clear and definite path for China's modernization and development, which "are very positive signals from the perspective of enterprises."

China's consumption recovery has given foreign companies like Haleon greater confidence, Fu said, noting that the company plans to continue investment in the Chinese mainland market.

"We also appreciate the Chinese government's efforts to continuously improve the business environment," Fu said.

However, China-UK relations are becoming more complicated due to the UK government's hostile stance on China and Chinese companies. These tensions have raised concerns among some UK industry insiders.

"From the CBBC's perspective, we speak regularly to our members, and geopolitics remains a major concern at the moment and it will likely remain this way for some time," Simpson told the Global Times. 

He said that companies now have to think differently in terms of how they mitigate risks. "I don't think anyone can deny that UK-China relations haven't been through a challenging period in recent years. However, there is recognition in both the UK and I believe in China that economic relations are crucial to both countries," Simpson said.

Simpson said that they are hoping for the return of constructive dialogue in the form of the economic and financial dialogue, which hasn't happened for around four years. "The high-level engagement would help to send the right sort of message to the trade and investment sector," he noted.

The CBBC produced a report in 2020 on the impact of trade and investment with China have on jobs in the UK, in which it showed that 120,000 jobs in the UK were directly linked to trade and investment with China.

The CBBC sees a big opportunity for UK-based businesses in China this year and in particular in consumption areas including hospitality and the new-energy sector.